Arquivo da tag: Chagnon

“Nobres Selvagens” na Ilustríssima (Folha de S.Paulo) de domingo, 22 de fevereiro de 2015

Antropólogos, índios e outros selvagens

RICARDO MIOTO
ilustração ANA PRATA

22/02/2015  03h05

RESUMO Livro do antropólogo Napoleon Chagnon que aborda suas pesquisas entre os ianomâmis é lançado no Brasil. Em entrevista, autor, que direcionou sua carreira para uma interpretação evolutiva do comportamento indígena, fala sobre suas conclusões e comenta a recepção, muitas vezes negativa, de sua obra entre seus pares.

*

Sobre Napoleon Chagnon, 76, há só uma unanimidade: trata-se do pesquisador mais polêmico da antropologia contemporânea.É

Nesta entrevista, o americano –que lança agora no Brasil o livro “Nobres Selvagens: Minha Vida entre Duas Tribos Perigosas: os Ianomâmis e os Antropólogos” pelo selo Três Estrelas, do Grupo Folha– afirma que a antropologia brasileira representa o que há de mais atrasado no pensamento anticientífico nessa área.

Chagnon critica ainda alguns brasileiros ligados à temática indígena, como o líder ianomâmi Davi Kopenawa, “manipulado por antropólogos e ONGs”, e o cineasta José Padilha, autor do documentário “Segredos da Tribo”, que “deveria se limitar a filmar Robocop”.

Ana Prata

Chagnon estudou os ianomâmis do Brasil e, principalmente, da Venezuela a partir de 1964 e ao longo de 35 anos, em 25 viagens que totalizaram 5 anos entre os índios. Foi o pioneiro no contato com várias tribos isoladas, que acredita serem uma janela para as sociedades pré-históricas nas quais o gênero Homo viveu por milhões de anos.

Foi visto com antipatia por diversos colegas antropólogos por propor explicações darwinianas para o comportamento dos índios –e dos humanos em geral– e ao escrever, em 1968, um livro em que tratava amplamente da violência entre os índios e no qual, desde o título, “Yanomamö: The Fierce People” (sem tradução no Brasil), chamava os ianomâmis de “o povo feroz”. Despertou inimizades ao se afastar dos colegas antropólogos, que acreditava mais interessados em fazer política do que ciência, e se aproximar de geneticistas.

Foi em 1988, porém, que causou a fúria dos colegas, ao publicar na revista “Science” um estudo mostrando que os homens ianomâmis com assassinatos no currículo eram justamente os que tinham mais mulheres e descendentes. Em termos biológicos, a violência masculina e certo egoísmo humano seriam estratégias reprodutivas bem-sucedidas, ideia que desagradou fortemente seus colegas das humanidades.

O antropólogo sempre defendeu que os índios que estudou guerreavam movidos por uma insaciável vontade de capturar mulheres, enquanto os livros tradicionais de antropologia diziam que a guerra primitiva tinha motivos como a escassez de alimentos ou de terra.

Chagnon diz que seus críticos são marxistas movidos pela ideologia de que os conflitos humanos se explicam pela luta de classes ou por disputas materiais, e não por motivos mais animalescos, como a busca por sucesso sexual.

Ele afirma que nenhum colega pôde apontar falhas nos dados publicados na “Science”. No entanto, antropólogos questionam seu procedimento não só nesse caso como em outros trabalhos (leia ao lado).

Em 2000, o jornalista Patrick Tierney publicou o livro “Trevas no Eldorado” (lançado no Brasil em 2002, pela Ediouro), acusando Chagnon e colegas, entre outras coisas, de terem espalhado sarampo deliberadamente entre os índios. As acusações foram investigadas pela Associação Americana de Antropologia, que inocentou os pesquisadores da grave acusação.

Na entrevista abaixo, feita por telefone, Chagnon trata ainda de temas como a higiene dos índios e os riscos da selva.

*

Folha – O antropólogo Eduardo Viveiros de Castro criticou na internet a publicação do seu livro no Brasil, dizendo que o sr. está ligado à “direita boçalmente cientificista”.

Napoleon Chagnon – A ideia de que o comportamento humano tem uma natureza biológica, moldada pela evolução, além da cultura, sofreu muita oposição nas últimas décadas de quem tem uma visão marxista. Está havendo uma mudança de paradigma, mas os antropólogos brasileiros são o último reduto dessa oposição e sempre tentaram impedir meu trabalho.

Marxistas não gostam de explicações que não envolvam a luta por recursos materiais. Para eles, isso explica tudo. Eles diziam, por exemplo, que a causa da guerra entre os ianomâmis era a escassez de proteína –uma tribo atacaria a outra em busca de carne. Nossas observações mostraram, porém, que não havia correlação. Eles tinham abundância de proteína; lutavam, na verdade, por mulheres.

Nos EUA, cientistas importantes, como meu grande amigo Steven Pinker e o professor Jared Diamond, escreveram recentemente livros demonstrando a relevância crescente da psicologia evolutiva.

Os antropólogos latino-americanos me atacam, mas não têm dados para rebater as conclusões que proponho, porque não gostam de trabalho de campo. Eles gostam de argumentos teóricos, de ficar sentados nas suas cadeiras na universidade fazendo ativismo. No entanto, para entender o mundo, você tem de coletar informações a fim de testar suas previsões e teorias. Essa é a base do método científico. A tendência pós-modernista é dizer que não há verdade, que tudo é social ou político. Isso é a morte da ciência.

Esses críticos dizem que sua visão dos ianomâmis é muito negativa. Citam trechos do seu livro em que o sr. descreve criticamente os hábitos de higiene dos índios, dizendo que eles espalhavam muco em tudo.

Tenho muitas críticas à minha própria civilização também, como o excesso de filas. Os ianomâmis não têm uma teoria da transmissão de doenças via germes. Então assoam o nariz na mão e passam no cabelo, nos outros, até na minha bermuda [risos]. A primeira coisa que quis aprender na língua deles foi “não encoste em mim, suas mãos estão sujas”, mas não adiantou. Você se acostuma.

Na verdade, você percebe que há coisas mais sérias com que se preocupar. A vida na tribo é perigosa. Há muitas cobras. Um bebê de uma tribo ianomâmi em que vivi sumiu, e os pais concluíram que a única explicação era que tivesse sido comido por uma anaconda. Há ainda muitos insetos, há onças, muitos outros incômodos.

Como é a sua relação com o líder ianomâmi Davi Kopenawa?

Ele é manipulado pelos seus mentores, seus conselheiros políticos, a maioria antropólogos e ONGs, que dizem a ele o que ele deve declarar. Ouço que muitos jornalistas brasileiros têm essa percepção, mas sabem que é impopular dizer isso em público.

As entrevistas com ele costumam ser mediadas por antropólogos.

Pois é. Veja, em uma das minhas visitas aos ianomâmis no Brasil, Kopenawa proibiu o piloto do meu avião de utilizar o combustível que tinha guardado perto de uma das tribos em que ele tinha influência. Ele queria a todo custo que eu ficasse isolado na floresta, fez isso deliberadamente. O piloto teve de conseguir combustível com outros colegas. Essa é uma das razões que me levaram a não ter uma opinião muito positiva a respeito dele.

Kopenawa critica vocês por não devolverem amostras de sangue que coletaram entre os índios em 1967 para estudos científicos na área de genética e que foram parar em bancos de universidades dos EUA.

Sou simpático a esse pedido. Mas essas amostras são 99% de tribos venezuelanas, não brasileiras. Seria horrível se entregássemos tal sangue para os ianomâmis brasileiros, como Kopenawa. Uma tribo ficaria muito assustada de saber que seus vizinhos têm o sangue de seus ancestrais, eles acreditam que isso poderia ser utilizado para fazer magia negra, por exemplo.

É importante dizer que, influenciadas por antropólogos, lideranças ianomâmis tornaram impossível hoje, para qualquer pesquisador, ir a suas tribos e coletar amostras de sangue; foram convencidos de que isso foi um crime terrível que cometemos. Dessa forma, nenhum pesquisador da área biomédica pode agora fazer estudos que envolvam coleta de amostras. Os ianomâmis vetaram para sempre qualquer pesquisa que possa beneficiar a sua saúde e dependa de exames de sangue.

Eu gosto muito dos ianomâmis. Fiquei muitos anos com eles. Eles merecem ser mais bem representados. É nítido que eles precisam de instituições que permitam acesso à medicina moderna, por exemplo. Eles precisam de ajuda.

De qualquer forma, eu não coletei amostras de sangue. Eu só ajudei os médicos a fazê-lo. Eu sou antropólogo. Não estou nem aí para o que acontecerá com as amostras de sangue congeladas nos EUA. Mas seria irresponsável se fossem entregues aos índios errados.

O sr. assistiu ao documentário “Os Segredos da Tribo” (2010), do brasileiro José Padilha?

Padilha mentiu para mim, foi muito desonesto. Ele disse que faria um filme equilibrado, mas nunca mencionou que as acusações feitas contra mim foram completamente desmentidas [pela Associação Americana de Antropologia]. Ele contratou um missionário que falava a língua ianomâmi para fazer as entrevistas com os índios. Esse missionário, amigo meu, depois veio me avisar que Padilha direcionava as entrevistas contra mim, que tudo era feito para criar a impressão de que os ianomâmis me odiavam. O filme é ridículo.

Além disso, Padilha lançou o filme e desapareceu, nunca respondeu às minhas ligações. Na apresentação do filme no festival de Sundance, ele não só não me convidou como chamou três antropólogos inimigos meus para debater. Um deles, Terence Turner, que teve participação ativa na elaboração do filme, me acusava de ser o Mengele das tribos ianomâmis. É doentio. Padilha deveria se limitar a filmar “Robocop”.

Depois de trabalhar muitos anos nas universidades do Michigan e de Missouri, o sr. agora é professor aposentado. Aposentou-se também da pesquisa científica?

Não. Continuo trabalhando com os dados que coletei nas tribos ao longo desses anos todos. Estou para publicar vários artigos em revistas importantes, como a “Science”, mostrando o impacto de conceitos caros à biologia, como o parentesco, na organização das tribos ianomâmis. Se os antropólogos brasileiros não gostam do meu trabalho, ainda não viram nada [risos]. No caso do público brasileiro, espero que os leitores encontrem no meu livro agora publicado uma melhor compreensão da natureza humana, seja no comportamento dos povos indígenas ou no de um vizinho.

RICARDO MIOTO, 25, é editor de “Ciência” e “Saúde” da Folha.

ANA PRATA, 34, é artista plástica.

*   *   *

Livro contribui para distanciar ciências humanas e biológicas

André Strauss

22/02/2015  03h09

Por sua alegada coragem em sustentar hipóteses fundamentadas em princípios darwinianos, o antropólogo americano Napoleon Chagnon, que dedicou sua carreira a estudar a violência entre os índios ianomâmis, apresenta-se em “Nobres Selvagens” [trad. Isa Mara Lando, Três Estrelas, 608 págs., R$ 89,90] como vítima dos mais diversos ataques e preconceitos por parte de seus pares.

Os antropólogos culturais, os religiosos salesianos, os ativistas políticos e os próprios ianomâmis são retratados como grupos ferozes ou biofóbicos. Já Chagnon seria apenas um inocente antropólogo de Michigan. A tese não convence.

Embora o antropólogo pretenda ser um expoente da síntese entre biologia e antropologia, suas proposições são bastante limitadas e, muitas vezes, equivocadas. Exemplo disso é partir do princípio de que uma sociedade não contatada é o mesmo que uma sociedade não impactada, atribuindo aos ianomâmis condição análoga à de sociedades paleolíticas. Propor um contratualismo hobbesiano baseado na luta por mulheres também soa ingênuo.

Em seu livro, Napoleon Chagnon insiste na noção anacrônica de “ciência pura”, desmerecendo a militância pró-indígena dos antropólogos brasileiros como um capricho do politicamente correto.

Mesmo reconhecendo-se que em diversas ocasiões seus detratores exageraram, esse tipo de postura maniqueísta do autor não contribui para a necessária superação dos conflitos epistemológicos e políticos que seguem existindo, ainda que ligeiramente mitigados, entre as chamadas ciências humanas e biológicas.

Um famoso filósofo darwiniano certa vez reconheceu que as teorias antropológicas de cunho biológico têm, inegavelmente, o péssimo hábito de atrair os mais indesejáveis colaboradores. Daí a importância da cada vez maior politização dos bioantropólogos e o movimento explícito por parte deles para impedir que esses associados participem de seus círculos.

Ainda assim, provavelmente Chagnon não é culpado das acusações mais graves que lhe foram imputadas, tal como a de disseminar propositalmente uma epidemia de sarampo entre os indígenas ou a de incentivar, por escambo, que eles declarassem guerras uns contra os outros a fim de que ele pudesse incluir as cenas de violência em um documentário que estava produzindo.

Por outro lado –e isso não se pode negar a Chagnon–, é verdade que as humanidades muitas vezes parecem apresentar aquilo que se convencionou chamar de um “desejo irresistível para a incompreensão”, resultando em acusações injustas e de caráter persecutório.

Algumas décadas atrás, ainda era possível negar a relevância de campos como a genética comportamental, a ecologia humana, a neurociência cognitiva ou a etologia de grandes símios. Atualmente, entretanto, qualquer tentativa de mantê-los fora da esfera antropológica é um exercício vão.

Mais importante, a estratégia comumente utilizada no passado de atrelar os desdobramentos oriundos dessas áreas a implicações nefastas para a dignidade humana, torna-se, além de injusta, muito perigosa.

Juntos, antropólogos e biólogos precisam elaborar uma narrativa capaz de ressignificar esses novos elementos através de uma ótica benigna. Afinal, eles passarão, inevitavelmente, a fazer parte do arcabouço teórico de ambas as disciplinas.

ANDRÉ STRAUSS, 30, é antropólogo do Laboratório de Estudos Evolutivos Humanos da USP e do Instituto Max Planck de Antropologia Evolutiva, na Alemanha.

*   *   *

Trajetória do pesquisador é marcada por querelas

Marcelo Leite

22/02/2015  03h13

Não é trivial resumir as objeções que a antropologia cultural levanta contra Napoleon Chagnon. A controvérsia tem quase meio século, e a tarefa fica mais complicada quando muitos dos antropólogos relevantes do Brasil se recusam a dar entrevistas sobre o caso.

O panorama se turvou de vez em 2000, com o livro “Trevas no Eldorado”. Nele o jornalista Patrick Tierney acusava Chagnon e o médico James Neel de, em 1968, terem causado uma epidemia de sarampo entre os ianomâmis da Venezuela e experimentado nos índios um tipo perigoso de vacina, além de negar-lhes socorro médico.

Chagnon e Neel foram depois inocentados dessas acusações graves. Bruce Albert, antropólogo e crítico de Chagnon que trabalha há 36 anos com os ianomâmis, já escreveu sobre a ausência de fundamento das alegações de Tierney.

Ana Prata

Nem por isso Albert deixa de assinalar sérios erros éticos da dupla. Para ele, os ianomâmis foram usados, sem saber, como grupo de controle para estudos sobre efeitos de radiação nuclear no sangue de sobreviventes de bombardeios em Hiroshima e Nagasaki.

Chagnon, capataz de Neel na expedição, obtinha amostras de sangue em troca de machados, facões e panelas. Embora essa prática perdurasse nos anos 1960-70, Albert ressalva que regras exigindo consentimento informado já vigiam desde 1947 (Código de Nuremberg) e 1964 (Declaração de Helsinque).

Os reparos ao trabalho de Chagnon abarcam também a própria ciência. Ele se diz superior aos antropólogos tradicionais, que acusa de relativistas pós-modernos, xingamento comum nos setores cientificistas da academia americana.

A polêmica teve início com o livro “Yanomamö: The Fierce People”, em que Chagnon apresentou sua tese de que ianomâmis são uma relíquia ancestral da espécie humana: selvagens com compulsão pela guerra como forma de obter mulheres, escassas devido à prática do infanticídio feminino.

Os críticos da etnografia de Chagnon afirmam que ele nunca comprovou o infanticídio seletivo. Com efeito, a explicação foi abandonada em outros estudos, como um famigerado artigo de 1988 no periódico científico “Science”.

O trabalho recorre a dados demográficos coletados por Chagnon para corroborar sua noção, bem ao gosto da sociobiologia, de que os homens mais violentos eram os que tinham mais mulheres e filhos. Esses seriam os que os ianomâmis chamam “unokai” –segundo o autor, os mais temidos no grupo (e, por isso, mais prolíficos).

Albert, Jacques Lizot e outros antropólogos consideram que ele misturou alhos com bugalhos. “Unokai” não seria um atributo individual, mas o estado de impureza (simbólica) daquele que mata alguém com armas ou feitiçaria, ou mesmo só entra em contato com o sangue de cadáveres de inimigos.

Além disso, em incursões contra outras aldeias, os guerreiros muitas vezes dão golpes e flechadas em adversários já mortos. Isso os tornaria “unokai”, não homicidas.

Os mais admirados não seriam esses, mas os “waitheri”, algo como “valorosos”, que se distinguem não só pela valentia, mas também pela capacidade de liderar, de falar bem, até pelo humor.

Não bastasse isso, os críticos apontam manipulação de números. Para inflar seus dados e chegar a 44% de homens que teriam participado de mortes e tinham até o triplo de filhos na comparação com os não “unokai”, Chagnon teria excluído da amostra jovens de 20 a 25 anos e homens mortos –violentos ou não, com ou sem filhos.

Em fevereiro de 2013, o antropólogo Marshall Sahlins renunciou à Academia Nacional de Ciências dos EUA após o ingresso de Chagnon. Num artigo em que explicava o ato, defendeu que um antropólogo alcança entendimento superior de outros povos quando toma seus integrantes como semelhantes –e não objetos naturais, “selvagens”, ao modo de Chagnon.

“É claro que esse não é o único meio de conhecer os outros. Podemos também utilizar nossa capacidade simbólica para tratá-los como objetos físicos”, escreveu. “Mas não obteremos o mesmo conhecimento dos modos simbolicamente ordenados da vida humana, do que é a cultura, ou até a mesma certeza empírica.”

MARCELO LEITE, 57, é repórter especial e colunista da Folha.

*   *   *

Morte sistemática de Ianomâmis é um tabu

Leão Serva

23/02/2015  02h00

Folha publicou com grande destaque na edição de domingo (22) a notícia do lançamento do livro “Nobres Selvagens” (pela Três Estrelas, selo do Grupo Folha), de autoria do antropólogo norte-americano Napoleon Chagnon. Títulos na capa e no caderno da Ilustríssima chamaram a obra de “livro tabu”.

Trata-se de um exagero baseado no discurso persecutório do autor, que sempre responde às críticas a seu trabalho com alegações de perseguição pessoal ou boicote. Uma pesquisa no Google News apresenta 872 respostas com notícias sobre o antropólogo e 64 referências ao livro, incluindo veículos de grande prestígio internacional como “The New York Times” e “Washington Post”.

No Brasil, certamente a obra não foi tema de reportagens simplesmente porque não havia sido lançada.

Na edição, textos de Marcelo Leite e André Strauss compilam as principais fragilidades apontadas pelos críticos da obra de Chagnon.

Uma bem importante, no entanto, não foi mencionada: o antropólogo dá pouca importância ao caráter simbólico das expressões da cultura que aparecem nos depoimentos de índios (e de brancos também, é bom que se diga), o que o leva a tomar o que ouve literalmente. Assim, em sua entrevista, é quase infantil a descrição dos perigos de uma aldeia Ianomâmi. Os medos que Chagnon menciona que concentrariam a atenção dos índios para longe dos cuidados médicos (risco de onças e cobras) são próprios de um alienígena. Já os índios criam cobras em casa para comer ratos; sabem que onças têm medo dos homens e, em situações raras, quando se aproximam furtivamente da periferia da aldeia para tocaiar uma criança, logo são capturadas pelos índios, como eu mesmo testemunhei. Não quer dizer que não haja medo, mas o antropólogo o amplifica para reforçar o estereótipo de atraso.

A história de que um casal ianomâmi teria atribuído o desaparecimento de seu filhinho a uma anaconda esfomeada é bizarra: o bebê na aldeia não fica um minuto longe dos outros e uma sucuri no lento processo de engolir uma criança seria vista por dúzias de pessoas e morta. Chagnon certamente não entendeu o que lhe foi dito ou tomou por verdade uma mentira (vale lembrar que um “civilizado” banqueiro suíço também mente).

Em texto mais antigo, Chagnon apontava o gesto de bater no peito, comum em festas de ianomâmis como expressão da violência da cultura desses grupos. Ora, o mesmo movimento pode ser encontrado diariamente em culturas mais “evoluídas”, segundo seu critério, das grandes cidades da Europa e dos EUA (nas missas católicas quando se diz “Minha culpa, minha culpa, minha máxima culpa”) à Mesopotâmia, berço das civilizações (onde soldados contemporâneos reproduzem o gesto antes de ataques de infantaria). Chagnon não leva em conta o alicerce básico do estudo da antropologia, que as culturas humanas são simultâneas, embora diferentes na expressão material.

Por fim, para desfazer as críticas feitas pelo líder Davi Kopenawa, criou a história de que ele é manipulado por antropólogos. A Folha parte dessa premissa para questionar Chagnon: “As entrevistas com ele costumam ser mediadas por antropólogos”, ao que o autor diz: “Pois é”, e segue sua catilinária.

Trata-se de uma inverdade que qualquer repórter que fale bem português ou ianomâmi pode comprovar. Eu entrevistei Kopenawa três vezes em épocas e lugares diferentes, duas delas sem aviso prévio. Me aproximei, pedi para falar e conversamos sem mediação. Uma vez, em seu escritório em Boa Vista, ele pediu que outras pessoas (que eu não conhecia, índios e brancos) saíssem da sala para ser entrevistado. Fala fluentemente um português simples (de brasileiro não universitário) com forte sotaque. É preciso ter calma e prestar atenção, por vezes pedir que repita para entender a pronúncia de algumas palavras.

A última vez que o encontrei foi numa entrevista para a revista Serafina, com hora marcada. Também ficou só, enquanto eu estava acompanhado da jovem fotógrafa Helena Wolfenson, da Folha. É possível que estrangeiros que falem mal ou não falem português precisem de tradutor. E são certamente raras as pessoas que falam português, ianomâmi e línguas estrangeiras. Talvez daí a história de que ele se faça acompanhar de “antropólogos” ou gente de ONG.

*

O que de fato é um “tabu” (aquilo de que não se fala) na imprensa brasileira é o lento processo de abandono dos Ianomâmi à morte, em curso por incompetência ou (depois de tanto tempo) decisão do governo federal.

Como noticiei nesta coluna em maio do ano passado, as mortes de Ianomâmi por problemas de saúde cresceram nos dois governos do PT (Lula e Dilma). Muitas das doenças são simples de evitar, como provam as estatísticas da segunda metade dos anos 1990.

O aumento se deve em grande medida à interrupção dos trabalhos de medicina preventiva nas aldeias e ao crescimento dos gastos com transporte dos doentes das aldeias para a capital de Roraima, Boa Vista.

A maior parte dos custos do Ministério da Saúde com a saúde indígena em Roraima tem sido despejada em frete de aviões para levar índios a Boa Vista. São poucas as empresas de táxi aéreo, as mesmas que levam políticos locais em seus deslocamentos.

Em janeiro do ano passado, quando a entrevistei, a coordenadora do Ministério da Saúde para as áreas indígenas de Roraima, Maria de Jesus do Nascimento, explicou o aumento das mortes dizendo: “Não, dinheiro não falta… Foi problema de gestão, mesmo”.

Na área Ianomâmi, uma médica cubana do programa Mais Médicos se desesperava: “Não tenho antibióticos, não tenho oxigênio, não tenho equipamentos”. Eu perguntei o que fazia: “Não quero mas sou forçada a mandar os índios de avião para Boa Vista”. O meio se tornou o fim. A saúde dos índios se tornou desculpa para enriquecer as empresas de táxi aéreo.

Quem procura no mesmo Google News notícias sobre as mortes de Ianomâmi pela improbidade dos órgãos de saúde local só encontra quatro notícias, uma delas do espanhol El País, as demais noticiando os protestos dos índios e um debate no Congresso.

Esse genocídio lento e discreto é o verdadeiro tabu.

Anúncios

In Amazon wars, bands of brothers-in-law (University of Utah)

[Chagnon is restless.Gosh]

27-Oct-2014

Contact: Lee J. Siegel

How culture influences violence among the Amazon’s ‘fierce people’

IMAGE: In this mid-1960s photo, men from two Yanomamo villages in the Amazon engage in nonhostile combat to determine the strength and fighting prowess of potential alliance partners. A new study…

Click here for more information.

SALT LAKE CITY, Oct. 27, 2014 – When Yanomamö men in the Amazon raided villages and killed decades ago, they formed alliances with men in other villages rather than just with close kin like chimpanzees do. And the spoils of war came from marrying their allies’ sisters and daughters, rather than taking their victims’ land and women.

Those findings – which suggest how violence and cooperation can go hand-in-hand and how culture may modify any innate tendencies toward violence – come from a new study of the so-called “fierce people” led by provocative anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and written by his protégé, University of Utah anthropologist Shane Macfarlan.

Macfarlan says the researchers had expected to find the Yanomamö fought like “bands of brothers” and other close male kin like fathers, sons and cousins who live in the same community and fight nearby communities. That is how fights are conducted by chimpanzees – the only other apes besides humans that form coalitions to fight and kill.

Instead, “a more apt description might be a ‘band of brothers-in-law,'” in which Yanomamö men ally with similar-age men from nearby villages to attack another village, then marry their allies’ female kin, Macfarlan, Chagnon and colleagues write in the study, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study provides a mechanism to explain why Yanomamö warriors in a 1988 Chagnon study had more wives and children than those who did not kill.

“We are showing these guys individually get benefits from engaging in killing,” Macfarlan says. “They’re getting long-term alliance partners – other guys they can trust to get things done. And they are getting marriage opportunities.”

Since his 1968 book “Yanomamö: The Fierce People,” Chagnon has been harshly criticized by some cultural anthropologists who claim he places undue emphasis on genes and biology as underpinnings of human violence, based on his 1964-1993 visits to the Yanomamö. Defenders such as Macfarlan say Chagnon takes a much more balanced view, and that “it’s never a genes-versus-culture argument. They operate in tandem.”

Chagnon got what was seen as vindication in 2012 when he was elected to the prestigious National Academy of Sciences. The new study, with Macfarlan as first author and Chagnon as senior author – is Chagnon’s inaugural PNAS article as a member.

Macfarlan joined the University of Utah faculty this year an assistant professor of anthropology. He worked as Chagnon’s postdoctoral fellow at the University of Missouri from January 2013 to June 2014. Chagnon and Macfarlan conducted the study with two Missouri colleagues: anthropologists Robert S. Walker and Mark V. Flinn.

Models of Warfare

The Yanomamö – hunters and farmers who live in southern Venezuela and northern Brazil – once gained social status as “unokai” for killing.

Up to 20 Yanomamö (pronounced yah-NO-mama, but also spelled Yanomami or Yanomama) would sneak up on another village at dawn, “shoot the first person they saw and then hightail back home,” Macfarlan says. Some Yanomamö men did this once, some up to 11 times and some never killed. (Data for the study, collected in the 1980s, covered somewhat earlier times when spears, bows and arrows were the primary weapons.)

IMAGE: University of Utah anthropologist Shane Macfarlan, shown here, is first author of a new study with provocative anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon about the Yanomamo, or so called ‘fierce people’ of…

Click here for more information.

Macfarlan says the classic debate has been, “does warfare in small-scale societies like the Yanomamö resemble chimpanzee warfare?” – a theory known as the “fraternal interest group” model, in which bands of brothers, fathers, sons and paternal uncles all living in the same community fight other similar communities.

The new study asked whether Yanomamö killing follows that model or the “strategic alliance model,” which the researchers dub the “band of brothers-in-law” model. This model – supported by the study’s findings – indicates that Yanomamö men form alliances not with close kin from the same community, but with men from other communities. After killing together, a bond is formed and they often marry each other’s daughters or sisters and move into one or the other’s village or form a new village.

“When we started off this project, we all assumed it would be the chimpanzee-like model. But in human groups we have cultural rules that allow us to communicate with other communities. You certainly don’t see chimpanzees doing this.”

Is the study a retreat from what Chagnon’s critics see as too much focus on genetic and biological underpinnings of violence? Macfarlan says no, that Chagnon “has never been as all-biology as people have painted him. Most of his published research shows how unique cultural rules make the Yanomamö an interesting group of people.”

Earlier research suggested that for chimps, warfare is adaptive in an evolutionary sense, and that it also benefits small-scale human societies. The new study asked, “If warfare is adaptive, in what way do the adaptive benefits flow?” Macfarlan says.

“Some people, myself included, said, to the victor goes the spoils, because if you conquer another territory, you might take their land, food or potentially their females.”

But the new study indicates “the adaptive benefits are the alliances you build by perpetrating acts of warfare,” he adds. “It’s not that you are taking land or females from the vanquished group, but for the Yanomamö, what you acquire is that you can exchange resources with allies, such as labor and, most importantly, female marriage partners.”

The study’s findings that the Yanomamö form strategic alliances to kill suggest that “our ultracoooperative tendencies tend to go hand-in-hand with our ultralethal tendencies,” Macfarlan says. “We show a relationship between cooperation and violence at a level unseen in other organisms.” That may seem obvious for allied nations in modern wars, but “we’re saying that even in small-scale societies this is the case.”

IMAGE: Men from one Yanomamo village in the Amazon ‘dance’ in a neighboring village to show off their military prowess, weaponry and group cohesion after they were invited to a…

Click here for more information.

How the Study was Conducted

The new study analyzed data collected by Chagnon in the 1980s, when about 25,000 Yanomamö lived in about 250 villages ranging from 25 to 400 people.

The study examined 118 Yanomamö warriors or unokai who had killed a total of 47 people by forming raiding parties of two to 15 men. The researchers analyzed the relationships between every possible pair of men in those raiding parties. Among the 118 unokai men, there were 509 possible pairs. Macfarlan says the findings revealed surprises about the relationship between co-unokai – pairs of men who kill together:

  • Only 22 percent of men who kill together were from the same lineage.
  • Only 34 percent of co-unokai pairs were from the same place of birth. “Guys who come from different places of birth are more likely to kill together.”
  • Among co-killers known to be related, a majority were related on their mother’s side rather than their father’s side – more evidence of forming alliances beyond the immediate paternal kinship group. In Yanomamö culture, true kin are viewed as being on the paternal side, while maternal relatives are seen as belonging to another social group.
  • The Yanomamö preferred forming coalitions with men within a median of age difference of 8 years. “The more similar in age, the more likely they will kill multiple times,” Macfarlan says.
  • Of the 118 unokai, 102 got married in a total of 223 marriages to 206 women. Of married killers, 70 percent married at least one woman from the same paternal line as an ally in killing. And “the more times they kill together, the more likely they are going to get marriage partners from each other’s family line,” Macfarlan says.
  • As a result, “The more times the guys kill together, the more likely they are to move into the same village later in life, despite having come from different village.”

The study found allies-in-killing often are somewhere between maternal first and second cousins, Macfarlan says. Under Yanomamö rules, a man’s ideal marriage partner is a maternal first cousin, who would be the offspring of your mother’s brother. He says Yanomamö rules allow marriage to a maternal first cousin, but not a paternal first cousin.

Despite debate over the biological roots of deadly coalitions in chimps and humans, the new study shows how culture can make it “uniquely human” because if Yanomamö men “kill together, they are plugged into this social scene, this marriage market,” Macfarlan says. “They are playing the game of their culture.”

Sua flecha é a palavra (Boletim da UFMG)

Nº 1845 – Ano 40
18.11.2013

Bárbara Pansardi

“Pra quem não me conhece, sou Davi Kopenawa, filho da Amazônia, que vive no meio da floresta.” As palavras simples e fortes do líder indígena são certeiras como uma flecha que acerta direto no coração – é o que ele mesmo diz. O xamã yanomami acredita que sua arma é a palavra, com a qual protege a floresta amazônica e os povos autóctones.

“Nós, Yanomami, somos guerreiros para defender nossos direitos, nosso povo, nossas crianças, nossa terra própria. Nossos antepassados não sabiam se defender, não sabiam brigar por não compreender a língua portuguesa”, explica o xamã e intérprete da Funai, que utiliza o idioma como instrumento político. “Eu não posso viver isolado. Meu povo yanomami já foi isolado. Hoje não, nós conversamos com políticos sobre o problema da nossa terra, da saúde”, afirma.

Sua mensagem é firme, mesmo quando sua expressão parece hesitar, revelando a cadência de quem não tem o português como língua materna. “Minha fala é diferente; não é fala de cidade, não. Eu falo sobre natureza, sobre meio ambiente, terra, sobre o que é bom pra nós todos”, justifica Kopenawa.

A convite do Programa Cátedras do Instituto de Estudos Avançados Transdisciplinares (Ieat), Davi veio à UFMG ensinar o que os napë [homem branco, não índio] parecem não saber. “Será que o homem não tem pensamento, não pensa em seu futuro, nas gerações que vão sofrer? Consciência dos napë é diferente da consciência indígena. Terra é nossa vida, sustenta a barriga, é nossa alegria”, alega, tecendo dura crítica às atividades econômicas que se valem da exploração das riquezas naturais.

Para Kopenawa, o problema gerado pelo homem branco com a extração dos recursos é incontornável, não há reflorestamento que o resolva. “Reflorestar não vai trazer ar limpo, não vai chamar a chuva; só miséria, fome, sofrimento”, afirma, fazendo uma analogia com as cicatrizes que se formam quando ferimos a pele, sobre as quais não voltam a nascer pelos. “Na terra, depois que corta, não cresce de novo, não nasce urihi [cobertura florestal], porque não tem força, não tem água lá embaixo. Derrama sangue da terra e ela fica seca, a água vai embora.”

Davi explica o que em sua filosofia indígena designa por “coração da terra”. De acordo com ele, trata-se de um processo cíclico segundo o qual a água é conduzida por caminhos subterrâneos que a elevam para que em seguida se precipite novamente, em movimento continuamente circular, como na corrente sanguínea. “Nós estamos circulando juntos”, acrescenta, esclarecendo que o coração humano pulsa sob mesmo ritmo. Homem e natureza, portanto, estão ligados. Então, “destruímos a nós mesmos ao devastar a terra; nosso coração bate junto com a hutukara, terra-mãe”.

Diferentes, porém complementares

O xamã acredita na capacidade de mobilizar os outros como multiplicadores de uma consciência ambiental renovada, e se alegra porque vê seu conhecimento reconhecido na esfera acadêmica. “Sou analfabeto, mas tenho saber tradicional. Eles estão me escutando e achando bom. Estão interessados, gostando muito. Eu também estou gostando. Venho para me aproximar do homem branco que nunca conheceu de mim e para conhecê-lo como amigo. Não índio também está reconhecendo minha imagem, minha fala, a experiência que eu tenho e aprendi desde pequeno.”

Entre os xamãs yanomami, boa parte dos saberes advêm do campo onírico. Os sonhos – muitas vezes associados ao transe induzido pelo sopro do pó de yãkoana [alucinógeno] – funcionam como revelações esclarecedoras. Os xapiri [espíritos] são os responsáveis por alumbrar as ideias e desvelar a sapiência do líder. Davi conta que ele próprio “sonha terra, floresta, chuva, trovão, tudo o que tem no universo”. Por isso, irrita-se com os antropólogos que, “como formigas, andam procurando sabedoria” e valem-se do conhecimento alheio. “Eu não quero antropólogo falso, que só quer trair o meu povo, que só quer aprender, tirar e copiar conhecimento yanomami”, revolta-se, em alusão à experiência com o americano Napoleon Chagnon, que trata os yanomami como ferozes e violentos.

No livro La chute du ciel, escrito em conjunto com o antropólogo francês Bruce Albert, Kopenawa conta que pediu ao xori [amigo] que o ajudasse. Como discordava dos pesquisadores que frequentavam sua aldeia e imputavam juízos sobre o modo de vida indígena, resolveu manifestar-se. “Quem vai falar sobre meu povo yanomami sou eu. Eu não sou antropólogo, mas Bruce me ajudou a escrever como no meu sonho, um sonho conhecimento. Eu queria escrever para os antropólogos da cidade, para mostrar como o Yanomami pensou. Esse livro é um mensageiro para entrar na capital. Antropólogo que não conhece índio, não conhece aldeia, não conhece mato vai ler. Esse livro foi escrito para fazer antropólogo respeitar. Foi muito bom pra mostrar minha capacitação, a capacidade que eu tenho de quem conhece rio, terra, mato”, relata.

Quanto à sua participação nas palestras ao longo da semana, o xamã mostrou-se alegre e satisfeito por cumprir a tarefa que lhe foi confiada pelos anciões. “Estou com orgulho de mim. Sou um yanomami em paz. Estou dizendo boas coisas pra eles [homens brancos] entenderem, pensarem e depois fazer respeitar. Nós somos povo indígena, guardião da terra; estamos aqui para proteger”, assevera.

Survival condemns Steven Pinker’s ‘Brutal Savage’ myth (Survival International)

12 June 2013

Steven Pinker, like Jared Diamond, bases his assertion that the Yanomami are a violent people solely on the work of controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon.Steven Pinker, like Jared Diamond, bases his assertion that the Yanomami are a violent people solely on the work of controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon. © Fiona Watson/Survival

Survival International has launched a vigorous rebuttal of Harvard ‘evolutionary psychologist’ Steven Pinker’s claim that tribal people are more violent than state societies.

In articles published this week in US journal Truthout, and the UK-based OpenDemocracy, Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry accuses Pinker – once named by Time magazine as one of the world’s 100 most influential people – of ‘claiming scientific support for what is mere opinion by falsely charging contemporary tribal peoples with more or less unremitting villainy.’

Corry writes, ‘Pinker’s baldly stated facts shake and buckle under cross-examination’. He accuses Pinker of: omitting facts which don’t fit his argument; getting many of his facts wrong; citing only those experts who agree with him; and ignoring the many others who don’t.

Starting with the first example in Pinker’s recent book ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’ – the 5,200-year-old ‘Iceman’ named Ötzi – Corry reveals how Pinker’s suggestion that he was killed in a clash with another tribe is implausible. Corry goes on to expose countless other errors in Pinker’s supposedly ‘scientific’ argument, which has close parallels with the recent book ‘The World Until Yesterday’ by Jared Diamond.

Pinker, like Diamond, accuses Papuans of being violent, but ignores the tens of thousands killed by Indonesia's armed forces.Pinker, like Diamond, accuses Papuans of being violent, but ignores the tens of thousands killed by Indonesia’s armed forces. © Survival

‘The data presented by these authors [Steven Pinker and Jared Diamond] is at least contentious, where it’s not plain wrong. They go out of their way to portray tribes as ‘Brutal Savages’ … [For example], twenty percent of the data Pinker uses to categorize the violence of the entire planet’s tribal peoples (excluding ‘hunter-gatherers’) is derived from a single anthropologist, Napoleon Chagnon – whose data has been severely criticized for decades.’

Of Pinker’s principal declaration – that our ancestors (and today’s tribal peoples) were more violent than ‘civilized’ Western society – Corry concludes, ‘Pinker [believes] we are brutal savages until tamed by a nation state bringing peaceful civilization. As far as contemporary tribal peoples are concerned, it couldn’t be further from the truth: the arrival of the state unleashes a savagery second to none in its brutality.’

Read more about the myth of the ‘Brutal Savage’ and how some writers are pushing the view that tribal people are particularly violent.

A Thousand Kinds of Life: Culture, Nature, and Anthropology (Dissent)

Yanomami villagers at an indigenous expo in Caracas (Luigino Bracci, 2011, Flickr creative commons)

By David Moberg – March 21, 2013

In the latest twist in an unusually public academic dispute, one of the world’s most influential and highly regarded anthropologists resigned in protest from the prestigious National Academy of Sciences in late February. In quitting the academy, Marshall Sahlins took aim in part at the work of fellow anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, whose contentious memoir, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—The Yanamamö and the Anthropologists, was recently published by Simon & Schuster. But his action is also a skirmish in a much longer and very important debate over what it means to be human—a debate with consequences for the broader public discussion.

Sahlins, the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago, said that he was leaving the 150-year-old academy for two reasons: the election of Chagnon to the NAS last year and the involvement of the NAS in research for the military. His action prompted an outpouring of petitions and statements of support from colleagues, including several hundred in Brazil.

The academy says that principled resignations like Sahlins’ are “rare”—so rare that the only precedent anyone could identify was famed Harvard biologist and geneticist Richard Lewontin’s 1971 departure in protest against NAS military work related to the war in Vietnam. In the 1960s Sahlins himself was helping to launch campus teach-ins against the Vietnam War and to raise issues about the relationship of anthropology to the military.

Sahlins initially tried to resign last year in May, after Chagnon was named to the NAS, then again in October, when he received a request sent to all eighty-four anthropologists at the academy for advice on two research projects aimed at making the military more effective. The request arrived at a time when a controversy was already smoldering in the field about anthropologists’ involvement in implementing the Human Terrain Systems counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq (the October request for help appears unrelated to HTS). The academy had indirectly been involved in military research since the allied National Research Council was established in 1916 specifically for military research. But Sahlins objected to any NAS involvement in projects such as the two proposed in October. One focused on “contextual factors that influence individual and small unit behavior,” and the other sought scientifically valid methods, including any suggested by neuroscience, for improving individual and group military performance.

The publication of Chagnon’s memoirs prompted a third, successful attempt at resignation. Sahlins had objected to the NAS admitting Chagnon—formerly at the Universities of Michigan and of California at Santa Barbara, now at the University of Missouri—because of the quality of his research and his ethics in the field. Sahlins is also critical of both the theoretical and empirical underpinnings of sociobiology, more often referred to now as evolutionary psychology. A minority of anthropologists adopt its viewpoint. But many non-anthropologists—such as Richard Dawkins, Stephen Pinker, and Jared Diamond—have used the work of Chagnon and like-minded anthropologists to reach a large audience.

Fundamentally, this group of writers and researchers see biology as destiny. They argue that biological evolution defines human nature through the inheritance of traits that provide individuals with a reproductive advantage—that is, with more offspring.

In the late 1960s Chagnon worked among the Yanomami people living on both sides of the border between Venezuela and Brazil. He portrayed the Yanomami—which he dubbed “the fierce people,” for their frequent inter-village warfare—as living in a “state of nature” essentially like that of our Paleolithic ancestors. And he claimed to present evidence that men who were “killers” had many more offspring—which, even when he occasionally hedged, others took as proof that evolution favored and preserved traits for male aggression and violence.

Anthropologists, including Sahlins, have since criticized nearly every aspect of Chagnon’s research. (See “Natural Born Nonkillers.”) For example, many note that other tribal people have relatively peaceful, cooperative cultures. Research from various perspectives also runs counter to Chagnon’s argument that evolution rewards killers with more offspring—including computer simulations of evolution, studies of animal behavior showing that killing within a species is rare, even military studies of how men in combat try to avoid killing others. In any case, critics say, the Yanomami were not in a pristine state of nature when Chagnon first visited: they had a history, including likely displacement from their original land by pressures from European colonial settlers and some continuing contact with the wider world that led to the acquisition of a few trade goods. There were many more charges that his data were flawed. To take one example, Chagnon categorized Yanomami men as killers or not killers based on their own classification as unokai or not unokai. But the term identifies a man who has gone through a purification ritual, which was used by both real “killers” and by men who, say, had employed sorcery.

In 2000 journalist Patrick Tierney published Darkness in El Dorado, which accused Chagnon of spreading fatal diseases (like measles) through his collaboration with geneticist James V. Neel, of fomenting some of the inter-village fighting, and other ethical offenses. The American Anthropological Association established a taskforce that dismissed some of Tierney’s most lurid charges but concluded that Chagnon, among other lapses, did not get informed consent from Yanomami research subjects and may have improperly delayed immunizations he and Neel were providing. At its convention, the AAA adopted the taskforce’s report and criticisms, but later Chagnon’s supporters moved to rescind the report largely on procedural grounds. With only 10 percent of members voting, the AAA reversed its endorsement of the report—which Chagnon backers inappropriately claimed as the profession’s vindication of his work.

Sahlins first weighed in against sociobiology in the mid-1970s with The Use and Abuse of Biology, but he has continued to pursue many of the same critical themes in recent books, such as What Kinship Is—And Is Not and The Western Illusion of Human Nature. He argues that human nature is culture—that is, the learned values, beliefs, and patterns of behavior that social groups follow or believe they should follow, as well as the capacity to change those ideas passed from previous generations. Culture—and not some special features of biological evolution, like a carnivore’s teeth or the short beak of a seed-eating bird—provides humans with a flexible, varied means of adapting to a wide and changing variety of circumstances.

Homo sapiens evolved biologically and mentally from our hominid ancestors over several million years within the context of the hominid tool-making culture. “What evolved was our capacity to realize biological necessities, from sex to nutrition, in the thousand different ways that different societies have developed,” Sahlins says. “Hence, culture, the symbolically organized modes of the ways we live, including our bodily functioning, is the specifically ‘human nature.’”

Sahlins argues against the sociobiologists’ neo-Hobbesian view of human nature as a war of all against all—with a brutal, competitive nature clashing with culture. This view of human nature has deep roots in Western cultural traditions, he writes, but it also projects a more modern capitalist view of self-interested, even selfish, behavior on both humanity and the rest of the natural world. In many other societies, people do not see the same sharp division between nature and culture. And all human societies have systems of kinship, which Sahlins defines as “mutuality of being,” meaning that “kinfolk are members of one another, intrinsic to each other’s identity and existence.”

“Symbolically and emotionally, kinfolk live each other’s lives and die each other’s deaths,” Sahlins says. “Why don’t scientists base their ideas of human nature on this truly universal condition—a condition in which self-interest at the expense of others is precluded by definition, insofar as people are parts of one another?” Sahlins cites a classic definition of kinship first developed by Aristotle: kinfolk are in various degrees other selves of ourselves.

Moreover, this kinship is not biological. There are many ways besides birth that societies have developed notions of mutual being, Sahlins says. For example, in the highlands of New Guinea, strangers can become your kin by eating from the land where your ancestors are buried. The food raised on that land is in effect the transubstantiation of the ancestors. Accordingly, people who eat from it share ancestral being. In the local conception, they are as much kin to each other as people who have the same parents.

In the West, and even in much anthropological writing past and present, kinship is treated as genealogy, or biology. But even biological reproduction, Sahlins argues, takes place within the context of a particular kinship system, and to reproduce children is to reproduce that culturally defined kinship order. And in most cultures, notions of kinship diverge, often dramatically, from our “folk theory,” with its emphasis on biological genealogy. In any case, all human societies exist within some framework of “mutuality of being,” which starkly contrasts with the view of human life run by selfish genes.


In an email interview, Sahlins responded to a few questions about his resignation, incorporating some passages from his recent writings.

DM: You offered two reasons for your resignation from the National Academy of Sciences. Starting with the election of Napoleon Chagnon to the NAS, what were your most important objections to that election—the quality of his scholarship, professional ethics in the field, or other issues?

MS: He deals in caricature: of the people he studies, of science, of anthropological theory, of fellow anthropologists, and of himself as a beleaguered “fierce person.” His vicious misrepresentations of Yanomami as savage and disgusting have, as many local scholars have pointed out, aided and abetted national and entrepreneurial forces anxious to exploit and pollute their land and, directly or indirectly, drive them to extinction. Likewise, his own fieldwork methods have contributed to the sufferings and destabilization of the Yanomami (as I discussed in an article for the Washington Post).

The idea that the Yanomami represent the primordial human condition of the Stone Age is preposterous. Why them and not the numerous other, quite different societies—including many, such as Australian aboriginals, with just as modest economies but a quite different social order and inter-group relationships? In fact, all have long histories, including dynamic relations with other societies, that remove them as far from the Paleolithic as modern nations. Moreover, as other studies of Yanomami show, they have a richness of oral tradition (so-called mythology), a spiritual pantheon, and a metaphysics of culture and nature that is virtually totally ignored by Chagnon where it is not simply dismissed.

Compared to the rich fieldwork of many Amazonian anthropologists, his ethnography is shallow. His generalizations are sophomoric. His thesis about the reproductive success of Yanomami warriors, contradicted by his own data, has been thoroughly refuted by others. His evolutionary anthropology is from the ancien régime, outdated by almost a century.

DM: You argue that “biologism” is the problem, that “human nature is culture,” and that Western thought in general is dominated by the idea that there is a conflict between a disruptive human nature and vulnerable culture. How would you address a predictable layperson’s view that surely human nature must be at least in part an independent biology as well as culture? What essential qualities, if any, do you think “human nature” may have if it is indeed defined in terms of culture?

MS: Yes, all cultures have sex, aggression, etc., but whether and how it is expressed is subordinate to the cultural order. Sociobiologists say that individuals achieve immortality by having many children, but apparently no one ever told that to the Catholic clergy. The important point is not that all cultures have sex, but that all sex has culture, that is, social norms that specify with whom, how, where, and when sexual relations are appropriate or inappropriate. Culture preceded modern human physical form by a million years or more. The body of the modern human species, Homo sapiens, was formed under the aegis of culture. What evolved was the ability and necessity to realize our bodily needs and dispositions in cultural forms.

Biology became the dependent variable. These needs had to be subordinate to and encompassed by their cultural forms of expression, otherwise how could the same needs or dispositions be realized in the thousands of different ways known to history and ethnography—the various cultural ways of having sex, eating, being aggressive, and the like? As Clifford Geertz put it, we “all begin with the natural equipment to live a thousand kinds of life but end in the end having lived only one.” That can only be if our natural dispositions were subject to cultural ordering rather than the source thereof.

For over two thousand years, Western people have been haunted recurrently by the specter of their own inner being: an apparition of human nature so covetous and contentious that unless it is somehow governed it will plunge society into anarchy. Indeed, by the twentieth century the worst in us had become the best. In the neoliberal view, self-interest in the form of each person’s pursuit of happiness at the cost of whom it might concern was a god-given right. The insatiable love of the flesh that for Augustine was slavery became “freedom” itself. Likewise, then, political Augustinism has been reversed: self-interest having been transformed from slavery to liberty, the least government is now the best. Although for neoliberalism the ancient vice of self-love is greatly to be desired, in other native anthropologies it remains a potentially fatal quality of the human make-up.

DM: Given the harsh criticism of Chagnon’s work by the American Anthropological Association, the leading professional academic organization in the field, how do you account for the NAS decision and for the apparent popular appeal of his work, such as suggested by two recent, highly sympathetic articles about him and his new memoir in the New York Times?

MS: NAS decision? I am not sure, but I believe that many members, those who elected him, have a natural science sense of anthropology, as archaeologists almost have by necessity, and Chagnon promotes himself under that description. Popularity? Mostly on college campuses, I would think, from his textbooks and movies, which resonate with certain popular undergraduate preoccupations: sex, drugs, and violence. America.

DM: You also said that you were resigning because the NAS was supporting social science research on improving combat performance of the U.S. military. To what extent is support for such military-related research a new or growing development within the NAS?

MS: Since resigning I have learned that the NAS, with its charter of research for the nation, engaged in secret military research as far back as the Vietnam War, and who knows how much before or since. At least one prominent scientist, the extraordinary biologist Richard Lewontin, has resigned from the NAS for that reason. Professor Lewontin did so in 1971.

DM: You suggest that NAS should instead, if it does anything in the field, study how to promote peace. Do you have any suggestions about what sort of research would be useful for anthropologists or others to pursue to that end?

MS: What are the consequences of attempts to forcefully impose democracy on societies with no such traditions? Especially, how does the imposition of “winner-take-all” democratic elections in ethnically divided societies exacerbate violence, as has happened time and again in many postcolonial societies in recent decades? How does the reframing of local differences in terms of international issues, backed by opposed international forces, create a virtual state of nature, as happened in Iraq, India, Sri Lanka, and many other similar situations, going back to the encompassment of local disputes in the opposition between democratic-imperial Athens and oligarchic Sparta in the Peloponnesian War? (See “Iraq, The State of Nature Effect.”)

DM: Finally, do you see any connection between your two reasons for resigning or are they independent motivations?

MS: There is a connection: it is referenced in one of my answers in a Counterpunch article by David Price. The premise of American overseas aggression, according to Donald Rumsfeld and others, is something like the line in the movie Full Metal Jacket: “inside every gook there is an American trying to get out.” All we have to do to liberate this innately freedom-loving, self-interested, democracy-needing, capitalist-in-waiting is to rid him of the oppressive, evil-minded regime holding him down—by force if necessary. That is, Chagnon’s view of self-aggrandizing human nature is the sociobiological equivalent of the neocon premise of the virtues of American imperialism: making the world safe for self-interest. It is the same native Western ideology of the innate character of mankind. A huge ethnocentric and egocentric philosophy of human nature underlies the double imperialism of our sociobiological science and our global militarism.


David Moberg is a senior editor at In These Times.

Notas sobre a violência – De antropólogos e outras tribos ferozes (Folha de S.Paulo)

DOMINGO, 17 DE MARÇO DE 2013

MARCELO LEITE

RESUMO Antropólogo Napoleon Chagnon retoma em novo livro teoria sobre agressividade ianomâmi e ataca adversários da sociobiologia. Jared Diamond escreve obra de bases semelhantes, mas mais generosa com ‘primitivos’, aproximando-se de adversários de Chagnon, como Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, que lança coletânea.

É preciso ter estômago forte para digerir a narrativa de um antropólogo que escolhe iniciar o relato de seu primeiro dia de campo entre os ianomâmis -meio século depois- com a frase: “Nunca antes tinha visto tanto ranho verde”. Não é a antropologia, porém, a disciplina que ensina a combinar o máximo de disciplina com o mínimo de conforto em benefício do entendimento do homem?

Leia-se então com dose generosa de bonomia antropológica a obra mais recente do americano Napoleon Chagnon, “Noble Savages – My Life among two Dangerous Tribes – The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists” [Simon & Schuster, 531 págs., R$ 87,50]. Em desagravo, que seja, porque Chagnon pagou um preço alto demais por sua crença nas explicações ultradarwinistas do comportamento, cuja matriz -a natureza humana- acredita ter desvendado nas selvas do Orinoco.

O estudioso americano dedicou pelo menos duas décadas de sua vida a longas permanências em terras ianomâmis, quase sempre na Venezuela (com desastradas incursões também do lado brasileiro). As três seguintes ele ocupou em defesa da carreira e da reputação quase arruinadas por dois outros livros: “O Povo Feroz” (1968), trabalho acadêmico de sua própria lavra, e “Trevas no Eldorado”, um panfleto do jornalista Patrick Tierney (2000).

Os que desconhecem a crônica dessa guerra entre os clãs cultural e biológico da antropologia encontrarão um resumo devastador das acusações mútuas no documentário “Os Segredos da Tribo”, de José Padilha. Não se recomenda o consumo de pipoca na sessão de barbaridades que a fita apresenta.

O povo feroz do título de Chagnon são os ianomâmis. Sua caracterização pelo antropólogo como uma etnia violenta, de homens “maliciosos, agressivos e intimidadores”, que acumulam homicídios para obter mais mulheres e maior sucesso reprodutivo, despertou a ira dos antropólogos culturalistas.

Primeiro, Chagnon foi acusado de distorcer a imagem do grupo e, assim, facilitar sua dizimação por brancos dos dois lados da fronteira. Depois, foi denunciado por Tierney como genocida, pois teria -intencional ou negligentemente, sob a tutela do médico americano James V. Neel- contribuído para uma epidemia de sarampo que matou centenas de índios.

BOM SELVAGEM “Noble Savages” (“bons selvagens”) é um acerto de contas com as duas tribos que infernizaram sua vida. A partir da descrição para o público não especializado de seu convívio de cinco anos com os ianomâmis, Chagnon retoma sua conclusão de que o “bom selvagem” concebido por Rousseau é um mito politicamente correto e que só há uma resposta biológica (evolucionista) -e simploriamente hobbesiana- para a questão de por que seres humanos são sociais: a luta de todos contra todos para aumentar a própria prole (ou pôr mais cópias dos próprios genes no mundo, na vulgata sociobiológica).

Não faltam páginas desairosas para os ianomâmis no livro. “Olhei para cima e arfei, em choque, quando vi uma dúzia de homens corpulentos, nus, suados e pavorosos nos encarando por trás dos caniços de suas setas apontadas!” -conta sobre a primeira visita a uma casa coletiva dos índios.

“Imensos rolos de tabaco verde estavam enfiados entre os dentes e os lábios inferiores, tornando sua aparência ainda mais pavorosa. Veios de ranho verde escuro pingavam ou pendiam de suas narinas -tão longos que se desprendiam de seus queixos, caíam sobre os músculos peitorais e escorriam preguiçosamente sobre seus ventres, mesclando-se com a pintura vermelha e o suor.”

Chagnon também não economiza relatos sobre tentativas mal sucedidas de engodo dos ianomâmis contra ele. Sempre eficazes, por outro lado, eram seus próprios ardis para levá-los a ceder amostras de sangue (para Neel) e a revelar nomes de ancestrais mortos -um tabu- para rechear suas genealogias e estatísticas. As mesmas informações, pagas com machados, facas e panelas de metal, que lhe permitiriam afirmar, depois, serem os homens com mais homicídios nas costas também os de prole mais numerosa.

Muito antes das acusações de Tierney, as conclusões sociobiológicas e os métodos traficantes de Chagnon já vinham sendo questionados por seus pares na comunidade antropológica. Até a correlação estatística entre ferocidade e fertilidade masculina, formulada num famigerado artigo de 1988 para a revista acadêmica “Science”, teve seus dados postos em dúvida (o autor foi acusado de excluir da amostra aqueles pais que já haviam sido mortos por vingança, portanto sem meios de multiplicar descendência).

Os antropólogos culturais, refratários à moldura biológica em que Chagnon queria enquadrar o painel exuberante das culturas, já estavam no seu encalço. Nada se compara, porém, com a virulência do ataque de Tierney. Assim que um capítulo do livro foi publicado na revista “New Yorker”, em outubro de 2000, a Associação Antropológica Americana entrou na briga -do lado dos culturalistas. Foi montado um comitê de investigação, que acabou por inocentar o médico Neel e descartar a epidemia intencional, mas recriminou Chagnon por desvios éticos.

O caso teve enorme repercussão na imprensa mundial, brasileira inclusive. Contudo, quando a obra do “jornalista investigativo” Tierney e os próprios investigadores da AAA passaram a ser investigados, a começar pela historiadora da ciência Susan Lindee, o vento virou.

Forçada por um referendo entre seus membros, a associação renegaria o relatório. As acusações de Tierney não paravam de pé, como reconstitui com farta documentação um ensaio demolidor da também historiadora Alice Dreger publicado em 2011 no periódico acadêmico “Human Nature”, sob o título “Darkness’s descent on the American Anthropological Association. A cautionary tale” (trevas sobre a Associação Antropológica Americana – uma fábula moral; leia em bit.ly/adreger).

Dreger puxa vários fios da teia de perseguição a Chagnon. Levanta a suspeita, intrigante, de que a cruzada de Tierney pode ter ocorrido sob o patrocínio da Igreja Católica, mais especificamente da ordem de padres salesianos, que já mantinha missões junto aos ianomâmis da Venezuela quando o antropólogo por lá baixou.

Após alguns meses de convívio e cooperação, cientista e religiosos se estranharam. Na versão fantástica narrada em “Noble Savages”, isso ocorreu depois de um hierarca pedir a Chagnon ajuda para matar um padre amasiado com índia. Na passagem do livro que mais se avizinha do estilo de Tierney, o antropólogo também acusa os salesianos de distribuir espingardas cartucheiras entre os índios para conquistar seu favor.

A inconsistência mais relevante da obra, porém, não decorre do ânimo retaliatório, e sim da pretensão de ter localizado entre os ianomâmis as nascentes da agressividade que supõe inerente à natureza humana. A antropóloga Elizabeth Povinelli assinalou, numa resenha escaldante de “Noble Savages” para o “New York Times”, que a tese se assenta sobre a premissa falaciosa de que os ianomâmis sejam relíquias de uma infância neolítica da humanidade.

FÓSSEIS Desde esse ponto de vista, compreende-se melhor o esforço retórico de Chagnon em degradar os ianomâmis, acentuando nas suas descrições uma animalidade que serve para relocar sua cultura na vizinhança da biologia. Ora, não há básica empírica nenhuma para afirmar que sociedades “primitivas” como a dos ianomâmis se mantiveram à margem da história, fósseis de um passado inaugural da espécie humana.

Como lembra Manuela Carneiro da Cunha -que presidia a Associação Brasileira de Antropologia quando esta cerrou fileiras contra Chagnon- na coletânea de ensaios “Índios no Brasil – História, Direitos e Cidadania” [Claro Enigma, 160 págs., R$ 29,50], essa é uma visão originária do século 19, que atribui “à natureza e à fatalidade de suas leis o que é produto de política e práticas humanas, […] consoladoras para todos à exceção de suas vítimas”.

Os ianomâmis, por exemplo, só permaneceram mais ou menos isolados (na realidade, longas redes de contatos já lhes garantiam acesso a artefatos de metal) porque suas terras montanhosas não interessavam a colonizador algum.

A perspectiva adotada por Chagnon -um engenheiro convertido para a antropologia- faz tábula rasa de tudo que há de peculiar no modo de vida ianomâmi. Por que cargas d’água esses índios cremam seus mortos, moem os ossos calcinados e ingerem as cinzas com um mingau de banana? É esse tipo de manifestação simbólica que a antropologia cultural se esforça por sistematizar e elucidar, mas que a obra de Chagnon relega à penumbra dos detalhes irrelevantes para a “natureza humana”.

Ótica semelhante anima o último best-seller de outro adepto declarado da sociobiologia (rebatizada psicologia evolucionista), Jared Diamond, mas com resultados muito diversos, se não opostos. Em “The World until Yesterday – What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?” [Viking, 512 págs., R$ 96,90], Diamond acredita piamente ter aberto uma janela para o passado nas suas décadas de visitas à Nova Guiné para estudar pássaros.

A ilha, fervilhante com centenas de tribos e línguas em contato e conflito, constitui um continente cultural descoberto como tal por ocidentais só nas primeiras décadas do século 20. Fornece a Diamond, portanto, o equivalente dos ianomâmis para Chagnon, em matéria de isolamento e primitivismo.

As diferenças entre esses dois generalizadores prodigiosos, contudo, salta já do título de Diamond. Ao contrário de Chagnon, ele está aberto -mais que isso, interessado- a aprender algo com os nativos, e não só sobre eles. São muitas as lições úteis que o observador de pássaros e homens extrai para o aperfeiçoamento marginal do indubitavelmente superior modo de vida ocidental: ingerir menos sal, aleitar bebês à vontade até os três anos, dar educação bilíngue às crianças, fazer refeições lentamente com amigos…

Até das ameaças constantes da natureza e do estado de guerra crônica entre os primitivos Diamond retira um ensinamento, centro de gravidade do livro, que chama de “paranoia construtiva”: o estado de vigilância permanente para os muitos perigos que a vida oferece aos homens. Depois de embasbacar multidões com as generalizações audazes de “Armas, Germes e Aço” (livro pelo qual ganhou o Pulitzer em 1998), Diamond corteja com leveza o gênero da autoajuda e compila um volume de leitura bem mais amena que

“Noble Savages”. Os ilhéus são feios e sujos como os ianomâmis, mas simpáticos e sábios.

Já a paranoia de Chagnon, se cabe falar assim, é corrosiva. Nos termos da controvérsia que animou o Brasil escravizador de índios nos séculos 18 e 19, relatada por Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, eles podem ser encarados como cães, canibais e ferozes, ou como homens, diferentes e por isso exemplares de capacidade adaptativa e perfectibilidade. É uma questão de escolha, ou de ponto de vista.

Como diz a antropóloga, repetindo o que ouviu em conferência de Claude Lévi-Strauss, a sociodiversidade pode ser tão preciosa quanto a biodiversidade: “Creio, com efeito, que ela constitui essa reserva de achados na qual as futuras gerações poderão encontrar exemplos -e quem sabe novos pontos de partida- de processos e sínteses sociais já postos à prova”.

-

Em 2012, Napoleon Chagnon foi eleito para a prestigiada Academia Nacional de Ciências (NAS) dos Estados Unidos. Ato contínuo, em protesto, o antropólogo Marshall Sahlins -que em 2000 se engajara na campanha contra ele- renunciou à sua cadeira na NAS.

Manifesto de 17 antropólogos que trabalham com ianomâmis deblaterou mais uma vez contra a noção de “povo feroz” reiterada no novo livro, que poderia ser usada por governos para prejudicar a etnia. Uma nota do líder ianomâmi David Kopenawa sobre a obra aponta as guerras dos brancos como muito mais ferozes que as de seu povo -uma observação antropologicamente perspicaz, ao menos no que respeita às tribos dos culturalistas e dos sociobiólogos.

The Destruction of Conscience in the National Academy of Sciences (Counter Punch)

FEBRUARY 26, 2013

An Interview With Marshall Sahlins

by DAVID H. PRICE

Last Friday, esteemed University of Chicago anthropologist Marshall Sahlins formally resigned from the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the United States’ most prestigious scientific society.

Sahlins states that he resigned because of his “objections to the election of [Napoleon] Chagnon, and to the military research projects of the Academy.” Sahlins was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1991.  He issued the below statement explaining his resignation:

“By the evidence of his own writings as well as the testimony of others, including Amazonian peoples and professional scholars of the region, Chagnon has done serious harm to the indigenous communities among whom he did research.  At the same time, his “scientific” claims about human evolution and the genetic selection for male violence–as in the notorious study he published in 1988 in Science–have proven to be shallow and baseless, much to the discredit of the anthropological discipline. At best, his election to the NAS was a large moral and intellectual blunder on the part of members of the Academy. So much so that my own participation in the Academy has become an embarrassment.

Nor do I wish to be a party to the aid, comfort, and support the NAS is giving to social science research on improving the combat performance of the US military, given the toll that military has taken on the blood, treasure, and happiness of American people, and the suffering it has imposed on other peoples in the unnecessary wars of this century.  I believe that the NAS, if it involves itself at all in related research, should be studying how to promote peace, not how to make war.”

Napoleon Chagnon rose to fame after his fieldwork among the Yanomami (also known as Yanomamo) in the rainforests of northeastern South America’s Orinoco Basin in the 1960s and 70s.  He wrote a bestselling ethnography used in introductory anthropology classes around the world, describing the Yanomami as “the fierce people” because of the high levels of intra- and inter-group warfare observed during his fieldwork, warfare that he would describe as innate and as representing humankind in some sort of imagined natural state.

Chagnon, is currently basking in the limelight of a national book tour, pitching a memoir (Nobel Savages) in which he castes the bulk of American anthropologists as soft-skulled anti-science postmodern cretins embroiled in a war against science.

The truth is that outside of the distortion field of the New York Times and a few other media vortexesthere is no “science war” raging in anthropology.  Instead the widespread rejection of Chagnon’s work among many anthropologists has everything to do with the low quality of his research.  On his blog, Anthropomics, anthropologist Jon Marks recently described Chagnon as an “incompetent anthropologist,” adding:

“Let me be clear about my use of the word “incompetent”.  His methods for collecting, analyzing and interpreting his data are outside the range of acceptable anthropological practices.  Yes, he saw the Yanomamo doing nasty things.  But when he concluded from his observations that the Yanomamo are innately and primordially “fierce”  he lost his anthropological credibility, because he had not demonstrated any such thing.   He has a right to his views, as creationists and racists have a right to theirs, but the evidence does not support the conclusion, which makes it scientifically incompetent.”

The widely shared rejection of Chagnon’s interpretations among anthropologists comes from the shoddy quality of his work and the sociobiological nature of his analysis, not with an opposition to science.

Among Chagnon’s most dogged critics was my dissertation chair, anthropologist Marvin Harris, himself an arch positivist and a staunch advocate of the scientific method, yet Harris rejected Chagnon and his sociobiological findings in fierce academic debates that lasted for decades, not because Harris was anti-science, but because Chagnon was a bad scientist (I should note that Harris and Sahlins also famously feuded over fundamental theoretical differences; yet both shared common ground objecting to the militarization of the discipline, and rejecting Chagnon’s sociobiological work).

I suppose if there really were battles within anthropology between imagined camps embracing and rejecting science, I would be about as firmly in the camp of science as anyone; but if such divisions actually existed, I would be no closer to accepting the validity and reliability (the hallmarks of good science) of Chagnon’s findings than those imagined to reject the foundations of science.

In 2000, there was of course a huge painful crisis within the American Anthropological Association following the publication of Patrick Tierney’s book Darkness in El Dorado, in which numerous accusations of exploitation (and worse) were leveled against Chagnon and other anthropologists working with the Yanomami (see Barbara Rose Johnston’s essay on the José Padilha’s film, Secrets of the Tribe). Without detailing all the twists and turns involved in establishing  the wreckage of Chagnon and the paucity of his claims, suffice it to say that the choice of offering one of the select seats in the National Academy of Sciences’ Section 51 to Dr. Chagnon is an affront to a broad range of anthropologists, be they self-identified as scientists or not.

Marshall Sahlins’ resignation is an heroic stand against the subversion of science to those claiming an innate nature of human violence, and a stand opposing the increasing militarization of science.  While Sahlins’ credentials as an activist opposing the militarization of knowledge are well established—he is widely recognized as the creator of the “teach-in,” organizing the February 1965 University of Michigan teach-in—it still must have been difficult for him to resign this prestigious position.

In late 1965 Sahlins traveled to Vietnam to learn firsthand about the war and the Americans fighting it, work that resulted in his seminal essay “The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam.”   He became one of the clearest and most forceful anthropological voices speaking out against efforts (in the 1960s and 70s, and in again in post-9/11 America) to militarize anthropology.

In 2009 I was part of a conference at the University of Chicago critically examining renewed efforts by U.S. military and intelligence agencies to use anthropological data for counterinsurgency projects.  Sahlins’ paper at the conference argued that, “in Vietnam, the famous anti-insurgency strategy was search and destroy; here it is research and destroy.  One might think it good news that the military’s appropriation of anthropological theory is incoherent, simplistic and outmoded – not to mention tedious – even as its ethnographic protocols for learning the local society and culture amount to unworkable fantasies. ”

Yesterday, Sahlins sent me an email that had been circulated to NAS Section 51 (Anthropology) members, announcing two new “consensus projects” under sponsorship of the Army Research Institute.  The first project examined “The Context of Military Environments: Social and Organizational Factors,”  the second, “Measuring Human Capabilities: Performance Potential of Individuals and Collectives.”   Reading the announcement of these projects forwarded by Sahlins, it is apparent that the military wants the help of social scientists who can streamline military operations, using social science and social engineering to enable interchangeable units of people working on military projects to smoothly interface.  This seems to be increasingly becoming the role Americans see for anthropologists and other social scientists: that of military facilitator.

Below is the exchange, I had with Sahlins yesterday discussing his resignation, Chagnon’s election to the National Academy of Sciences, and the Academy’s links to military projects.

Price:  How has Chagnon so successfully turned numerous attacks on his ethically troubling research and scientifically questionable methods and findings into what is widely seen as an attack on science itself?

Sahlins: There has been no address of the issues on Chagnon’s part, notably of the criticism of his supposed empirical results, as in the 1988 Science article, and the numerous criticisms from Amazonian anthropologists of his shallow ethnography and villainously distorted portrayal of Yanomami.  These Cro-Chagnon scientists simply refuse to discuss the facts of the ethnographic case.  Instead they issue ad hominem attacks–before it was against the Marxists, now it is the ‘fuzzy-headed humanists.’ Meanwhile they try to make it an ideological anti-science persecution–again ironically as a diversion from discussing the empirical findings.  Meanwhile the serious harm, bodily and emotionally, inflicted on the Yanomami, plus the reckless instigation of war by his field methods, are completely ignored in the name of science. Research and destroy, as I called the method. A total moral copout.

Price: Most of the publicity surrounding your resignation from the National Academy of Sciences focuses either exclusively on Napoleon Chagnon’s election to the Association, or on the supposed “science wars” in anthropology, while little media attention has focused on your statements opposing the NAS’s increasing links to military projects.   What were the reactions within NAS Section 51 to the October 2012 call to members of the Academy to conduct research aimed at improving the military’s mission effectiveness?

Sahlins: The National Association of Science would not itself do the war research. It would rather enlist recruits from its sections–as in the section 51 memos–and probably thus participate in the vetting of reports before publication.  The National Research Council organizes the actual research, obviously in collaboration with the NAS. Here is another tentacle of the militarization of anthropology and other social sciences, of which the Human Terrain Systems is a familiar example. This one as insidious as it is perfidious.

Price: Was there any internal dialogue between members of NAS Section 51 when these calls for these new Army Research Institute funded projects were issued?

Sahlins: I was not privy to any correspondence, whether to the Section officers or between the fellows, if there was any–which I don’t know.

Price: What, if any reaction have you had from other NAS members?

Sahlins: Virtually none. One said I was always opposed to sociobiology

Price: To combine themes embedded in Chagnon’s claims of human nature, and the National Academy of Sciences supporting to social science for American military projects; can you comment on the role of science and scientific societies in a culture as centrally dominated by military culture as ours?

Sahlins: There is a paragraph or two in my pamphlet on The Western Illusion of Human Nature, of which I have no copy on hand, which cites Rumsfeld to the effect (paraphrasing Full Metal Jacket) that inside every Middle eastern Muslim there’s an American ready to come out, a self-interested freedom loving American, and we just have to force it out or force out the demons who are perpetrating other ideas [see page 42 of Sahlins; The Western Illusions of Human Nature].  Isn’t American global policy, especially neo-con policy, based on the confusion of capitalist greed and human nature? Just got to liberate them from their mistaken, externally imposed ideologies. For the alternative see the above mentioned pamphlet on the one true universal, kinship, and the little book I published last month: What Kinship Is–And Is Not.

Price: You mention a desire to shift funding streams from those offering military support, to those supporting peace.  Do you have any insight on how we can work to achieve this shift?

Sahlins:  I have not thought about it, probably because the idea that the National Academy of Sciences would so such a thing is essentially unthinkable today.

There is a rising international response supporting Sahlins’ stance.  Marshall shared with me a message he received form Professor, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, of the National Museum, Rio de Janeiro, in which de Castro wrote,

“Chagnon’s writings on the Yanomami of Amazonia have contributed powerfully to reinforce the worst prejudices against this indigenous people, who certainly do not need the kind of stereotyping pseudo-scientific anthropology Chagnon has chosen to pursue at their cost. The Yanomami are anything but the nasty, callous sociobiological robots Chagnon makes them look – projecting, in all likelihood, his perception of his own society (or personality) onto the Yanomami. They are an indigenous people who have managed, against all odds, to survive in their traditional ways in an Amazonia increasingly threatened by social and environmental destruction. Their culture is original, robust and inventive; their society is infinitely less “violent” than Brazilian or American societies.

Virtually all anthropologists who have worked with the Yanomami, many of them with far larger field experience with this people than Chagnon, find his research methods objectionable (to put it mildly) and his ethnographic characterizations fantastic. Chagnon’s election to the NAS does not do honor to American science nor to anthropology as a discipline, and it also bodes ill to the Yanomami. As far as I am concerned, I deem Chagnon an enemy of Amazonian Indians. I can only thank Prof. Sahlins for his courageous and firm position in support of the Yanomami and of anthropological science.”

We are left to wonder what is to become of science, whether practiced with a capital (at times blind) “S” or a lower case inquisitive variety, when those questioning some its practices, misapplications and outcomes are increasingly marginalized, while those whose findings align with our broader cultural values of warfare are embraced.  The NAS’s rallying around such a divisive figure as Chagnon, demonizing his critics, claiming they are attacking not his practices and theories, but science itself damages the credibility of these scientists.  It is unfortunate that the National Academy of Sciences has backed itself into this corner.

The dynamics of such divisiveness are not unique to this small segment of the scientific community. In his 1966 essay on, “The Destruction of Conscience in Vietnam,” Sahlins argued that to continue wage the war, America had to destroy its own conscience—that facing those destroyed by our actions was too much for the nation to otherwise bare, writing: “Conscience must be destroyed: it has to end at the barrel of a gun, it cannot extend to the bullet.  So all peripheral rationales fade into the background.  It becomes a war of transcendent purpose, and in such a war all efforts on the side of Good are virtuous, and all deaths unfortunate necessary.  The end justifies the means.”

It is a tragic state of affairs when good people of conscience see the only acceptable act before them to be that of resignation; but sometimes the choice of disassociation is the strongest statement one can courageously make.

David Price a professor of anthropology at Saint Martin’s University in Lacey, Washington. He is the author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State published by CounterPunch Books.

‘Noble Savages’: Chagnon’s new book triggers resignation and protests (Survival International)

http://www.survivalinternational.org/news/8997

26 February 2013

Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami spokesperson and shaman, has spoken out against Napoleon Chagnon's new book 'Noble Savages'.

Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami spokesperson and shaman, has spoken out against Napoleon Chagnon’s new book ‘Noble Savages’. © Fiona Watson/Survival

A new book by controversial American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon has triggered a wave of protests among experts and Yanomami Indians:

  • Marshall Sahlins, ‘the world’s most respected anthropologist alive today’, has resigned from the US National Academy of Sciences in protest at Chagnon’s election to the Academy. Sahlins previously wrote a devastating critique of Chagnon’s work in the Washington Post.
  • Davi Kopenawa, a spokesman for Brazil’s Yanomami and President of the Yanomami association Hutukara, has spoken out about Chagnon’s work: ‘[Chagnon] said about us, ‘The Yanomami are savages!’ He teaches false things to young students. ‘Look, the Yanomami kill each other because of women.’ He keeps on saying this. But what do his leaders do? I believe that some years ago his leader waged a huge war – they killed thousands of children, they killed thousands of girls and boys. These big men killed almost everything. These are the fierce people, the true fierce people. They throw bombs, fire machine guns and finish off with the Earth. We don’t do this…’
  • A large group of anthropologists who have each worked with the Yanomami for many years have issued a statement challenging Chagnon’s assessment of the tribe as ‘fierce’ and ‘violent’. They describe the Yanomami as ‘generally peaceable.’
  • Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry has said, ’Chagnon’s work is frequently used by writers, such as Jared Diamond and Steven Pinker, who want to portray tribal peoples as ‘brutal savages’ – far more violent than ‘us’. But none of them acknowledge that his central findings about Yanomami ‘violence’ have long been discredited.’

Napoleon Chagnon’s autobiography ‘Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists’, has just been published. His 1968 book ‘Yanomamö: The Fierce People’ portrayed the Yanomami as ‘sly, aggressive and intimidating’, and claimed they ‘live in a state of chronic warfare’. It is still a standard work in undergraduate anthropology.

The Yanomami live in Brazil and Venezuela and are the largest relatively isolated tribe in South America. Their territory is protected by law, but illegal goldminers and ranchers continue to invade their land, destroying their forest and spreading diseases which in the 1980s killed one out of five Brazilian Yanomami.

Napoleon Chagnon's view that the Yanomami are 'sly, aggressive and intimidating' and that they 'live in a state of chronic warfare' has been widely discredited.Napoleon Chagnon’s view that the Yanomami are ‘sly, aggressive and intimidating’ and that they ‘live in a state of chronic warfare’ has been widely discredited. © Fiona Watson/Survival

Chagnon’s work has had far-reaching consequences for the rights of the Yanomami. In the late 1970s, Brazil’s military dictatorship, which was refusing to demarcate the Yanomami territory, was clearly influenced by the characterization of the Yanomami as hostile to each other and in the 1990s, the UK government refused funding for an education project with the Yanomami, saying that any project with the tribe should work on ‘reducing violence’.

Most recently, Chagnon’s work was cited in Jared Diamond’s highly controversial book ‘The World Until Yesterday’, in which he states that most tribal peoples, including the Yanomami, are ’trapped in cycles of violence and warfare’ and calls for the imposition of state control in order to bring them peace.

Survival International’s Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘The greatest tragedy in this story is that the real Yanomami have largely been written out of it, as the media have chosen to focus only on the salacious details of the debate that rages between anthropologists or on Chagnon’s disputed characterizations. In fact, Yanomamö: The Fierce People had disastrous repercussions both for the Yanomami and tribal peoples in general. There’s no doubt it’s been used against them and it has brought the 19th century myth of the ‘Brutal Savage’ back into mainstream thinking.’

Note to editors:
The full statements and additional information about the controversy can be found here.

Janet Chernela Interview with Davi Kopenawa (Affinities Blog)

Published 23 FEBRUARY 2013

Janet Chernela Interview with Davi Kopenawa
Recorded in Demini, Parima Mountain Range, Brazil
June 7, 2001

This interview was conducted June 7, 2001, in the Yanomami village of Demini, Parima Highlands, Brazil. I had known Davi, who is a recognized spokesperson on indigenous affairs, through prior meetings in New York and in Brazil. Arrangements for the interview were made through CCPY, a Brazilian non-governmental organization working on behalf of the Yanomami. In this I relied on long-term contacts with CCPY and their abilities to reach Davi by radio. (Individuals who provided assistance included Marcos Wesley de Oliveira, Bruce Albert, Gale Gomez, and Ari Weidenshadt.) Although Davi now lives in Demini, he is from Totoobi, where, as a child of 9 he was vaccinated by the Neel team. Davi’s comments about the period of the Neel collections must be understood as childhood recollections. In the measles epidemic of 1968 Davi lost his mother and siblings. He and his older sister are the only remaining members of his immediate family. Both recall having supplied blood to the researchers. As you will see in the interview, they are not concerned with the whereabouts of their own blood as they are the whereabouts of the blood of their deceased relatives.

I invited Davi to participate in what I call “reciprocal interviewing” — that is, he could interview me as I could interview him. You will see that he exercises his privilege toward the end of the interview. He understood that he was invited to speak to the American Anthropological Assocation in this interview, and refers to the Association in the course of his talk.

Davi and I spoke in Portuguese. The interview was recorded on audio and video-tape, and later translated from tapes into English. Paragraphs, titles, and bracketed comments were added. Since Portuguese is not first language to either of us, it is not clear that the word choices were ideal. In some cases I included Davi’s choice of Portuguese term.

The publication of Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado is dated Jan. 17, 2002; an English-language copy was circulating on the internet about six months prior to its publication. At the time of the interview no Spanish or Portuguese version yet existed. A number of anthropologists had discussed the Tierney book with Davi before my arrival. Among these were Bruce Albert, Leda Martins, and an anthropologist whose name Davi could not recall. That anthropologist may have been Javier Carrera Rubio, a Venezuelan anthropologist who worked briefly for CCPY. I was accompanied in this interview by Ari Weidenshadt of CCPY, who participated actively in the discussion. For an understanding of events in 1968 the interview should be evaluated in light of documents that have been released since it was conducted. The words of Davi Yanomami, however, continue to have resonance beyond the past to include the enterprise of anthropological research, in general. The implications for globalization, cultural rights, and morality, are far-reaching.

“RECIPRICAL INTERVIEWS”

While walking to the shabono, a circular, thatch-roofed communal dwelling, I can overhear Ari speaking to Davi in the distance. Through my tape-recorder, I first hear Davi:

Davi: “hunt, tapir, monkey…bringing relatives together…call together people to kill the guy who killed own member…remembering, crying, everyone is angry..ai…Everyone goes there, they paint themselves. Prepare arrows. Get together alot of people — 50 Yanomami. They go to another shabono. Bring food, arrows, sleep in the forest. Next day get closer, and sleep close to the shabono. So they know..they will be avenged. At dawn, the enemy approaches. While people are sleeping inside, they wait…then when people go out to urinate — tchong! They strike with arrows. Arrows. Everyone wakes up, grabs his bow and arrows [and flees]. Everyone is running. They run out another exit, shootong as they go. There are three types of fighting. This is the third. THIS is war.

Janet: Does this actually happen?

Davi: Yes.

Janet: Did it happen in your lifetime?

Davi: Yes. I know about it because when I was small my uncle carried out alot of wars like this.

Janet: So it no longer occurs?

Davi: No, no one does this anymore. The warriors died. We are their children and we don’t make war. You can’t fight any more.

Janet: Is that group in Surucucú fighting?

Davi: Yes, they are fighting there. Because there they killed alot of people — they killed the headman of Surucucú so they [group from Surucucú] went over to Moxavi and killed the headman over there. The headman of Surucucú was a valiant warrior and a hard worker. He was an honest person. So his children avenged his death and killed the headman of Moxavi. Now it’s calm.

Janet: Where are the children today?

Davi: They are over there in Surucucú — Xerimú, Vinice, Hakoma, Tarimú Davi’s comments about the period of the Neel collections must be understood as the recollections of a child at the time., they are in Surucucú — enemies of Moxavi. Three groups are friends: Piris, Surucucú, Arawapu.

Janet: How many people live in Surucucú Davi’s comments about the period of the Neel collections must be understood as the recollections of a child at the time?

Davi: Thirty-something people, divided. The group that is making war is four hours walk away. They stopped fighting — they had to go back to work in their gardens. Food began to run out — there were no more bananas because they were afraid to leave the house to work in the gardens. They were afraid that people from Moxavi would attack. They are using fire arms over there at Surucucú [army post in Brazil near Venezuelan border].

Janet: How did they get these fire arms?

Davi: They got them from the goldminers who invaded our land.

Janet: Are there Yanomami in the army base at Surucucú Davi’s comments about the period of the Neel collections must be understood as the recollections of a child at the time?

Davi: No. In the beginning they [government] wanted that. They called Yanomami to serve in the army base. But no. Life in the armed forces isn’t a good thing. It’s very bad. It’s another kind of work — another fight. So they went back. They continue to be Yanomami. You must be who you are, the way you are. If not, you will suffer alot. It will be wrong. You will do many things wrong.

Janet: In Homoxi do they have war?

Davi: I don’t know. The Escurimuteri were allies of the Wahakuwu and they are enemies of people of Thirei and Homoxi [villages I visited in 2000].

Janet: Do people of Thirei use shotguns?

Davi: Yes.

Janet: From where did they get them?

Davi: From the miners.

Formal Interview: Davi on the book Darkness in El Dorado by Patrick Tierney

Davi: An anthropologist entered Yanomami lands in Venezuela. Many people know about this. …This book told stories about the Yanomami and it spread everywhere. So I remembered it when our friend [unnamed anthropologist] mentioned his name. When that young man spoke the name I remembered. We called him Waru. He was over there in Hasabuiteri… Shamatari…A few people — Brazilian anthropologists — are asking me what I think about this.

Anthropologists who enter the Yanomami area — whether Brazil or Venezuela — should speak with the people first to establish friendships; speak to the headman to ask for permissions; arrange money for flights. Because nabu (the white) doesn’t travel without money. Nabu doesn’t travel by land. Only by plane. It’s very far. So he’s very far away, this anthropologist who worked among the Shamatari. Those people are different.

He arrived, like you, making conversation, taking photos, asking about what he saw. He arrived as a friend, without any fighting. But he had a secret. You can sleep in the shabono, take photos, I’m not saying no. It’s part of getting to know us.
But, later what happened was this. After one or two months he started to learn our language. Then he started to ask questions, “Where did we come from, who brought us here?” And the Yanomami answered, we are from right here! This is our land! This is where Omam placed us. This is our land. Then the anthropologist wanted to learn our language. I know a little Shamatari, but not much. So, he stayed there in the shabono, and he thought it was beautiful. He thanked the headman and he took some things with him. He brought pans, knives, machetes, axes. And so he arrived ready, ready to trick the Yanomami. This is how the story goes. I was small at the time…[pointing to a boy] like this..about nine. I remember. I remember when people from there came to our shabono. They said, “A white man is living over there. He speaks our language, he brings presents, hammocks.” They said that he was good, he was generous. He paid people in trade when he took photos, when he made interviews, [or] wrote in Portuguese [likely Spanish], English, and Yanomami, and taperecording too. But he didn’t say anything to me. [tape changes here]

An anthropologist should really help, as a friend. He shouldn’t deceive. He should defend…defend him when he is sick, and defend the land as well…saying “You should not come here — the Yanomami are sick.” If a Yanomami gets a cold, he can die. But he didn’t help with this. The first thing that interested him was our language. So today, we are hearing — other Yanomami are talking about it — people from Papiu, Piri, and here. People of Tootobi — my brothers-in-law — they also are talking about the American anthropologist who worked in Hasabuiteri. He wrote a book. When people made a feast and afterward a fight happened, the anthropologist took alot of photos and he also taped it. This is how it began. The anthropologist began to lose his fear — he became fearless. When he first arrived he was afraid. Then he developed courage. He wanted to show that he was brave. If the Yanomami could beat him, he could beat them. This is what the people in Tootobi told us. I am here in Watorei, but I am from Tootobi. I am here to help these people. So I knew him. He arrived speaking Yanomami. People thought he was Yanomami. There was also a missionary. He didn’t help either. They were friends. That’s how it was. He accompanied the Yanomami in their feasts…taking [the hallucinogen] ebena, and after, at the end of the feast, the Yanomami fought. They beat on one anothers’ chests with a stone, breaking the skin. This anthropologist took photos. And so he saved it, he “kept” the fight. So, after, when the fight was over, and the Yanomami lay down in their hammocks, in pain, the anthropologist recorded it all on paper. He noted it all on paper. He wrote what he saw, he wrote that the Yanomami fought. He thought it was war. This isn’t war, no! But he wrote without asking the people in the community. You have to ask first. He should have asked, “Yanomami, why are you fighting? You are fighting, hitting your very brother.” He should have helped us to stop fighting. But he didn’t. He’s no good.

I will explain.

The nabu [whites] think that every type of fighting is war. But there are three kinds of fighting [as follows].

Ha’ati kayu [titles were added later]: the chest fight to relieve anger. Let’s say your relatives take a woman. So you get angry. The Yanomami talk and form a group to fight against the other group that took the woman. So they make a feast. They call him [the relative that took the woman.] They hold him and use this club [gesturing to indicate a length about a foot long] to hit him on the chest. This club-striking is not war. It’s fighting. So, let’s say this guy took my woman. I become his enemy. So I hit him here [pointing to chest]. I want to cause him pain. He can hit me too. This club is not war. It’s to get rid of a mess in the community. Then there’s the headman. What does the headman do? He says, “OK, you have already fought. Now stop this.” So they stop. This fight doesn’t kill anyone.

Xeyu. There’s another kind of fight, Xeyu. Let’s say I have a friend who speaks badly of me. He might say I’m a coward, or he might say I’m no good. So he has to fight my relatives, my family. I have ten brothers. So I can decide whether he’s a man, whether he has courage. So we call friends from other shabonos and set a date. We go into the forest and make a small clearing for the fight, so people can see that we are angry. We take this weapon — it’s a long stick — about 10 ms long. So everyone is there. I’m here, and the enemy is there. Everyone is ready to hit. When I hit the enemy he hits me as well. My brother hits his brother and his brother hits mine back. This is how we fight [two lines with people fighting in pairs].

Janet: How does it end?

Davi: When everyone is covered with blood — heads bloodied, everyone beaten. So the headman says, ‘OK, enough. We’ve already shed blood. So, it’s over. This isn’t war either, no.

Janet: It’s not war. But it includes one group lined up on one side, and another on the other — yes?

Davi: Yes. One group of brothers or the members of a shabono in one line and the other brothers in another line.

Davi: Then there is another kind of fight with a club that’s about a meter long — Genei has one. Everyone gathers and stands in the center of the shabono. The enemy comes over. But again the headman is there. He says, ‘you can’t hit here, you can’t hit here [gesturing] — you can only hit here — in the middle of the head. It doesn’t kill anyone.

Yaimu, Noataiyu, Nakayu, Wainakayu, Bulayu. But if you hit in the wrong place, he can die. So, if this happens, a brother will grab an arrow and go after the one who killed his brother. They will both die — the first with club, the second with arrow. So, what happens? The relatives of the man killed with the club carry the body to the shabono. They take it there. They put it in the fire, burn it, gather the ashes and remaining bones and pound them into powder. They put the ash in a calabash bowl. His father, his mother, his brothers, all of his relatives sit there at the edge of the fire, crying. So the warrior thinks. If they have ten warriors, all angry, they are going to avenge the death. So the father may say, “Look, they killed my son with a club, not with arrow.” He can stop the fighting right there and then. Or, he can say, “Now we will kill them with arrows.” Then they would get all their relatives and friends from the shabono and nearby communities. They make a large feast, bringing everyone together. We call this Yaimu, Noataiyu, Nakayu, Wainakayu, Bulayu. Then they get manioc bread [beiju] and offer food to everyone. Everyone is friends — the enemies are way over there. Then they leave together. The women stay in the house, and the warriors leave to make war. They cover themselves in black paint. This is war. This is war: Waihu, Ni’aiyu. Waihu, Ni’aiyu, Niaplayu, Niyu aiyu. Then, at about nine or ten o’clock at night they start walking. These warriors are going to sleep at about 5 AM. In the forest they make a small lean-to of saplings. The next day they leave again. They are nearing the enemy. After tomorrow they are there. They don’t arrive in the open — they sneak up on the shabono. They move in closer about 3 or 4 in the morning. The enemies are sleeping in the shabono. The warriors arrive just as the sun is coming up. This is ‘fighting with arrows’ — Waihu, Ni’aiyu, Niaplayu, Niyu aiyu. These are war — war with arrows, to kill. He [the enemy] can be brother, cousin, uncle.

Janet: Is it vengeance?

Davi: It is vengeance.

Davi: So this Chagnon, he was there; he accompanied it. He took photographs, he recorded on tape, and he wrote on paper. He wrote down the day, the time, the name of the shabono, the name of the local descent group. He put down these names. But he didn’t ask us. So we are angry. He worked. He said that the Yanomami are no good, that the Yanomami are ferocious. So this story, he made this story. He took it to the United States. He had a friend who published it. It was liked. His students thought that he was a courageous man, an honest man, with important experience.

Janet: What is the word for courageous?

Davi: Waiteri. He is waiteri because he was there. He is waiteri because he was giving orders. He ordered the Yanomami to fight among themselves. He paid with pans, machetes, knives, fishooks.

Janet: Is this the truth or this is what is being said?

Davi: It’s the truth.

Janet: He paid directly or indirectly?

Davi: No, he didn’t pay directly. Only a small part. The life of the indian that dies is very expensive. But he paid little. He made them fight more to improve his work. The Yanomami didn’t know his secret.

Janet: But why did he want to make the Yanomami fight?

Davi: To make his book. To make a story about fighting among the Yanomami. He shouldn’t show the fights of the others. The Yanomami did not authorize this. He did it in the United States. He thought it would be important for him. He became famous. He is speaking badly about us. He is saying that the Yanomami are fierce, that they fight alot, that they are no good. That the Yanomami fight over women.

Janet: It is not because of women.

Davi: It’s not over women that we go to war.

Janet: It’s not over women that one goes to war with arrows?

Davi: It’s not over women that we go to war with arrows. It is because of male warriors that kill other male warriors.
Janet: to avenge the death?

Davi: [Yes,] to avenge. I no longer think that the Yanomami should authorize every anthropologist who appears. Because these books come out in public.

I ask if he has message.

Davi: I don’t know the anthropologists of the United States. If they want to help, if …you whites use the judicial process ..
Janet: Would you like to send a message to the American Anthropological Association?

DAVI’S MESSAGE TO THE AMERICAN ANTHROPOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION

Davi: I would like to speak to the young generation of anthropologists. Not to the old ones who have already studied and think in the old ways. I want to speak to the anthropologists who love nature, who like indigenous people — who favor the planet earth and indigenous peoples. This I would like. This is new, clean, thinking. To write a new book that anyone would like, instead of speaking badly about indigenous peoples. There must be born a new anthropologist who is in favor of a new future. And the message I have for him is to work with great care. If a young anthropologist enters here in Brazil or Venezuela, he should work like a friend. Arrive here in the shabono. He should say, “I am an anthropologist; I would like to learn your language. After, I would like to teach you.” Tell us something of the world of the whites. The world of the whites is not good. It is good, but it is not all good. There are good people and bad people. So, “I am an anthropologist here in the shabono, defending your rights and your land, your culture, your language, don’t fight among yourselves, don’t kill your own relatives.”

We already have an enemy among us — it is disease. This enemy kills indeed. It is disease that kills. We are all enemies of disease. So the anthropologist can bring good messages to the Indian. They can understand what we are doing, we can understand what they are doing. We can throw out ideas to defend the Yanomami, even by helping the Yanomami understand the ways of the whites to protect ourselves. They cannot speak bad of the Yanomami. They can say, “The Yanomami are there in the forest. Let’s defend them. Let’s not allow invasions. Let’s not let them die of disease.” But not to use the name of the indian to gain money. The name of the Indian is more valuable than paper. The soul of the Indian that you capture in your image is more expensive than the camera with which you shoot it. You have to work calmly. You have to work the way nature works. You see how nature works. It rains a little. The rain stops. The world clears. This is how you have to work, you anthropologists of the United States.

I never studied anything. But I am a shaman, hekura. So I have a capacity to speak in Yanomami and to speak in Portuguese. But I can’t remember all the Portuguese words.

Ari: You have to be clear, this is important.

Davi: To repeat, Chagnon is not a good friend of our relatives. He lived there, but he acted against other relatives. He had alot of pans. I remember the pans. Our relatives brought them from there. They were big and they were shallow. He bought them in Venezuela. When he arrived [at the village], and called everyone together, he said, [Yanomami]…”That shabono, three or four shabonos,” as if it were a ball game. “Whoever is the most courageous will earn more pans. If you kill ten more people I will pay more. If you kill only two, I will pay less.” Because the pans came from there. They arrived at Wayupteri, Wayukupteri, and Tootobi. Our relatives came from Wayupteri and said, “This Chagnon is very good. He gives us alot of utensils. He is giving us pans because we fight alot.”

Janet: They killed them and they died?

Davi: Yes. Because they used poison on the point of the arrow. This isn’t good. This kills. Children cried; fathers, mothers, cried. Only Chagnon was happy. Because in his book he says we are fierce. We are garbage. The book says this; I saw it. I have the book. He earned a name there, Watupari. It means king vulture — that eats decaying meat. We use this name for people who give alot of orders. He smells the indians and decides where he will land on the earth. He ordered the Yanomami to fight. He never spoke about what he was doing.

Davi: And, the blood. If he had been our friend he would not have helped the doctor of the United States. He would have said, you can go to the Yanomami. The Yanomami don’t kill anyone — only when you order them to. Chagnon brought the doctors there, he interpreted because the Yanomami don’t speak English. When the doctor requested something he translated it. So when the doctor wanted to take blood, Chagnon translated it. But he didn’t explain the secret. We didn’t know either — no one understood the purpose of giving blood; no one knew what the blood had inside it. …

After, the missionaries who lived in Totoobi spoke to my uncle, my father-in-law. He said, “Look, this doctor would like to take your blood; will you permit it?” And the Yanomami said, “Yes.” He agreed because he would receive pans — pans, machetes.

Janet: But he didn’t explain why?

Davi: The Yanomami was just supposed to give blood and stand around looking. He didn’t talk about malaria, flu, tuberculosis, or dysentery. He said nothing about these things. But he took alot of blood. He even took my blood. With a big bottle like this. He put the needle here [pressing the veins of his inner arm]; put it here, the rubber tube over here. He took alot! I was about nine or ten. He arrived there in Totoobi with the doctor. Chagnon translated. The missionaries, Protestants, lived there in Totoobi. They camped there. They slept there. And they ordered us to call other relatives: there were three shabonos. They called everyone together. Husband, wife, and children, altogether. They always took the blood of one family together. They took my mother’s blood. They took my uncle’s blood. My father had already died. And me. And my sister. She remembers it too. It was a bottle — a big one — like this. He put a needle in your arm and the blood came out. He paid with matihitu– machete, fishhooks, knives. The doctor asked him to speak for him. He translated. He would say, “Look, this doctor wants you to allow him to take your blood.” And the Yanomami understood and allowed it. The missionaries who lived there hardly helped. They were mimahodi, innocents.

Janet: The law controls this now.

Davi: Nobody can do this anymore. So now we are asking about this blood that was taken from us without explanation, without saying anything, without the results. We want to know the findings. What did they find in the blood — information regarding disease? What was good? Our relatives whose blood was taken are now dead. My mother is dead; our uncles, our relatives have died. But their blood is in the United States. But some relatives are still alive. Those survivors are wondering — “What have the doctors that are studying our blood found? What do they think? Will they send us a message? Will they ask authorization to study and look at our blood?” I think that Yanomami blood is O positive. Is it useful in their bodies? If that’s the case, and our blood is good for their bodies — then they’ll have to pay. If it helped cure a disease over there, then they should compensate us. If they don’t want to pay, then they should consider returning our blood. To return our blood for our terahonomi. If he doesn’t want to return anything, then lawyers will have to resolve the issue. I am trying to think of a word that whites do…sue. If he doesn’t want to pay, then we should sue. If he doesn’t want a suit, then he should pay. Whoever wants to use it, can use it. But they’ll have to pay. It’s not their blood. We’re asking for our blood back. If they are going to use our blood then they have to pay us.

Janet: I don’t know where it is. It may be in a university.

Davi: The blood of the Yanomami can’t stay in the United States. It can’t. It’s not their blood.

Janet: So this is a request for those who have stored the blood?

Davi: I am speaking to them. You take this recording to them. You should explain this to them. You should ask them, “What do you Nabu think?” In those days no one knew anything. Even I didn’t know anything. But now I am wanting to return to the issue. My mother gave blood. Now my mother is dead. Her blood is over there. Whatever is of the dead must be destroyed. Our customs is that when the Yanomami die, we destroy everything. To keep it, in a freezer, is not a good thing. He will get sick. He should return the Yanomami blood; if he doesn’t, he [the doctor] and his children will become ill; they will suffer.

Janet: Were there repercussions in the area of medical services after this book came out?

Davi: No. FUNAI used to bring in vaccines. When they stopped the government health agency, FUNASA, took over. Now it’s [the NGO] URIHI. They have ten posts in the region and bring vaccines to all the villages. Each post has an employee.

Janet: Are these services only on the Brazilian side of the border?

Davi: Only in Brazil.

Janet: Is that why Yanomami from Venezuela frequent the URIHI posts?

Davi: Yes. Here we have a chief. The president of Brazil. He is bad, but he is also good. He provides a little money for us to get medicines. He provides airplanes and nurses to bring vaccinations and treatments from Boa Vista all the way here. The Brazilian government is now helping — somewhat. It’s not very much, but it is something. We in Brazil are very concerned about our Venezuelan relatives. Because over there people are dying — many people — from malaria, flu.

Ari: I am talking about the epidemic of measles in 1968. I am asking Davi if this began before or after the arrival of Neel and Chagnon.

Davi: I think it began before their arrival. Many were dying. After they took blood, many died. So this missionary, Kitt, went to Manaus. He went to Manaus and there his daughter became ill with measles. She picked up measles in Manaus. At first they didn’t know it was measles. They took a plane from Manaus to Boa Vista and from there to Totoobi. She arrived sick there, all three — father, mother and child. Then they realized that it was measles. So they asked us to please stay away from them. He said, “If you get measles you will all die. Please stay far away.” They had no vaccine in those days. A Yanomami entered to greet her and he ordered the Yanomami to leave. But he had already caught it. So then the missionary spoke to us all, saying, “Look, you can’t come to our house because my daughter is ill with measles. Stay in your house.” It didn’t accomplish anything. The disease spread. It went to the shabono. Everyone began to get sick, and to die. Three nearby shabonos — each of them with people ill and dying. My uncle was the first to die. Then my mother died. Another sister, uncle, cousin, nephew. Many died. I was very sick but I didn’t die. I think Omam protected me to give this testimony. My sister and I remained.

Janet: Your uncle died, your nephew, your mother…

Davi: uncle, nephew, mother, relatives…So, later [when the road opened], we died also. This place was part of Catrimani. When the road [BR 210, Perimetral Norte] was open, there were MANY people here. Most died then of measles. Only a few survived [he recalls the names of the survivors] — only ten men survived. I was here [working with FUNAI at the time], we brought vaccines for the measles epidemic then. These things happened in our land…FUNAI didn’t take care of us before the road opened.

Janet: What years are we discussing?

Davi: 1976, no 1975.

Ari: The road went from the Wai Wai to the mission at Catrimani.

Davi: They had roads BR 210-215.

Ari: After it was closed the forest reclaimed the road.

Janet: When was it closed?

Davi: After the invasion of the garimpeiros.

Janet: Did the garimpeiros come in this far by road?

Davi: Yes. We would try to stop them. I once got everyone together to go to the road with bows and arrows to block the entrance. I said, this isn’t a place for miners. We won’t allow it. I said if you want to mine, it had better be far from here, because if you stay here you will die here. Our warriors are angry. So they left. I invented all that so they would leave and they did. So they passed by. There were more than 150 — more people than we had.

Janet: Is there a word for “warrior” in Yanomami?

Davi: Yes, waiteri.

Janet: Waiteri means warrior.

Davi: Yes; waiteri is courageous, brave. Those that aren’t are horebu.

Janet: And that means..?

Davi: Scared, fearful, weak.

Janet: Do these concepts have power still today?

Davi: No. This fight isn’t going on any more. But we are still waiteri. No one controls us. Here, we control ourselves. And there are some warriors. There’s one over there in Ananebu. A waiteri is over there in Ananebu, in the forest. Here at home, in THIS shabono, we are all cowards [chuckles].

Davi Interviews Janet

Davi: I want to ask you about these American anthropologists. Why are they fighting among themselves? Is it because of this book? Is this book bad? Did one anthropologist like it and another one say it’s wrong?

Janet: First, in the culture of anthropologists there is a type of fighting. This fight comes out in the form of publications. One anthropologist says, ‘things are like this,’ the other one says, ‘no, things are like this.’ So, after Chagnon’s book came out he received many criticisms from other anthropologists. Some said, this should not be called war. Just as you said. But Chagnon provided a definition of war and continued to use that word. This was one of the criticisms made by anthropologists. After this there were others, and these debates went on in the publications and in conferences. In the year 1994 there was a conference in which anthropologists debated the anthropology of Chagnon and others among the Yanomami. In 1988-89, when there was a struggle over demarcation of Yanomami lands and the Brazilian government favored demarcation in island fragments, the anthropologists of Brazil criticized Chagnon’s image of the Yanomami as “fierce,” saying it served the interests of the military in limiting Yanomami land rights. At that time the American Anthropological Association did not have explicit ethical guidelines. At that point they formed a committee to develop guidelines for ethical fieldwork and a committee of human rights. Now, with the book by Tierney and the support of anthropologists who have had criticisms of Chagnon, the issue was brought before the Association. This raises questions about the ethical conduct of anthropologists.

Davi: But will the anthropologists resolve this problem?

Janet: They will demand that anthropologists conform to the norms of the newly revised ethics. They will explicitly clarify the obligations of the anthropologists.

Ari: In 1968 when Chagnon worked, there was no code of ethics of the Association.

Davi: What about the taking of blood?

Janet: Performing any experimentation has been controlled by the medical profession since 1971. It is now prohibited to involve people in experiments without their explicit authorization. They must be made completely aware of the advantages and disadvantages, and all purposes. They must decide whether they will agree or disagree to participate. Nowadays, this consent has to be in writing or taped.

Davi: This Yanomami blood is going to stay there? Or will they return the blood?

Janet: I don’t know. It must be in a blood bank, perhaps at the University of Michigan.

Ari: Chagnon [once] proposed an exchange between the Universidade Federal of Roraima and the University of California at Santa Barbara. He was proposing a collaboration in human genetics with a graduate student in biology. She worked with DNA. He invited her there. Her name is Sylvana Fortes. She is now doing a doctorate at FIUCRUZ in Rio de Janeiro. Another issue in this dispute is Darwinian evolutionism. Is this the idea of the impact of the environment on man?

Davi: I don’t like this, no. I don’t like these anthropologists who use the name of the Yanomami on paper, in books. One doesn’t like it. Another says its wrong. For us Yanomami, this isn’t good. They are using our name as if we were children. The name Yanomami has to be respected. It’s not like a ball to throw around, to play with, hitting from one side to another. The name Yanomami refers to the indigenous peoples of Brazil and Venezuela. It must be respected. This name is authority. It is an old name. It is an ancient name. These anthropologists are treating us like animals — as they would fish or birds. Omam created us first. We call him Omam. He created earth, forest, trees, birds, river, this earth. We call him Omam. After him, he called us Yanomami [Yan-Omam-i]. So it must be respected. No one uses it on paper to fight — they have to respect it. It is our name and the name of our land. They should speak well of us. They should say, “These Yanomami were here first in Brazil and Venezuela.” They should respect us! They should also say that we preserve our land. Yanomami know how to conserve, to care for their lands. Yanomami never destroyed the earth. I would like to read this. Speaking well of Omam, and of the Yanomami. This would be good. But if they are going to go on fighting like this–I think that the head of the anthropologists has money …

Ari: But Tierney’s book, even as it criticizes Chagnon, has become a major seller. He is earning money selling his book because of the theme. …

Davi: Bruce Albert, Alcida Ramos are not Yanomami. You have to call the very Yanomami, to hear them speak. Look, Alcida speaks Sanuma. Chagnon speaks Shamatari. And Bruce speaks our language. So there are three anthropologists who can call three Yanomami to speak at this meeting. The anthropologists should ask us directly. The Yanomami can speak his own language. These anthropologists can translate. They have to hear our language. They have to hear us in our own language. What does the Yanomami think? What does the Yanomami think is beautiful? You have to ask the Yanomami themselves. These people are making money from the Yanomami name. Our name has value. They are playing with the name of an ancient people. I don’t know alot about politics. But I see and hear that an anthropologist is becoming famous. Famous — why? Some think its good. So he became famous, like a chief. So among them nothing will be resolved. One becomes famous, the other one [his critic] becomes famous, and they go on fighting among themselves and making money…

Janet: Did you know Tierney?

Davi: I met him in Boa Vista. I went to his house. He didn’t say anything to me about what he was doing. So, Chagnon made money using the name of the Yanomami. He sold his book. Lizot too. I want to know how much they are making each month. How much does any anthropologist earn? And how much is Patrick making? Patrick must be happy. This is alot of money. They may be fighting but they are happy. They fight and this makes them happy. They make money and fight.

Janet: Yes; the anthropologists are fighting. Patrick is a journalist.

Davi: Patrick left the fight to the others! He can let the anthropologists fight with Chagnon, and he, Patrick, he’s outside, he’s free. He’s just bringing in the money — he must be laughing at the rest. Its like starting a fight among dogs. Then they fight, they bark and he’s outside. He spoke bad of the anthropologist — others start fighting, and he’s gaining money! The name Yanomami is famous [and valuable] — more famous than the name of any anthropologist. So he’s earning money without sweating, without hurting his hands, without the heat of the sun. He’s not suffering. He just sits and writes, this is great for him. He succeeded in writing a book that is bringing in money. Now he should share some of this money with the Yanomami. We Yanomami are here, suffering from malaria, flu, sick all the time. But he’s there in good health — just spending the money that he gained in the name of the Yanomami Indians.

Ari: One American had patented the name Yanomami on the internet.

Davi: She was using our name for an internet site or to write a book and earn US$20,000. A Canadian working for CCPY discovered this. My friend explained that they are using the name of the Yanomami without requesting authorization. I said I didn’t like it. So I sent her a letter. She was an American journalist. So she stopped. So I was able to salvage the name of the Yanomami. … They have alot of names. They don’t know the trunk and the roots of the Yanomami. They only know the name. But the trunk and the roots of the Yanomami, they don’t know. They don’t know where we were born, how we were born, who brought us here. Without knowing these things, no one can use the name.

I am speaking to the American Anthropology Association. They are trying to clean up this problem. They should bring three Yanomami to their meeting. There are three anthropologists who understand our three languages: Chagnon, Alcida, and Bruce. These anthropologists could translate. We could speak, and people could ask questions of us. I could go myself, but it would be best to have three from Venezuela, or four, perhaps one from Brazil. They need to see our faces. Alcida doesn’t look like a Yanomami. Nor do Bruce or Chagnon. They don’t have Yanomami faces. The Americans will believe us if they see us. I went to the United States during the fight against the goldminers. They believed me. For this reason, I say, it’s important to go there and speak to them. … This is a fight between men who make money.

I ask what the appropriate form of compensation for an anthropology interview, and he says money. “That way he can buy what he wants — pan, machete, axe, line, fishing hooks. It is good to speak to Yanomami. If you give money to the whites, they put it in their pocket. Nabu loves money. It’s for this reason that the nabu are fighting. Its not for him, for friends, its for money.”

Jungle Fever: Marshall Sahlins on Napoleon Chagnon and the Darkness in El Dorado controversy (The Washington Post)

Internet Source: The Washington Post, BOOK WORLD; Pg. X01, December 10, 2000

Jungle Fever

Marshall Sahlins

DARKNESS IN EL DORADO
How Scientists and Journalists
Devastated the Amazon
By Patrick Tierney
Norton. 417 pp. $ 27.95

Guilty not as charged.

Well before it reached the bookstores, Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado set off a flurry of publicity and electronic debate over its allegations that, at about the same time American soldiers were carrying out search-and-destroy missions in the jungles of Vietnam, American scientists were doing something like research-and-destroy by knowingly spreading disease in the jungles of Amazonia. On closer examination, the alleged scientific horror turned out to be something less than that, even as it was always the lesser part of Tierney’s book. By far the greater part is the story, sufficiently notorious in its own right, of the well-known anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon: of his work among the Yanomami people of Venezuela and his fame among the science tribe of America.

The pre-publication sound and fury, however, concerned the decorated geneticist and physician the late James Neel–for whose researches in the upper Orinoco during the late 1960s and early 1970s Chagnon had served as a jungle advance man and blood collector. Sponsored by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), Neel’s investigations were designed to establish mutation rates in a population uncontaminated by nuclear radiation for comparison with the survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But according to Tierney, Neel also had another agenda: He wanted to test an original theory of immunity-formation in a “virgin soil” population, exposed for the first time to a devastating foreign disease. Hence the sensational chapter on “The Outbreak,” where Tierney alleges that Neel abetted, if not created, a deadly measles epidemic by inoculating Yanomami Indians with an outmoded type of vaccine known to cause severe reactions. Or so it says in the original review galleys of the book.

But by the time Darkness in El Dorado was published, it was already in a second, revised edition, one that qualified some of Tierney’s more sensational claims in the galley proofs of “The Outbreak.” Tierney is an investigative journalist, and critical aspects of his original indictment of Neel took the form of well-documented speculation, leaving plenty of space for the heated exchanges by e-mail and Internet that ensued among respectable scholars who for the most part hadn’t read the book. These hasty incriminations and recriminations created their own versions of what Neel had done–and, accordingly, criticisms of Tierney that had nothing to do with what he had said. Still, it became clear enough that Neel could not have originated or spread genuine measles by the vaccine he administered. Tierney then revised the conclusion of the relevant chapter in the published version, making the vaccine issue more problematic–and to that extent, the chapter self-contradictory. Other issues, such as whether Neel was doing some kind of experiment that got out of hand, remain unresolved as of this writing.

The brouhaha in cyberspace seemed to help Chagnon’s reputation as much as Neel’s, for in the fallout from the latter’s defense many academics also took the opportunity to make tendentious arguments on Chagnon’s behalf. Against Tierney’s brief that Chagnon acted as an anthro-provocateur of certain conflicts among the Yanomami, one anthropologist solemnly demonstrated that warfare was endemic and prehistoric in the Amazon. Such feckless debate is the more remarkable because most of the criticisms of Chagnon rehearsed by Tierney have been circulating among anthropologists for years, and the best evidence for them can be found in Chagnon’s writings going back to the 1960s.

The ’60s were the longest decade of the 20th century, and Vietnam was the longest war. In the West, the war prolonged itself in arrogant perceptions of the weaker peoples as instrumental means of the global projects of the stronger. In the human sciences, the war persists in an obsessive search for power in every nook and cranny of our society and history, and an equally strong postmodern urge to “deconstruct” it. For his part, Chagnon writes popular textbooks that describe his ethnography among the Yanomami in the 1960s in terms of gaining control over people.

Demonstrating his own power has been not only a necessary condition of Chagnon’s fieldwork, but a main technique of investigation. In a scientific reprise of a losing military tactic, he also attempted to win the hearts and minds of the people by a calculated redistribution of material wealth, and in so doing, managed to further destabilize the countryside and escalate the violence. Tierney quotes a prominent Yanomami leader: “Chagnon is fierce. Chagnon is very dangerous. He has his own personal war.” Meanwhile, back in California a defender of Chagnon in the e-mail battles has lauded him as “perhaps the world’s most famous living social anthropologist.” The Kurtzian narrative of how Chagnon achieved the political status of a monster in Amazonia and a hero in academia is truly the heart of Darkness in El Dorado. While some of Tierney’s reporting has come under fire, this is nonetheless a revealing book, with a cautionary message that extends well beyond the field of anthropology. It reads like an allegory of American power and culture since Vietnam.

“I soon learned that I had to become very much like the Yanomami to be able to get along with them on their terms: sly, aggressive, and intimidating,” Chagnon writes in his famous study Yanomamo: The Fierce People. This was not the usual stance toward fieldwork in the 1960s, when the anthropologist already enjoyed the protection of the colonial masters. Chagnon was working in the Amazonian Wild West, populated by small, independent and mobile communities in uneasy relations of alliance and hostility that could readily escalate to death by poisoned arrow. Moreover, when Chagnon began to collaborate with biological scientists, his fieldwork became highly peripatetic itself, and highly demanding of the Yanomami’s compliance. By 1974, he had visited 40 to 50 villages in less than as many months, collecting blood, urine and genealogies–a tour punctuated by stints of filmmaking with the noted cineaste Timothy Asch. Hitting-and-running, Chagnon did fieldwork in the mode of a military campaign.

This helps explain why many other anthropologists who have done longer and more sedentary work in particular Yanomami villages, including former students and colleagues of Chagnon, have disavowed his one-sided depiction of the Yanomami as “a fierce people.” “The biggest misnomer in the history of anthropology,” said anthropologist Kenneth Good of Chagnon’s use of that phrase in the title of his popular textbook.

Good and other Yanomami specialists make it clear that the supreme accolade of Yanomami personhood–the term waiteri that Chagnon translates as “fierce people”–involves a subtle combination of valor, humor and generosity. All of these, moreover, are reciprocal relations. One should return blow for blow, and Chagnon is hardly the only male anthropologist to get into dust-ups with Yanomami warriors. But according to his own account, while Chagnon readily joined the negative game of holding one’s ground, he knowingly brought contempt on himself by refusing to be generous with food. Continuous food-sharing is a basic criterion of humanity for Yanomami, the material foundation of their sociality.

Needing blood and information quickly, Chagnon would announce his visits to a village in the guise of a Yanomami warrior: dressed only in loincloth, body painted red, feathered–and carrying a shotgun. His field kits have been known to contain chemical mace and an electric stun gun. He tried to cultivate a reputation for dangerous magical power by engaging in narcotic shamanistic seances. When someone stole from him, he got children to inform on the thief; then he returned the favor by carrying off the latter’s hammock until he got his stuff back. But when it came to the reciprocity of food sharing, he protested that he could not feed the whole village. On the contrary, he disgusted curious Yanomami by telling them the canned frankfurters he was eating were animal penises, and peanut butter likewise was just what it looked like. Unselfconsciously, he acknowledges that his unwillingness to share food generously or widely made him “despicable in their eyes.”

“The next morning,” he writes, “I began the delicate task of identifying everyone by name and numbering them with indelible ink to make sure that everyone had only one name and identity.” Chagnon inscribed these indelible identification numbers on people’s arms–barely 20 years after World War II.

But he indeed had a delicate problem. He badly needed to know the people’s names and their genealogies. This information was indispensable to the AEC biological studies. He was also engaged in an absurdist anthropological project, which he took seriously, of finding ancestor-based lineage institutions among a people who by taboo could not know, could not trace and could not name their ancestors–or for that matter, could not bear to hear their own names. To utter people’s names in their presence is the gravest offense, a horror: “In battle they shout out the name because they are enemies.” As for the dead, they are completely excluded from Yanomami society, ritually as well as verbally, as a necessary condition of the continued existence of the living. But for the sake of science, Chagnon had to know–and so set in motion an opposition between their humanity and his epistemology that developed progressively through his professorial career.

Chagnon invented draconian devices for getting around the name taboos. He exploited animosities within the village to induce some people to tell on others. He “bribed” (his quotation marks) children to disclose names when their elders were not around. Most productive of all, he went to enemy villages to get people’s genealogies, and then confirmed the information by seeing if they got angry when he recited the names to their faces. By the early 1970s Chagnon had collected some 10,000 Yanomami names, including 7,000 names of the dead. It must have caused a lot of pain and hate.

Collecting names and blood was destabilizing not only for the insults it required, but because Chagnon was buying these with large payments of machetes, axes, utensils and other steel trade goods. These were prize objects of Yanomami desire, but not simply because of their economic advantages. The history of native Americans is too often written as if there had to be a white man behind every red man. Incorporating the foreign technology in their own cultural order, the Yanomami became the authors of its distinctive historical effects. They placed imported steel in the highest category of their own hierarchy of values, together with their most precious things, a position to which the foreign objects were entitled because of their analogous associations with marvelous powers–in this case, European powers. Surely steel was useful, but its utility was transcendent, beyond the ways Yanomami knew of making or controlling things. And as signs and means of power, the foreign goods were engaged in the fundamental transactions of a native Yanomami system of alliance and competition. They were materials of feasting, marriage payments, trading, making alliances, attracting followers, sorcerizing and much more. More than producing food, trade goods produced and reproduced Yanomami culture, hence every kind of satisfaction the Yanomami know. Accordingly, the foreign goods themselves became objects of native competition–as did their human sources, notably Napoleon Chagnon.

Chagnon was not the only outsider whose distribution of steel goods plunged him in a maelstrom of Yanomami violence, although it’s doubtful that any other anthropologist became so involved in participant-instigation. “The distribution of trade goods,” as Chagnon observed early on, “would always anger people who did not receive something they wanted, and it was useless to try and work any longer in the village.” Yet moving could only generate further contention, now among the villages so favored and disfavored by Chagnon’s presence. Hostilities thus tracked the always-changing geopolitics of Chagnon-wealth, including even pre-emptive attacks to deny others access to him. As one Yanomami man recently related to Tierney: “Shaki [Chagnon] promised us many things, and that’s why other communities were jealous and began to fight against us.”

Movie-making was an additional mode of provocation, especially when Chagnon and Timothy Asch used wealth to broker alliances among previously hostile groups for that purpose. The allies were then disposed to cement their newfound amity by combining in magical or actual raids on Yanomami third parties. Deaths from disease were also known to follow filming, prompting Tierney to observe that Chagnon and Asch were being awarded prizes for “the greatest snuff films of all time.”

Over time, the demands on Chagnon’s person and goods became more importuning and aggressive, to which he would respond with an equal and opposite display of machismo. (“He glared at me with naked hatred in his eyes, and I glared back at him in the same fashion.”) Soon enough he had good reason to fear for his life, by magical as well as physical attack–including the time when some erstwhile Yanomami friends shot arrows into an effigy of him. Yet Chagnon also knew how to mobilize his own camp. Early on, he fostered what was to become a life-long sociology of conflicts whose “basic logic,” as Tierney put it, saw “Yanomami villages opposed to Chagnon attacking those villages that received him.”

By 1976, however, Chagnon’s ethnography had cost him official anthropological support in Caracas, and for nearly a decade he was unable to secure a permit to resume fieldwork. In 1985, when he did return, in the company of one of his students, the latter reported they were greeted by a crowd of Indians shouting the Yanomami version of “Chagnon go home!” In 1989 Chagnon was again kept out because the law required that foreign researchers collaborate with Venezuelan scientists, and, as he complained to a missionary whose help he sought, “the local anthropologists do not like me.” Bereft of legitimate support, Chagnon returned in 1990 under the dubious aegis of Cecelia Matos, the mistress of then-president of Venezuela, and one Charles Brewer Carias, a self-proclaimed naturalist, known opponent of Indian land rights and entrepreneur with a reputation for illegal gold mining. The trio had concocted a scheme to create a Yanomami reserve and scientific biosphere in 6,000 square miles of the remote Siapa Highlands, to be directed by Brewer and Chagnon and subsidized by a foundation set up by Matos. According to Tierney, Brewer had his eye on rich tin resources in Yanomami territory. In an intensified repetition of a now-established pattern, the huge amount of goods that military aircraft ferried in for the project helped set off the bloodiest war in Yanomami history, with Chagnon’s people pitted against a coalition of Yanomami opponents, directed by a charismatic leader of their own.

In three years, the scheme collapsed. Matos was eventually indicted for corruption, in part for her role in commandeering military support for the reserve caper, and she remains a fugitive from Venezuelan justice. In September 1993, in the wake of huge protests that followed from their appointment as administrators of the reserve, Chagnon and Brewer were expelled from Yanomami territory by judicial decree. (Among the protesters were the 300 Indians representing 19 tribes at the first Amazon Indian Congress, who took to the streets against Chagnon and Brewer in the town of Porto Ayachuco.) An army colonel escorted Chagnon to Caracas and advised him to leave the country, which he did forthwith.

In America anyhow, he suffered no such indignities. On the contrary, the more unwanted Chagnon became in the Venezuelan jungle, the more celebrated he was in American science. The day before his last expulsion from Yanomami land, the New York Academy of Sciences held a special meeting devoted to his work.

In the course of Chagnon’s career, the further away he got from any sort of anthropological humanism, the more he became a natural scientist. (This could be a lesson for us all.) Whatever the accusations of ferocity and inhumanity made against his ethnography, he increasingly justified it by claims of empirical-scientific value. So he was able to answer his growing chorus of critics by the scientific assertion that they were “left-wing anthropologists,” “anti-Darwinian romantics” and other such practitioners of the “politically correct.” One might say that Chagnon made a scientific value of the belligerence in which he was entangled, elevating it to the status of the sociobiological theory that human social evolution positively selects for homicidal violence. Whatever the other consolations of this theory, it brought Chagnon the massive support of prominent sociobiologists. The support remained constant right through the fiasco that attended his attempt in 1988 to prove the reproductive (hence genetic) advantages of killing in the pages of Science.

The truth claims of the argument presented by Chagnon in Science may have had the shortest half-life of any study ever published in that august journal. Chagnon set out to demonstrate statistically that known killers among the Yanomami had more than twice as many wives and three times as many children as non-killers. This would prove that humans (i.e., men) do indeed compete for reproductive advantages, as sociobiologists claimed, and homicidal violence is a main means of the competition. Allowing the further (and fatuous) assumption that the Yanomami represent a primitive stage of human evolution, Chagnon’s findings would support the theory that violence has been progressively inscribed in our genes.

But Chagnon’s statistics were hardly out before Yanomami specialists dismembered them by showing, among other things, that designated killers among this people have not necessarily killed, nor have designated fathers necessarily fathered. Many more Yanomami are known as killers than there are people killed because the Yanomami accord the ritual status of man-slayer to sorcerers who do death magic and warriors who shoot arrows into already wounded or dead enemies. Anyhow, it is a wise father who knows his own child (or vice versa) in a society that practices wife-sharing and adultery as much as the Yanomami do. Archkillers, besides, are likely to father fewer children inasmuch as they are prime targets for vengeance, a possibility Chagnon conveniently omitted from his statistics by not including dead fathers of living children. Nor did his calculations allow for the effects of age, shamanistic attainments, headship, hunting ability or trading skill–all of which are known on ethnographic grounds to confer marital advantages for Yanomami men.

Supporters of Chagnon, and lately Chagnon himself, have defended his sociobiology by referring to several other studies showing that men who incarnate the values of their society, whatever these values may be, have the most sex and children. Even granting this to be true–except for our society, where the rich get richer but the poor get children–this claim only demonstrates that the genetic impulses of a people are under the control of their culture rather than the other way around. For dominant cultural values vary from society to society, even as they may change rapidly in any given society. There is no universal selective pressure for violence or any other genetic disposition, nor could genes track the behavioral values varying rapidly and independently of them. It follows that what is strongly selected for in human beings is the ability to realize innate biological dispositions in a variety of meaningful ways, by a great number of cultural means. Violence may be inherently satisfying, but we humans can make war on the playing fields of Eton, by sorcery, by desecrating the flag or a thousand other ways of “kicking butt,” including writing book reviews. What evolution has allowed us is the symbolic capacity to sublimate our impulses in all the kinds of cultural forms that human history has known.

In time, Chagnon became a legend of ferocity in the Amazon. Representations of him grew more monstrous in proportion to the scale of the struggles he provoked, and even his trade goods were poisoned with the memories of death. Tierney reports that shamans now portray his cameras, guns, helicopters and blood-collecting equipment as machinery of black magic, the products of a factory of xawara wakeshi, the deadly smoke of disease.

Yet in America, the scientific doctors accord the sociobiological gases emanating from this same technology the highest esteem, worthy of hours and hours of inhalation in the rooms of the New York Academy of Sciences. On college campuses across the country, Chagnon’s name is a dormitory word. His textbooks have sold in the millions. In the huge undergraduate courses that pass for education in major universities, his prize-winning films are able to hold late adolescents spellbound by primitivizing, hence, eternalizing, their own fascination with drugs, sex and violence. America.

Marshall Sahlins is the Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology emeritus at the University of Chicago. He is the author of the just- published essay collection “Culture in Practice.