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The house

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Davi Kopenawa Yanomami says:

When I was a child I lived in a very large house. In those days, before the epidemic-smoke of the white men, our elderly were numerous. I don't remember seeing them sinking the posts for this house, nor roofing it with palm fronds. I only remember it as already built. In those days my mother always took me with her into the forest to look for crabs, fish with timb�, or gather wild fruits. I would also go with her in the fields when we needed to harvest cassava, bananas, or to cut firewood. Sometimes the hunters would also call me at daybreak when they left for the forest. I went with them and when they killed small game they would give them to me. That was how I grew up in the forest. It was in this first house that my thoughts awoke and began to straighten out. There I saw how the ancients did the things that Omama, who created the Yanomami, had taught them.

The large common house - called yano or shabono - stands central in the life of the yanomami. It is the frame or arena for nearly all important occasions. Each family has its own fireplace here with their hammocks hung a short distance from the next family, who they as a rule have close kinship ties to. The house is where visitors from other local communities are received with generous celebrations - where food is plentiful and the large space in the middle of the house reverberates with song and dance night after night. Life in the big house is, for us, a strange mixture of the individual and collective. Everyone can see the hunter who comes home tired and tosses down his catch beside the family fire, so that his wife can prepare it. But no one "notices" it or makes comments about it. During the night, one sees the glow from the small heating fires under every single hammock, and the village chief often holds long monologues out in the darkness with his views on how things stand and how things should be done. But it is not certain that any of this has practical consequences the next day. No one can give orders to anyone else among the yanomami, and there is a great respect for the wishes and decisions of the individual. The big house is in many ways the center of the universe. It provides security, a framework for solidarity and a collective sense of belonging. With its high arching, a diameter of up to one hundred meters and its changing play of light and shadow through a mosaic of palm-thatch, it is also an impressive majestic construction, which can give a western visitor an almost sacred experience.

Published Dec. 21, 2020 1:28 PM - Last modified Dec. 22, 2020 7:56 AM