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Yanomami, Will they survive contamination?

Translated from the original Italian reportage published on Missioni Consolata Magazine // Turin – October 2015

Is there anything inevitable in the destruction of tribal societies? What is happening today in the Yanomami territories of the Brazilian Amazon - land theft, indiscriminate extraction of valuable minerals, wild exploitation of water resources, and biodiversity – raises this question. 

The Brazilian and the local Roraima administrators have always explained (and justified) this situation as a secondary consequence of development and progress.

When I arrived in Roraima and Boa Vista in January 2016, a small part of me considered the extinction of the Yanomami as a tragic but inevitable condition. An unprecedented struggle is bringing the Yanomami to rapidly change their existence, from millennial isolation to wearing modern clothing, buying the latest generation phones, and watching satellite TV in the middle of the forest. It is a process of implosion and “social evolution” – unconscious, uncontrolled, perhaps obscured, and “piloted” – which is altering and destroying their traditions and lifestyles. 

The territory has always been the center of the conflict and the reason for the extermination of the Yanomami people who, until some generations ago, knew our existence only through contacts with missionaries. One of them, among the few survivors of a probably heroic generation, is Brother Carlos Zacquini, a Missionary of MissionaridellaConsolata, an Italian non-governmental organization of Christian inspiration.

For nearly 50 years, Carlos has lived in touch with indigenous people and for this reason, he was the best possible guide in the area of ​​Catrimani. Along the river routes, passing from village to village and during the evenings spent together under the roof of the mission, I listened to him telling me exciting stories of years lived among indigenous people – from the first contact to the construction and the development of the mission. Through his stories, I have traced the history of the last years of the CatrimaniIndianslearned about legends, anecdotes, traditions, difficulties they encountered, and the difficult moments they had.  

Carlos represents an important part of the historical memory of the last decades of the Brazilian Yanomami people. A living witness, whose existence is devoted to the indigenous cause. Part of his lifetime work and that of other missionaries have been carefully selected and guarded in Boa Vista.  

Two small rooms – subject to the weather and under the constant threat of moisture and termites  lies a treasure: years of images, newspaper clippings, billboards, books, testimonies, and objects of Yanomami culture. An invaluable asset that, with effort, brother Carlos tries to defend, preserve and increase. In the hope, that one day it will become a landmark for indigenous people, young missionaries, scholars, researchers, and common people. 

My fear of slow contamination of the Yanomami concretized during my stay among them: health care professionals and support structures unrelated to the cause and inadequate staff. However, seeing their lives synchronized with the rhythms of the forest and their extraordinary humanity has also paved the way for a wider vision of the future: to fight for the Yanomami cause. My aim is to do this by giving support to as many of them as I can, through the principle of self-determination and auto-documentation which will raise awareness among other Yanomami. The missionaries share this aim and also try to prepare them for the challenges of the Western invasion, which is irreversible.

Nevertheless, there remain many unanswered questions. 
What will become of the Yanomami (like many other indigenous peoples in the world) in the future not so far away? What can we do to relieve their struggle? How many people even are aware of their existence, of the dramas and dangers of their fight for survival?