- Paperback: 192 pages
- Publisher: Thomson Learning; 2nd edition (January 1, 1977)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0030899788
- ISBN-13: 978-0030899782
- Package Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,673,190 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Yanomamo, the Fierce People (Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology) Paperback – January 1, 1977
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One reviewer of "Last Days of Eden" described Chagnon as being rather condescending and looking down on the Yanomamo; I did not find any trace of that attitude here. He seems to have immersed himself completely in this very alien culture, and to understand and accept it very well, without necessarily condoning some of its less attractive features (for example, to our sensibilities, the treatment of women as bargaining chips, to buy security when a village has to seek shelter with a stronger protector). In any case, for us in the west to condemn the ritual violence which permeates Yanomamo life, but which has careful graduations to avoid establishing blood-feuds which may last generations, seems somewhat hypocritical when we ourselves have recently engaged in "vanity wars" and are increasingly using drones to obliterate our perceived enemies (and anyone else in the vicinity).
In his final chapter Chagnon is heart-breakingly eloquent on the destruction of the Yanomamo by the inroads of missionaries, followed by tourists and unscrupulous traders, but accepts that this is inevitable, and suggests that we have a moral responsibility to manage this transition so as to minimize the damage. Having spent some time when I was young and naive working with aborigines in the tropical rain forest of Malaya I know a little about the anguish of seeing a functioning, self-sufficient, moral society doomed to vanish before modern capitalism.
My copy of the book is the 3rd edition. There are some annoying errors in this, which often occur with rewrites but which should have been caught by a good editor. Some phrases are repeated within a page or two (in one case an entire sentence at the bottom of one page reappears at the top of the next); there are some "spellcheck" errors (a "contingency" is not the same as a "contingent" of men); many of the maps (often taken from other Chagnon publications) are not very clear, and need better legends and scales; and some acronyms are not explained until after they have been used for some time. Also, the italic script used for Yanomamo words makes the letters "h" and "b" virtually indistinguishable, which could easily have been avoided (and a Yanomamo glossary would have been useful). But these are trivial complaints, which don't detract from a most remarkable book.
What is the status of the Yanomamo during this collapse of socialist Venezuela? There is no medicine or food in the cities; how are the Yanomamo doing? Socialism always ends in famine and death squads.
The Yanomato were a people of perhaps 10,000 souls in total. They lived in separate villages of from 50 to 200 plus people that warred against other villages on a regular basis. There were no representatives of the government of either Brazil or Venezuela. He was the only outsider in the villages he lived in. There were some missionaries in some of the villages.
The Yanomamo were a stone age people who were just acquiring some metal items from the outside world. They wore minimal clothing, a penis sheath for the men, and a short skirt for the women.
The people in a village lived in one building which surrounded an open central courtyard, and had an outside wall, and roof covering around the outside. Each family built a part, and lived in the section that they built. Everyone slept in hammocks. Each village had a village garden where the different families had their own individual plants. About 85% of their food came from the garden the remaining 15% was from hunting or finding items in the jungle. The men used bows and arrows that they made to hunt, and for war. When war was conducted, there were ambushes and raids on enemy villages. Women captured in war were raped first, and then made a part of the community in the village. Men were killed in wars, and if too many were killed from a village, it could upset the balance of power, and cause a village to ally with another for self defense. Wars were conducted between the villages for different reasons, including getting women from the other village.
They practiced infanticide at times such as a baby arriving too soon after the last child. There was a bias toward male children. Women were valued, and generally in short supply, with part of the reason being female infanticide. Men and women tended to be monogamous while the arrangement lasted. There were no formal weddings or other commitments for a man and a woman. After a high ranking man was through with a wife, he sometimes gave her to one of his followers.
All in all, a very interesting and informative book.