As a boy, David Good, the son of an anthologist, would tell his friends his absent mother had died in a car accident because the truth was something difficult to explain.
When his parents, Kenneth and Yarima, split up, Yarima returned to her home in the remote Amazon jungle.
“I didn’t want my friends to know that my mom’s a naked jungle woman eating tarantulas,” Good told the New York Post. “I didn’t want to be known as a half-breed. And it was my revenge; I was angry that she left me. So I just wanted to stick with the story that she was dead.”
Good grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia with his brother Daniel and sister Vanessa. Their father never told them about why their mother left.
Kenneth met Yarima in the Amazon in 1975, while exploring under the tutelage of a prominent scholar, when he stumbled across Yarima’s tribe, the Yanomami.
“The head man of the village said, ‘You know, have a wife — you’ve been here for so long,’” Kenneth said.
He had no idea how old Yarima was because the tribe doesn’t assign age to individuals and don't count higher than two. He said she could have been between nine and 12.
“Living down there, of course I didn’t care, and the Yanomami didn’t care,” Kenneth says. “Our culture is obsessed with numbers.”
“I brought Yarima home to my mother,” he told The Post, “and she said, ‘Jesus, it’s one thing to study these people — but to marry one? What are you going to do with someone who can only count to 2?’ I said, ‘We’ll work it out.’ ”
It was obvious Yarima had trouble adjusting to living in Pennsylvania. When she went into labor with David in 1986 she squatted in the corner of her hospital room in an attempt to give birth, the only way she knew how.
In January 1987, People magazine did a piece on the family called “An Amazon Love Story: Romance — and a Jumbo Jet — Took Yarima from the Stone Age to Philadelphia.”
“CBS wanted to do a miniseries,” Kenneth said. “I said, ‘No. I don’t watch television. I want the big screen.’”
In 1991, the family made a deal with National Geographic and they returned to the Amazon to shoot a documentary. It occurred to them that it was too dangerous for their children, not born to the tribal way of life, to be living in the jungle.
“She knew the kids wouldn’t do well in the jungle,” Kenneth says. “She told me to take Daniel” — then about 18 months old. “Babies get sick there. They die.”
But Yarima told Kenneth she wouldn’t be going home with them.
“After two or three years, I began internalizing it as abandonment,” David says.
David raised enough money to return to the Amazon in 2011, and when he did the tribe was expecting him. His mother emerged wearing shoots through her face.
“I said, ‘Mama, I made it, I’m home. It took so long, but I made it.’”
They didn't embrace, the tribe is not affectionate. But Yarima cried.
David stayed with the tribe for two weeks. In 2013, he returned and stayed for a month. Despite food poisoning, parasites and mosquitoes, he keeps going back. He eats traditional Yanomami food – grub worms, termites, boa constrictors, monkeys, armadillo – and walks around barefoot despite his father's warnings.
“I really want to be Yanomami,” David says. “I want to trek through the jungle like they do.”
David says his mother wants to come back to America to visit the rest of the Good family.