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The Yanomamo people live in the Amazon rainforests of Northern Brazil and Southern Venezuela, living in almost complete seclusion. Napolean Chagonon was the first Anthropologist to do field work on the Yanomamo people in 1966. The first films were made in 1968-71; Contact was filmed in 1983. The film Contact is a narration by the anthropologist with little dialogue from the Yanomamo. The film interprets the life and culture of the Yanomamo through the anthropologist s perspective. In the film, the Yanomamo are captured living out their everyday lives without any deviation for the filmmaking. The men and women are seen in their traditional half naked attire undisturbed by the presence of the filming. The Shaman, is seen acting out his religious ritual with green snot running out his nose from the hallucinogenic ebene power that they use to help communicate with the spirits. You can see the Yanomamo in their Shabono lounging in hammocks. They have very little privacy and the men are seen with many wives and children. They are cultivators and feed on plantains, manioc, bananas, sweet potatoes and peach palm fruit. They are also seen using tobacco. The men do the hunting and hunt wild pigs, monkeys, armadillos, birds and rodents. They also fish, feed on insects, crabs and frogs and they love wild honey. From the film you can see that it is a very male oriented society. The men do all the hard work and fight the warfare while the women bare the children, do the gardening, fetch water and respond to the needs of the husband. The film depicts a scene of revenge where the men using long wooden poles attacks another clan by hitting them in the head with the poles. This scene is commonplace in the Yanomamo society; the women standby screaming as this attack occurs while the children standby and watch. This is a great film, because it captures the Yanomamo in their indigenous life style.

The Yanomamo people live in small bands of tribes and live in a series of round connected huts called shabonos, which are actually made up of individual living quarters. Clothes are minimal, and much of their daily life revolves around gardening, hunting, gathering, making crafts, visiting with one another and practicing cosmology.

A definite culture shock takes place between Napolean and the Yanomamo people, during Napoleans first contact. The introduction of peanut butter as excrement by Napolean, for example, cleverly scared the Yanomamo from eating it. They of course didn t know any different and held a genuine contempt for excrement. Napolean was therefore able to discourage the Yanomamo from completely raiding all his supplies as the Yanomamo so liked to do. Napolean on the other side struggled with the high humidity, lack of bathing practices and dietary food sources of the Yanomamo.

The Yanomamo men are seen to have many wives and children and they are responsible for their health and well being. It is a very male oriented society and the men are warriors, shamans, headman and politicians. The shaman, are the intermediate between the spirit world and the family. The shaman, snort a green hallucinogenic powder called ebene. The hallucinogenic is used to help contact the sprits. The film Contact captures a male disparately trying to contact the hekura sprits to help rid his child s illness. Green snot and chanting is vividly illustrated during this ritual. This practice is very important in the Yanomamo culture and can go on for hours. It demonstrates the power the male has over life, death and the family structure.

In the scenes of warfare, the Yanomamo are seen batting their enemies heads with wooden sticks as the women and children standby yelling. Raids on neighboring enemies are seen to be commonplace in the film.

These small tribes hold their men in high ranks. Chiefs are always men who are held responsible for the general knowledge and safety of the group. The men are able to beat their wives if they feel the need to and are able to marry more than one woman at a time. This form of social structure is a way of increasing the population of the tribe. Because the men can marry many wives, women are in short supply. The younger males have to look to marry very young wives or to obtain women from raids on other villages. Yanomamo people rely heavily on a system of kinship. This system of kinship has incorporated an intricate food source and trading system in their culture. The Yanomamo live in a constant state of warfare with other tribes and even within their own groups. Marriages are often arranged according to performances of one’s relatives in battles. Ideal marriages are thought to consist of cross cousin marriages and the males of the family. The religious leaders of the tribe perform all marriages. In addition to their strong kinship ties and political alliances, the Yanomamo have a comprehensive religion, based on the use of hallucinogenic drugs and the telling of mythical tales. The religious beliefs of the Yanomamo are quite complex. They believe that there are four levels of reality. Through them, the Yanomamo belief that things tend to fall or descend downward to a lower layer. The uppermost layer of the four is thought to be pristine, tender and empty. The Yanomamo believe that many things originated in this area. It is considered to be just “there”, not playing much of a role in the everyday life. The next layer down is called the sky layer. The top surface is supposedly 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. The Yanomamo dwell on what is called “this layer”. This layer has jungles, hills, animals, plants and people who are slightly different. Then there is the surface below “this layer” which the Yanomamo say is almost barren. They believe a variant of the Yanomamo live here. . 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. In some Yanomamo villages, the shamans contend with the people on the bottom layer, attempting to discourage their cannibalistic ways.

In recent years, the influence of gold miners, lumber companies and missions have altered traditional Yanomamo life. Some Yanomamo have become fluent in Spanish and have become Christians. Others have developed relationships with miners or lumberjacks and have entered the modern European society. The introduction of western civilization has impacted the way the Yanomamo live. Western diseases and medical methods have made the Yanomamo dependant on missions to survive. They have also had to learn to involve themselves in government in order to lobby for the preservation of their life style, culture and rights to lands.


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