Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Source URL (Archive.org): http://www.tamu.edu/anthropology/Sponsel.html

Comment from Dr. Les Sponsel

Dr. Turner, myself, and a few other individuals actually read a pre-publication copy of Patrick Tierney's book --- unlike almost everyone gossiping about it in cyberspace and now the media. As a result of our careful reading of the book for the editor, Dr. Turner and I felt a professional, ethical, and moral obligation to alert top AAA officials to read the book ASAP, judge for themselves, and act accordingly when the inevitable inquiries would soon emerge in the media, profession, and beyond. (Anyone who reads the statements on ethics of the AAA on its website should understand and appreciate that). All we intended to do was to summarize some of the main allegations in Tierney's book in order to convince these officials that they are most serious and can not be ignored. We were never making these allegations ourselves, but merely reporting on what Tierney alleged. We had no other purpose whatsoever, only that one. We sent the letter only to top AAA officials and never intended or even imagined that the letter itself would go any further.

Now it is most regrettable and appalling that somewhere down the line some irresponsible individual(s) leaked the letter into cyberspace and that this has since been encouraged by naive, and in some cases, unscrupulous individuals.

It is also most regrettable and appalling that people are discussing Tierney's book in cyberspace, speculating, and jumping to conclusions about Chagnon, Tierney, ourselves, and others without even having read the book. Obviously we have no control over cyberspace, and many people in cyberspace are out of control. I can only assume that Chagnon and his automatic supporters have not read the book either. I suspect that everyone is in for quite a surprise when they do read the book and that many will probably regret their gossip in cyberspace and the media.

Most of all, it is most regrettable and appalling that in all of this ugly mess, very few individuals appear to have the YANOMAMI as their first priority. As far as I am concerned, ultimately what is most important by far is the survival, welfare, and rights of the Yanomami and other endangered indigenous peoples and ethnic groups. IF any of the numerous and diverse ALLEGATIONS that Tierney makes and extensively documents in his book after 10 years of investigative journalism are true, then, most of all, people should be most concerned about what they mean for the Yanomami and, as appropriate, explore the possibilities of some kinds of assistance and reparations to the Yanomami.

Tierney, of course is not the first to be concerned about such matters. As just one example, among numerous and diverse ones for over 30 years now, read Chapter 13 on pages 277-306 in R. Brian Ferguson's 1995 book, Yanomami Warfare: A Political History (School of American Research Press).

I sincerely hope that this may help elevate the discussions and debates to a much higher and more respectable level and to be more positive and constructive for the Yanomami and our profession who's public image and reputation now appears to have been put at risk by those in question IF any of the allegations which Tierney has exposed hold. As one highly respected Venezuelan anthropologist recently commented to me, "Once more you and I grieve for the Yanomami. It is so painful."

Read the book yourself, judge for yourself, and act accordingly following the dictates of professional ethics and personal conscience and morality.

Dr. Les Sponsel, Ph.D.
Former Chair, AAA Committee for Human Rights