Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: The Clarion Online Edition, November 2000
Source URL: http://www.santarosa.edu/~sthoemke/theclarion/2000/november/11.html


Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor:

As you may have guessed, this letter is about the much anticipated book, "Darkness in El Dorado". This book, by Patrick Tierney, will require a lot of damage control at the next national anthropology meeting that is scheduled to occur midwinter in San Francisco.

As I read the book, my deepest concerns were for the groups of Indian tribes and the Amazon basin in which they live. Needless to say, there have been many people involved in the development of the Amazon region over several centuries, and one can question the motives and ethics of those that have come into the region. However the story deals mainly with the impact of scientists, journalists and miners who have gone into this area over the last 45 years.

The main character in the story is a man by the name of Napoleon Chagnon, a highly regarded and influential anthropologist from the University of California at Santa Barbara. Chagnon made his first visit to the Yanomami in 1964. Since then over 4 million students of anthropology have bought his textbook, Yanomamo, the Fierce People. (Actually in anthropology, he is second in importance only to Margaret Meade who has also been debunked.)

The first portion of the book is aptly entitled: "How the Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon." The impact of Chagnon and his co-workers goes beyond anything that I would have imagined. Consider flying in a crew to an Indian village to make a TV documentary. Consider using a helicopter to approach a native thatched hut. Of course being a man of action, Chagnon also got involved in the mining and the devastation it caused as well.

The embarrassing thing for the anthropologists is that the theories that Chagnon went out to prove, have backfired on him in time. One of his thoughts was that the Yanomami were fierce and that fierceness was important in their culture and reproduction. It turns out that the Yanomami are not fierce except in competition for the steel goods that Chagnon and others bring in. Thus much of that which he and other anthropologists have taught must now be changed radically.

You may recognize some of the other names in the story that have been or will be in the fallout: E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Marcel Roche, Jacques Lizot, James Neel, Robin Fox, Claude Levi-Strauss and Madeleine Albright.

In conclusion may I repeat the following quotation from some recent communications regarding this book made within the American Anthropological Association: "This book should shake anthropology to its very foundations. It should cause the field to understand how the corrupt and depraved protagonists could have spread their poison for so long while they were recorded great respect throughout the Western World and generations of undergraduates received their lies as the introductory substance of anthropology. This should never be allowed to happen again."

Les MacLeod