Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Department of Anthropology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
This is a response to the section on "Engagement of anthropologists in public dialogue with members of study communities," I find it very instructive to learn that Chagnon has never actually called Davi Kopenawa a "parrot," as I had thought he had, in print. The trip from suggesting that Davi Kopenawa is a parrot of human rights groups to saying someone called him a parrot in print is a short one, but the difference is crucial. I agree that anthropologists should not say that someone they name is "inauthentic," and find Laura Graham's discussion of these issues excellent. These are difficult issues; I have published on them myself and so have had occasion to think hard about them. But I find the case at hand very easy to evaluate: anthropologists should not, in effect, negatively label named individuals who are members of the study community. I don't think that a named individual should be called "a liar." This may seem to be nitpicking, but saying so-and-so appears to have knowingly, deliberately stated something false comes across differently--and cannot be misused nearly as easily by parties who do not have the community's best interests at heart. We have all known rather reprehensible people residing in our study communities. I think that they need to be protected, no matter what they have done, especially in print. I can envision an activist describing how so-and-so bilked his community of $10,000, but it's difficult to see an anthropologist doing that. Terence Turner discusses the sins of Pombo, a Kayapo leader, in print, but he is not revealing anything new to anyone who has any dealings with the Kayapo, and Pombo himself has acknowledged his mistakes. Turner fully contextualizes the case, and has the Kayapo's permission to discuss the events--indeed, they are contained in a video the Kayapo made mostly for their own purposes (T. Turner, "Representation, polyphony, and the construction of power in a Kayapo video. In Kay Warren and Jean Jackson, eds., Indigenous Movements, Self-Representation, and the State in Latin America. Austin: U Texas Press, 2002). It is true that Chagnon contextualizes his statements about Davi Kopenawa, but Chagnon is attacking the person, the suggestion that he is not, could not, be the author of his statements, sweeping and categorical. How could we trust anything this individual says, if such is the case?
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