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What the Yanomami fear
Redmond O'Hanlon Writer
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The one thing that the Yanomami fear... they will go hunting peccaries, these... well, they look exactly like wild boar, but they're evolved differently. Convergent evolution. But these guys, 40 of them, you wound one, the whole lot will turn on you. And you whizz up a tree if you're lucky enough, and with their tusks, they'll cut this tree down and kill you. I mean, this is piggy, piggy behaviour. So you need a lot of people with a lot of arrows. They don't mind, then. And they're not frightened of the jaguar. Well, as Chimo said to me, 'He would like to be a big male boar peccary, with those huge balls.' Well, actually, Chimo needn't worry, but he's really brave when he meets a jaguar. And I said, 'Well, what happens when he meets the jaguar?' Chimo says, 'He lets all his women and children, his young nephews and nieces and brothers and cousins, run off. And he faces the jaguar.' And I said, 'Well, then what happens, Chimo?' Chimo said, 'He dies like a man.' I thought, wow.

But the only thing absolutely everybody, including Chimo, is frightened of, really frightened, is the anaconda. Now, as Chimo said when he was out in his curiara, his little fishing canoe, twice he'd been bitten by an anaconda. Each time he'd had his son or his brother or somebody else in the canoe. And the bow watch, the guy in the bow, always has the machete next to them. And you turn around and my God, you've got to be fast, and you can cut the head off. And then Juan laughed, the ecologist, and Chimo dropped his trousers. And there, indeed, on the big pig thigh, two horrible scars. And he said, 'All you see in the brown water, if you're lucky enough, you see what you think is a brown rat. You think it's a rat, an agouti or... it's that shape and size. Now that's just the head of the anaconda, and its jaw, it can open its jaw, it dislocates its own jaw, and got you. And its anchored ashore, onto... its tail is wrapped around a root. And it only has this muscle, but that muscle is just about the strongest there is, so it can do that, and you haven't a hope. You've got to have its head cut off or sever the nerves behind the head.'

Anyway, so I really wanted to see, of course, an anaconda. And again, because Chimo is feeling bad that he thought this terrible failure... it didn't bother me, but he hadn't found the river. So he suddenly pulls in, and there, right there, I mean, that far away, here is an anaconda. But he's brown and greeny, kind of... he's very, very young. They go black when they're really big. But nobody tells you these things. Alright, so he was only eight-, nine-feet long. Well, sod it, he probably just hatched or something. Nobody tells you the speed they move. When it woke up and saw the bongo alongside [hissing], and the water really did go white and boil. And you thought, you're going to have no chance at all. The speed! You know, no snake should move that fast.

British author Redmond O’Hanlon writes about his journeys into some of the wildest places in the world. His travels have taken him into the jungles of the Congo and the Amazon, he has faced some of the toughest tribes alive today, and has sailed in the hurricane season on a trawler in the North Atlantic. In all of this, he explores the extremes of human existence with passion, wit and erudition.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: Yanomami, peccary, hunting, anaconda, jaguar, Curiara, fear

Duration: 4 minutes, 30 seconds

Date story recorded: July - September 2008

Date story went live: 11 August 2009