May 08, 2006

Notes on Yanomami (Yanoama) Amerindians

A few notes here on the Yanomami Amerindians as I am in the process of thinking about a poem by Pascale Petit entitled 'Self–Portrait as a Yanomami Daughter'.

Notes on the Yanomami

From Nugent, Stephen. ‘The Yamomami: anthropological discourse and ethics’. The Ethics of Anthropology: Debates and Dilemmas . Ed. Pat Caplan London: Routledge, 2003. 77-95. [This is a kind of review of Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon .]

‘[T]he distressed prospects of indigenous peoples around the world are rarely newsworthy and the likelihood that the current coverage will enhance the life chances of the Yanomami are not great.’ (79)

‘Of all the Amazonian societies still extant, the Yanomami are exceptional: they are numerous by Amazonian standards (around 20,000) despite the fact that they occupy a remote locale which is non–riverine (i.e. away from the main course of the Amazon River).’ (79)

‘The bald charge […] is that […] Neel intentionally inoculated Yanomami with a measles vaccine (Edmonsten B) which would strip out from the Yanomami population non–Alpha males.’ (80) [Nugent explains that Neel and Chagnon, the anthropologists criticised in Tierney's book, had a neo–Darwinian theory about the survival of the fittest and the Yanomami men.]

Reason for the book’s popularity: ‘the Amazonian backdrop is that of Conan Doyle’s Lost World, resolutely pre–modern and cliché–ridden, the nineteenth century naturalists’ playground in which limiting case primitive society is contained by green hell doctrinal nastiness.’ (81)

‘A particular Amazonia is presented: ‘frontier Amazonia of stone–age Amerindians, virulent disease, poor transport, isolation, adventurers and heroic explorers, hallucinogens and visions, larger than life characters, depraved anthropologists, tropical licentiousness. All in all, a standard Hollywood account.’ (81)

Further Reading
Chagnon, Napoleon. — The Fierce People . (1968)
Studying the Yanomami People [HC 9000.C4]
Marcus Colchester, ed. The health and survival of the Venezuelan Yanoama . (1985) [JD 145.V3]
Smole, Joseph William. The Yanoama Indians: A Cultural Geography . (1976) [HC 9074.S6]
Tierney, Patrick. Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon . (2000)

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. I have been reading as much as possible on the Yanomami and something interesting has been thrown up regarding the measles epidemic of 1968. It seems that Tierney presented 'evidence' that Neel and Chagnon greatly exacerbated, and probably started, the epidemic of measles. However it later was shown that the epidemic began before Neel and Chagnon arrived. An American missionary couple had sent a letter claiming that their daughter had unwittingly transmitted measles to the Yanomamö. Neel and Chagnon spent their time innoculating people. Whether the vaccinations used were helpful or not is unclear.

    09 May 2006, 12:11

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