The Yanomami are one of the largest native and relatively isolated people of South America. They form a society of hunters and farmers, living in the forests and mountains of the north of Brazil and the south of Venezuela, a territory comprised of more than 192.000 km². Today, the total population of the Yanomami is estimated to be around 38.000.
According to data provided by the Special Secretariat of Indigenous Health (2019), the Native Yanomami Land encompasses around 96.000 km² of tropical rainforest and it is recognized for its importance in terms of the conservation of the Amazon’s biodiversity. Inside the Brazilian territory, the population accounts for more than 26.000 indigenous people divided among 228 communities along the Parima Mountains, the watershed that separates the upper Orinoco river and the tributaries of the right bank of the Rio Branco.
To the Yanomami, the forest-land (known as “urihi”) is not only seen as a living space or a supplier of resources but is considered to be a living entity. A part of a complex cosmological dynamic of exchanges between humans and non-humans.
The first interactions between the Yanomami and the “napëpë” (foreigners, or enemies) date back to 1910, through the direct encounters with the representatives of the local extractivist frontier (rubber workers, piaçabeiros, and hunters), with the soldiers of the Commission of Boundaries, with workers of the Indian Protection Service (SPI), and with foreign travelers. Later, between 1940 and 1960, with the opening of posts by the SPI and various catholic and evangelical missions, the Yanomami faced their first permanent points of contact with the outside world.
Since 1970, the region saw the rise of invasions, road constructions, colonization projects, farms, and the arrival of miners, who forced the Yanomami into a massive interaction with the regional economic frontier in expansion.
The implementation of the “Plan for National Integration”, launched by the military regimes of the 1970s, marked the beginning of the construction of a stretch of the Perimetral Norte highway, of public colonization projects, and the discovery of important mineral deposits in the area. This program was responsible for the invasion of the southeast Yanomami territory and a large-scale epidemiological shock, causing severe demographic losses, generalized sanitary degradation, and grave incidents of social disruption.
For the past years, there has been a resurgence in the gold rush, provoking an increase in the mining activity inside the Yanomami Land. This has led to the rise of violence and serious sanitary and social problems in a region constantly threatened by deforestation and, more recently, by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Aside from having been abandoned by federal authorities in the struggle against invaders, the Yanomami people have had to endure the disregard and the lack of adequate assistance during the Sars-Cov-2 pandemic. Illegal mining also did not fade, expanding in 30% of their territory invasions, destroying 500 hectares of forests between January and December of 2020.