Yanomamö - Orientation

Identification. The Yanomamö are a South American tribal people who straddle the border between extreme southeastern Venezuela and upper northwestern Brazil. Their name may be derived from the Yanomamö word yano, which designates a provisional house made during treks. Alternative names such as "Shamatari" or "Waica" (Waika) are relative terms used by some Yanomamö to refer to other Yanomamö living to the south or north, respectively.

Location. In Venezuela the extension of the Yanomamö is delimited to the north by the headwaters of Erebato and Caura rivers, east along the Serra Parima, and west along the Padamo and Mavaca rivers in a direct line to the Brazilian border. In Brazil they are concentrated near the headwaters of the Demini, Catrimani, Araçá, Padauiri, Uraricoera, Parima, and Mucajaí rivers. In Brazil and Venezuela the total area inhabited is approximately 192,000 square kilometers. Dense tropical forest covers most of the area, but there are sparse savannas at higher elevations. The topography is flat to gently rolling with elevations ranging from 250 to 1,200 meters.

Demography. Although ethnographers have done extensive and excellent demographic research on Venezuelan Yanomamö, a complete census for Venezuelan and Brazilian Yanomamö is lacking. Current estimates indicate about 12,500 and 8,500 Yanomamö in Venezuela and Brazil, respectively, for a total of 21,000. There are approximately 363 villages ranging in size from 30 to 90 residents each with some Venezuelan villages in the Mavaca drainage reaching 200 and more. Population density ranges from about 6.7 square kilometers per person to 33.5 square kilometers per person.

Linguistic Affiliation. Linguists have been unable to conclusively affiliate the Yanomamö language with any major South American language family. A linguist divides Yanomaman into four major dialectal groups: Sanema (3,262 speakers), Yanam (856 speakers), Yanomam (5,331 speakers), and Yanomami (11,752 speakers). The last two dialects, accounting for 81 percent of the total, are mutually intelligible, whereas the others may not be.

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