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Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Davi Kopenawa Yanomami commentary on W.P. 3.3 and comment submitted by William Irons


The text of an interview with Davi Kopenawa conducted by Terence Turner on April 7, 2002, and translated by Turner with assistance from Lêda Martins:

        Davi Kopenawa, the well-known Yanomami spokesman, attended a conference on the Yanomami controversy at Cornell University from April 5-7 of this year, and on the following Wednesday (April 10) appeared in a program sponsored by the Rainforest Foundation at the CUNY Graduate Center in New York City. I was one of the organizers of the Cornell Conference and also attended the event in New York at which Davi spoke. At Cornell, I translated for Davi William Irons' posting on the El Dorado Task force web page in which he alleges that Davi made inaccurate claims that Chagnon vaccinated him, and asked Davi if he would care to respond. He accepted (my translation of Irons and Davi's response were in Portuguese, in which he is fluent). I reproduce the relevant passage from Irons' posting below, followed by the text of Davi's response.


Mr. Kopenawa says that Chagnon vaccinated him, but Chagnon never vaccinated anyone. All the vaccinating was done by Neel and other medical personnel. Also the medical team that visited Davi Kopenawa's village in 1967 did not do any vaccinating. They only took blood samples and other sorts of samples. The vaccinating was done in 1968…These facts suggest that Mr. Kopenawa's claim that Chagnon paid the Yanomamo to fight is based on faulty memory and inaccurate hearsay.

        I would like to point out that the source of the confusion seems to be that Janet Chernela, in her introduction to the text of her interview with Davi, to which Irons refers, says that Davi was vaccinated by Chagnon when the latter visited his village of Toototobi (the visit took place in 1967). Nowhere in Davi's actual text does he say this. In Chernela's interview with him, and in the interview with me which I reproduce in translation below, he consistently says that Chagnon not only did not vaccinate him, but that on the one occasion in 1967 when Chagnon visited his village (the only time he has actually met Chagnon in his life), no injections were given by any members of the expedition to any Yanomami. On this visit, as Davi explains, the medical staff of the expedition only took biological samples, and Chagnon acted only as interpreter. At the Rainforest Foundation meeting in New York I told Davi that in the introduction to his interview with Janet Chernela it was said that Chagnon had vaccinated him. He said that this was simply a mistake, that he had never said that.

        Davi occasionally switches the subject of his sentences without warning, so that the references of his pronouns are not immediately clear. This makes the translator's job difficult at times, although not impossible. I suggest that the confusion between Chagnon and Good to which Irons alludes may have originated in such a confusing switch of referents, but without access to the original text of the interview I am in no position to check on this. Perhaps Janet Chernela might be able to check out this suggestion. As for Irons' suggestion that Davi's (nonexistent) confusion about Chagnon's vaccination casts doubt on his totally unrelated assertions that Chagnon paid the Yanomami to fight one another, it only remains to say that since the supposed error from which Irons' drew his conclusion was itself an error, Irons' inference (strained at best) must be considered groundless. May I point out that if Irons had taken the trouble to read what Davi actually said, rather than seizing upon the brief introduction by Chernela as his sole authority for making his allegations, he might have saved himself some embarrassment. Professor Irons has made plain his impatience with reading in several contexts, such as the 2001 AAA meetings at which he urged people not to read Tierney's book, and more recently in his letter to the Anthropology Newsletter in which he declared that he was probably not going to read my report on my research on James Neel's papers because he had already formed his opinion. His new attack on Davi Kopenawa continues a pattern of attacks on Davi Kopenawa by Chagnon , who has called Davi a "cigar store Indian", (according to a CNN crew who interviewed him in 2001)as well as a number of other discreditable epithets. These may have influenced Irons' over-hasty judgement of Davi's reliability in the present case. If so, Irons' opinions have once again proved unreliable substitutes for reading.

English Text of Interview with Davi Kopenawa, Ithaca, NY, Sunday 4/7/02 (See Appendix I for Portuguese original)

Davi :  Well, I am going to speak. This napë, this White man [Irons] is criticizing. I am going to defend myself. The napë is saying that I, Davi Yanomami, am causing confusion, making trouble. It is not me. It was he [Chagnon] who first started to create problems for the Yanomami. He [Chagnon] keeps writing, keeps lying, keeps bad-mouthing my people -- saying that the Yanomami people are very fierce, very angry, very dangerous; we are not. It was he who started to bother us, it was he who started to bad-mouth us. I defend my people of Brazil and Venezuela. They are my relatives. I have spoken to Anete [Janet Chernela] in my village, which is called Watoriki. She interviewed me, she asked me about Chagnon, [saying] that he wrote an article against us and that he brought a medical team to the village of Toototobi, which is near the border with Venezuela and where I used to live with all my relatives. There I saw a medical team arriving with Napoleon Chagnon . He arrived there speaking our Yanomami language, our Shamatari language, being nice, presenting himself as a friend, deceiving us. What I have said is true. But he [Irons] [who] does not know me said it was a lie. It is not a lie. But they [the medical team] took the blood of my people, blood of my relatives, then even took my own blood. And why? He did not explain. Chagnon did not help. Chagnon kept it secret and the Yanomami could not know why. They [Chagnon, the medical team, the missionaries] knew among themselves. Missionaries also lived there, evangelical missionaries lived with us. They too did not help us, did not explain what Chagnon was doing, giving presents, pots, in order to take the blood, without any explanation. I was little, 9 or 10 years old. I did not know how to defend, I did not speak with courage as I do now. I talked to Anete [Janet Chernela] in my house in Watoriki. She went there to talk, to interview me. Indeed I spoke about Napoleon Chagnon because Napoleon Chagnon, he learned to speak our Shamatari language, he learned to say everything in Yanomami. Thus, he prepared to work, to write, and he worked in [he lists many places]. These groups got to know him. The Shamatari from Venezuela arrived in Toototobi, where I used to live, and told us "Look, Chagnon is giving pots, machetes, knives [for us] to make [war] against our other relatives, other shabonos, for Chagnon to see who is more angry/fierce, which Yanomami kill more of their relatives, which Yanomami is braver to make war." This is what he did. Nobody liked it. His work is dirty: he did it well but he did bad [things], lying, making money with the name of the Yanomami. He is interested in making money, publishing his book to become a tuxáua [leader], to become famous in his country. This is why his colleague is defending him, is supporting him, is believing him. They themselves do not come here [to the conference], do not talk to us…He [Chagnon] has never spoken about me to my face. He orders [others] to speak and to write against me in the newspapers. But he [Chagnon? Irons?] too is dirty. I am not going to think that he [Irons] is good and believe what I read in the newspaper. I told [Janet Chernela] in my village, that I met him [Chagnon] when I was young, 9 or 10 years old. This was in 1967, 1968. He came there with a medical team. That is how he created a fight. He only worked against my people. This is my response.

TT :  Just to clarify: when he came the first time in 1967, in Toototobi, did he only take blood?

DKY :  He took blood from everybody. He called everybody. He [was] the interpreter for the doctors. The doctors did not speak Yanomami. So, he was the only interpreter who spoke Yanomami to the old men, to the women and children to make them let the doctors take the blood.

TT :  When he came a second time in 1968, did he give you shots?

DKY :  No. He only came one time. After that he never came again. This is what I said [to Janet Chernela]. But he [Irons] is making up that I said [something else].

TT :  Is it possible that he gave you a shot when he came to Toototobi that time in 1967?

DKY :  He did not give shots. He only took blood. Took blood, saliva, urine and stool. That was all.

TT :  But was it Chagnon or the doctors who actually took the blood?

DKY :  No, he was the interpreter. The ones who extracted it were the doctors. He was the interpreter to speak to the Yanomami.

TT :  And what explanation did Chagnon give for the collection of the blood and stool?

DKY :  He did not explain. He did not say why the doctors were collecting it. He did not say anything. This is why the Yanomami let them take the blood. He did not speak to the old men. The missionaries did not say anything either. The evangelical missionaries were there: Katy, Bruce, and Bruce's wife. Katy and Bruce spoke our language. But they said nothing. They talked among themselves. Secretly. They did not talk to us.

TT :  So who told the Yanomami to give blood?

DKY :  Who told, who asked was Chagnon. He spoke to the Yanomami. Chagnon with the doctors. [Interruption: the phone rang]

TT :  You were saying that Chagnon asked the Yanomami without giving an explanation.

DKY :  Yes…they let them collect blood.

TT :  As a free gift?

DKY :  Yes. They asked the Yanomami. All the families - the women, children. Chagnon said: "you give this blood and after that you will get a pot. A pot for each person who gives." But not everybody got a pot. The missionaries were there but did not help. Chagnon did not help [by] saying…"What is this blood for? To do what? To store? To use? To have later to examine, to see what is in it, what is good" - the things within the blood. He did not say anything. They did their work and left.

TT :  Okay! I think this is enough.

DKY :  Yes! This is all. He did this dirty work against us, we did not know. He gave no explanation to the Yanomami. That is why we are angry at him. He worked against us. Anthropologists should not behave like that. Anthropologists should help indigenous people, help the Yanomami, help to defend, help to respect, help with care. He did not do that. This is my response.



Appendix I:  Transcription of interview in Portuguese


Entrevista com Davi Kopenawa, Ithaca, NY, domingo 7/4/02.


Davi :  Bem, eu vou falar. Este napë, est[e] branco está criticando. Eu vou me defender. O nap ë está falando que eu estou, eu, Davi Yanomami, estou fazendo confusão. Não é eu não. É ele [que] tá fazendo confusão primeiro contra o Yanomami. Fica escrevendo, fica mentindo, fica falando mau do povo Yanomami. Falando que o povo Yanomami é muito feroz, muito brabo, muito perigoso; nós não. É ele que começou mexer com nós, ele que começou falando mau da gente e com meu povo. Porque eu defendo meu povo Yanomami, do Brasil e Venezuela. Eu sou parente deles. Eu falei com Dona Anete [Janet Chernela]   na minha aldeia, lá no chamado Watorike. Ela   me entrevistou, ela me perguntou sobre Chagnon, que ele fez um artigo contra nós e também que ele foi trazendo equipe de saúde lá na aldeia Toototobi, que é perto da fronteira da Venezuela, que é próximo, que a gente morava lá, lá com todo[s] meus parente[s]. Lá que eu vi chegando equipe de saúde junto com Napoleon Chagnon. Porque ele que, ele chegou lá falando nossa língua Yanomami, nossa língua Shamatari, fic[ou] agradando, fic[ou] mostrando como amigo, fic[ou] engando a gente. Essa que eu falei verdade. Mas ele [Irons] falou que não me conhece, falou que é mentira. Essa não é mentira não. Mas ele[s] [equipe de saúde] tiraram sangue   do meu povo, sangue do meu parente, até ele tirou meu sangue. E porque ele não explicou , Chagnon   não ajudou, Chagnon só ficou guardando segredo, e Yanomami não poder saber. Ficou conhecendo entre eles. Também, lá existe também missionário, missionários são crente que mora com a gente lá. Aí também não ajudou, não explicou quê que é Chagnon vem fazendo, vem trazendo presente, panela, para poder tirar sangue, e sem explicou nada. Eu era pequeno, como assim 9-10 anos. Eu não sabia defender, não sabia falar coragem como eu falo hoje. Eu falei com Dona Anete [Janet] lá na minha casa, lá em Watorike. Ela foi lá para falar comigo, entrevistar. Realmente eu falei o nome do Napoleon Chagnon, porque Napoleon Chagnon, ele aprendeu nossa língua shamatari, ele aprendeu falar tudo em Yanomami. Aí ele preparou para fazer trabalho, para poder escrever, e [lists many places; name-teri], ele trabalhou lá. [These groups] conhece[ram] ele. Ele[s] usaram isso lá na Venezuela porque os shamatari chegaram lá em nossa maloca, chamada Toototobi, aonde [eu] morava. O missionário [das] Novas Tribos. Aí, shamatari falaram: "Olha, o Chagnon está fazendo isso, porque está dando panela, dando terçado, dando faca, pra fazer contra outros parente, outras maloca, para Chagnon ver qual é mais brabo, qual Yanomami que mata mais próprio parente, qual Yanomami [é] mais corajoso para guerrear."   Assim que ele fazia. É por isso que ninguém gostou. O trabalho dele é muito sujo também: ele fez bom trabalho mas ele fez ruim, mentindo, fica querendo ganhar dinheiro em nome do povo Yanomami. Ele tá interessado em ganhar dinheiro para publicar este livro para ele ficar tucháua, para ele ficar famoso na terra dele. É por isso que os colega dele está defendo, está apoiando, está acreditando. Porque ele [Irons] nunca foi lá, nunca conheceu meu povo, ele está protegido. Eles mesmo não vêm aqui, falam com a gente, ele não falam com… Ele nunca fala de mim perto, ele só fica mandando falar e mandando escrever no jornal contra mim. Mas ele também tá sujo. Eu não vou pensar que ele é bom e eu falei isso que ele leu no jornal. Eu falei lá na minha maloca, eu conhece ele quando [era] pequeno, 9-10 anos, lá no Toototobi. Foi em 1967, e 1968, ele passou lá, junto com a equipe de saúde. Então é por isso que criou briga – só ele fez trabalho contra meu povo Yanomami. Então isso que é minha que vou responder.


TT :  Só para esclarecer. Quando ele passou a primeira vez em 1967, lá em Toototobi, ele só tirou sangue, né?


DKY :  Ele só tirou sangue, todo mundo. Chamou todo mundo. Ele intérprete–ele foi intérprete dos médicos. Os médicos não sabiam falar Yanomami. Então ele que é o único intérprete falar Yanomami para os pacateba [old men] , com as mulheres, com as crianças, para deixar tirar sangue com médico.


TT :  E foi quando ele passou a segunda fez em 68 que ele aplicou injeção, ou o quê?


DKY : Não, ele foi uma vez. Depois sumiu. Nunca mais voltou. Essa aqui, eu falei isso. Mas ele está inventando que eu falei isso.


TT :  Será que aquela   vez que ele passou em Toototobi, em 67, que ele aplicou injeção em você?


DKY :  Não. Ele não aplicou não. Só tirou sangue. Tirou sangue, saliva, urina, fezes–ele só tirou isso.


TT :  Mas foi o Chagnon que fez isso ou foi só os médicos que tiravam?


DKY:  Não, ele é intérprete, quem tirou era médico. Ele é intérprete para falar com Yanomami.


TT :  É foi que o Chagnon explicou porque os médicos estiveram tirando este sangue, estes fezes?


DKY :  Ele não explicou. Ele não falou para que os médicos estavam tirando. Ele não falou nada. Por isso os Yanomami deixou tirar sangue. Ele não falou com os pacotaba [?] . Nem falou também os missionários [que] estavam lá. Os missionários crente estavam lá – Katy, Bruce, esposa dele também estava lá. Essa Katy, Bruce, eles também falavam nossa língua Yanomami. Mas eles não falavam nada. Conversava entre eles. Segredo. Sem falar nós.


TT :  Então quem mandou os Yanomami dar o sangue?


DKY :  Quem mandou, quem pediu foi Chagnon, falou ao Yanomami. Chagnon com os médicos.


TT :  Estava explicando que sem explicação   eles pediram ou Chagnon que pediu que eles dessem este sangue.


DKY :  É…deixou tirar sangue.


TT :  Como favor, é?


DKY :  É, eles pediram com os Yanomami. Todas as famílias – as mulher, criança. O   Chagnon falou que vocês dá esse sangue, depois vai ganhar uma panela, uma panela cada pessoa que deu. Mas não deu tudo uma panela não. Porque   eles deixou tirar sangue, eles não sabia. Os missionários estavam lá, não ajudou. O Chagnon também não ajudou para …"Esse sangue para quê? Para fazer o quê? Para guardar? Tá para usar? Tão para ter depois para examinar e olhar sangue, o quê que tem, o que é bom"–as coisas que tem dentro do sangue. Ele não falou nada. Mas eles fizeram trabalho e foi embora.


TT :  Tudo bom! Acho que é tudo!


DKY :  É! Tudo é essa aí. Então ele fez completamente este trabalho muito sujo contra nós, sem saber, sem explicar para os Yanomami saber. Por isso nós estamos com raiva dele. Ele fez trabalho contra nós. Antropólogo não é para fazer isso não. Antropólogo é para ajudar, ajudar índio, ajudar Yanomami, ajudar defender, ajudar respeitar, ajudar muito cuidado; ele não fez isso não. Então estas são minhas palavras para responder.