Human Journey

Massacre of Yanomami Feared in Venezuela

Brazilian Prospectors Said To Raze Native Village

As many as 80 Yanomami Indians are feared dead in a village deep in the jungles of Venezuela, victims of an alleged massacre carried out last month by Brazilian gold prospectors.

According to a criminal complaint filed this week with prosecutors and military authorities in Puerto Ayacucho, capital of the state of Amazonas, the incident occurred on July 5th at the native settlement of Irotatheri at the headwaters of the Ocamo River in Venezuela’s remote Upper Orinoco region.

Yanomami Father and Son, Upper Orinoco, Venezuela, 2001. Photo by (c) Scott Wallace


The charges indicate that the gold prospectors may have arrived by helicopter, illegally entering Venezuela from Brazil to carry out the raid. Details were provided by three survivors who had gone out hunting early that morning and were away from the shabano – a circular communal structure typical of a Yanomami village – when the attack occurred.

“Survivors of the community who were in the jungle heard gunfire, explosions and even a helicopter in which the miners landed,” Luis Shatiwe, executive secretary of Horonami, the Yanomami rights organization that filed the complaint, told reporters. Witnesses from a neighboring village are said to have seen charred bodies and the burned remains of the shabano.

The presence of Brazilian garimpeiros – or wildcat prospectors – in the headwaters of the Ocamo River has been extensively documented since 2009, when several community members were sickened, apparently by mercury poisoning. Mercury is commonly used by miners to separate gold from ore in the field, creating a serious health hazard in wide stretches of the Amazon rainforest.

Brazilian prospectors have been invading Yanomami lands on both sides of the thinly-patrolled border for the past several decades. Roundups and crackdowns by police and military temporarily interrupt the operations, but enforcement efforts are stymied by the vast distances and a lack of resources committed to safeguard the rugged upland forest region.

The ongoing presence of miners in Yanomami lands has sown strife among natives suffering from disease, despoiled forests and rapidly changing social mores. There are an estimated 20,000 Yanomami living in small communities scattered throughout southern Venezuela and northern Brazil.

“This is a slaughter against the Yanomami people,” said Shatiwe.

Scott Wallace writes about the environment and indigenous affairs for National Geographic and other publications. He is the author of The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted TribesFor more information, please visit



Scott Wallace writes about the environment and indigenous affairs for National Geographic and other publications. He is the author of The Unconquered: In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes (Crown, 2011). For more information about the book and his work, please visit
  • Lesley Palma

    Brazil needs to assist Venezuela with more resources so that these beautiful people are left alone. What a tragedy.


    Well said Lesley 😉

  • Kelly Kiyoshk

    What a tragedy? That would make me think that this was an accident. This is straight forward GENOCIDE. There is no way to sugar coat this Lesley and Dr. David. If this happened any other place in the world there would be a huge outcry. But since these people are living by the natural laws of life they aren’t covered in international news or even the big networks. There is nothing else that I can find on this blatant act of GENOCIDE.



  • Chase Montgomery Whitfield

    Is it so hard to give remote peoples satellite phones? The promise of technology is better quality of LIFE, not HDTV. The UN should have a Hotline to prevent such things. Why are we not utilising what we already have? They could even upload evidence as it happened – if it happened. Pretty big deterrent

  • Albero Moran

    in Venezuela the government intends to shut this tragedy, always preventing freedom of the press. Now Cliver Alcalá (army general accused of traffic) said that was not the case that the president of Telesur. And to all Venezuelans has beaten us the last Semans full of tragedies: Amuay the refinery, which killed dozens of prison inmates and the tragedy of our natives.

  • red slider

    My first college anthro course, 50 years ago, focused on the Yanoamo, and the work of anthropologist Chagnon to protect and preserve the territory and culture of this remarkable people. It appears that his work to protect the tribe was only a temporary reprieve, and the threat of extinction continues to this day.

    Why stop at cell phones? It is clear that the world and its greed and politics cannot protect the Yanoamo — a project which Chagnon undertook a half-century ago. That being the case, there is no further reason to expect they can continue to be insulated from the prospects and horrors of the the modern world. Why not equip them with sufficient weaponry and military training to also protect themselves and their territories from further incursions – give the greedy and unprincipled something to think about. I believe this approach has been used on Mindanao and other places to keep lumber interests from devastating indigenous homelands. Sure, they can call for help. In the meantime, some automatic weapons might give gold-diggers something to think twice about until the cavalry arrives?

    True, the Yanoamo were called “The Fierce People” owing to their habit of raiding other villages for food and available females. There was an elaborate theory in the U.S. about the patterns of raiding that the Yanoamo conducted among themselves based upon the distribution of food and protein in their diet. When Chagnon imparted this information to one of the Yanoamo elders, the man thoughtfully considered the matter for a few moments, and then replied, “While it is true we like meat, we like women better.”

  • Gabi Perez

    And what is sad, is that the Venezuelan government denies this ever happening. It’s election year and the Chavez regime wants to make people believe everything is ok in the country. Also, this proves that our borders are not guarded. The guerrilla and drug trafficking are free to go in and out of the country as they please. Venezuela is their safe haven.

  • Jessica Jones

    How tragic, that in our modern world of knowledge and endless resources; that we still allow things like this to happen. Oh, how far we have come!

  • binary star

    I’m going to say something controversial here but here goes. If the Yanomami wished for a tragedy like this to not occur they should have done something about it, instead of hoping for the government to save them from these criminals they should have adapted to the times and modernized, instead they have continued in their ancient ways which although is respectable is ultimately dooming them to a slow death. The environment is changing around them and what did Darwin say about those that could not adapt to the new environment?

    Nevertheless this is a tragedy and the monsters who did this should be tried and punished.

  • Ahmmi Ghia

    It Is a terrible offence to humanity that we have still not evolved enough to prevent such horrors.

  • z graham

    absolutely disgusted, how much gold does the world want ?, concentrate on helping the sick I say, live peacefully in harmony. This tribe never did any thing to hurt any body, they went about their daily lives privetly from the rest of the world. Gold help the rest of the world should greed get in the way. Do/will they kill every body in their path. These people would never have stood a chance even given all the amunition in the world, they are so few for goodness sake. What a terrible atrocity to have happened, Hitler all over again.

  • Isabella Delfino

    …and The Venezuelan Government is denying that this horrendous massacre really happened.
    They jumped into a conclusion without even investigating…
    This whole things stinks.
    The world should pinpoint Chavez’ military people…I bet they are involved in all the mining activities in the jungle!

  • D. Cox

    The Yananami and the other remote peoples on our planet are vestigial links to our humanity which are being destroyed as we become social insects concerned only with the furthering of the hive and oblivious to the wonder of our diversity. Can we afford to disregard the richness that varied culture allows mankind, and are we doomed to a future, homogeneous society where all means are justified because the individual is ultimately lost in the global pursuit of mindless greed?

  • Tariq Badar

    World is a Global Family! I feel highly disturbed after reading this news! Greed v/s Need?

  • Tariq Badar

    World is a Global Family! I feel highly disturbed after reading this news! Greed v/s Need?

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