Yanomami Controversy

The ongoing struggle faced by the Yanomami population to regain ownership to blood samples of their deceased relatives, has led them to become the focus of an ethical controversy within the world of anthropology. Representatives from parties involved including both the National Cancer Institute and Pennsylvania State University must address the matter of the Yanomami blood samples, and work towards ending the issue at hand once and for all. 

This indigenous tribe living along the border of Brazil and Venezuela have become a widespread phenomenon in part to what resulted from the work of American researchers Napolean Chagnon and James Neel throughout the late 1960’s. Both researchers conducted ethnographic studies on the Yanomami population, ultimately leading to the collection of an abundance of blood samples. These collections were to be used to aid the lives of the Yanomami who were told of concerns regarding potential epidemic diseases amongst their people.

However, such findings which resulted from the completion of both American researchers were never provided to the Yanomami. After being misled into giving blood for the exchange of particular goods, the Yanomami believed the use of their blood for further study would not only benefit outsiders, but their well-being as well. Through the hope of being reimbursed with any information regarding potentially harmful diseases within their community, the Yanomami gave up an overwhelming amount of blood to be used for such study.

Nearly 30 years after being deceived by fieldworkers and having their attempts at religious closure gone disregarded, the Yanomami deserve possession over the remaining blood samples of their deceased relatives.

At the present moment, the Yanomami are in the midst of experiencing one of the most troubling times unbeknown to many. Besides having their region invaded by gold miners, the Yanomami are suffering from a great deal of afflictions causing a great deal of unhappiness throughout the population.

When the American researchers collected blood samples in the late 1960’s from the Yanomami, they were promised feedback following the study of their blood. Even after the Yanomami did their share in aiding with research by giving blood, they have yet to receive any sort of response regarding the results of their studies. Due to the lack of crucial information regarding the findings coming from such research, a vast majority of the Yanomami have been continuing to die as a result of a broken agreement.

Subsequent to the use of Yanomami blood samples for research publication by those American researchers, the Yanomami later became aware that the remaining blood samples were being stored within the United States. Aside from the fact that the American researchers used the blood samples of the Yanomami to publish results of their findings without providing any of that information back to them, they regretted to inform the Yanomami that the samples would be kept for years to come following the preliminary assessment.

By means of numerous failed attempts at ending the conflict, individuals from both the National Cancer Institute, and Pennsylvania State University who currently possess blood samples of the Yanomami, have avoided putting forth any effort to get the samples back to the Yanomami.

Representatives from both institutions have made it clear that a delegate from the Brazilian government has the obligation to sign a legal waiver to remove the institutions from any legal responsibility. Nearly 4 years after offering written agreements to wilfully return the Yanomami blood samples, no presentation of any legal waiver having to be signed has yet to be shared with the Brazilian government.

In addition to the postponement of the return of the Yanomami blood samples, the issue of their religious beliefs are being overlooked. Within the traditional Yanomami system of beliefs and practices referred to as shamanism, the blood of the Yanomami rightfully belongs to the deity referred to as Omami. Appearing in the NAPEPE Yanomami Ask Their Blood Back footage online, interviews conducted with several Yanomami people bring to light the concerns they have in regards to their relative’s blood being kept years after their death.

One particular Yanomami individual within the NAPEPE video was quoted as saying that the deceased cannot have blood as the living do. As a result of this, keeping the blood of their deceased relatives frozen in refrigerator half way across the earth is forbidding their relatives spirits from fully leaving this world. This has caused ongoing anguish with the Yanomami for the reason that being able to obtain what’s left of their relatives, and not being able to provide them with a proper burial has only opened the door to their spirits to haunt the living.

Even though the National Cancer Institute and Pennsylvania State University have agreed to return the Yanomami blood samples in written form, both institutions have found countless reasons as to why their return can only be delayed. The issue of the blood samples being considered dangerous to the Yanomami by Professor Kenneth Weiss at Pennsylvania State University, cannot be used a defense to the hold-up of their shipment.

The Federal University of the State of Para was given a number of the Yanomami blood samples and they were able to transfer them back to a reserve in Roraima where the Yanomami reside. The Yanomami and those who handled the blood samples did not experience any medical problems after successfully receiving them, putting to rest the concern outlined by Professor Weiss.

All things considered, both institutions have taken a poor initial step at returning the remaining Yanomami blood samples, and have yet to try and put an end to the agony being experienced by the Yanomami in all aspects of the matter. Those associated with the issue at hand both from the National Cancer Institute and Pennsylvania State University must be obligated to put forth more effort into returning the Yanomami blood samples at once.