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Shared Reading Comments


California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: March 8, 2001
Latest update: March 12, 2001

Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado

Sources for these comments: Darkness in El Dorado.

On Monday, March 12, 2001, Doris Lara wrote:

Hi Jeanne,

I just finished reading part I of "Darkness in El Dorado". I must say that reading it was sort of confusing. The confusing part was trying to remember all the characters, all the different village names, and the pronunciation of some of these villages was hard enough. But I think the author did a great job in getting his message across. It is sad to see how anthropologists and journalists have changed the lives of many of these tribal people. Actually, because of them, some of these tribes are nearly extinct. They have killed off so many of them because of their greed for fame. The most interesting part I thought was the issue on how they were able to get blood, saliva and urine samples from the Yanomami. It is interesting to note how in the beginning, these scientists thought it a marvel of how the Yanomami were somehow immune to many diseases that civilized people suffered greatly from. But once in their territory, the outbreak of measles ended up killing many of them. A disease that today can be easily controlled with a simple vaccine. And perhaps the fact that Neel and Chagnon, two primary people involved with the bringing down of these villages, actually chose to vaccinate some of the Yanomami with a vaccine that was primarily aged and basically provided more bad than good.

And yet another example, is how many of Chagnon's films portrayed the Yanomami as cannibals and fierce warriors. Yet many claim that the Yanomami are actually not warriors looking for wars with other villages. In fact, some of Chagnon's records on his expeditions seem to show that much of his films were played out, with Chagnon as the producer and the Yanomami as the actors. The Yanomami are not to blame. After all, they were looking for a trade such as steel goods. After reading the first part, it makes the reader wonder whether anthropoligists, such as Neel and Chagnon, purposefully endangered the lives of these people so as to get the results they were looking for. It is sad to see that scientists (anthropologists), who should be protecting the indigenous people, are actually destroying them. I will write some more after reading part two.

Doris Lara
Moot Court

On Monday, March 12, 2001, jeanne responded:

I'm glad you're getting through Darkness at El Dorado, Doris, and you seem to have hit already on one of my reasons for choosing it: Patrick Tierney gets "his message across." There have been and will continue to be debates about just how advisable it was to use the virus Neel was given for his study, especially when aboriginal peoples are known to have very different immune systems because of different exposures. It was the very difference in their immune exposures that attracted Neel to the study of the Yamomami.

One of the points that keeps coming up in this debate is that the anthropologists broke no laws. Patrick Tierney gets "his message across" whether laws were broken or not. When disaster befalls a people as a result of our scientific studies of them, then we must question, all of us, sociologists as well as anthropologists, the ethics of our studies. Again, we need to consider what we mean by justice: fairness or may the most advantaged profit as best they can? There are solid theorists behind both positions. Rawls says that justice is fairness. Nozick that we must promote those who can contribute most. Tierney clearly sides with Rawls.

I look forward to your next installment.

love and peace, jeanne