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Darkness in El Dorado by Patrick Tierney: A case of highly selective investigative journalism

By Jane B. Lancaster, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico

The book, Darkness in El Dorado, by Patrick Tierney is filled with a series of accusations ranging from misconduct, unprofessional conduct, to downright illegal and immoral acts. The book is also impressively documented with 58 pages of footnotes, another 10 pages of references cited, and 90 personal interviews. The average reader is put in the position of having to accept such massive documentation as being as accurate and unbiased as such lengthy referencing would imply. However, when specific sources relied upon by Tierney are compared with the way Tierney uses them, a very different pattern emerges: one of highly selective use of sources in ways that support Tierney's main arguments and the omission of much more substantive materials which contradict him. I give only two examples from first person accounts that he relies upon heavily for particular points but ignores when they speak to others.

Spirit of the Rainforest: A Yanomamo shaman's story by Mark Andrew Ritchie Chicago, Island Lake Press, 1996, 271 pages.

Tierney relies heavily on Chapter 9 of this book for the materials on Jacque Lizot in his Chapter 8, "Erotic Indians". Tierney cites Ritchie's book 12 times in support of his accusations of sexual abuse of young boys by Lizot. However, Jacques Lizot is not the main subject of Ritchie's book. Rather the book is the life story of a Yanomamo shaman, Jungleman, as told to Richie.

The text of Jungleman's life story is about the behavior of the shaman as a Yanomamo warrior and his relationship to his guardian spirits. The book describes approximately 45 years of inter-village raiding beginning in 1950 and continuing to the present. These raids center on the capture of women who are repeatedly gang raped before being divvied up among their captors. These gang rapes continue even during the time period when men who have killed on the raid are going through a process of purification before reentering normal Yanomamo society. The raids lead to many deaths, especially of male defenders, and infants and male children who are murdered by the victors before their mothers are taken off. These murders include grizzly descriptions of house poles covered with babies' brains and of a toddler rectally impaled on the end of a sharp bow. It seems hard to believe that Tierney, who used this source so extensively to indict Lizot, could not have read the rest of the book about stealing women. Further stories tell about the murder or mutilation of women who try to flee abusive husbands or return to their original villages. In the 45 years of raiding described by Jungleman, the raids are motivated to gaining access to women or retrieving women who have been stolen or have run away, or for revenge for previous raids. These stories are completely opposite to the claim by Tierney in Chapter 10 ("To murder and to multiply") that Yanomamo inter-village warfare is a response to the introduction of trade goods by whites and most especially by the Neel and Chagnon expeditions. It is particularly astonishing that Jungleman's interviews are never referenced in this chapter which has 157 footnotes.

Yanoama: The narrative of a white girl kidnapped by Amazonian Indians as told to Ettore Biocca. New York: Dutton, 1971, 382 pages.

This life story by Elena Valera describes her 17 years among the Yanomamo after she was captured in 1937 at the age of eleven. During her first year among the Yanomamo she changed hands three times as she was captured in raids by different villages. One of the raids included 50 women captured by the Karawatari warriors following days of flight with the Kohoroshiwetari, her first captors. When the women are finally taken by over 100 warriors, there is a slaughter of infants and male children and their mothers and female children are split up among the victors.

In spite of this narrative,Tierney uses Elena Valera's story to support his claim that Yanomamo raided for trade goods not women. He states (pp. 28-29) that prior to the arrival of missionaries in the 1940's, the Namowei Yanomami had lived in peace for a generation. Their only raiding parties had gone out searching for whites in order to steal machetes. He quotes Valera in describing her first capture that "the Indians did not want to capture women, just madohe (stuff)." This quote, although used very differently by Tierney, was really her explanation that, when raiding whites, Yanomamo were seeking goods Furthermore, Tierney neglects to recount the second and third capture of Valera when Yanomamo men were raiding strictly to capture women. Although the capture of these women and the scene of babies heads being bashed against rocks would seem to be unforgettable to the average reader, Tierney did not seem to remember them, only stories by Elena after her final capture by a famous warrior with whom she lived for many years before her escape.

Tierney's use of the Jungleman and Valera life histories to support his thesis and then totally ignoring in these same sources major eyewitness and participant accounts of women capture, rape and the murder of children is not an example of investigative journalism that we can trust. Although his documentation with footnotes and citation of sources would seem impressive, it does not hold up to straightforward tests of what the sources really say and what Tierney reports them to say. These distortions give testament to a lack of journalistic responsibility and ethics.

Jane B. Lancaster
Professor of Anthropology and Editor, Human Nature
Department of Anthropology
University of New Mexico
Albuquerque, NM 87131
Phone: (505 )277-4323
Fax: (505) 277-0874
E-mail: jlancas@unm.edu