A young boy of the Yanomami Tribe. (Image Credits: Google Images)

Why the Yanomami eat burnt remains of their dead

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The world is an intriguing place where many different cultures exist with their own perceptions of traditions, one of them being Yanomami. While some can come off as unique while others can be flat out bizarre, one custom that will definitely divide opinion, comes from the Yanomami tribe of Venezuela and Brazil.

The Yanomami are known for employing a very unique way of disposing of their dead. Instead of burying the bodies of loved ones or cremating them, the Yanomami burn them and eat the charred ashy remains.

To most people who come from a modern and structured society, the mere thought of this ritual is flabbergasting. The reality though, is that many cultures have unique customs which seem idiosyncratic to an outsider but are quite normal with in the community. In this regard, the comparison or consideration of traditions is a matter of differing perspectives. It is more of a subjective task than and objective one.

Having said that, this ritual of the Yanomami does test the resolve of most and stand out among some of the most hair-raising traditions in the world.

Anthropologists have tried to understand the complexities behind this ritual and have gained the perspective of natives from the Yanomami tribe.

There findings have painted a fascinating picture of the Yanomami. The tribe is found in Venezuela and parts of Brazil and is also sometimes called Yanam or Senema.

One of the most unique traits of the tribe, which has stood the test of time, is the fact that it rejects outside influences. The tribe has shunned westernization with an unparalleled zeal which has allowed them to carry their traditional practices into the modern world with out alterations.

When it comes to the ritual with the dead, the Yanomami practice endocannibalism, which is the practice of eating the flesh of the dead from the same community, society or tribe.

The Yanomami take it a step further though as they burn and char the flesh of their dead before consuming it, often bring the flesh to an ashy, burnt consistency.

It is their unique belief system which makes them follow this ritual diligently. According to the lore surrounding this practice in the Yanomami culture, the soul can only leave the bounds of the physical body and transcend, once the body had been burnt and eaten by its living relatives.

During the ritual, the participants wail and cry to express their grief and paint their faces with grime and ash from the dead body. Following this, the bones from the body are collected and mixed with some of the ash. They are then crushed to a powdery consistency.

The mix is then added to bananas which are used to prepare a banana soup, a delicacy in the region. This banana soup is then offered to everyone for consumption.

To the Yanomami, this ritual is the only way that the deceased soul can find eternal peace. Another slight variation to the ritual is when a family member is killed by an enemy. In such a case, only the women eat the ashes.

Following the ritual, the tribe exacts revenge on the enemy, hence, the ritual marks the beginning of a revenge raid.

As odd as the ritual might sound, the idea of revenge for the death of a loved one is not alien us, even in today’s world. This commonality, coupled with displays of sorrow and grief during the ceremony give us a glimpse into the similarities in modern and tribal cultures.

It is a sign of a common human thread and the need to express emotions which prevails in almost every culture, modern or otherwise.

Some might turn their noses at the rituals the Yanomami follow and see them as paganistic, but the common human emotions and reactions are what make us realize how similar modern man is to his older tribal self.