[Marxism] Yanomami Science Wars, part seven

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Sep 8 15:31:35 MDT 2009

The more I study the adventures of anthropologists in Yanomami-land, the 
more surreally cinematic they seem. From the pistol-packing Napoleon 
Chagnon in a loincloth to Jacques Lizot’s homosexual harem, the need for 
a Francis Ford Coppola or a Werner Herzog cries out.

I began reading Kenneth Good’s memoir “Into the Heart: One Man’s Pursuit 
of Love and Knowledge Among the Yanomamo” mostly in search of 
information that ran counter to Chagnon’s “fierce people” thesis. (There 
are at least three acceptable ways of spelling their tribal name: 
Yanomami, the most common, as well as Yanomamo and Yanomama.) But the 
more I read, the more convinced I became that Kenneth Good is one of the 
most remarkable denizens of this world imaginable. Indeed, so compelling 
was his story that Hollywood took out an option to turn his memoir into 
a movie but it was never made. Now that would have been something I 
would have paid top dollar to see.

Kenneth Good first came to Yanomami territory in 1974 as a 27-year-old 
graduate student. Despite traveling there under the auspices of Napoleon 
Chagnon, he was much closer to Marvin Harris philosophically. As I 
discussed in a previous post, Harris challenged Chagnon’s “fierceness” 
theory on the basis of cultural materialism, making the point that it 
was a struggle for food rather than females that explained clashes among 
the Stone Age peoples.

As Good grew closer to the people he was studying, he was offered one of 
their daughters as a bride. As it turned out she was 9 years old at the 
time. More about this subsequently.


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