Yanomamo People of Central Brazil


This layer does not play much of a role in the everyday life of the Yanomamo. It is considered to be just "there," once having some vague function.

The next layer down is called "hedu ka misi" and is known as the sky layer. The top surface is apparently invisible, but is believed to be similar to earth. It has trees, gardens, villages, animals, plants and most importantly, the souls of the deceased. These souls are said to be similar to mortals because they garden, eat and sleep. Everything that exists on earth is said to have a counterpart on this level. The bottom surface of the layer is said to be what the Yanomamo on earth actually see: the visible sky. Stars and planets are attached to this bottom surface and move across it on their individual trails.

Humans, or Yanomamo, dwell on what is called "this layer," otherwise called "hei ka misi." "This layer" was created when a chunk of hedu broke off and fell down. This layer has jungles, hills, animals, plants and people who are slightly different, deviation of the Yanomamo who speak a dialect of Yanomamo that is "crooked," or wrong.

Lastly, there is the surface below "this layer" which is formally called "hei ta bebi," which the Yanomamo say is almost barren. They believe a deviation of the Yanomamo live here. These people originated a long time ago when a piece of hedu broke off, crashed down to "this layer," creating a hole and eventually falling through to become it's own layer. Here, they have no game animals and have ruthless cannibals. They send their spirits up to "this layer" to capture the souls of children, which are carried down and eaten.

One idea that seems to be universal in Yanomamo myth is man's relationship to the Jaguar. In Yanomamo society, the jaguar is a much-feared beast that kills and eats men. He is a skilled hunter, similar to the Yanomamo hunters. The jaguar is usually personified and given the body of a man. This would make him a cannibal that is part of nature, not culture. The Yanomamo seem to fear and respect the jaguar, but in many of the jaguar myths the animal is depicted as a "large, clumsy, stupid, bungling beast." A focus in jaguar myths is that the Yanomamo somehow outwit the jaguar, and always defeat the most menacing beast in their society. This is in fact a contradiction because the jaguar is the most feared beast in the jungle, and many of the Yanomamo would rather hide from the beast than confront it.

Yanomamo communities retaining pre-contact political-economic practices include: polygyny, arranged marriages, transegalitarian social organization, achieved status headmanship representing the highest political office, a subsistence economy based largely on hunting and shifting cultivation, internal warfare, and alliance feasting. These are traits many communities appear to hold in common. On the other hand, there appears to be noteworthy spatial variation in the size of communities, the intensity of warfare and conflict, and degree of status differences. Village sizes are larger, warfare is more intense, and status differences are greater in the lowlands when compared to the highlands. However, the highland/lowland continuum is not the sole source of variability.

Some communities, especially those located along major rivers like the Orinoco, are in much greater contact with elements of the nation state. These outer elements include officials, man-made things, wage or exchange labor, and identification of national identity, motorized transport, and changes in the age-sex demographic profile. There appear to be significant changes in community structure and settlement pattern with increasing contact and acculturation. Identifying cause and effect relationships. The Yanomamo are acknowledged for their violent, aggressive natures and their recurrent violent clashes. Differences can erupt at any time within a village or between villages. If a dispute occurs within a village, it is beneficial for the village to separate into two factions, each going on separate treks. This separation gives the groups time to cool down and make peace with each other. The village splits up into smaller groups when trekking even in peacetime because wild foods are widely dispersed and it is easier to forage for a small group. War raids can also precipitate a departure on a trek. Often, after a group of warriors' returns from a raid,