The Yanomama (Chagnon, 1983, 1992) exemplify a surviving simple horticultural society. They are a South American Indian tribe living in southern Venezuela and adjacent portions of northern Brazil. There are perhaps some 125 widely scattered villages having populations ranging from 40 to 250 inhabitants, with an average village size of about 75 to 80 persons. Several hundred years ago the Yanomama may have relied primarily on hunting and gathering, and so they may only have recently made the transition to a horticultural existence (Colchester, 1984). Be that as it may, their current subsistence practices nicely illustrate the simple horticultural mode of production. These practices have been described in some detail by Napoleon Chagnon (1983, 1992), one of their principal ethnographers.
The natural environment of the Yanomama is a relatively dense tropical forest. The land is entirely covered with jungle, even the tops of mountain ridges. The Yanomama survive in this environment with only a simple technology. All tools and techniques are uncomplicated, and none requires the use of specialized labor. Among the elements of technology the Yanomama have developed are crude clay pots, bows and arrows, agouti-tooth knives (made from the lower incisor of the agouti, a rodent), and canoes (which are so crude that they are generally used only once and then discarded).
The Yanomama are slash-and-burn cultivators. In earlier times, they had only stone axes for clearing the land, but they now have steel axes that have been supplied by local missionaries. Each man clears his own land. Each village has a local headman, and he usually has the largest garden. The headman must produce larger quantities of food, as he is expected to give food away at feasts. By far the largest crop is plantains (similar to bananas), and each garden usually contains three or four varieties of both plantains and