Yanomami: A Primitive Tribe Deep in the Amazon Rainforest

Yanomami girl

The Yanomami comprises the largest population (approximately 32,000 individuals) of the Amazon rainforest’s indigenous tribes. The group occupies the jungles and mountains of northern Brazil and southern Venezuela.

It is believed that the Yanomami arrived around 15,000 years prior by route of the Bering Straits between Asia and America. Today, they occupied over 9.6 million hectares, noted as the Yanomami territory in Brazil. This region is so big that Switzerland can fit into it twice. The section in Venezuela is 8.2 million hectares, the Alto Orinoco-Casiquiare Biosphere Reserve. These two areas together form the largest territory occupied by an indigenous group.

Unfortunately, like so many native groups, the Yanomami, finds that their ancestral lands are being threatened by outside forces, including loggers, miners, and cattle ranchers. Further, these outsiders bring with them a variety of diseases such as influenza, measles, and malaria of which the Yanomami is not immune to and many succumbed to these diseases. Due to the logging and mining activities, a great degree of the rivers and streams get polluted with mercury, and copious wildlife (and their habitat) damaged; as well, large areas of the rainforest were/are being cleared (deforested). Yanomami have lived and strives in harmony with nature, on their land, since they arrived many centuries ago in virtual isolation until now. Due to their inaccessibility, medical personnel cannot get to some Yanomami and other tribes in the region.

During my research for this piece, I was shocked (at best) to learn of the ongoing struggles of the Yanomami (and other Amazonian tribes) in their efforts to retain their human rights, land rights, and basis rights. Davi Kopenawa is a Shaman, Yanomami spokesman and President of Hutukara Yanomami Association. He is an outspoken advocate for the peoples he represents.

During when “the Brazilian congress was debating a bill which, if approved, will permit large-scale mining in indigenous territories.”

Davi said this [WATCH]:

Yanomami house
A Yanomami maloca. The Yanomami live in large, circular, communal houses called yanos or shabonos. Some can house up to 400 people. The central area is used for activities such as rituals, feasts and games. © Dennison Berwick/Survival

A longtime supporter (Survival) of indigenous groups has the following to say about so called “modernism”, “progress”, and “development” being shove down the throats of indigenous peoples.

Survival International: “Progress can kill. Forcing “development” or “progress” on tribal people does not make them happier or healthier. In fact, the effects are disastrous. The most important factor by far for tribal peoples’ well-being is whether their land rights are respected.”



“One would think that the governing body of a country or region would be proud of the uniqueness of its societies and natural resources: people, land, wildlife and others, and want to protect and preserves these for future generations but sadly in far too many situations this is not the case.” – Tiffany Huggins, President at L’ EcoResorts.



How is Survival International helping?

Survival International has supported the Yanomami for decades. We led the international campaign for the demarcation of Yanomami territory, along with the Brazilian NGO, the Pro Yanomami Commission (CCPY). We have also supported their health and education projects.” – Survival International.



Article by: Kathy Johnson, L’ EcoResorts