These People Don't Bury Their Dead - They Eat Them!
May. 20, 2020
Many Amazonian, African, and Native American societies have traditionally practiced peaceful, cannibalistic mortuary rituals.
The Yanomami tribe is a group of about 35,000 indigenous people. They make up about 200 to 250 villages in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil. The rainforest is their primary resource for growing, gathering, and hunting food. To avoid using up an area’s resources, they constantly move their villages to new locations.
The Yanomami don’t believe that death is a natural occurrence. They believe that a rival tribe’s shaman sent an evil spirit to someone in their tribe.
It’s important to protect the spirit after death and help them reach peace in the spirit world. They don’t hunt certain bird types, because a spirit could enter the body and not achieve peace.
They also believe that the deceased’s spirit can’t reach the spirit world until they’re gone from the living world by completing specific funeral rituals.
The deceased aren’t buried since the burial and decomposition process is too long. Instead, they have a special cremation ritual. When someone passes away, they cover their body with leaves in the forest for about 30 to 45 days. Then, they collect the bones for the cremation ceremony.
During the cremation, you can hear crying and singing among the village members.
After the cremation, they collect the ashes for a soup. The Yanomami practice endocannibalism, eating the flesh of a deceased tribe member. They believe that consuming the deceased’s ashes keeps the deceased’s spirit alive for the next generations. The deceased’s spirit can’t reach peace in the spirit world until they eat the soup.
For the soup, they mix the deceased’s ashes with fermented bananas. Then, they fill a gourd with the soup and pass it along for the entire community to eat.
If an enemy tribe member killed the deceased, they may keep the ashes around until they can get revenge for the deceased’s death. They don’t want to eat the soup until the deceased can have a peaceful path to the spirit world. On the night of the planned revenge raid, only the women eat the soup.
They also worry about the spirits of deceased warriors whose bodies weren’t found, because they can’t perform their cremation ritual.
Violence is one of the leading causes of Yanomami death. Up to half of all of Yanomami males die violent deaths in the constant conflict between neighboring communities over local resources.
When Yanomami tribes fight and raid nearby tribes, women are often raped, beaten, and brought back to the shabono to be adopted into the captor's community. Wives may be beaten frequently, so as to keep them docile and faithful to their husbands. Yanomami men have been known to kill children while raiding enemy villages.
Sexual jealousy causes much of the violence.
The start of menstruation symbolizes the beginning of womanhood. Girls typically start menstruation around the age of 12-15. Girls are often betrothed before their first period of menstruation and the marriage may only be consummated once the girl starts menstruating, though the taboo is often violated and many girls become sexually active before then.
The Yanomami word for menstruation (roo) translates literally as "squatting" in English, as they use no pads or cloths to absorb the blood. Due to the belief that menstrual blood is poisonous and dangerous, girls are kept hidden away in a small tent-like structure constructed of a screen of leaves.
A deep hole is built in the structure over which girls squat, to "rid themselves" of their blood. These structures are regarded as isolation screens.
The mother is notified immediately, and she, along with the elder female friends of the girl, are responsible for disposing of her old cotton garments and must replace them with new ones symbolizing her womanhood and availability for marriage.
During the week of that first menstrual period the girl is fed with a stick, for she is forbidden from touching the food in any way. While on confinement she has to whisper when speaking and she may speak only to close kin, such as sisters or her mother, but never a male.