The Yanomami (also spelled Yanomamö and sometimes written with an ogonek under the first 'a' as Yąnomamö) are an indigenous people of Brazil and Venezuela. They were studied by Napoléon Chagnon, who called them "the Fierce People" and described their use of a hallucinogen called ebene. The name generally refers to a people who live an area that spans parts of the northwest Amazon and southern Orinoco, and who speak languages from the Yanomami group of languages. Traditionally, a Yanomami village is a wood and thatch house called a shabono. The shabono is circular in shape and surrounds a central open space. Each family has their own area within the shabono. The Yanomami are known as hunters, fishers, and agriculturalists, cultivating as their main crops plantains and cassava.

As with many other native Americans of tropical South America, the Yanomami traditionally wore essentially no clothing. The sole exception to this was a string-like belt worn by the men, into which the foreskin of the penis would be clamped. As with many other tribes, body hair was considered repugnant and would usually be plucked out.

In the Yanomami language, if a vowel is phonemically nasalized, all vowels after it in the word are also nasalized. So if the ogonek is written under the first vowel, the whole word is nasalized. All the vowels in "Yanomami" are nasal, but it is unclear whether they are phonemically nasal or nasal just because of the nasal consonants. There are many different variations and dialects of the language, such that people from different villages cannot always understand each other. The Yanomami language is believed by linguists to be unrelated to all other South American indigenous languages, and indeed the origins of the language are unknown.

It should be noted that "Yanomamö" is not what the Yanomamö call themselves, but is rather a word in their language devised by Chagnon as a convenient way to refer to many people.

There is tremendous debate among anthropologists over why the Yanomamö are so fierce, and over whether the Yanomamö are indeed so fierce at all. Indeed, the word 'fierce' comes from a possibly innacurate translation of a Yanomami word 'waiteri', the meaning of which can connote a multiplicity of things such as strength or genourousness.


Kenneth Good, Into the Heart
Jacques Lizot, Tales of the Yanomamo
Wiliam Milliken and Bruce Albert, Yanomami: A Forest People
Alcida Ramos, Sanuma Memories