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Anthropology 1 2005 - Sara Carlson December 2 2005...

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Sara Carlson December 2, 2005 Anthropology 1 The Demise of the Yanomamo In the Amazon region of South America, divided by the border between Brazil and Venezuela, live an isolated group of people called the Yanomamo. They are among the last traditionally subsistent economies in the world. The Yanomamo people are horticulturalists and hunter-gatherers who live in villages with their descent groups and their leader has the role of a village head. Up until recent decades, the Yanomamo had lived completely out of touch with the rest of the world, only making contact with other villages of Yanomamo. The anthropologist Napoleon A. Chagnon has made many visits to multiple villages since 1964 and has had a major role in the affairs of the Yanomamo people, and continues to do so. He has observed the changes caused by contacts from various people throughout the time he has worked with them and he has also served as an agent of change for the Yanomamo. Ever since their first contact with the outside world, the Yanomamo people have changed in many ways, usually for the worse. Chagnon has left a very big impression on the Yanomamo people because of his long- term involvement with the different villages. He was the first major outside contact to the Yanomamo people because he was studying their culture and lived with them in their villages. In order to learn about the descent groups of the Yanomamo, Chagnon had to get the people to tell them the names of their relatives, a taboo among their people (p.19). While Chagnon was living there he brought his own food, thereby introducing modern manufactured food to the people. These are both very minor changes to the Yanomamo culture that didn’t negatively affect the people. Chagnon did make more substantial changes by giving the Yanomamo medicines when they were sick. The Yanomamo desired these medications because they cured their children and lessened the mortality rates. Chagnon did not want to make many changes to their culture 1
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because he was interested in observation, not alteration. He would trade with the Yanomamo once he figured out their trading systems and how to handle their incessant demands. As time went on and the Yanomamo’s exposure to the outside world increased, Chagnon felt that it was a good thing to introduce the people to materials that would improve their quality of life. But in the early years, Chagnon kept his intervention with outside materials as fairly minimal. The motives of Chagnon’s contact with the Yanomamo people were purely learning- based as an anthropologist. Although he might have made some mistakes in his field work, he was no intending to harm the Yanomamo people. He wanted to learn a lot from the people’s culture and aid them by providing medical attention and some new trade items that they did not have access to. However, there are some that question his motives with the Yanomamo, primarily Tierney’s article on anthropologist intervention. Tierney accused Chagnon of increasing violence between the villages in order to have better observations. He claimed that
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