Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Tribal Violence Among the Yanomamo

In Western cultures killings and especially revenge killings are frowned upon and are punishable by lifetime terms of imprisonment. The laws in western societies are very clear in regards to killing being unacceptable. Religion seems to have been a major factor in this culture. The Yanomamo have no such written laws and differ from western cultures in the fact that a killer or Unokais is not punished by their society. The consequences however can be more severe because of the retaliation of the murder victim’s tribe/kin. 
          Revenge killings are carried out by a group of men that participate in a raid. These raids are carried out in retaliation from a previous killing. Not all men that initially set out on the trip which can be a journey of days participate. Some fall ill or "step on a thorn" during the journey and turn back to return to the tribe. Repeat incidences of not participating can earn a Yanomamo the title of tehe or a coward. The night prior to the raid an effigy of the targeted person is made. However, the first man they encounter is generally the person killed. Revenge killings usually occur at dawn and typically one or two killings occur as a result of an ambush.
          The Unokais benefit from their title by thwarting attacks and abductions or seduction of their tribes women by neighboring tribes. The non-Unokais benefit mainly by not being specifically targeted in revenge killings. Becoming known as a Unokais may increase their reproductive and marital success and is also encouraged among boys.
          The Yanomamo have tribes which are led by what is known as a headman. These headmen have multiple wives and tribes are interrelated to each other over several generations. This interrelation creates a web of revenge killings. It’s as if you attack one member of the tribe and the whole “family” will seek revenge.
          Socially the Unokais are looked at as valiant warriors willing to avenge their kin. Women of Yanomamo find this attractive in a mate. Non-Unokais are often ridiculed and as well as insulted. The wives of non-Unokais are also subject to increased sexual attention from other males due to the lack of fear of retaliation.
          Laws provide guidelines for a society, setting boundaries and consequences for actions. As mentioned in the reading material the Yanomamo perform revenge killings for a number of reasons and are consistently living in fear.


  1. I agree with your opinion why there should be laws , without laws revenge will never stop and more losses will become on the way.

  2. I enjoyed your post. I thought it was interesting that you included the part about some of the men doing things in order to get out of having to go on the raid. That was my favorite part while reading the article.

  3. I found your initial paragraph interesting as you say the unokais isn't punished for the killing. But if they are in turn killed by the kin of his victim, or if one of his own kinsmen are killed, isn't that a form of punishment? Think of our own death penalty. A person who is killed can be put to death by our justice system. Is it really so different?

    Good discussion on benefits and impact on other aspects of society.

    Your final discussion doesn't really address the question. Why do we need laws against a behavior people shouldn't want to do? Is the question valid?

  4. Your closing paragraph, although short, i had the same train of thought .... That laws are away of setting boundaries for people but can t it be argued that we too live in fear. Fear of breaking a law and being punished. I did like the correlation between the religious influences and the creation of laws against killing. Good post