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Gold and death

Gold was discovered in Yanomami territory in the 1970's. Throughout the 1980's, thousands of Brazilian gold miners streamed into the area, and by the end of the 80's there were 30-40,000 fortune hunters among the 10,000 Brazilian Yanomami.

In July 1993, a group of gold miners attempts to massacre an entire village of 85 indians. The miners, who have been mining illegally inside Yanomami territory for a considerable period, have become tired of indians constantly bothering them by asking for gifts. Four indians are killed in an ambush and a gold miner is killed in revenge. On July 23rd, the miners attack while the village men are participating in a ceremony in another village and most of the women and children are out gathering fruit. Only 19 people are left, mainly women and children. The gold miners attack with guns and machetes. Some children are able to escape into the forest. All of the weakest are killed, among them an elderly blind woman, three young girls, three boys between the ages of 6-8, a girl of three and a one year old baby. Twelve bullet-riddled and dismembered bodies lie in a pool of blood when the miners pull back.

Only two of the participants in the massacre were jailed for their deeds, and none of those who stood behind by financing the miners and equipping their "punitative expedition".

Image may contain: People, Skin, Social group, Standing, Chest.The photo shows the survivors from Haximú village who carry the ashes of their dead relatives in calabasses within baskets. The 69 survivors fled from the Haximú area and appeared one month later in Toototobi village, where Carlo Zacquini took this picture.

Funeral rituals for dead relatives are of great importance for the Yanomami to ensure peace for the dead souls in the next world. The bodies are cremated, and the remains of the skeleton pulverized. The bone powder is kept in calabasses until all of the important funeral rituals - where several villages are assembled - are completed. Some of the powder/ashes are mixed in a banana drink for these occasions. The rest is buried near the families fireplace.

Since the 1970's, a prolonged campaign has been waged to establish a territory that officially belongs to the Yanomami. The fight was crowned with success in 1991, when the Yanomami Indigenous Park was established for the Brazilian Yanomami. This was still not enough to hinder the massacre two years later.

Many Yanomami have also died of western diseases which they lacked resistance to - especially malaria. For a tale about the epidemics, read Xawara - The Cannibal Gold and the Falling of the Sky by Davi Kopenawa Yanomami.

Published Dec. 21, 2020 1:45 PM - Last modified Jan. 15, 2021 9:21 AM