The American Man Who Found His Mother Living in an Amazonian Tribe

(Photo: David Good)

On the right is David Good, a man from Philadelphia. One the left is his mother, Yarima of the Yanomami people of Venezuela.

How this relation came to pass is a long story told in detail at the New York Post. David's father, Kenneth Good, was an anthropology student at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1970s. In 1975, Kenneth went on an expedition to a remote jungle area on the border of Venezuela and Brazil. Arrogant and stubborn, he separated from the group he was travelling with and set out on his own into the unknown.

There Kenneth found the Yanomami tribe. He befriended them and made further visits. On one visit in 1978, the tribe gave Kenneth a young girl as a wife. Her name was Yarima.

Kenneth went in and out of the jungle and did not provide the protection that a husband owes his wife in the Yanomami culture. By 1986, she was pregnant with his child, so he brought her back to the United States. It was impossible for her to adjust:

In November 1986, within a week of arriving in Bryn Mawr, Pa., Yarima went into labor and was panicked by the American hospital: the gurneys, the monitors, the machines, the needles. Once admitted, she sprung herself out of bed and attempted to give birth by squatting in the corner of the hospital room.

“It was so unnatural to her,” Kenneth says. “It went against ­everything she ever learned.” […]

Meanwhile, his wife was becoming ever more isolated and desperate. While Kenneth was teaching, Yarima would take the $20 he left every morning and go to Dunkin’ Donuts, then the $10 store, where she never knew how much she could buy. She had to adapt to wearing clothes every day and thought that running cars were animals on the attack. She had no friends.

“I miss my family,” Yarima told People magazine. “I want to go home.” Kenneth was her translator.

In 1991, Yarima went back to her people, leaving her young son, David, with his father. Two decades later, David journeyed into the jungle to find her:

He arrived in August 2011, the tribe expecting him. When his mother emerged, he recognized her immediately. She wore wooden shoots through her face and little clothing, and he felt immediately that he was her son in every way.

He’d thought a lot about whether to hug her — he wanted to, but he was too nervous, and the Yanomami don’t hug — so he put his hand on her shoulder and told her what he’d wanted to for years.

“I said, ‘Mama, I made it, I’m home. It took so long, but I made it.’ ” Yarima wept.

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In my opinion, his rationalization for entering the relationship would only have been valid if he had lived with the tribe, and adopted their entire culture. To take her to 20th century America, where he understood the culture, there, was breaking that culture's "rules". I understand that he assumed that she could adapt to modern life, but, when she couldn't I think he should have honored his commitment, and moved back to the Amazon with her. To not do so seems to reinforce the theory that he was only serving his own desires. If he had explained, to the tribe, that his people basically lived on a different planet, compared to them, and declined the offer, she likely would have become a mate to someone from her own tribe, and not had to suffer so much pain. I would think an anthropologist would have realised that.
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What I wanted to say is that both approaches were wrong; the tribe gave him the girl without regarding the cultural shock she would experience outside her social environment and Kenneth, worsening that clash by bringing her to the modern world instead of settling with the tribe or a cultural middle road.
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But then you'll have to contrast that judgement against the tribe giving him a young girl. It's interesting how an advanced society and a primitive one could provoke this mistake and yet, if this story had a more fortuitous beginning we would probably have never known anything about it.
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