I have lived for more than 2 years among the Yanomami. The following account of Yanomami life in the forest is, for the most part, based on my own observations from that period (Taylor, 1974, 1983).

A Yanomami settlement is a clearing in the forest containing one or more of the several types of houses used by the different subgroups of the Yanomami. Directly associated with the site is a year-round source of water at a nearby stream or river. Radiating out from the settlement are numerous trails leading to the fields currently in use, to abandoned fields, to hunting, fishing, and gathering locations, to campsites in the forest, and to other settlements. The several fields actively cultivated by the families of the community are generally cut in primary forest, though occasionally in secondary forest, and usually no more than a 2-hour walk from the settlement. In more distant fields, a second family house is built for temporary stays of 1 to 2 weeks during the dry season. Several hours away from the settlement are a number of campsites used during dry-season fishing expeditions, long-term hunting trips, and journeys to other communities. The forest around the settlement is also criss-crossed by a number of minor trails used on hunting or gathering trips for food and raw materials of all kinds. These trails link together a series of regularly used locations, such as stands of fruit trees where game birds feed; streams where fish, crabs, or frogs can be found at certain times of the year; and places where different species of terrestrial game feed at times. And in all directions a number of major trails extend into the territories and lead to the settlement sites of other communities. These trails are more or less frequently and regularly used as friendships and alliances between communities come and go over the years.

This complex and ever-changing network of trails and the sites that they link together are not, of course, evenly spread out over a uniform and homogeneous circle of forest. In the Yanomami area, when you travel through the forest for more than even a few minutes, one of the most striking things you notice is its extraordinary diversity.

The use of the various hunting zones, and therefore the various biotopes around a Yanomami settlement, varies according to the type of hunting practiced: dawn/ dusk, day, or festival hunting. In some parts of Yanomami territory there may be totally unused areas that for years at a time function as game preserves (Gross, 1975; Harner, 1972; Hickerson, 1970).

A Yanomami community certainly needs access to a relatively large, ecologically heterogeneous territory that is contiguous with the territories of a number of neighboring communities, but we may wonder if so much land as 777 hectares per person is really needed. To the best of my knowledge, however, land use in Amazonia with non-Indian techniques, which involve clearing large areas of their protective forest cover for introduced, and inappropriate, crops and livestock, is leading to an ultimate degradation of the environment and is not self-sustaining on a permanent basis. The apparent exceptions of the riverine caboclos (forest-dwellers) (Frechione et al., 1985) and the rubber tappers of, for example, the State of Acre (Allegretti, 1985) are, in fact, land uses by settlers of long standing who have learned from the Indians a number of the basic requirements of a self-sustaining life-style in Amazonia. Of primary importance among these, and first to be ignored

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001

Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement