Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

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Statement of the Brazilian Anthropological Association read at the open discussion on "Ethical Issues in Field Research Among the Yanomami" at the annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, San Francisco, CA, November 16, 2000

The ABA (Brazilian Anthropological Association) was founded in 1955 and is one of the oldest and largest scientific and professional societies of Brazil. The Association has a code of ethics and an ethics committee. The ABA has always stressed the commitment of its members to the groups they study and the importance of ethical behavior when carrying out research. Since there is a growing concern about ethics among its members, the new board of the ABA elected last July chose Ethics in Anthropological Research as the central theme for the period 2000-2002. We are developing a number of workshops that will discuss this subject in its different dimensions and plan to publish the results of our discussions and establish new guidelines for our members.

In 1988 the ABA had to take a stand on the harmful effects of Napoleon Chagnon's article entitled "Life Histories, Blood Revenge, and Warfare in a Tribal Population" (published in Science, vol. 239, 1988, pp. 985-992) in relation to the Yanomami whose lands were being invaded by gold prospectors and whose health and survival was in great danger. Both the US and Brazilian press picked up on Chagnon's article and published pieces that nearly destroyed the chances of the Yanomami in Brazil of having their territory properly demarcated. At the time, the military in charge of the indigenous land demarcations declared that the Yanomami would not be granted a continuous area because they kept killing each other. The consequences were so serious that the ABA warned the AAA about the ethical and political implications of Chagnon's article and, in a letter published in Anthropology Newsletter of January 1989, urged the AAA to take appropriate action. We were informed that the request was forwarded to the Ethics Committee but, as far as we know, nothing was done then. The recent controversy around unethical behavior toward the Yanomami on the part of US scientists confirms the position that the ABA took twelve years ago.

The ABA recognizes the right and the responsibility of a researcher to report his or her results, regardless of their political acceptability; however, if those results are taken up and used by others for politicl or social purposes inconsistent with the original intent of the researcher, it is his or her ethical responsibility to speak out against such misuse. Professor Chagnon has never publicly objected to the use of his statements by forces attempting to justify the invasion and dismemberment of Yanomami territory in Brazil.

Since the news about Patrick Tierney's Darkness in El Dorado first appeared, the ABA has been closely following the ensuing debate. We have informed our members about the controversy prompted by the publication of this book and referred them to the AAA's statement on its website. Many Brazilian newspapers and weekly magazines have run stories about the book.

The ABA is interested in developing links with the AAA as a way of strengthening relations between Brazilian and North American anthropologists. There is a long history of North American anthropologists who have taught and carried out research in Brazil and there are several Brazilian anthropologists who have studied, taught or carried out research in the United States. More formal, institutional cooperation between the two associations could further these ties. It would also help to promote a dialogue as regards ethical guidelines in anthropological research.

November 9, 2000

Rubin George Oliven


Associacao Brasileira de Antropologia
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91509-900 Porto Alegre, RS, Brasil
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E para correspondencia:
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