19 November 2012
This is a review about the Yąnomamö by Napoleon Chagnon. The Wadsworth Cengage Learning group, in California in the year 2009, published this edition of the book. He published more than five editions and it is commonly used as an introductory text in university level anthropology classes. The Yąnomamö are a group of indigenous tribal Amazonians that live in the border area between Venezuela and Brazil. Chagnon lived and studied with the Yąnomamö from the mid-1960s to the 1990s. I plan to describe the physical environment of the Yąnomamö society, their subsistence strategies, the way that they communicate, their religion, and their gender and age roles. To start off, I will discuss their physical setting, climate and environment. They live in 200-250 villages in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Venezuela and Brazil. The village where Chagnon lived is located at the junction of the Mavaca and Orincoco Rivers. Chagnon said, “Kaobawa’s village lies at an elevation of about 450 feet above sea level on a generally flat, jungle-covered plain that is interrupted occasionally by low hills” (46). Most of the rivers and streams start out in the hills as tiny trickles that are dry at some times of the year but turn into dangerous floods at other times. Heavy rain can have a dramatic effect on larger streams and the Yąnomamö avoid larger streams when they select garden and village sites. Their climate has been described as warm and humid so they do not require much clothing. The Yąnomamö are very nomadic because of the deforestation of the rainforest. The jungle is dense and contains a large variety of palm and hardwood trees. According to Chagnon, “the canopy keeps the sunlight from reaching the ground, and on overcast days it can be very dark and gloomy in the jungle” (46). It is very difficult to travel by foot in the forest and along the rivers and streams where sunlight can penetrate to the ground, vegetation grows and it is a haven for birds and animals. Next, I will discuss the Yąnomamö’s subsistence strategies. The Yąnomamö depend on the rain forest, they grow bananas, gather fruit, and hunt animals. The Yąnomamö move frequently to avoid areas that have become overused. Their technology is easy to create from available materials, effective enough to solve the current problem but are not destined to last forever. Their technology is very easy to create. No tool or technique is so complex that it requires special knowledge and each village can produce every item in requires from available resources. They do trade their tools and resources. Their resources could be described as more characteristic of hunters and gatherers, but the Yąnomamö are horticultural. They have this one weapon called the bow stave that is made from palm wood and it is five to six feet long. The bowstrings are made from the fibers of the inner bark of the palm wood. According to Chagnon, “the bark is twisted into thick cords by rolling the fibers vigorously between the thigh muscle and the palm of the hand; the cords are so strong that one can use them, in a pinch, as hammock ropes” (49). The bow stave is shaped by shaving the stock with the incisors of a wild pig. The completed bow stave is oval or round in cross section and is very powerful. With use, they become brittle and shatter when drawn too hard. The Yąnomamö created many more weapons and tools to gather and hunt. They also rely on fish but only during certain times of the year. One method is to wait for the rainy season to end because areas of the jungle have been flooded, leaving fish stranded. They used the “slash-and-burn” horticulture, which involves cutting and burning of the forest to create fields. It uses little technology or other tools and it is part of the shifting cultivation agriculture. The Yąnomamö eat what the jungle can offer. They feast on all kinds of insects, larvae, fish, crabs, wild honey, plantain, sweet potato, and palm fruits. They actually...
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