Here in America and in most of Canada, we have funeral traditions that have stood the test of time for decades, even centuries.
But our traditions are vastly different from those in other countries and cultures.
This article looks at Yanomami Tribe funeral traditions and is part of a series that highlights how different cultures care for their dead. Other parts of the series are about Mali Dogon people funeral traditions and Austrian funeral traditions, among others.
Note, these traditions may vary depending on the individual and their own beliefs.
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The Yanomami tribe is a group of about 35,000 indigenous people. They make up about 200 to 250 villages in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil. The rainforest is their primary resource for growing, gathering, and hunting food. To avoid using up an area’s resources, they constantly move their villages to new locations.
It’s important to protect the spirit after death and help them reach peace in the spirit world. They don’t hunt certain bird types, because a spirit could enter the body and not achieve peace.
They also believe that the deceased’s spirit can’t reach the spirit world until they’re gone from the living world by completing specific funeral rituals.
The deceased aren’t buried since the burial and decomposition process is too long. Instead, they have a special cremation ritual. When someone passes away, they cover their body with leaves in the forest for about 30 to 45 days. Then, they collect the bones for the cremation ceremony. During the cremation, you can hear crying and singing among the village members.
After the cremation, they collect the ashes for a soup. The Yanomami practice endocannibalism, eating the flesh of a deceased tribe member. They believe that consuming the deceased’s ashes keeps the deceased’s spirit alive for the next generations. The deceased’s spirit can’t reach peace in the spirit world until they eat the soup.
For the soup, they mix the deceased’s ashes with fermented bananas. Then, they fill a gourd with the soup and pass it along for the entire community to eat.
If an enemy tribe member killed the deceased, they may keep the ashes around until they can get revenge for the deceased’s death. They don’t want to eat the soup until the deceased can have a peaceful path to the spirit world. On the night of the planned revenge raid, only the women eat the soup.
They also worry about the spirits of deceased warriors whose bodies weren’t found, because they can’t perform their cremation ritual.