IROTATHERI, Venezuela – Venezuelan officials and journalists investigating reports of a possible massacre in a remote indigenous village in the Amazon have found people peacefully cooking plantains over a communal fire, and no sign of any killings.
Yanomami Indians in the village of Irotatheri spoke with journalists through a guide, who translated their accounts that there had been no violence. The government flew in journalists by helicopter Friday after a report of killings in the community by an indigenous group.
The villagers stood and watched in apparent amazement as the helicopter passed over their huts and landed nearby in a clearing. Women in the village carried their babies in slings, and people of all ages had their lips bulging with tobacco leaves that they stuff into their mouths and keep there without chewing throughout the day.
Leaders of the Horonami Yanomami Organization released a statement late last month saying that people from a nearby village had visited Irotatheri and reported a mass killing of unknown proportions in early July.
About 40 people live in Irotatheri, a collection of huts that officials say is 19 kilometers (12 miles) from the border with Brazil.
The villagers still largely keep to their traditional ways, wearing face paint and loincloths. But government officials who reached the village ahead of the journalists brought the people T-shirts to cover themselves, and also brought hammocks and cooking pots, which the Yanomami quickly accepted.
Officials gave them pasta and dried manioc that they could cook in their new pots, and also handed them their first spoons.
A doctor traveled with the group and was providing check-ups. Many people in the village were treated for skin ailments and conjunctivitis.
The villagers performed a dance for the visitors, holding bows and arrows.
The Yanomami are one of the largest isolated indigenous groups in the Amazon, with a population estimated at roughly 30,000 on both sides of the Venezuela-Brazil border.
The Yanomami have often had to contend with Brazilian gold miners, who for years have crossed into Venezuela and torn up the forest, leaving water laced with mercury. But military officials who reached the village said that patrols in the area had found no miners.
The government is providing the community with a radio so it communicate with the authorities if they have problems. Two men from the village climbed aboard a helicopter for the first time and flew to a nearby military outpost in La Esmeralda to learn how to use the radio system.