Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Internet Source: Survival Press Release, September, 2000
US scientists accused of conducting Nazi experiments on Amazonian Indians - hundreds killed
Eminent anthropologists, together with the geneticist James Neel, conducted a secret programme of experiments on Yanomami Indians for the American Atomic Energy Commission, resulting in the deaths of hundreds, claims a new book. Survival, the international organisation supporting tribal peoples' rights, received an advance copy of the manuscript this morning. Today Survival stated that one of the anthropologists involved was also responsible for racist theories that have seriously compromised Yanomami safety and welfare for more than 30 years.
American journalist Patrick Tierney produces evidence in his book, Darkness in El Dorado, that geneticist James Neel and anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon were involved in experiments for the American Atomic Energy Commission which greatly exacerbated, and 'probably started', a severe measles epidemic that killed hundreds of Yanomami in the late 1960s.
These experiments were designed to provide support for Neel's belief in eugenic theories. Tierney reports that Neel ordered colleagues not to provide medical assistance to the dying Yanomami, but simply observe and record the epidemic. If these allegations are true, they constitute a crime against humanity and Survival urges the Venezuelan and American authorities to launch an immediate investigation. The book will be serialised in the New Yorker from the 2 October and published in November.
During this research Chagnon was producing his book, Yanomamo: the fierce people, published in 1968 and still a set text in anthropology courses worldwide. The work focusses on supposed Yanomami fierceness and propensity for warfare, presenting them as an outstandingly violent and aggressive people. Tierney in fact says that Chagnon himself repeatedly created conflicts among the tribe in which people were both maimed and killed. 'People should know that you are a big liar', said Yanomami spokesman Cesar Timanaxië in a letter to Chagnon.
Several anthropologists have long condemned Chagnon's view as unsubstantiated and inaccurate. Fiona Watson of Survival International, who has worked with the Yanomami for over 10 years, says 'they are no more or less violent than any other society.' Survival published criticism of Chagnon's theories in 1990.
Much of modern anthropological and development thinking is still influenced by these racist theories. For example, the British government refused a request by Survival for funding for a education project with the Yanomami in 1997, stating that any projects with the tribe should focus on 'reducing violence'.
Sir Edmund Leach, the leading British anthropologist of the 1960s and 1970s, was influenced by Chagnon when he refused to support Survival's campaign for Yanomami land rights, claiming 'the Yanomamo would then exterminate one another.' He has been proven wrong. Survival has been campaigning in support of the Yanomami since its foundation in 1969 and was instrumental in persuading both the Venezuelan and Brazilian governments to recognise their land rights in 1991 and 1992 respectively.
The Yanomami are the largest isolated tribe in the Americas. They number about 23,000 and are hunter gatherers and agriculturalists living in communities of up to 400 people. The Yanomami's history has in fact been (and still is) one of extreme violence against them. They still suffer high mortality rates from diseases introduced by goldminers who invaded their lands in the late 1980s. Many have also been killed by goldminers - this month a tribunal in Brazil rejected an appeal by five Brazilian miners against their conviction of genocide for massacring a Yanomami village in 1993.
Stephen Corry, director of Survival, says 'The Yanomami have suffered horrendously at the hands of miners and officials, as well as unscrupulous "scientists". It is time to ensure that they are properly protected and respected by recognising their right to own their own land, a right which Brazil still refuses to all Indian peoples.'
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