-The Origin of Fire-

A Yanomami Myth

Yanomami Fire Stick and Fan
Yanomami Fire Stick and Fan


This Sanema myth is taken from a report by Daniel de Barandiaran which appeared in the Venezuelan journal Antropologica in January 1968 and was republished in "Mitos de Creacion de la Cuenca del Orinoco" (FUNDEF, 1993).


Long, long ago, Iwarame, the caiman, was a person like all the other animals. All the animals could speak.

There were Sanema-Yanomami Indians as well back then but the people ate their food raw because they did not have the secret of fire.

Photo: Alan Highton
Photo: Alan Highton

Iwarame, the caiman, was the only one who had fire. Iwarame, who was also known as Iwa, spent the whole day in the water hunting but he prepared his food in the cave where he slept.

All the other animals knew that Iwarame had fire. They also knew that everything he ate was roasted and when he roasted his food it smelled fantastic.

The other animals thought that Iwarame was the the most powerful of all the animals because he ate his food cooked.

When Iwarame opened his mouth you could see the fire, so the Sanema Indians and many of the animals brought meat to place in front of Iwarame's cave so that when he opened his mouth it would be cooked.


Usually the Indians and the animals could only take away a little of this food as Iwarame would eat a large part of the food that they placed outside his cave and then he would sleep.

When he was asleep he would close his mouth and nobody could see the fire.

When he awoke he would go hunting and would bring back different prey, animals and fish. He would bring it back home and when he wanted to eat it he would open his mouth and that would set light to the wood and over the fire he would roast everything he ate, meat or fish, but only at night and then he would close his mouth so nobody could steal the fire.


One day a young Sanema hunter, who was out hunting with his father, got lost in the jungle and arrived, by chance, at Iwarame's cave. Iwarame was asleep.

Photo: Peter Bach
Photo: Peter Bach

As soon as the boy realised he was in the home of the "owner of fire" he was really scared. He looked all over for some cooked food or a burning log but he couldn't find anything except a burnt leaf, which, shaking with fear he took with him as he left the cave.

In the jungle he found his father and he showed him the burnt leaf.
- Father, he said, I found this burnt leaf.
- Where did you find it?
- In the house of Iwarame, the caiman
- Did you find fire?
- No, nor any roast meat. He keeps the fire inside his mouth.

His father thought long and hard about it: How are we going to steal the fire from Iwarame?

His father continued to think of a way to steal the fire from that terrible caiman and one day he organized a big party for all the Sanema and all the animals.

It was going to be a fun party with eating and drinking and it had to be immediately after sunset. Iwarame was invited and he left his house to come to the party.

All the Indians and all the animals had been told they had to make jokes, do tricks and anything else that would make them laugh.

So, they were all falling about laughing. All except Iwarame. He didn't laugh. He kept his big mouth tightly shut.

All the animals showed off their skills, especially the birds, who did swoops and turns in the air.


To finish the myth please visit the Indian Blog site.

Photo: Alan Highton
Photo: Alan Highton