The war between Bisaasi-teri and Konabuma-teri started with an axe murder. The two Yanomamö villages, several days walk from each other in the forests around the unmapped headwaters of Orinoco river, had been moving towards an alliance when disease killed several children in Bisaasi-teri. The Yanomamö believe that disease is caused by evil spirits cast from other villages: when it falls upon them their shamans attempt to drive out the invading demons and to return them to the villages responsible. After the shamans of Bisaasi-teri concluded that the disease in their village had been cast from the purportedly friendly village of Konumba-teri, a respected visitor arrived from Konabuma-teri. He was greeted in the normal way: the men of the Bisaasi-teri came out with their weapons to yell at him intimidatingly until he had stood calmly for long enough to prove himself fearless. Then he was invited into the village ó a single, circular, comunal roof covering family houses arranged around an open space ó and given a gourd of soup to drink in front of the headmanís house. As he squatted on his haunches, drinking the soup, he was approached from behind by Mamikininiwä, who is described by the anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon as "a mature man of about forty, whose decisions few would challenge", and who carried an axe whose worn steel head had been traded over the course of years in from the coast. He smashed it into the visitorís head without any warning, and the man died almost at once.
|Napoleon Chagnon as a young man among the Yanomamo|
The story comes in the latest edition of Professor Chagnonís classic work on the Yanomamö, subtitled until recentlyThe Fierce People, which goes on to trace a thirty-year pattern of migration, alliance, and emnity, that resulted from this murder in 1950: the Konumba-teri retaliated by arranging for mutual allies to hold a feast for the people of Bisaasi-teri and once their guests were comfortably immbolised by the hammocks they were offered to rest in, attacked them with clubs and bowstaves, before pursuing the survivors with a flight of arrows. Around a dozen men were killed in this massacre. Itís difficult to be more precise because Chagnon learned of it only thirty years later and in any case, the Yanomamö counting system runs one, two, more-than-two.
Next: the war in the AAA