Intro to Cultural Anthropology
Professor Michael Cepek
March 6, 2010
Yanomami Position Paper
To properly understand the controversy surrounding the Yanomami and Napoleon Chagnon, one must look back to the start of this situation. In 2000, investigative journalist Patrick Tierney published the book Darkness in El Dorado which accused Chagnon and his colleague James Neel of spreading a measles epidemic among other things. Tierney also makes seven other basic accusations against Chagnon. (1) He claims that the Yanomami are not a "fierce people" as Chagnon had previously reported. (2) Chagnon noticed this warfare because of his own interaction with the Yanomami. By trading machetes and shotguns for information Chagnon sparked their increased levels of violence. (3) Tierney accuses Chagnon of staging his films for dramatic purposes, which is why the films won so many awards. (4) Tierney suspects Chagnon of altering or even making up data that he included in his article, which was published in Science in 1988. (5) He claims that Chagnon used unethical techniques to gain genealogical information from the Yanomami about their ancestors. (6) Tierney states that Chagnon is wrong when he claims that he is the first outsider to have made contact with the Yanomami people. Tierney argues that there was a woman named Helena Valero who was kidnapped by the Yanomami and lived among them for over fifty years. (7) Tierney also accuses Chagnon of violating Venezuelan law by being involved in a plan to establish a private Yanomami reserve. This was called the FUNDAFACI project which would allow Chagnon and others to interact with the Yanomami free from government control.
These seven accusations against Chagnon are quite serious and have been the basis of the Yanomami controversy for years. Whether or not any of those accusations are true has been the subject of much debate in recent years. However, these implications have helped analysts of the controversy formulate four basic questions about Chagnon and his research: (1) Did Chagnon violate the ethical principle of "do no harm"? (2) Did Chagnon...