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Yanomami Tribe: What is the ‘gold rush’ in Yanomami territory?

From the remote rainforests of Brazil, a little-known tribe has made an emotional appeal to Indians to not buy gold which comes from Yanomami territory.

Yanomami Tribe

  • The Yanomami live in the rainforests and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela, and are, according to Survival International, the largest relatively isolated tribe in South America.
  • The Yanomami are believed to have crossed the Bering Strait from Asia into North America perhaps 15,000 years ago, and travelled southward to their home in the Amazon. Survival International says the tribe numbers around 38,000 today, and its members live in contiguous forested territory of around 9.6 million hectares in Brazil and 8.2 million hectares in Venezuela.
  • The Yanomami practise an ancient communal way of life. They live in large, circular houses called yanos or shabonos, some of which can hold up to 400 people.
  • Rituals, feasts and games are held in the main, central area. Each family has its own hearth where food is prepared and cooked during the day. At night, hammocks are slung near the fire which is stoked all night to keep people warm.
  • It is a Yanomami custom that a hunter does not eat the meat he has killed. “He shares it out among friends and family. In return, he will be given meat by another hunter,” says the website of Survival International.
  • The Yanomami consider all people to be equal, and do not have a chief. Instead, all decisions are based on consensus after long discussions and debates.

What is the ‘gold rush’ in Yanomami territory?

  • Since the 1980s, the Yanomami have been facing an onslaught from illegal gold miners. According to Survival International, Yanomami land was invaded by up to 40,000 miners who killed the indigenous people, destroyed their villages, and brought them deadly diseases. A fifth of the Yanomami population perished in just seven years.
  • Following a sustained campaign led by Survival International, the Brazilian government notified a ‘Yanomami Park’ in 1992, and the miners were expelled. However, they kept returning, and in 1993, they murdered 16 Yanomami including a baby in Haximú village. A Brazilian court subsequently found five miners guilty of the massacre. However, the illegal entry of gold miners in Yanomami country continued.