Darkness in El Dorado Controversy - Archived Document

Internet Source: Hopkins and Company, November 30, 2000
Source URL (Archive.org): http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/books/Darkness%20in%20El%20Dorado.htm

Book Reviews

Steve Hopkins

Darkness in el Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon by Patrick Tierney


The basis for anthropological fieldwork is a process referred to as participant observation. The anthropologist becomes immersed in a culture as both observer and participant. The risk in this methodology is that the presence of the anthropologist changes the culture, to some degree, and discernment is required to separate the impact of the scientist from his or her observations of the way of life of the people of the culture being studied. Patrick Tierney’s controversial new book, Darkness in el Dorado: How Scientists and Journalists Devastated the Amazon, presents a story of scientists gone amuk among the Yanomami in Brazil and Venezuela. A reader could well conclude after reading this book that the entire classical approach of anthropologists is corrupt and needs to change.

Around thirty years ago, I read Napoleon Chagnon’s classic book, The Fierce People, and was amazed at the culture Chagnon described. Tierney now claims, among things, that the warfare Chagnon highlighted in his book was of his own invention, staged later for filmed documentaries in villages created for the camera. Tierney claims that French anthropologist Jacques Lizot’s descriptions of sexual practices among the Yanomami reflected Lizot’s own predilections rather than those of the Yanomami. Tierney just about says that geneticist James Neel murdered hundreds of Yanomami through his vaccinations, intended to protect them from disease.

Anthropologists disagree with each other’s theories and practices more often than they seem to agree, and we haven’t heard the last word about the Yanomami in this book.