The indigenous Yanomami people live in the Amazon forest on the border between Brazil and Venezuela in a territory of approx. 9.6 hectors, or 23.7 acres. The total population of the Yanomami people is 26,000, with approximately 17,000 living in Brazil.
The Yanomami live in large, circular, communal structures called “yanos” or “shabonos”, which, depending upon the size, can house up to 400 people. The central area of the house is used for rituals, feasts, games, and other activities.
They live as hunters, gatherers, and farmers. The men are responsible for hunting, while the women keep small gardens, take care of children and do craftwork, including beautiful woven baskets. Using small strings of bark and roots, the women weave and decorate the baskets, which are used to carry plants, crops, and food to bring back to the shabono. They use a red berry known as “onoto” to dye the baskets, as well as to paint their bodies and dye their loin cloths. After the baskets are painted, they are further decorated with masticated charcoal pigment.
The Yanomami believe strongly in equality among people. Each community is independent and they do not recognize ‘chiefs’. Decisions are made by consensus, frequently after long debates where everyone has a say.
After the invasion of almost 40,000 miners, the Brazilian government demarked the territory of Yanomami in 1991 and since then the number of miners in the region has dropped. Currently, approximately 1000 illegal miners - garimpeiros - operate in the region. The Brazilian government has not developed a means to protect the Yanomami and their land. The process of mining brings pollution of the rivers by mercury and support the spreading of diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis.
In 2004, Yanomami from eleven regions formed Hutukara, an organization that started to train teachers to teach reading, writing and math in their communities. The leader of the organization, Dawi Kopenawa, is a respected spokesperson and shaman, who has spoke, throughout the world, about the environment and indigenous people. He appeals for all people to pay attention to the way that we treat our planet. “The sky will fall down, when there won´t be more indigenous people, when there won´t be more forests and more rivers…” In 1991, Kopenawa was awarded the Global 500 Prize by the United Nations.
The cause of Yanomami people is just one of many in Amazon region. The problems that they face are not specific to them and their location. In general, the indigenous people of the entire Amazon region are threatened by the ongoing effort by both governments and corporations to exploit the natural wealth of the forest, including minerals, gold, wood and energy (hydraulic and coal).
For information on the ongoing threat of Belo Monte Dam visit :
For information about the new catastrophic forestry bill visit:
To write to the Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff about the plight of Yanomami go to:
Sources: Survival International website; Hutukara association website; Wikipedia; and an interview with Davi Kopenawa by Joana Moncau