A Son Reaches Tribal Past

Peak Johnson, for GPA -- Three years ago, David Good earned his Bachelor’s degree from East Stroudsburg University and began an adventure that would connect him with his indigenous roots in the Amazon rainforest. It would also lead him to his mother, a member of the Yanomami tribe, an isolated group known for limited contact with the outside world.

Good shared his story as a featured speaker in the University City Science Center’s “Lunch for Hungry Minds” series.

Good’s father, Dr. Kenneth Good, an anthropologist, met his wife Yarima while living and working with the Yanomami tribe in the rainforests of Venezuela.

“He went down there and measured the weight of the animals that the Yanomami haunted and they couldn’t understand why,” Good said. “He visited villages that had never seen outsiders, so my father was a pretty rare phenomenon.”

During a 12 year stay, Dr. Good met and married Yarima. They married according to the village’s customs, which involved no saying of vows. Yarima simply moved her hammock into Dr. Good’s quarters.

The relationship became strained when Dr. Good ran into difficulty with repeatedly renewing visas.

“My father invited her to his village, New Jersey,” Good said. “But my mom had thought the whole world was the same as her home, so when she hopped on the plane it was an absolute culture shock.”

Yarima lived in the United States for six years but going from a world that has been untouched by outsiders to one that was unlike she had ever seen, Yarima ultimately decided to return to her village.

In 1992 National Geographic decided to film Good and his family visit her former home in the Amazon. On this trip Yarima learned that her mother had passed. It was a turning point for her and ultimately she decided not to return to America.

Good was five years old at the time and did not see her again until July of 2011, twenty years later. Still, he looks back on his upbringing positively.

“I had some happy memories growing up, both in the Amazon and New Jersey,” he said.

The Yanomami tribe has been the subject of much research among social scientists over the past half-century, as they are considered to be one of the only remaining groups to live in a society with minimal or no contact with the outside world.
The Yanomami became Good’s inspiration to develop “The Good Project,” a nonprofit humanitarian endeavor to establish a trustworthy bridge between indigenous groups and the influence of increasing contact from outsiders.

The 27-year-old Good is currently earning a Master’s in biology from East Stroudsburg University and working with the Yanomami and in Costa Rica as part of a social entrepreneurship project. 

Photo courtesy of The Stroud Courier.