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Rites of passages - the Yanomami
[Note this is a sample page/model answer for ESL students. It should not be used or quoted for research purposes!]

The Yanomami are an indigenous group that live deep in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and Venezuela. They live in villages of circular wood and thatch houses called shabonos, which surround the central open area. Their name means "human being" but they have been called "the fierce people" because of their readiness to fight Yanomamis from other villages or other tribes. The Yanomami get their food by hunting and fishing; they also grow crops. Men are usually the hunters, often roaming long distances and staying away from the village for up to a week or more. The women gather food from the forest and tend the gardens.

The Yanomami regard the stages of life as akin to religious experiences, e.g., at birth they are transformed from an animal to a human nature. Further significant changes are from childhood to adulthood, from individual to social life, from sickness to health. The most traumatic change occurs at the moment of death, when the Yanomami experiences the final passage from the natural to the supernatural life, from the mortal conditions of life to an immortal existence. 

When it is thought that an illness is incurable, then conclusion is clear: the fevers, nausea, pains, etc., are because the reflection (noreshi) has been lost. The quest to find find noreshi begins. The ritual develops as such: A jar, symbolic of the tree where the animal noreshi dwells, is placed by the sick person. The jar is empty, since the noreshi fell out or got lost. The healers go to the place where it supposedly got lost, the forest, the river, etc, holding leaves that are shaken against the floor. The healers walk in single file, one behind the other, in solemn procession. They return to the sick person and so that mosquitoes will not bite him when he lies on the floor, they touch his body with leaves and they bathe him and repeat the process amongst themselves.
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"When a Yanomami dies, the first reaction of his tribesmen is a deep unconstrained anger (puhi hushuo), since a Yanomami's death is not a natural phenomenon, but is caused by an evil spirit which was sent by a shaman of a hostile tribe.  Due to this belief there are many holy wars among the Amazonian tribes. (Wozniki)
The funeral rites themselves can be divided into three ceremonies, which are concentrated around the fire pit of the deceased. In the first the Yanomami show public anger and grief by weeping and putting tobacco into the mouth. The dead body is then cremated since "to bury a corpse would mean to abandon the individual and leave it bound to the slow decomposition of the flesh rather than to liberate it." (Wozniki, 131." Finally the ashes of the cremated person are eaten.

During the year there are several occasions for celebrations. The right time must be chosen to have enough food available for entertaining guests. An important function of festivals is not only to maintain a friendly relationship with other groups and mediating marriages but also to honour the spirits.

Festive rituals include music and dancing, intoxicating drinks or hallucinogenic drugs that put the people involved into the world of the spirits. The savage spirits are embodied by masked dancers. They perform impetuous and grotesque acts, and then again mad and comical acts. In the ritual, the savage masked dancers are tamed; man is thus given access to the power and skills of the spirits, available for their every-day life.
Growing Up

The process of development of a child into an adult is celebrated at certain stages. The Yanomami have an individual celebration for each child (in contrast with other peoples which have group celebrations). Yanomami adolescents have to stand hard initiation tests. The purpose of initiation tests such as flagellation or "ant tests" is to strengthen the personality and will power of the adolescents. Those who were tested are proud to have stood the test. The entire community participates in the initiation of young people. In this way the rites always also confirm the cohesion and continued existence of the tribe.  

Gold was recently found in Yanomami territory. The miners that arrived soon after in search of the gold have brought with them disease, alcoholism, and violence Yanomami culture was in a danger of disappearing. Fortunately, the Yanomami have been protected by Brazilian government and have received financial aid, but it is difficult to be optimistic that they will survive the 21st century.

"Amazon Indians." The Hutchinson Guide to the World. 3rd ed. 1998.
Dineen, Jacqueline. Rites of Passage. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1999.
Woznicki, Andrew. "Endocannibalism of the Yanomami ." THE SUMMIT TIMES SSN 1090-0071. 13 Jan. 2006 <http://users.rcn.com/salski/No18-19Folder/Endocannibalism.htm>.

Model web page by Paul Shoebottom
Frankfurt International School
[Note this is a sample page/model answer for ESL students. It should not be used or quoted for research purposes!]