Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

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Chagnon Responds To Survival International's Derogatory Claims

I would like to register a strong protest against the insinuations in the May 29 Survival International News Release. It claims that one Dirk Wittenborn, author of a novel entitled "Fierce People", allegedly said on a BBC broadcast on 29 May that the Yanomamv Indians I have spent some 30 years studying were "the meanest people on the planet." SI implies that Wittenborn's statement was 'inspired' by my work. Stephen Corry of Survival International indicates that SI intends to complain to the Broadcasting Standards Commission about this allegedly racist statement.

On this logic, a claim that the Yanomamv Indians are "the most peaceful people on the planet" would appear to be equally racist.

Survival's news release also claims that Wittenborn's opinion "appears to be based on the work of the highly controversial anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon" whose work has been "heavily criticized and discredited by other anthropologists" as "thoroughly biased and even fabricated."

I want to register an even stronger protest against Survival International's deliberate and libelous misrepresentation of my work and my academic reputation. Who are these anthropologists who claim to have discredited my work and shown it to be biased and even fabricated? Corry should provide the names and credentials of these mysterious anthropologists and in what publications they have convincingly demonstrated thisSapart from politically inspired denunciations. My hunch is that many of the anthropologists who regard my work as "discredited" are either now or have in the past been associated with, receive support from, or are radical anthropologists sympathetic to the corporate and political objectives of Survival International. As a corporation, SI is in competition for cash donations with several other similar NGOs like Cultural Survival, based in Boston, the Brazilian-based Pro-Yanomamv organization known as CCPy---the 'commission for the protection of the Yanomamv'---and several others. This latest news release by Survival International should be viewed in this context.

Survival International should be viewed as an 'industrial strength' international corporation attempting to gain an edge on it's competitors for donations to it's allegedly worthwhile causes. They, like all corporations, have to pay rent, pay staff, pay for advertising, pay for trips to distant places by their "campaigners" etc. Corry assures the reader that "A Survival campaigner who recently returned from visiting the Yanomami is available for interview." Is this "campaigner" one of the anthropologists Corry refers to earlier? Somebody who "campaigns" is engaged in a political or an economic activity. Anthropologists are supposed to collect empirical data by spending long periods of time with the tribesmen they study and report on.

SI and its competitors seemingly need and want the Yanomamv to be in their own "portfolios" because the Yanomamv are now one of the most famous remaining tribes on earth and a much-sought-after prize because their "plight" translates into more financial contributions made by sympathetic donors. The more downtrodden and exploited the Yanomamv can be made to be, the more likely donors will contribute out of a sense of guilt because THEIR OWN civilization and it's agents caused this lamentable and tragic situation. Something of a political race then ensues. Each corporate competitor must outdo the other in the pursuit of the prized Yanomamv---by expanding the list of Evil Doers or exaggerating their alleged crimes AND attempting to make tribesmen appear to have absolutely no human faults, blemishes, or defects. Any allusion to human defects---like being mean---is denounced as a racist statement. A blemish-free tribesman is easier to package and market, a more profitable commodity. This assumption appears to be based on racism. It seems to imply that people will not help the Yanomamv if they have ordinary human defects. Most normal people are quite willing to save people like the Yanomamv, blemishes and all.

Finally, I want to challenge Corry's insinuation that my research and publications on the Yanomamv have directly led to Brazilian governmental polices that do harm to the Yanomamv. This assertion has been so frequently repeated by my radical anthropological detractors and groups like SI that it approximates a Truth in their circles. I recently asked a prominent Brazilian journalist, who follows both my work and official Brazilian government policies as these relate to the Brazilian Yanomamv, to investigate this accusation. Here is his response:

Date: Thu, 08 Mar 2001 18:36:16 -0300
From: Euripedes Alcantara
Organization: VEJA
To: Napoleon Chagnon

I can assure you that I could not find a trace of Brazilian officials use of your work as a justification of a certain policy towards the Yanomamo. I have asked people on high ranks of the military, Funai and the Congress. They have searched on my request almost all documents related to the Brazilian indians policy. Nobody mentions your work as grounds for treating the indians one way or another.

-- Napoleon A. Chagnon

Original Press Release from Survival InternationaL