Arguably, in the study of different cultures, it is the obligation of every anthropologist to have adequate planning and forethought before setting out on their field work study. In this particular regard, both Napoleon Chagnon and Kenneth Good became two of the most famous anthropologists after their studies of the different lifestyles of the Yanomamo people who lived in the Amazon jungle. Precisely, Anthropologists Napoleon Chagnon who wrote Yanomamo: The Fierce People (case studies in cultural anthropology) and Kenneth Good, the author of the book Into the Heart: One Mans Pursuit of Love and Knowledge among the Yanomamo both coexisted and assimilated themselves into the lives of the people from a culture different from theirs so as to understand the inside view as well as the cultural lifestyles of these people. Nonetheless, while both anthropologists set out for their field work with one common purpose, which was to study the Yanomami people, their books both give significant differences about the lifestyle, attitude and the rituals performed by the Yanomamo people.
To begin with, in the book Yanomamo: The Fierce People (Case Studies in Cultural Anthropology) anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon gives an account of his ethnography of the Yanomamo Indians of Venezuela, an American Indian tribe that particularly lived between Venezuela and Brazil, in the Amazon Forest. Based on the fact that Chagnons key objective was to collect the genealogies of the residents of the villages that he studied, he describes the Yanomamo people as people who lived in a culture that was prone to petty disputes, specifically over their women and hence the war that existed between the villages. Besides, based on his study, Chagnon painted the cultural image of the Yanomamo people as the world in which the murder, chronic warfare, gang rape and discrimination against the female gender were their everyday facts of life. Additionally, with regard to their way of lives, Chagnon describes the culture of the Yanomamo people as one that is characterized by semi-nomadism since the tribe's people practice slash and burn horticulture, fishing and also hunting, for survival.
The contrast between the two cultures, one that was studied by Chagnon and that other by Kenneth Good is evidenced by the fact that unlike Chagnon, Mr. Good accounts that the culture of the Yanomamo people was characterized by hardworking people who fed themselves, had their families exceedingly close and also had no characteristics of noble savages. Besides, unlike in Chagnons account, in his book Into the Heart: One Mans Pursuit of Love and Knowledge among the Yanomamo, Kenneth Good gives an account of the culture of the Yanomami people based on his key area of interest which was Yanomamos hunting and gathering techniques which was particularly inclusive of their protein culture and the manner in which such activities related to the constant violence of their culture. Also, evidenced by the offer that Good received from the village headman to marry a less than 12 years bride, early marriages among the women was one common cultural practice among the Yanomamo. As a common cultural practice by these people, marriages were not consummated for any particular period. Instead, the central idea was that immediately after a girl had their first menses, she was already expected to have a husband and protector. Similarly, in cases where women who were past the puberty age did not have husbands, they became vulnerable to routine rape by fellow village men.
Besides, in his book, Chagnon describes the land that was occupied by the Yanomamo people as a potentially idyllic world that abundantly offered both edible flora and game to feed all the villagers in the 150 villages. With regard to the character and social behaviors of the Yanomamo, Chagnon points out that these people lived in a culture that was dominated by polygamous males from each village who also fought often and viciously and hence the reason why they all seemed to revel in ferocity. More specifically, Chagnon explains that the violence and atrocities amongst these tribes always stemmed from the competition for their reproductive resources, better known as their women. In this regard, men from one of the villages would kidnap the women from another village or in some other cases, two men from the same village would fight over a woman that they both desire. The aftermath of this kind of competition was in many cases the death of one of the men after which, the village would fission. In Chagnons account, fissioning of the village involved close relatives of the victim leaving their initial home for them to establish another village of their own. The relatives of the other male, on the other hand, would attack the other village with armed bows and arrows and raid the original village and this always resulted in the feud of blood vengeance which mainly lasted for years.
Besides, in his book, Kenneth Good gives an account that critically contrasts that of Chagnon who depicted the people as fierce and violent. According to Mr. Good, the Yanomamo people are culturally characterized by love and unity. Notably, the Yanomamos had a unique social structure that was did not revolve any form of social hierarchy. More precisely, Good points out that through his experience living with these people, it was evident that the status among the men was not ascribed, but was rather achieved. Also, concerning the Yanomamo women, they were characterized by settling into the role of becoming a housemaid right at a very young age. This being the case, Good contends that the Yanomamo people adorn themselves so as to discover deeper aspects of the tribes culture. Specifically, the men are considered as the dominant forces in the villages and for this reason, they automatically enjoy much higher status than the women. One of the common social roles that was particularly played by the men was to oversee feasts and ceremonial occasions while their women were expected to take a well deserved rest.
Additionally, with respect to Chagnons first encounter with the Yanomami people, it is evident that they were deemed as the largest un-acculturated indigenous group on the face of the earth. In his account, some of the unique cultural practices of the Yanomamo was the fact that they practiced ritual combats, which was inclusive of chest pounding and escalating into duels with large and long poles. Besides, concerning their social coexistence with each other, the Yanomami slept on bark hammocks that were slung around of communal red houses that were referred to as Shabonos. Also, Chagnon points out the socio-cultural relations of the Yanomamo people by noting that members of one patrilineage intermarried with those of another lineage and eventually built ties of solidarity between these lineages over time. According to Chagnon, the decent local group in the village, which was deemed as the patrilineal segment that resided in any given community, did not collectively share the rights of land as others. Instead, the particular patrilineal segment did share corporate over the exchange of the women, who had their marriages uses as tools to build alliances (69).
On the contrary, one of the similarities of the two Yanomamo cultures studied by Kenneth Good and that studied by Chagnon is seen in the essence of their political life. Notably, owing to the fact that the Yanomamo heavily relied on cultivated foods, this substantially led to certain obligations assigned to different members of the allied villages. Besides, as discussed by both authors, the two cultures believed that the primary significance of the political life was to develop stable alliances with neighboring villages in an attempt to build social networks that would allow the local villages to overly depend on the cultivation land that belonged to the nearby villages.
In conclusion, as depicted in this particular essay, in their books, the two authors, Kenneth Good and Napoleon Chagnon ethnologically study the Yanomamo people. However, despite having a common purpose, the two scholars give different accounts of the social life, rituals practiced, as well as the actions and the attitude of the Yanomamo people something that essentially brings about a sense of controversy in the two cultures studied. More specifically, Chagnons description of the Yanomamo as a fierce people characterized by chronic warfare is severely challenged and questioned by Kenneth Goods cultural description of the people as a sociable and welcoming community.
Chagnon, Napoleon A. Yanomamo: The Fierce People. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1983.
Good, Kenneth R, and David Chanoff. Into the Heart: One Man's Pursuit of Love and Knowledge Among the Yanomami. Longman, 2000.
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