Religious Beliefs. The Yanomamö believe that the cosmos consists of four parallel planes or layers. The upper-most layer is empty but was once occupied by ancient beings who descended to lower layers. The second layer, or sky, is the home of spirits of dead men and women, and it resembles the earth except that the hunting is better, the food tastier, and the spirits of people are young and beautiful. The third layer is the earth, and below the earth is the fourth layer, or underworld. In the underworld live the Amahi-teri, ancient spirits that bring harm to living humans. The Yanomamö have multiple souls that exist in a complex relation to one another. All shamans can use demons over which they have personal control to cure or cause illnesses. Catholic and evangelical Protestant missionaries have been in steady contact with the Yanomamö since the late 1950s but have had very little success in making converts.
Religions Practitioners. The shaman is called upon to divine the causes of illness or misfortune, cure the ill, and sicken the enemy by sending demons that he controls. Shamans are also expert at using wild and domesticated plants that are useful for casting spells. Only men can become shamans, and they must complete an arduous training period requiring food deprivation and abstinence from sex.
Ceremonies. Perhaps the most important and certainly the most dramatic ceremony is the reahu, or mortuary ceremony. It culminates when the bone ash of the deceased is mixed in a plantain puree and consumed by mourners in a demonstration of respect for the dead and in consolation to the close relatives of the deceased. This ceremony has considerable political implications if the deceased was a valiant warrior ( waiteri ) slain by enemies and when attended by members of allied villages.
Arts. Yanomamö graphic art is limited and simple. Sparse geometric designs, usually black or red, adorn common objects such as baskets, arrow points, and bodies. The verbal and vocal arts such as oratory, chanting, and myth telling are much esteemed and developed among the Yanomamö. Although these acts may have political and social significance (e.g., when village leaders, employing esoteric metaphors and archaic words, ritually exchange chants), performers are admired and gain status based on their talents.
Medicine. The Yanomamö believe most serious illness to be the handiwork of independently acting hekura or enemy shamans who have caused their hekura to sicken a body. A shaman must diagnose the cause and sometimes figuratively pull the demon out, often with the help of his own demons. To prepare, a shaman frequently decorates himself and his surroundings handsomely and invariably inhales a hallucinogenic snuff to aid contact with hekura. Illness may also be caused by the breach of a ritual regulation or taboo. The Yanomamö employ a variety of herbal remedies as cures.
Death and Afterlife. The Yanomamö attribute a large fraction of deaths to the actions of malevolent shamans who send demons to consume the souls of people. Upon death, there are instantaneous lamentations, singing, and chanting. Usually the corpse is very quickly burned by the men, while women and children absent themselves from the village lest they become polluted by the smoke. The men then collect and pulverize the bones and pour the ash into a set of gourds that are stored in the village. After about a year the Yanomamö stage an elaborate mortuary ceremony (reahu). Close relatives, covillagers, and sometimes allies consume the ash, which is mixed into a large trough of plantain soup. This endocannibalism demonstrates affection for the dead and solidarity with the deceased's relatives. It also helps insure that the soul of the dead will find its way to hedu, a Yanomamö paradise above the earth.