The harmful Yanomamo culture as portrayed in Spirit of the Rainforest

Today, we will continue the series of “Spirit of the Rainforest” by looking at the negative aspects of this culture from an outsiders perspective. This is a commentary on the appearance of a culture that was portrayed in the book.


 

Negative Aspects

A major negative aspect of the Yanomamo culture is a degrading and disrespectful view of women. They are often raped and captured as part of village raids. If they try to escape and leave their husbands they are maimed or killed. Women are promised to whoever presents himself as a good son-in-law by hunting meat and serving the parents, regardless of a woman’s desire and age. The men assert that the women are only here for the men, not the men for the women.[1] The men seem only to care about sex and when the woman is ready for sex (meaning of age).[2] This is further illustrated in the story of Longfoot and Yoshicami when she was sick, he left her because he could not “get any more sex out of her.”[3] However, many of the wars that occur in the book happen over a dispute over a woman, including the war between Honey and Mouth.

Another negative aspect is the cycle of vengeance. It is taught from an early age and continues throughout one’s life as long as that may be. If a village kills a relative, the relative and the rest of their village is to raid the killer’s village to kill them as well as others. This often led to fear of attack and ambush, eventually causing villages to starve. While Honey turned from this Yanomamo culture, they still faced that struggle of seeking revenge when they were wronged. But, God changed their lives and helped them understand what it means to live a life that honors Him valuing peace, love, and respect for others including women over vengeance and war. Their loyalty to God surpasses their loyalty to others and even one’s appearance when they appeared as cowards.

[1] Ibid, 102.

[2] Ibid, 102, 157.

[3] Ibid, 189.

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Cross Cultural Review of Spirit of the Rainforest

Today, we continue our Spirit of the Rainforest book review series by examining what are some of the positive aspects of the Yanomamo culture. While they are in a completely different place and have a completely different set of rules, are there aspects of their society that they do better than we do? Is there something we can learn from them? The next post will look at some of the negative aspects of that type of culture.

Positive Aspects

A major positive aspect of the Yanomamo culture is a strong sense of loyalty and community. The Yanomamo are so loyal that any offense to one is an offense to all. This loyalty is tested as those who want to live in Honey often have to give up their families in order to live in the Honey culture of peace and love. The Yanomamo’s are also very generous, even saying being stingy is deserving of the fire pit.[1] Compared to the nabas who never shared, the Yanomamo’s provide a model of a generous community helping out, particularly in the story of Yoshicami and Honey village.[2]

A major difference between the Yanomamo worldview and the secular American worldview is that the spiritual world is intimately tied to the physical world far more for the Yanomamo. The spirit world is more important to the Yanomamo than many Americans, as Americans separates these two worlds much more. Yanomamo generally seek out healing, advice or help from the spirits first, whereas Americans will typically turn to a medicine, science, or their own efforts first, then will turn to spirituality as a last resort. In addition, the Yanomamo display a greater obedience to their spirits leading, even prompting Jungleman to say, “When you have spirits as wonderful as mine are, you would never think of ignoring their advice.”[3] My culture tends to wrestle God for control, oftentimes not submitting to His leading.

[1] Ibid, 96.

[2] Ibid, 190.

[3] Ibid, 42.

Spirit of the Rainforest: Strengths, Weaknesses, and Culture

This post will finish the summary of Spirit of the Rainforest by looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the book. We will also introduce the next part of this book review by looking at the Yanomamo culture and my own Western culture. The next post will give an expanded look at the positives of their culture and after that, the weaknesses of their culture compared to the West.


 

The strength of this book is the personal and intimate account of an actual Yanomamo shaman. Jungleman describes the Yanomamo life in graphic detail and gives the reader reasoning to understand their culture and lifestyle. Spirit of the Rainforest shows how God can truly make a difference in a community. The book beautifully shows a village of new believers struggling between their old traditions and new beliefs. It describes how they become different and standout from other villages by treating women and children appropriately and by not seeking revenge.

The weakness of this book is primarily with the verifiability of the stories. It seems that Ritchie did all he could to verify the stories and research, but many anthropologists seem to differ with him due to the negative impact and experiences described in the book. Also, since Jungleman was not physically present for every account or event described, the accuracy of the stories is questionable: information could have been missing or altered through second hand accounts. Ritchie however does state repeatedly that the events are true and that “truth is stranger than fiction.”[1]


Compare and Contrast Cultures

Spirit of the Rainforest provides the reader with a glimpse into a different culture, a different way of life, and the impact of true Christianity. The heavy reliance on the spiritual world is more neutral for the Yanomamo’s when compared to an American worldview. The Yanomamo’s loyalty and community is a positive aspect compared to an American society, while the revenge mentality and poor view of women is a negative in comparison.


[1] Mark Andrew Ritchie, Spirit of the Rainforest, 2nd ed. (Chicago: Island lake Press, 2000), 8, 245-48.

Spirit of the Rainforest: A Summary

Continuing the series on “The Spirit of the Rainforest” that was introduced in the previous post, this post will give a brief summary about the book. Hopefully this summary will provide a foundation for what will be discussed in future posts as the Yanomamo culture is compared and contrasted to our own culture. Following that will be a post on an outsiders look on how to share the gospel with a community like this

This post will take us through the book from the opening raid, the barbaric results, and the consequential fear to new way of peace, love, and forgiveness that is introduced. As one village becomes an example and a light for others, Spirit of the Rainforestprovides a case study for tribal missions in a very difficult environment.


Summary of Spirit of the Rainforest

Told from the perspective of a shaman named Jungleman, Spirit of the Rainforest provides the reader with a glimpse into the life of a shaman, their dependence on the spirits of the jungle, and the role of a shaman in the village. Jungleman grew from a boy scared of these spirit encounters to one of the most powerful Yanomamo shamans. Eventually, he began to teach other shamans how to use the spirits for various purposes including healing, cursing, and sexual fantasies. Jungleman’s account of the Yanomamo tribe provides readers unprecedented access to a vastly different culture as he describes the Yanomamo customs that includes their reasons for fighting, wars, treatment of women and children, the effect of the nabas (term for foreigners), and the role of spirits.

The book begins by describing a conflict between two villages, Honey and Mouth that epitomizes the Yanomamo struggle between the old culture (Mouth) with the new culture (Honey) that is being introduced by some of the nabas. The old culture includes revenge, fighting, guilt and fear, is contrasted with this new way of life that is peace, love and respect. Honey has thrown away the old Yanomamo customs and spirits and has started following the great spirit Yai Pada’s new ways. Honey flourishes under the new ways and soon becomes the envy of the other villages that are experiencing difficulties.

The Yanomamo culture of vengeance and loyalty is introduced early on through the raid on Potato Village. This one story sums up the Yanomamo tradition. The extent of the raid can vary from two opposing warriors clubbing each other to more serious raids where every male is killed and the women are assaulted, raped, and carried off to become wives of the raiding village. Children in the raided village are often killed, or occasionally captured to become slaves. Many village raids were spurred on by the killing of a relative that was a result of a revenge killing; this became an endless cycle of raids and fighting that sparked more revenge. The assaults on the women and children were to stop future generations from exacting revenge on that tribe. Often this tradition would fail as different tribes retaliate for those relatives showing familial loyalty by raiding the attacking village.

The Yanomamo’s discovered that the great spirit they thought was evil and would kill their children was actually a good spirit named Yai Pada. Jungleman’s apprentice Shoefoot, threw away his spirits to follow Yai Pada, and soon Shoefoot and his village Honey, begin changing. Honey becomes the envy of the Yanomamo’s as they flourish under this new culture of peace, love, and respect. Every shaman that visits this village is met with the same response from their spirits pleading not to be thrown away. As the story concludes, many Yanomamo villages tired of dying and spiritual ineffectiveness, rebuke the old ways to follow Yai Pada.

Spirit of the Rainforest: The Good, Bad, and Ugly of Tribal Missions

Over the next few post, we will be looking at and reviewing the book, “Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo Shaman’s Story” by Mark Ritchie. This book tells the story of the Yanomamo tribe located in the Amazon Rainforest of South America. It tells the story of how this tribe has evolved over the last 30-40 years and that outsiders have had on them.  

Spirit of the Rainforest offers a glimpse into how tribal missions have played out for this one particular tribe. The book recounts some of the most brutal and barbaric stories of this culture. A group of individuals that was overwhelmed with the evils of this world. This included gang-rapes, dismemberment’s, torture, violent killing of babies, and many more atrocities. The book is at times hard to read because of these violent stories and how these people treat others. It is also a reminder of the effect evilness and demons can have on a culture. Throughout the book, there are stories of the shamans interacting with these spirits. It also shows how much these evil spirits try to keep the shaman’s and tribe away from healing power of God. They will go to great lengths to cloud the people’s mind. As one tribe flourishes because Christianity is introduced and practiced, their light and love and peace become infectous to the other tribes. However, as more of the tribes become converted, a sociological war breaks out between the missionaries and anthropologists. The missionaries try to help the tribes, while the anthropologists try to convince the Yanomamo people to stay true to their culture and tradition. It is amazing to hear how the people want to change and see the benefits of moving to the Christian faith.

While many of the the tribes seek out their own missionary, there are a number of stories of bad and fake missionaries that are taking advantage of the unsuspecting tribes. While these missionaries are supposed to be there to help and evangelize, they instead offer a horrible example. At times, they do just as many horrible atrocities to these people including taking advantage of them, raping men, women, and children, taking pornographic photos, and abusing them. The way some of these “missionaries” treated the tribes people, ruined much of the amazing work the God had done through these wonderful missionaries. It was so bad, that some of the tribes wanted nothing to do with these outsiders because of the pain that was associated with them.

As will be shown over the next few posts, it will be shown how God loves all people and how one spark can cause an amazing reaction. This one little spark caused such a stir that so many people left everything to follow this new way that brought peace to a people that never knew it. It removed fear and anger, and turned a culture of revenge into a community of forgiveness. This is a reminder of the spiritual warfare that we all face everyday, and while this book portrays how demons work, it also offers a glimpse into how God will use angels even to protect his people. This book will show many believers some of the best and worst tactics to use for evangelism, not only in tribal missions but in normal missional daily living.

The background and plot of the story will be given in the next post, but below is a brief introduction to the book and what to expect. This paper was meant to be short so many of the details were left out, but hopefully it will show a good summary level of the book and its application. For any interested, the book can be found here: Spirit of the Rainforest


 

Spirit of the Rainforest: A Critical Review

Spirit of the Rainforest, tells the story of the Yanomamo tribe and  lifestyle through the perspective of a powerful shaman named “Jungleman” over a 30 year time span. The book provides a glimpse into the Yanomamo culture that shows their reliance and interaction with various spirits, a revenge mentality, and views regarding women and children. Spirit of the Rainforest also details the positive and negative encounters and impacts of anthropologists and Christian missionaries on the Yanomamo villages. This review will provide a summary of Spirit of the Rainforest, compare the Yanomamo worldview and culture with my own, and finally describe how this author would communicate the concepts of the spirit world, humanity, and sin to the Yanomamo.