Link to Birdie Calendar Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado: Part II

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: March 18, 2001
Latest update: March 18, 2001

Darkness in El Dorado: Part II

On Sunday, March 18, 2001, Doris Lara wrote:

Hi Jeanne,

Just finished reading part II of Tierney's book. I must say that the more I read, the more interesting it becomes. In part II, another member is noted. In chapter 8, Jacques Lizot, a French anthropologist, becomes the center of attention, in more than one way. Called by the Yanomami, the naba, A.H. (ass handler), Lizot turned a few of the tribes and the Yanomami into what some called erotic Indians.This chapter devoted itself to how Lizot would 'coerce' young Yanomami to provide or work for Lizot in providing pleasure to him in exchange for goods. Lizot's village was turned into this sort of communal masturbation, which he thought was in their nature already. Many opposed Lizot being in the village because of the fact that he was turning these people into something that they were not, especially the young boys. The only reason they would be involved in such activity was because they wanted the goods that Lizot offered them.

Another member who changed the way of life for the Yanomami was Charles Brewer. His contibution to the destruction of the Yanomami was bromgomg the mining companies to the Amazon. Apart from breaking the law of commercial mining in the rain forest, he also broke other laws, including using Indians for workers without paying them. He was able to get away with this because as a researcher for the Venezuelan Foundation, he had a legitimate exxcuse to be there, and on the side was able to get away with his mining business.

The next few chapters in part II are devoted to Chagnon and Brewer. It comes back to Chagnon's research and inconsistent reports and research. For example, the Yanomami have been reported to be fierce warriors with Chagnon's theory claiming that the more wives and children a Yanomami man had, the more chances of that man participating in the killing of other men.

jeanne's comment: Doris, I think Chagnon's theory goes the other way round: that those men who have killed others have greater success in securing wives, and have more children than those men who do not kill. Chagnon related this to biology, suggesting that war and killing were survival instincts that the species profited from reproducing, so that those who killed, reproduced more. This is a highly controversial theory, and Changnon's data are contested, as you go on to explain.

Several researchers found otherwise. They found that unlike Chagnon who found that most Yanomami men had an unusual number of wives, most of the villages were polygamous,

jeanne's comment: not monogamous? Or maybe limited to two wives? A page reference would help a lot. And I thought Chagnon claimed that only those who had killed a lot had an unusual number of wives.
unless in the rare occasion, where a few men had more than two wives. They also found that unlike Chagnon's research, where murders and raids plagued the villages, most villages had not had a war for many years. The recent wars that had happened, had started when Chagnon and the other researchers showed up, which many claim were instigated by Chagnon.

Again the Massacre at Haximu, shows another film in which everything was staged and not uniqe.

jeanne's comment: I think you need to mention the first film, The Fierce People, which depicted the Yanomami as aggressive and war-like. You should also mention that Chagnon became famous as an anthropolgist through his book and films on the Yanomami, which are still used in teaching anthropology.

It is sad to see how the greed of Chagnon and others have destroyed the Yanomami. What once was a nation with their own beliefs and practices, slowly has become in a way Americanized. Anthropoligist and scientists are suppossed to preserve and not destroy. It makes you wonder how this is so much the same as when other cultures, Mexicans, Koreans, etc... when moving to America, sort of lose their culture. They are so involved in the American way of life that they tend to lose their own culture and beliefs. We tend to see this more in the newer generations, rather than in the older generations.

jeanne's comment: Yes, we do lose culture and beliefs as an integral part of assimilation. But I think Patrick Tierney considers the assault on the Yanomami by "scientists" of the developed world in an even harsher light. Not only are indigenous people slowly assimilated into the dominant culture, but also the dominant culture often deliberately exploits them. That is what I think Tierney charges here. In the case of both Lizot and Chagnon, that they imposed their perception of what the Yanomami were like on the actual situation. We discuss this as subjugation and domination. Such an attitude obscures meaningful data gathered by allowing the indigenous peoples to express their own validity claims with dignity and respect.

Further Tierney charges that many of the activities in which anthropologists such as Lizot and Chagnon engaged in placed the Yanomami in danger. The measles vaccine reaction needed more intensive medical attention that was available. The stories of the Yanomami as fierce were at least one factor in Brazil's failure to protect the Yanomami from the incursion of miners on their land. The use of large research teams and of tours for "scientific" visitors subjected the Yanomami, many of whom had had no prior outside contact, to grave illness. Some of this, though, may be in Part III.

I wonder, is Chagnon still living?

jeanne's comment: Yes, he is. He retired, quite wealthy, from Santa Barbara and has refused to take part in the Anthropology Association's consideration of the Yanomami situation. His position, and that of many of his colleagues, is that he and the other anthropologists complied with all laws and did nothing wrong. That is so. There were no laws to prohibit specifically what happened to the Yanomami. No law said that if you had medical personnel with you when a serious epidemic breaks out, you should not take those medical personnel on a scientific excursion and leave the ill without medical personnel.

But Tierney's charges, as we are considering them in arguing for social justice, go beyond laws to the ethical requirements for interacting with indigenous populations. Yes, perhaps we could consider taking off the medical personnel a kind of "reckless endangerment," but there would be little precedent for holding someone responsible for not doing something that wasn't required by law. These are issues of social justice and ethics. They redound to all of us who work with and do research with indigenous people. Sociologists, community activists, psychologists are no less implicated than anthropologists.

Until the next part,
Moot Court

On Sunday, March 18, 2001, jeanne responded:

Doris, I appreciate the summary as you read. This will help give others an overview of the book, so they will know if they, too, want to read it.

love and peace, jeanne