Social Injustices towards the Yanomami

The following is a paper I wrote for my anthropology class about the struggles the Yanomami are facing to regain the blood of their ancestors. This is just an introduction, and I strongly recommend finding out more about this dire situation.

We want the blood back so we can finally complete the funerals of those who are gone (Napepe). These are the words of a Yanomami man asking for his ancestor’s blood back, so their souls can leave this earth and rest in peace in hedu k misi: the sky layer (Chagnon 100).

In exchange for a variety of tools, members of the Yanomami gave samples of their blood with the belief that these samples would help fight diseases that were killing members of their tribe. That was almost forty years ago, and the samples have not yet been returned. The Yanomami are asking for these samples to be returned so they will be able to lay their ancestors’ souls to rest, and I feel it is very important that the involved universities and organizations do just that.

Adding insult to injury is the fact that the samples were not used for disease testing, but for academic research. While taking advantage of the Yanomami to further their careers, anthropologists have given little thought to the people they are responsible to (the Yanomami), a thought which is understood by at least one member of this group. In the movie Napepe, one man says From this blood collection, he [the white man] wants to study, he wants to do something good for him, for his grandchildren, his children (Napepe).

Purposely ignoring a culture’s religious beliefs is absolutely insulting, and in this case, the Yanomami are distressed over this betrayal. The only things keeping their ancestors from being at peace are the words of Professor Weiss of Pennsylvania State University (PSU) and the lawyer for the National Cancer Institute (NCI). With claims that returning the blood will introduce deadly diseases to the Yanomami, and that it is impossible without clearance, these two institutions seem to have respectable arguments, but facts supporting the opposite view show otherwise.

Using the Federal University of the State of Para (UFPa) as an example, we can see how fulfilling an obligation to the Yanomami is possible. I think PSU and NCI need to follow UFPa’s lead and return the samples in the same manner, which safely made it back to the Yanomami. The Attorney General’s Office in Roraima has also given their consent to send the samples, giving clearance to the NCI to return the samples they currently possess. It was also shown that the returned blood did not bring illness to the members of the Yanomami tribe, closing both groups’ arguments.

Another man in Napepe tells what is to be done with the samples, once returned: if they give back our blood, we will gather all the eldersthe shamans, and kill game in order to do the funeral ritual for the owners of the blood, because we are Yanomami (Napepe). For these people, such rituals and beliefs are a way of life; something the white man has no right to interfere with.

-Chagnon, Napoleon A. Yanomamo. 5th. United States of America: Thomson Learning, 1997. 100. Print.
-Napepe: Blood Memory and Cultural Rights Among the Yanomami Indians. Dir. Nadja Marin. 2004