Venezuela 1988

In the umbrage of twilight

(First contact with the Yanomami Indians)

“Ooowww, ooowww!” It sounds like a howling and appears to be coming from all sides. Seconds later we are surrounded by the warriors of the village, waving about with their machetes and axes in front of our eyes. “Ooowww, ooowww!”, they blare continuously, ecstatically dancing around us. We stand still, petrified, trying hard not to show we’re scared, or else we would lose face in front of these brave warriors.

After a while, some of the Yanomami wave us over to join them under the roof of the village shabono, and show us a place to put up our hammocks, thus signalling that we’re accepted as their guests. They serve us turkey meat and banana soup, and we enjoy – smacking in appreciation. In the meantime, almost the whole village gathers around us. Speeches are being held, incomprehensible for us. Some of the Indians chose to sit down very close to us; they keep touching us with their bodies and hands and continuously hugging us. Physical contact seems natural to them. It’s an overwhelming, almost exhilarating experience to me to be welcome so heartily by a bellicose people, often said to be sanguinary. After an exhausting march of 200 km on foot through the rain forests of Venezuela, we have finally reached our destination here in this village. Now, at long last, we can relax and recover from the strains of our journey, while living with people who apparently have never had contact to a white man before.

We would like to document the life of this tribe, in order to make the western world aware of the threat of extinction these people are faced with. Since the discovery of Brazil, an estimated 6.8 million Indians have been killed (figures of 1987). About 200.000 are said to be still alive (figures of 1987). Can this tribe, who may be considered as witnesses of the origin of mankind, be saved from the fate of extinction?

The first bonfires flare up in the umbrage of twilight. The Indians are all lying in their hammocks. The only noise to be heard is a happy babble of voices coming from the children. The boys play the games of the grown-ups: they play war. One little child is crying its heart out. Its mother is searching for jigger fleas under its toe nails using a spiky little stick. We loll about in our hammocks, still captured by the occurrences of the past days. We’ve left behind one year of preparatory work. Our aim was to find the Yanomami Indians, to live with them for a while, to get a picture of how vulnerable and endangered they are. We would like to get an idea of the interrelation between the rain forest and its indigenes. Often enough people talk about the destruction of the tropical rain forests, about the extinction of their inhabitants as well as their flora and fauna, half of which is not even known, let alone identified to this day. With all due respect considering the worries about a climatic catastrophe: The industrial nations incessantly import furniture, chopping boards, window frames or railway sleepers made out of tropical woods. The destruction of forest area – we’re talking of an area as big as West Germany destroyed annually – will never cease. Factors responsible are not only the felling, the cattle farms, the orange orchards, or the search for gold, diamonds and other natural resources, but also the construction of water storage lakes, some as big as the Saarland (a province in Germany). Humans and animals flee, if they can, or drown, and the enormous biomass starts to rot. The Yanomamis’ habitat is narrowed down more and more, and the suppression and eradication of their culture will proceed forever. Their fate symbolically stands for the destruction of the tropical rain forest. “The extinction of the population will also be the end of the rain forest. There are no frontiers to the environment, so this matter concerns all of us!”

If time allows, I shall publish an account on our first contact with the Yanomami Indians in the category “Journal Venezuela Yanomami”


Venezuela 1988

Expedition to the headwaters of the Orinoco, looking for the Yanomami Indians.
In order to document the threat to the Yanomami Indians, Denis Katzer marched a total of 300 kilometres by foot through the largest coherent virgin forest on earth, and finally visited an Indian village never to have been seen by a white man before