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Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Estado de S. Paulo, October 3, 2000
Source URL: http://www.estado.estadao.com.br/english/newweek/new001003.html#materia3


Controversy related to the death of Ianomami Indians is widely debated

Hellen Berger

This week "O Estado de S. Paulo" published a major controversy related to the death of hundreds of Ianomami Indians in Brazil and Venezuela in the past years. The debate was started by a North-American journalist who accused geneticist James Neel, also from the USA, of having infected thousands of Indians and letting hundreds of them die without appropriate healthcare. The theme has been widely focused and virtually debated in the past week by anthropologists and physicians from various countries, even before the release of the book in the USA, scheduled for November 16th.

A scientific article published by American Journal of Epidemiology, written by Neel himself in 1970, does confirm his participation in an experiment with the Ianomami Indians between 1966 and 1967 in which scientists had injected one thousand doses of Edmonton vaccine into the bodies of Brazilian Ianomami Indians in 1968. The article, though, does not confirm accusations made by Patrick Tierney, author of a book named "Darkness in El Dorado", which states that the geneticist had deliberately infected thousand of Ianomami Indians in Brazil and Venezuela.

According to French Anthropologist Bruce Albert, who has been working with the Ianomami Indians since 1975, such accusations are extremely serious and may only be evaluated correctly after the release of Terney's book. He believes that if charges are correct and true, serious investigations shall be opened in both countries, Brazil and Venezuela. It is true that Indians have been infected by the contact with white foreigners since 1941. They have been affected and even killed by diseases such as measles, the flu, malaria and tuberculosis.

Recent foreign invasions onto Indian lands may also be destroying serious healthcare studies and treatments taking place with the objective of reducing certain illnesses such as malaria. Indians call all those diseases "metal smoke" due to the relation they find between epidemics, deaths and metal presents offered by visitors like knives and pans, which they believe often bring negative magical influences. Old Ianomami Indians used to wash metal presents with sand and water to eliminate the spell but they were never able to avoid the death of over 10% of the Ianomami population.