What Makes the Yanomamo Primitive? Bailey Lee Monterey Peninsula College Keywords: Primitive, Yanomamo, Angeloni Abstract Through examination of the book Angeloni’s Annual Editions Anthropology we will discuss what makes the Yanomamo primitive. Using various definitions of the word primitive, as well as psychology of understanding we will define what it truly means to be primitive. We will look at the Problems with Ethnography which may lead to the belief of a population being Primitive as well. It is thought that the Yanomamo are Primitive in nature, but at a closer look we will question this assumption and prove it wrong.
It is not the Yanomamo themselves which are primitive but rather our own views as well as the society which we know and understand which make them so. Body In Angeloni’s Annual Editions Anthropology the Yanomamo are described as such “The Yanomamo? are thinly scattered over a vast and verdant tropical forest, living in small villages that are separated by many miles of unoccupied land.
They have no writing, but they have a rich and complex language. Their clothing is more decorative than protective.
Well-dressed men sport nothing more than a few cotton strings around their wrists, ankles, and waists. They tie the foreskins of their penises to the waist string. Women dress about the same. ” The article goes on to describe the Yanomamo’s simple daily life, their aggression, their low life expectancy rate, and their poor hygiene. Napoleon Chagnon walks the reader through what would seem a horrible experience with the Yanomamo. He begins his experience sharing his excitement and expectations of the Yanomamo “In a few minutes I was to meet my first Yanomamo, my first primitive man. Chagnon goes on to depict his visions of success and romanticize what the Yanomamo people must be like. “I had visions of entering the village and seeing 125 social facts running about altruistically calling each other kinship terms and sharing food, each waiting and anxious to have me collect his genealogy. ” As Chagnon enters the village he illustrates in detail just how wrong his precognition about the Yanomamo was. He describes his first visual of the Yanomamo as “a dozen burly, naked, sweaty, hideous men staring at us down the shafts of their drawn arrows. Chagnon then continues to describe the mucus that runs from their nostrils to their pectoral muscles painting a pictures for the reader of uncivilized behavior. “We arrived at the Village while the men were blowing a hallucinogenic drug up their noses. One of the side effects of the drug is a runny nose. The mucus is always saturated with the green powder and they usually let it run down freely from their nostrils. ” As you continue on reading it becomes increasingly clear that the eyes with which you see the Yanomamo through paint the very picture of a primitive population.
Earlier in Angeloni’s Annual Editions Anthropology one article points out some of the problems with Ethnography, including but not limited to the fact that “ethnographers are not always successful in guarding against a temptation to romanticize the otherness of the people they study. ” Another problem is the bias of the Ethnographer, and his own interpretation, as well as expectations. In Ethnographic studies, when going to a remote land to study a population, do we go expecting primitive behavior? Perhaps it is in this assumption of primitiveness before even having seen it that we search it out, thus creating what we wish to see.
Discussion Psychology shows us that people often perceive members of outgroups (“them”) is less human than members of their ingroup (“us”). In America, we see ourselves as far more developed, in democracy, in education, in our morals, etc. this can easily be see in examples such as the war in Iraq and our determination to “liberate” them, or our strive to help less developed countries, be it by donating money to help educate small children, or simply buying a brand of water knowing that a percent of the profit goes to helping “developing” countries have clean water.
This sense of higher superiority does not just end with Americans, it is all human nature. The Chinese felt it was their duty to liberate India and bring them out of their “primitive” behaviors, In Australia, studies show that White Australians associate themselves as more human that Asian Australians, meanwhile Asian Australians feel they are more human than that of the white Australians. It is Human nature to see others as less developed or “primitive” so to speak. This is no different for our views of the Yanomamo.
Before even meeting the Yanomamo, Chagnon already had a preconceived notion of what and who they are. His use of the words “my” when referring to them showed his feelings of superiority and his use of words like “primitive man” or referring to them as “social facts” dehumanizes them. Chagnon expressed his thoughts of them “waiting and anxious” to have him collect his genealogy, this shows his thoughts of superiority, of the Yanomamo people feeling excited to have someone as high and sophisticated as him eager to learn their information.
Chagnon proceeds through his study by locking himself away from the Yanomamo, creating a barrier metaphorically speaking, lying about even his food so he can avoid sharing it, telling them it is feces of cattle. The lies about his food disgust the people, on the upside for Chagnon the people loose interest in his food, but the negative connotation also leaves the people to perhaps view him as primitive and strange, thus their views of him become as his views of them.
Meanwhile Chagnon sought personal information from them yet was willing to give none, This negatively affected the Yanomamos trust, creating tension which Chagnon used to paint the portrait of primitive behavior in the Yanomamo. In Angeloni’s “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” the writer depicts the American rituals of beauty and health from an outside perspective, demonstrating just how much authority the writer has, and how a writers bias can easily affect the readers opinion of the subject in question.
Could this not be said for Chagnon’s writes on the Yanomamo as well? Chagnon makes it very clear to the reader that their ways are different from what we know, meanwhile the reader concludes their lack of “modern” technology, or “modern” medicine, as well as their way of life, points us to the belief that because they are different, they are Primitive. But are there not things that we can learn from them? Is it not possible that in their eyes, we ourselves are not primitive?
We look at them and see lack of modern technology, but what do they see when they look at us? Without our technology, and medicine, would we be able to survive, or would we perish in our inability to live off the land. Does this not make us, in a sense, “primitive? ” It is not our actions, or the actions of the Yanomamo that makes them, primitive, it is simply our own Bias and interpretation of their culture and comparison to our own. References Angeloni, Elvio 2011 Annual Editions: Anthropology 11/12, 34th Edition. McGraw-Hill
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