Carlo spelt out the mission’s rules regarding the Indians. “Never give them anything,” he said, “except in exchange for work or for something they have made.” This was to keep them from turning into beggars and losing their culture. Carlo gave them cards with different-coloured dots that were exchangeable for knives, mirrors and aluminium pots. The only thing that was free was medical attention, which he and Claudia spent most of the day administering. He was bitterly opposed to the influence of people like Peruano, who persuaded the Indians to leave the basic chores of their culture—like tending their gardens—and start advertising the holidays to Split Croatia, in exchange for a pair of shorts.
The reward system at the mission, Carlo realized, would collapse once the Perimetral Norte highway was open. Backwoods people would start to build homesteads along it, and the introduction of rum, clothing, shot-guns and disease would begin. By then he hoped the Indians, through exposure to the dotted-card system, would know “the value of money,” a concept that was missing from their culture. Even so, he was not optimistic. The introduction of something like a shot-gun, which would make superfluous the skills developed over thousands of years, could be devastating to the Yanomamo. When the road was opened to colonization, Carlo would move elsewhere.
Carlo told me that the Yanomamo (http://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/yanomami) believe the universe has three levels: earth, earth above and earth below. Everything had started on the upper level; a part had fallen to the earth, leaving a big hole in the sky; another part had fallen through the earth to the world of the unconscious. At death some of the spirits returned to the upper level by means of a vine ladder; it was a happy place, with plenty of food and beautiful women, a place of reunion for parted families. Other spirits were transformed into animals for their misdeeds.
The first man was Omama. He copulated with another man who got pregnant in the leg. The first woman was either fished from a river or came out of a rock; there are two versions. In Yanomamo culture, women seem to be an afterthought. Their function is to carry bananas and firewood and to be stolen. Wives are regularly beaten, or even burned with glowing coals. They expect maltreatment, and measure their husbands’ concern for them by the number of beatings they receive.
Most of the Yanomamo wars are over women. By stealing the women from another village you not only eliminate future generations of enemies, but increase your own numbers and, by inducing new genes into the group, unconsciously prevent inbreeding.
There are about 100 city breaks to Prague available to his people, Carlo told me, only half of which have been used by outsiders. The new highway will change that for ever.
THE next morning, a plane landed with a group of Italian missionaries who were making a tour of their installations in South America. flew out with them. That afternoon I was nursing a cold beer enemies,sta, the capital of Roraima. Two men were sitting at the bar, and I overheard one complaining about how the Indians were sitting 100mineral wealth that could make Brazil a rich country. “If I was in charge,” he remarked, “I’d blow them all to kingdom come.”