Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists [NOOK Book]

Overview

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC MEMOIRS OF OUR TIME

When Napoleon Chagnon arrived in Venezuela’s Amazon region in 1964 to study the Yanomamö Indians, one of the last large tribal groups still living in isolation, he expected to find Rousseau’s “noble savages,” so-called primitive people living contentedly in a pristine state of nature. Instead Chagnon discovered a remarkably violent society. Men who killed others had the most wives and ...
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Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists

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Overview

ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT SCIENTIFIC MEMOIRS OF OUR TIME

When Napoleon Chagnon arrived in Venezuela’s Amazon region in 1964 to study the Yanomamö Indians, one of the last large tribal groups still living in isolation, he expected to find Rousseau’s “noble savages,” so-called primitive people living contentedly in a pristine state of nature. Instead Chagnon discovered a remarkably violent society. Men who killed others had the most wives and offspring, their violence possibly giving them an evolutionary advantage. The prime reasons for violence, Chagnon found, were to avenge deaths and, if possible, abduct women.

When Chagnon began publishing his observations, some cultural anthropologists who could not accept an evolutionary basis for human behavior refused to believe them. Chagnon became perhaps the most famous American anthropologist since Margaret Mead—and the most controversial. He was attacked in a scathing popular book, whose central allegation that he helped start a measles epidemic among the Yanomamö was quickly disproven, and the American Anthropological Association condemned him, only to rescind its condemnation after a vote by the membership. Throughout his career Chagnon insisted on an evidence-based scientific approach to anthropology, even as his professional association dithered over whether it really is a scientific organization. In Noble Savages, Chagnon describes his seminal fieldwork—during which he lived among the Yanomamö, was threatened by tyrannical headmen, and experienced an uncomfortably close encounter with a jaguar—taking readers inside Yanomamö villages to glimpse the kind of life our distant ancestors may have lived thousands of years ago. And he forcefully indicts his discipline of cultural anthropology, accusing it of having traded its scientific mission for political activism.

This book, like Chagnon’s research, raises fundamental questions about human nature itself.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Few social scientists end up as famous or contentious as American anthropologist Chagnon, whose unusually extensive field work among a highly remote Amazonian people, the Yanomamö, led to unorthodox conclusions about primitive societies in general and the Yanomamö's warlike nature in particular. In 2000, however, a veritable academic firestorm arose after Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon charged Chagnon, among others, with harming, deliberately or inadvertently, his research subjects, not least by starting a measles epidemic—an accusation that provoked his official condemnation (later reversed) by the American Anthropological Association. This memoir, Chagnon's first book for a general audience, recounts with confident prose and self-effacing humor his intense immersion, from 1964 onward, within this fascinating people and their jungle environment. It also critiques the Amazon's politically powerful, "sinister" Salesian Catholic missionaries, as well as the "ayatollahs of anthropology" for their Marxist-derived agenda and Rousseauian "noble savage" ideals, which run counter to his own Hobbesian beliefs. In this invaluable book, Chagnon (Yanomamö: The Last Days of Eden) delivers a gripping adventure travelogue. His take on the corrupting relationship between politics and science is as likely to restoke the flames of debate as settle outstanding accounts. Agent: John Taylor Williams, Kneerim & Williams Agency. (Feb.)
From The Critics
“One of history’s greatest anthropologists—and a rip-roaring story-teller—recounts his life with an endangered Amazonian tribe and the mind-boggling controversies his work ignited. Noble Savages is rich with insights into human nature, and an entertaining interlude with a remarkable man.”

Noble Savages is an epic—not only of one of the most extraordinary physical and intellectual adventures ever experienced by a major scientist, but also the history of one of the most significant events in the early, often turbulent meeting between evolutionary biology and the social sciences."

“Very few people have led lives as fascinating as Napoleon Chagnon’s, or have lived among people as dangerous as the Yanomamö, and fewer still have his courage or his honor. Noble Savages is a page-turning masterpiece. You don’t need to know anything about anthropology to read it. By the time you finish, you’ll know a lot."

Noble Savages is Napoleon Chagnon’s equal-time response to the libels that were piled upon him by reckless journalists and irresponsible colleagues. For those who followed the debate it is a welcome summary, and for those who did not it is a brilliant introduction to the innocent nobility of the fierce Yanomamö and the petty savagery of the mean-minded savants who saw their outworn ideologies under attack. Chagnon was always himself a fighter and this book is his final knockout punch in a fight he didn’t pick, but has most assuredly won.”

“A beautifully written adventure story. . . . Noble Savages is a remarkable testament to an engineer's 35-year effort to unravel the complex working of an untouched human society.”

“One of the most interesting anthropology books I have ever read. . . . [Chagnon's] portrayal of society's origins has so much to say about the nature of our species that it should be examined thoughtfully.”

“Engaging. . . . A fascinating portrayal of the discomfort and danger that anthropologists working in remote areas face. The book is at its most entertaining when documenting the challenges of everyday life in the jungle — how to sleep fitfully in a hammock among enemies who might attempt to assassinate you in your sleep or how to net a juicy tapir for your dinner.”

“This memoir, Chagnon’s first book for a general audience, recounts with confident prose and self-effacing humor his intense immersion, from 1964 onward, within this fascinating people and their jungle environment. . . . In this invaluable book, Chagnon delivers a gripping adventure travelogue. His take on the corrupting relationship between politics and science is as likely to re-stoke the flames of debate as settle outstanding accounts.”

“Fascinating reading for anyone interested in native peoples, history and where we all come from.”

“It’s not hyperbole to call Chagnon the most controversial and famous anthropologist in America. . . . [Noble Savages] is a memoir that offers a highly readable mixture of adventure, science, and scandal.”

Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
“Very few people have led lives as fascinating as Napoleon Chagnon’s, or have lived among people as dangerous as the Yanomamö, and fewer still have his courage or his honor. Noble Savages is a page-turning masterpiece. You don’t need to know anything about anthropology to read it. By the time you finish, you’ll know a lot."
Robin Fox
Noble Savages is Napoleon Chagnon’s equal-time response to the libels that were piled upon him by reckless journalists and irresponsible colleagues. For those who followed the debate it is a welcome summary, and for those who did not it is a brilliant introduction to the innocent nobility of the fierce Yanomamö and the petty savagery of the mean-minded savants who saw their outworn ideologies under attack. Chagnon was always himself a fighter and this book is his final knockout punch in a fight he didn’t pick, but has most assuredly won.”
Steven Pinker
“One of history’s greatest anthropologists—and a rip-roaring story-teller—recounts his life with an endangered Amazonian tribe and the mind-boggling controversies his work ignited. Noble Savages is rich with insights into human nature, and an entertaining interlude with a remarkable man.”
The Wall Street Journal - Charles C. Mann
“One of the most interesting anthropology books I have ever read. . . . [Chagnon's] portrayal of society's origins has so much to say about the nature of our species that it should be examined thoughtfully.”
E. O. Wilson
Noble Savages is an epic—not only of one of the most extraordinary physical and intellectual adventures ever experienced by a major scientist, but also the history of one of the most significant events in the early, often turbulent meeting between evolutionary biology and the social sciences."
The Seattle Times - Curt Schleier
“Fascinating reading for anyone interested in native peoples, history and where we all come from.”
The New York Times - Nicholas Wade
“A beautifully written adventure story. . . . Noble Savages is a remarkable testament to an engineer's 35-year effort to unravel the complex working of an untouched human society.”
Daily Beast - Nick Romeo
“It’s not hyperbole to call Chagnon the most controversial and famous anthropologist in America. . . . [Noble Savages] is a memoir that offers a highly readable mixture of adventure, science, and scandal.”
Nature - Douglas William Hume
“An important contribution to the debates over the methods and theories used to understand humans in anthropology and evolutionary sciences—and to debates over how visionaries become the targets of those who do not share their vision.”
Washington Post - Rachel Newcomb
“Engaging. . . . A fascinating portrayal of the discomfort and danger that anthropologists working in remote areas face. The book is at its most entertaining when documenting the challenges of everyday life in the jungle — how to sleep fitfully in a hammock among enemies who might attempt to assassinate you in your sleep or how to net a juicy tapir for your dinner.”
Library Journal
Anthropologist Chagnon’s memoir begins as a riveting account of the years he spent doing fieldwork among the Yanomamö, in 1964 a largely uncontacted group of South American Indians of the upper Orinoco River watershed jungles in southern Venezuela. Chagnon (adjunct research scientist, Univ. of Michigan; The Yanomamö) clearly explains the scientific and biological approach to cultural anthropology that he applied to his studies of Yanomamö violence, ideas that put him at odds with cultural anthropologists. Chagnon details the serious conflicts that he had with other cultural anthropologists who disagreed with his interpretations and with the Salesian Society of the Roman Catholic Church, which had begun to establish mission outposts among the Yanomamö. Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado (2000) damaged Chagnon’s reputation with its attacks on him. However, Chagnon unflinchingly defends himself on all of the ethical charges and points out that many of Tierney’s accusations against him are now considered to have been based upon inaccurate information. Chagnon is a consummate storyteller and has successfully created an engaging and richly descriptive chronology of his professional life while not shying from the anthropological controversies that have dogged him for many years.

Verdict The book is geared toward informed lay readers, but some knowledge of current anthropological theory is necessary for a complete understanding. This memoir is bound to be popular—and deservedly so.—Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH

(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
A cultural anthropologist defends his deeply engaged lifetime of work with the Amazon Indians. Chagnon first arrived among the Yanomamö in the Amazon basin on the border of Venezuela and Brazil in 1964 as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, and his initial fieldwork yielded a seminal textbook on the tribe. Living among these isolated people, the author gained their trust; learned their language, customs and reproductive patterns; and patiently constructed their genealogies, history of wars, way of life and "village fissions." He found right away that the Yanomamö were undergoing a significant transformation from a primitive societal system to a more complex, larger and political system. Chagnon draws from the work of theoretical biology to propound the importance of "kinship behaviors" among the Yanomamö, who were constantly stressed by the threat of attack from hostile tribes and practiced this form of reproductive selection in order to survive. Indeed, having closely observed these people, the author concludes that "maximizing political and personal security was the overwhelming driving force in human, social and cultural evolution." Many of Chagnon's observations--e.g., that the Yanomamö fought over women--did not jibe with the then–politically correct notions of native peoples, and his research was censured at home. Moreover, Chagnon's work in the field coincided with enormous changes in the field of anthropology, such as the challenge by E.O. Wilson's studies in "sociobiology," which Chagnon embraced. His subsequent research ran afoul of various academic and political authorities and native rights groups, and the author was even accused of starting a lethal measles epidemic among the Yanomamö. In the last section of the book, the author tediously rebuts the "smear campaigns." More than two-thirds of this rehabilitative work is a fascinating, accessible study of a little-known people.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451611472
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 2/19/2013
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 544
  • Sales rank: 294,009
  • File size: 10 MB

Meet the Author

Napoleon A. Chagnon is distinguished research professor at the University of Missouri and adjunct research scientist at the University of Michigan, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. He formerly taught at the University of California-Santa Barbara, Penn State, Northwestern, and the University of Michigan. He is the author of five previous academic books and lives in Columbia, Missouri.
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Read an Excerpt

1

Excerpt from:

NOBLE SAVAGES: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists

By Napoleon A. Chagnon

 

1

Culture Shock

My First Year in the Field

The First Day

My first day in the field—November 28, 1964—was an experience I’ll never forget. I had never seen so much green snot before then. Not many anthropologists spend their first day this way. If they did, there would be very few applicants to graduate programs in anthropology.

I had traveled in a small aluminum rowboat propelled by a large outboard motor for two and a half days, cramped in with several extra fifty-five-gallon gasoline barrels and two Venezuelan functionaries who worked for the Malarialogía, the Venezuelan malaria control service. They were headed to their tiny outpost in Yanomamö territory—two or three thatched huts. This boat trip took me from the territorial capital, Puerto Ayacucho, a small town on the Orinoco River, into Yanomamö country on the High Orinoco some 350 miles upstream. I was making a quick trip to have a look-see before I brought my main supplies and equipment for a seventeen-month study of the Yanomamö Indians, a Venezuelan tribe that was very poorly known in 1964. Most of their villages had no contact with the outside world and were considered to be “wild” Indians. I also wanted to see how things at the field site would be for my wife, Carlene, and two young children, Darius (three years old) and Lisa (eighteen months old).

On the morning of the third day we reached a small mission settlement called Tama Tama, the field “headquarters” of a group of mostly American evangelical missionaries, the New Tribes Mission, who were working in two Yanomamö villages farther upstream and in several villages of the Carib-speaking Ye’kwana, a different tribe located northwest of the Yanomamö. The missionaries had come out of these remote Indian villages to hold a conference on the progress of their mission work and were conducting their meetings at Tama Tama when I arrived. Tama Tama was about a half day by motorized dugout canoe downstream from where the Yanomamö territory began.

We picked up a passenger at Tama Tama, James P. Barker, the first outsider to make a sustained, permanent contact with the Venezuelan Yanomamö in 1950. He had just returned from a year’s furlough in the United States, where I had briefly visited him in Chicago before we both left for Venezuela. As luck would have it, we both arrived in Venezuela at about the same time, and in Yanomamö territory the same week. He was a bit surprised to see me and happily agreed to accompany me to the village I had selected (with his advice) for my base of operations, Bisaasi-teri, and to introduce me to the Indians. I later learned that bisaasi was the name of the palm whose leaves were used in the large roofs of many Yanomamö villages: -teri is the Yanomamö word that means “village.” Bisaasi-teri was also his own home base, but he had not been there for over a year and did not plan to come back permanently for another three months. He therefore welcomed this unexpected opportunity to make a quick overnight visit before he returned permanently.

Barker had been living with this particular Yanomamö group about four years at that time. Bisaasi-teri had divided into two villages when the village moved to the mouth of the Mavaca River, where it flows into the Orinoco from the south. One group was downstream and was called Lower Bisaasi-teri (koro-teri) and the other was upstream and called Upper Bisaasi-teri (ora-teri). Barker lived among the Upper Bisaasi-teri. His mud-and-thatch house was located next to their village.

We arrived at Upper Bisaasi-teri about 2 P.M. and docked the aluminum speedboat along the muddy riverbank at the terminus of the path used by the Indians to fetch their drinking water. The Yanomamö normally avoid large rivers like the Orinoco, but they moved there because Barker had persuaded them to. The settlement was called, in Spanish, by the men of the Malarialogía and the missionaries, Boca Mavaca—the Mouth of the Mavaca. It sometimes appeared on Venezuelan maps of that era as Yababuji—a Yanomamö word that translates as “Gimme!” This name was apparently—and puckishly—suggested to the mapmakers because it captured some essence of the place: “Gimme” was the most frequent phrase used by the Yanomamö when they greeted visitors to the area.

My ears were ringing from three dawn-to-dusk days of the constant drone of the outboard motor. It was hot and muggy, and my clothing was soaked with perspiration, as it would be for the next seventeen months. Small biting gnats, bareto in the Yanomamö language, were out in astronomical numbers, for November was the beginning of the dry season and the dry season means lots of bareto. Clouds of them were so dense in some places that you had to be careful when you breathed lest you inhale some of them. My face and hands were swollen from their numerous stings.

In just a few moments I was to meet my first Yanomamö, my first “primitive” man. What would he be like? I had visions of proudly entering the village and seeing 125 “social facts” running about, altruistically calling each other kinship terms and sharing food, each courteously waiting to have me interview them and, perhaps, collect his genealogy.

Would they like me? This was extremely important to me. I wanted them to be so fond of me that they would adopt me into their kinship system and way of life. During my anthropological training at the University of Michigan I learned that successful anthropologists always get adopted by their people. It was something very special. I had also learned during my seven years of anthropological training that the “kinship system” was equivalent to “the whole society” in primitive tribes and that it was a moral way of life. I was determined to earn my way into their moral system of kinship and become a member of their society—to be accepted by them and adopted as one of them.

The year of fieldwork ahead of me was what earned you your badge of authority as an anthropologist, a testimony to your otherworldly experience, your academic passport, your professional credentials. I was now standing at the very cusp of that profound, solemn transformation and I truly savored this moment.

 

 

 

 

From NOBLE SAVAGES by Napoleon A. Chagnon. Copyright © 2013 by Napoleon A. Chagnon. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc, NY.

 

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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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    Posted May 14, 2013

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    Posted March 19, 2013

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