Thursday 1st of December 2022

Rousseau's noble savage VS the rapists of the empire...

here to help...

Despite the popularity of The Fierce People, Chagnon’s findings have been severely criticized by others who have extensive experience of the Yanomami. Many anthropologists, doctors and missionaries that have worked over many decades with the Yanomami simply do not recognize Chagnon’s characterizations, and profoundly disagree with his depiction of the tribe.

On 19 February 2013, Chagnon released his autobiography, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes – The Yanomamö and the Anthropologists.

Many anthropologist specialists in the Yanomami of Venezuela and Brazil have signed an open letter condemning Chagnon’s characterization of the Yanomami.

Eminent anthropologist Marshall Sahlins explains how Chagnon exploited his Yanomami subjects to achieve his aims. Sahlins recently resigned from the US National Academy of Sciences in protest at Napoleon Chagnon’s election to the Academy.

Leading Brazilian professor of anthropology Eduardo Viveiros de Castro says the Yanomami are anything but the nasty, callous, sociobiological robots Chagnon makes them look like.

Prominent anthropologists Philippe Descola and Manuela Carneiro da Cunha have issued statements about Chagnon’s work and Sahlins’s resignation.

Experts wrote to the Daily Telegraph, to protest at an article repeating Chagnon’s views in 2001.

Carlo Zacquini, a Catholic lay missionary who has worked and lived among Yanomami for nearly 50 years, ‘never found them to be violent’.

The Yanomami speak out

Hear what Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami spokesman and President of Hutukara, had to say about The Fierce People and Noble Savages in interviews with Survival.

In an excerpt taken from La chute du ciel, Paroles d’un chaman Yanomami, by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert, he discusses the violence of Western societies.

Whilst a few Yanomami may die in conflicts, far more have been killed by outsiders in violent attacks or by the diseases they have brought in.

Between 1989 and 1993 it is estimated that nearly 20% of the Yanomami in Brazil died from diseases introduced by the gold miners. These invasions still pose huge threats to their health and security. Davi Kopenawa warns:

Today our real enemies are the gold miners, the cattle farmers and all those who want to seize our land. Our anger must be directed at them. That’s what I think.


The greatest tragedy in this story is that the real Yanomami have largely been written out of it, as the media have chosen to focus only on the salacious details of the debate that rages between anthropologists, or on Chagnon’s disputed characterizations. Rarely mentioned is the fact that The Fierce People had disastrous repercussions for the Yanomami, and tribal peoples in general.

Read how Brazil’s military dictatorship was influenced by the characterization of the Yanomami as hostile to each other.

See why UK government refused to fund an education project with the Yanomami.

More recently Chagnon’s research has been used by Jared Diamond in his controversial new bookThe World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies? to back his erroneous claim that ‘most’ ‘traditional’ societies like the Yanomami exist in a state of ‘constant warfare’; that they are far more violent than industrialized societies; and that they welcome ‘pacification’ by the state.

Diamond’s book has been condemned by Survival director Stephen Corryindigenous organizations and academics, and his arguments compared to those of European colonists, who sought justification for the brutalities of imperialism.


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measuring sticks...

Yesterday I wrote an article about someone called Anne Applebaum who works for the Legatum Institute. The institute is shameless about introducing "Western values" in poor areas of Africa. By poor one should consider not yet in touch with the glorious concepts of Macdonald and Cocal Cola. By poor one needs to also see someone whose land has not been exploited for profits and is not indebted to the eyeballs.

Here we have to look at the difference between a social system and a society. A system will provide, without any specific order — hospital, schooling, defence, exchange of relative values, rules, enterprises, hygiene, profits, control of the ownership, food standards and supplies, employment/unemployment, all under a provision of growth. A lot of the achievements are done by delegation and refinements of skills, exclusivity and enticement by hope of betterment and glory.


A society will be mostly organised about people doing things together with no exchange value except the survival of the group. There no growth, no debt, no dependency beyond being part of the group. Individual needs are those of the group. Sharing is the centrepiece of well-being.



So what is the work of Legatum...?:


The 2014 Legatum Prosperity Index is based on 89 different variables analysed across 142 nations around the world. Source data includes Gallup World Poll, World Development Indicators, International Telecommunication Union, Fragile States Index, Worldwide Governance Indicators, Freedom House, World Health Organisation, World Values Survey, Amnesty International, Centre for Systemic Peace. The 89 variables are grouped into 8 sub-indexes, which are averaged using equal weights. The 8 sub-indexes are:


Entrepreneurship & Opportunity




Safety & Security

Personal Freedom

Social Capital

For example, Personal Freedom includes freedom of speech and religion, national tolerance for immigrants and ethnic and racial minorities. The Social Capital sub-index includes the percentage of citizens who volunteer, give to charity, help strangers, and who feel they can rely on family and friends.





Studies have shown that tribal people on their own land are some of the happiest in the world – the nomadic Maasai tribe were found to be just as happy as the world’s richest billionaires.

Tribal peoples’ lives are not static, or ‘stuck in the past’ – they adopt new ideas and adapt to new situations just as we all do. We are all living in the 21st Century. It is simple prejudice that makes us think some peoples are ‘modern’ whilst others are ‘backwards’.

This prejudice is used to justify displacing tribal peoples and pushing them into the ‘mainstream’ – on the assumption that ‘experts’ know what is best for them.

A striking example of this was the argument that mining company Vedanta Resources used to defend the devastating impact that their mine would have on the lives of the Dongria Kondh. The Dongria are united against the mine, they distrust and reject Vedanta’s claim that the company will bring development. Instead the Dongria choose to live their own way of life on their land.

"When tribal peoples’ land is taken they are stripped of their self-sufficiency, dignity and all that made their lives rich. They become the poorest of the poor."


One-fifth of our tribal population is already on the street, nearly 20 million people lost, uprooted, displaced, wandering around.

Tribal peoples’ lands are still being stolen, their rights violated and their futures destroyed. And now the vital law protecting tribal peoples’ land rights is under threat. This must stop.
Only tribal people should decide and control what, if any, changes they want in their lives.

"Land is what will see us through, not only us but our children. We get two or three harvests a year. We are not dependent on anyone. We will not give up our land for anything in this world."


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the wrong images of africa...


Africa is poor, but we can try to help its people.

It's a simple statement, repeated through a thousand images, newspaper stories and charity appeals each year, so that it takes on the weight of truth. When we read it, we reinforce assumptions and stories about Africa that we've heard throughout our lives. We reconfirm our image of Africa.

Try something different. Africa is rich, but we steal its wealth.

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