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Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes -- the Yanomamo and the Anthropologists Kindle Edition
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“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." -- E. O. Wilson, Pellegrino University Professor Emeritus, Harvard University, and the author of The Social Conquest of Earth and Sociobiology
“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." -- Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, author of The Old Way and The Harmless People
“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.” -- Robin Fox, University Professor of Social Theory, Rutgers University and author of The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind
“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.” -- Nicholas Wade ― The New York Times
“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.” -- Charles C. Mann ― The Wall Street Journal
“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.” -- Rachel Newcomb ― Washington Post
“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.” ― Publishers Weekly
“Fascinating reading for anyone interested in native peoples, history and where we all come from.” -- Curt Schleier ― The Seattle Times
“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.” -- Nick Romeo ― Daily Beast --This text refers to the paperback edition.
About the Author
- ASIN : B006VJN2FE
- Publisher : Simon & Schuster; Illustrated edition (19 February 2013)
- Language : English
- File size : 12195 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Screen Reader : Supported
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 545 pages
- Best Sellers Rank: 234,834 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
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Napoleon Chagnon is a distinguished anthropologist who began to study one of the earth's last (partly) uncontacted stone age tribes - the Yanomamö, a group living in various settlements in the rain forest border area between Venezuela and Brazil - in the sixties for his dissertation work at the University of Michigan. This book is, first of all, a fascinating description of his experiences with them over many years and his endeavors to use scientific method and a systematic documentation of kinship and mortality in order to draw conclusions on the nature of society in the stone age. He learned their language, gained their confidence, and spent altogether many months living in their villages, and was thus able to observe first hand their constant wars with each other, various ceremonies, their use of hallucinogenic plants, their everyday habits, the way they snatched and raped women from other settlements, and what was important in forming the status of the headsmen and thus in determining the hierarchies in each settlement.
Unfortunately for Chagnon, the anthropological community at the time did NOT regard themselves as scientists (!). They regarded themselves as recorders of culture and customs, and sometimes even saw themselves as having a mission to protect the earth's remaining "noble savages". In fact, it seems that is still often the case today. Chagnon's conclusions and portrayals of what he saw first hand were very disagreeable to much of this community, and his colleagues resorted in some cases to the worst kind of slander and attacks, false accusations, and attempts to muscle him out of professional societies. He was accused, among other things, of deliberately spreading measles and thus killing some Yanomamö, and of falsifying his research. In the meantime, he has been exonerated of all such claims, but for a while they damaged his health and the well-being of his family.
Thus the second part of the book is, in a way, his final reckoning with these people, and also with the other opponents he had to contend with, the Catholic church. Throughout his career, Chagnon has written several books on the Yanomamö, including a standard university textbook. But in this book he combines a description of his research findings with a description of what he had to contend with in the anthropological world. To me, the latter topic was quite shocking and I was dismayed at what he went through.
To greatly simplify it, what many could not accept were Chagnon's carefully documented findings that:
- life among the Yanomamö was dominated by warlike attacks on each other including brutal killings
- having access to means of reproduction, i.e. women, was a major motivation for these attacks, meaning women were snatched from other groups
- women were beaten and (gang) raped more or less at will
- the most powerful men in the largest kinship groups had the most wives and produced the most offspring
- many Yanomamö died of violent causes
- men gained the most status from having killed other men.
These findings did not appeal to anthropologists with a political agenda, nor to activist groups seeking to preserve the lifestyle of the Yanomamö and similar groups as "noble savages" .
The only other outside groups who had had contact with some of the Yanomamö when Chagnon began his studies were missionaries, mainly from the Catholic church and their Salesian mission, but also some Protestants. Their agenda was of course to convert them to Catholicism/Christianity. Chagnon exposed some of the Catholics' questionable methods, such as bribing the men with rifles to allow the children to attend the Salesian schools. Rifles which were then used to shoot each other.
Chagnon is quite objective in his descriptions of these conflicts, I found, thus enhancing the reader's dismay at how he was received by some of academia and at the methods used by the Salesians precisely because he is not maudlin and overly accusatory about it. Ever the scientist.
Despite his findings on the violent and misogynous nature of Yanonamö society, and thus of our own roots, Chagnon professes to have become very fond of many Yanomamö and was not judgmental in his descriptions of them, either. This, I admit, irritated me.
To me, the question arises as to whether such groups should be protected through reservations, which many activists are trying to achieve, or whether it would be better indeed if their habits and customs were superseded through integration into a society with rules on treatment of women and sanctions for violence. Preserving their way of life as an object of study for anthropologists interested in the stone age cannot be a justification for the kind of violence they inflict on each other and particularly on women, and exaltation as noble savages despite the facts is simply either naive or driven by a hidden agenda.
Minor nitpicks: I read this book on a Kindle and think the photos would have worked better on paper. Also, more stringent editing would have helped, as the book is sometimes repetitive and some passages seem cut and pasted from previous books. Still: 5 stars.
OK. So now with the politics. The first attack on Chagnon came from Christian missionaries. Particularly the Catholic missionaries who realized too late, and in part thanks to Chagnon's data, that their providing shotguns to natives resulted in significant casualties. As did their reluctance to support vaccination programs. Some good priests stand out as genuinely caring, but others (according to Changon) care primarily about their power over the natives and the reputation of their "brand name". This leads them to slander Chagnon, to threaten him, and to intervene against him amongst Venezualan politics.
The second attack comes from postmodernist anthropologists who view Chagon's evolutionary theory and violent data as immoral and a threat to natives. Despite having virtually no real first-hand understanding of the Yanomamo, they engaged in a proactive smear campaign against Chagnon and his collaborators. The American Association of Anthropologists was shamefully coerced into supporting these baseless attacks even as the leaders of that organization privately acknowledged it was a baseless witch hunt. Frankly, I'm quite surprised no one was sued by Chagnon, but he admits to being deeply emotionally drained by the unwarrented attacks on his person, reputation, and work. In that sense, maybe it's best for him to just let things go away (the society itself voted against its leadership in rejecting the charges against Chagnon by a wide margin).
So overall, this is a very interesting book to read. I found the science to be much more enjoyable to read about than the vicious politics from ultra-left wing academics and ultra-strict Catholic groups. The irony of those latter two groups being aggressive isn't lost on this reader, but it's more sad than entertaining to read about. Still, they don't outweight the fact that this is an interesting book from one of the last few trained researchers to spend time with truly "pristine" populations. Whether or not you believe that tells us about our own evolutionary past (I think it does in part), the fact that the Yanomamo society is going the way of so many Amazonian organisms makes this a book worth reading about. There will never be another chance for a researcher to study them in the same way, so this unique book furthers a unique contribution by a unique anthropologist.
Easy to read if english is not your first language. Good read for a student in anthropology as well.