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Yanomami Society

The Yanomami falls into the largest comparatively isolated tribes in South America (Survival International, 2014). The indigenous people live in the rainforests and mountains of Brazil and Venezuela (Survival International, 2014). The invasion of gold workers in the 1980s has led to the colonization of theYanomami land, threatening the local culture and lifestyle. The miners used the widespread believe that the Yanomami were violent and aggressive people to persuade the government to provide them with the local land (Chagnon, 2013). However, by contrast with the original American Indians, the Yanomami did not respond with hostility; instead, they appealed to different worldwide organizations and partook in national administration, defending themselves and their culture (Carmack, 2013).

The contacts among the Yanomami and outside westerners started as early as in the 17th century as a result of aggressive relations with Portuguese and Spanish slave traders (Carmack, 2013). Moreover, more clashes of the Yanomami with arriving aliens took place and intensified after Christian missionary posts were established in the Amazonian area during the mid-twentieth century (Carmack, 2013). Still, the Yanomami had little contact with the outside part of the world till the 1980s. Since the year 1987, the indigenous people have seen 10% of their population – more than 2,000 inhabitants - murdered and perished by massacres and illnesses brought by invaders (Survival International, 2014). After gold deposits were found in the Yanomami region in the 1980s, thousands of miners unlawfully invaded the area (Survival International, 2014).

Thus, even in the modern world long after the physical presence of European colonialism on their native lands, the tribes are still being influenced by the customs and believes created by foreign invaders. These customs may be noted in many aspects of society, including academic and economic activities. They have influenced tribal culture and caused Indians to struggle against outside impacts to defend the conventional traditions (Carmack, 2013).

The appearance of gold workers has resultedin the colonization of land, changing the local culture. The Yanomami provide themselves with provisions by hunting, gathering, gardening, and fishing (Survival International, 2014). Also, the native people believe in animism, a sacred practice that claims every living creature and even any object having a spirit (Survival International, 2014). Hence, land is a vital part of the local culture. Taking the land away could change the conventional customs and even  old beliefs. However, the gold mining leads to deforestation and further devastation of the woods and ecosystem itself. Animals could leave the area, and without them and the land, the indigenous people cannot practice semi-nomadic living (Survival International, 2014). Moreover, the gold rush pollutes waters with mercury, decreasing the amount of fish and poisoning water which people need for survival. The mining also prevents the indigenous people from preserving traditional customs, forcing them to accept modern beliefs and, therefore, altering the Yanomami culture.

Furthermore, the gold rush does not merely change the lifestyle of the Indian people, but also causes diseases and death. Native people have immune systems that differ from those of Europeans, and are not strong enough to cope with unknown illnesses (Survival International, 2014). Malaria, sexually transmitted diseases and tuberculosis spread throughout the Yanomami tribes(Veeken, 1993). Therefore, as the population of the Yanomami lessens, so does the number of people practicing traditional Yanomami culture. This situation suggests that the culture of the Yanomami will finally disappear and the modern world will witness the death of indigenous civilization caused by the colonization (Veeken, 1993). Nevertheless, in contradiction of this thought, Yanomami culture is not vanishing. In fact, the Yanomami are adapting in an effort to maintain some aspects of their culture.

In an attempt to save their tribe, younger Yanomami people are learning different peculiarities of politics, studying national policies, and cooperating with other Indian tribes in order to achieve manufactured goods that will help them to survive on their own terms (Carmack, 2013). This contrradicts with conventional Yanomami customs as these people comprise one of the most isolated tribes in the Amazon. At the same time, as the Yanomami try to maintain their culture, they are not simply changing their relations with outside forces, they are also changing the way they keep their own livelihood. Therefore, despite the fact that practice of colonization has led to the progress of culture, this evolution has happened to preserve old beliefs and traditions (Booth, 1989).

So, the Yanomami’s response to the challenges posed by contact with the modern world is the adaptation to the current era. The indigenous people are changing their customs, and these advancements are made to defend the most fundamental concepts of tribe’s culture. The Indian people admit that the necessity of international intervention to oppose the illnesses and destruction of the environment will definitely change some aspects of their culture. Nevertheless, these transformations are only minor adaptations accepted to guarantee the Yanomami’s survival in the modern world. Moreover, these transformations save the larger and far more essential part of the culture, embracing their beliefs and practices, such as animism and hunting, fishing and gardening. The modern world has greatly influenced the Yanomami culture. However, this does not cause the extinction of old traditions (Veeken, 1993). In spite of the lasting influences of European colonialism on the Yanomami culture, the indigenous people continue to protect their own customs, perpetuating the Yanomami culture into future generations.

To sum up, in the past five decades the Yanomami culture has suffered from severe changes due to the outside forces influenced by colonization practices of the past. Nowadays, colonization has led to hostility, death, and devastation of the environment, influencing conventional Yanomami customs and practices, and most significantly, interfering with the practice of isolation between the Yanomami and the modern world. Although this violation of traditions and the continued practice of colonization can devastate the old culture, the Yanomami are prepared to fight for their traditions.

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