Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Sunday Times, October 8, 2000
Source URL: http://www.sunday-times.co.uk/news/pages/sti/2000/10/08/stifgname01001.html


Scientists 'nearly destroyed' Amazon tribe backed by Sting

John Elliott

AN Indian tribe championed by the rock star Sting has had its way of life almost destroyed by scientists and the western media, according to an explosive book to be published in America next month.

Darkness in El Dorado by Patrick Tierney claims that scientists faked research into the tribe and knowingly caused an outbreak of measles that killed thousands.

At the centre of the controversy is Professor Napoleon Chagnon, who first brought the Yanomami to international prominence. He encountered them in 1968, as a 26-year-old research scientist, during a trip along the Orinoco River on the border of Brazil and Venezuela. His subsequent work, Yano-mamo: The Fierce People, is still taught in universities around the world.

He stunned the scientific community with his finding that Yanomami men who had killed other men were more likely to find wives to bear them children, which implied human beings had a genetic disposition to violence. The new book, however, accuses him of staging fights to support his theories, and of giving machetes to the Indians.

Chagnon has denied the allegations vigorously on a website run by the University of California at Santa Barbara, where he was professor of anthropology until his retirement last year.

His portrayal of the tribe as brutish, however, has been used by Brazilian politicians to justify breaking up Yanomami land and made them the subject of ruthless persecution by miners. The tribe is estimated to number 22,000 today, several thousand fewer than when he first encountered them.

Fiona Watson of the British charity Survival International said: "Nobody who knows the Yanomami people agrees with Chagnon."

Tierney's book also alleges that in the late 1960s, as part of a project funded by the American government, scientists knowingly allowed a measles epidemic to break out, killing thousands of Indians.

Witnesses say the jungle near Yanomami villages stank long afterwards, because so many dead Indians were hung from trees, as is their custom.

Last week the Rainforest Foundation, the charity foun-ded by Sting in 1989, said: "We are not prepared to comment on the book because we have not seen it."

The foundation is to use Yanomami art depicting Indians fleeing helicopters and suffering European illnesses in its 2001 fundraising calendar.

In recent years, the book says, scientists have used helicopters to travel between Yanomami villages, blowing the roofs from their huts.