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Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 10, 2013

    Highly Recommended - Entertaining & Thought Provoking

    Many years ago I head a little about some controversy surrounding the Yanomamo (a stone age society on the border between Brazil and Venezuela), including charges of attempted genocide. So when I heard about this book, written by one of the principles, I jumped at the chance to read it. I found the writing engrossing and the content disturbing. Chagnon, a cultural anthropologist, recounts the story of how he set out to study one of the few remaining "wild" populations of stone age people and to test the idea that war and conflict among primitive societies was mainly driven by competition over scarce natural resources. While living among the Yanomamo, learning their language and customs, and gathering information about family histories, he discovered that most of the wars and conflicts among the various Yanomamo villages were driven by competition over access to women. While the various food resources (the only natural resource of importance to a stone age society) were generally abundant and willingly shared, women were a different matter. Many of the intervillage conflicts were initiated as raids to abduct women for wives. The conflicts continue as the raided village mounts a raid of its own to try to recover the abducted women. If one or more of the men in either of the villages is killed, then there will often ensue retaliatory raids. This is interesting in itself, and can be understood in the context of natural selection and Darwinian evolution. However, of equal interest was the response of Chagnon's colleagues when he presented his data and analysis to them. The response was a very unscientific denial of the evidence and personal hostility Chagnon. (I can testify that, as a physicist, I have observed this sort of hostility on occasion, but it is generally muted in favor of rational arguments over data and interpretation.) I was quite frankly surprised at the extent to which post-modernist thinking had infiltrated cultural anthropology (as opposed to physical anthropology) and the resulting hostility toward scientific analysis prevalent among such "thinkers" - especially those who had never studied primitive societies first hand. I found the comparison and contrast between Chagnon's encounters with the Yanomamo and his encounters with the American Anthropological Association to be quite fascinating. I encourage you to read this book and judge for yourself. Chagnon presents his data and conclusions in clear, non-technical, easily understandable language. While somewhat disturbing in their implications for human pre-history and the origin of human conflict, even more disturbing is the impact of the "scientific" controversy on both the study of the Yanomamo and the interactions of the Yanomamo with modern society - generally to the detriment of the Yanomamo.

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  • Posted March 19, 2013

    College Class Flashback

    Having read The Yanomano: The Fierce People for an introductory anthropology class years ago, it was a nice revisit with the Yanomano people. Dr. Chagnon inferred that some readers would find the book a tough go, he should realize that some of us out there are polymaths! My memory was refreshed, I learned some new information, enjoyed the book immensely. The clashes with other anthropologists was described in a somewhat lengthy fashion, but I would be mad too with all the negativity from rival groups! Good comparisons! Would have liked to have learned more about the current status of the tribes and more anecdotes about the experiences. Recommended, even to non-anthropologists! General science people would also enjoy!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 3, 2013

    It is difficult to find an anthropologist these days who has don

    It is difficult to find an anthropologist these days who has done actual field work, let alone studied a culture untouched by the influence of western civilization. Many sit surrounded by their borrowed artifacts, and cling to what they have read and have been told about the way things were in life before civilization. It is easier for these "Armchair Anthropologists" to sit back and throw darts to promote themselves while attempting to drag others through the dirt. It is clear that Chagnon has done the work, and seen what others only read about. He also bases his thoughts and knowledge on scientific fact, rather than what appears politically correct, or in the best interest for them or the organization they represent. From actually reading the memoir, the reader comes away with an honest look into the ups and downs of anthropological field work. I laughed out loud so many times at the endearing, yet troublesome (for the anthropologist), sense of humor of the Yanomamo. This work is a clear phoenix moment for a man who has been bashed so many times, he should shave his head to show his scars. It is amazing that he has maintained his patience and professionalism throughout many of the challenges, and he clearly brings these qualities when systematically addressing criticisms in the book. It is refreshing, and exhilarating to get his take on the state of anthropology and its controversies. This is a must read for anyone who would like to join an adventure into a past that Chagnon may be the last person to see.

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