Anthropologist fights to regain access to Venezuela Indians
By BART JONES
CARACAS -- Napoleon Chagnon helped make the Yanomami Indians one of the
most famous tribes on earth with a groundbreaking study that became a classic
But Venezuelan officials don't want him anywhere near the endangered Stone
tribe. They claim his accounts of wife-beating, club fights and deadly raids on
enemy villages are exaggerations, and that he is provoking conflicts within the tribe.
Venezuelan authorities have banned him from Yanomami territory off and
the mid-'70s. In August, they rebuffed his latest attempt to return after a five-year
Chagnon is fighting back, though, and getting support from prominent colleagues.
The ban is ``outrageous,'' says Robin Fox, an anthropologist at Rutgers
in New Jersey. ``I consider him one of the truly great anthropologists of our time.''
Chagnon says he is being punished because he has criticized a powerful
Roman Catholic missionaries and angered left-wing anthropologists by
contradicting the myth of primitive people as ``noble savages.''
``My views are absolutely politically incorrect,'' says Chagnon, an anthropologist
the University of California at Santa Barbara.
Without a trace of modesty, he adds: ``I know more about the Yanomami and
their numbers and their villages than anyone on earth.''
His detractors scoff at that assertion.
``There's not a single Yanomami specialist who agrees with Chagnon's theories.
He's completely wrong,'' says French anthropologist Jacques Lizot, one of a
handful of experts on the tribe.
Until a decade or so ago, the Yanomami were living in isolation in one
of the least
explored areas of South America.
Today, some still go naked or wear loincloths, pierce their noses or lower
sticks, and live in communal thatched huts called shabonos.
The tribe has about 23,000 members in Venezuela and neighboring Brazil.
scientists say contact with illegal gold miners and Christian missionaries is
threatening their traditions and their survival.
Chagnon, now 60, moved into one village in Venezuela in 1964. Four years
he published Yanomamo: The Fierce People. The book sold 800,000 copies.
In it he wrote that violence and warfare were common. His studies showed
one in four Yanomami men were axed, clubbed or shot to death with arrows.
What's more, those who killed enemies got more wives and had more children
than those who didn't kill.
``The Yanomami themselves call themselves fierce,'' he says.
Critics were aghast.
The Yanomami are ``a generally fun-loving and peaceful people,'' says a
published by London-based Survival International, an Indian rights group.
Chagnon ``has greatly exaggerated Yanomami belligerence,'' it adds.
Chagnon says he came up with the findings because he is the only anthropologist
who has ever lived in a Yanomami village at war and collected statistics on violent