Holmberg's Mistake Essay

Allen Holmberg was an anthropologist who studied at Cornell University, also serving as the head of the anthropology department - Holmberg's Mistake Essay introduction. During his time as a doctorate student, he lived with the Siriono, a Native American group settled in Bolivia. Holmberg studied the Siriono people and wrote a book, Nomads of the Longbow, of his findings. Although all of the information found in his book is accurate, Holmberg made a very critical mistake.

According to Holmberg, the Siriono were “among the most culturally backward people of the world.” He described them as a singularly worthless group who lived in constant hunger; have no clothes, domestic animals, art, or musical instruments; cannot count beyond the number three or make fire; and have nothing resembling religious belief or a coherent perception of the universe and their place in it. In short, the Siriono were essentially survivals from the distant Stone Age, having never, in thousands of years of existence, progressed beyond cultural infancy.

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That is where Allen Holmberg was incorrect. The fact that the language they spoke, Tupi-Guarani, was not the language spoke in Bolivia, but was the language far to the north, suggests that the Siriono people migrated south for one reason or another. During the 1940s, there was not an abundance of medicine, especially for illnesses that were not even known of.

Since the population was very small when Holmberg lived with them, the Siriono people had to have been mating with each other to keep their people in existence. During the 1940’s, racial discrimination was very popular. Hitler killed thousands of Jews because they were “different.” The same thing occurred in America with the Native Americans here. We settled in and went farther west in order to have more land. This had to have been the same type of situation that happened with the Siriono.

I did not really find the mistake in the handout that was given. I took me a little while to figure out what I was trying to find. I was definitely over-thinking. I finally figured it out in the last paragraph when it says “For millennia, the Siriono had existed almost without change….” If there were only 150 people in the group, there would be no way that the Siriono could have survived for millions of years. I also figured it out when I read about the language. People normally do not speak a different language other than the prominent language of the area.

Scholars should take into great consideration the history of a group of people before trying to conclude on their situation. If someone were to look at Jews after Hitler had them in concentration camps, they would easily conclude that all Jews are malnourished. This is exactly what Allen Holmberg did with the Siriono. If he had taken a look at them maybe 100 years ago, he would not have had the same conclusions as he did in 1942.

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