Darkness in El Dorado - Archived Document
Anthropological Niche of Douglas W. Hume
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Internet Source: Outside Magazine, September, 2000
Source URL: http://www.outsidemag.com/magazine/200009/200009review5.html


Darkness in El Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, by Patrick Tierney (Norton, $28). Tierney, an activist for Latin American indigenous peoples and author of the 1989 book The Highest Altar: The Story of Human Sacrifice, spent a decade compiling this wide-ranging indictment of the treatment of the Amazon's famed Yanomami Indians. As Tierney tells it, the seminomadic Yanomami have been victimized for decades by unscrupulous U.S. government scientists, Western journalists, and anthropologists like Napoleon Chagnon, the American author of the influential 1968 study Yanomamö: The Fierce People, in which he argued that the tribe's warlike tendencies centered around sexual competition. Tierney uses Chagnon's own words to suggest that the anthropologist himself brought instability to the region, encouraging the Yanomami to compete for goods and to stage feasts for his films. Tierney also describes how Chagnon cooperated with Atomic Energy Commission scientists in the 1960s, carrying out unethical blood tests on the Yanomami for use in radiation studies. But Tierney's accusations are so varied and sweeping that they raise questions about his objectivity. He excitedly charges that a NOVA/BBC film crew staged scenes and inadvertently introduced malaria while working on a 1996 documentary, and he repeats stories accusing one anthropologist of seducing Yanomami boys, without offering adequate documentation. Tierney amasses a great many disturbing anecdotes, but one wishes that a cooler head had evaluated them.