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The Unokai

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In 23 years of field work, Napoleon Chagnon has observed and recorded the histories of 60 Yanomami villages. In recent years, his writings have contributed to the label of the Yanomami as a 'fierce' people. He has created an image of these people which is not only questionable from an anthropological perspective, but also an image that has brought detriment to their society as a whole. By analyzing Chagnon's interpretations of the Yanomami lifestyle, one sees that his ideas are highly influenced by western standards of life and can be rethought using basic non-biased logic.

One of the central arguments that the Yanomami are a violent people is the presence of unokai in Yanomami society, a word Chagnon translates as 'killer.' These unokai are, as defined by Chagnon, men who have either killed another person or were involved in the attack which led to the killing. Although his arguments presented in a 1988 article of Science magazine do not go into great detail about the process of gaining the title of unokai, he centers many of his points around the unokai and their actions.

Of the 283 deaths Chagnon recorded in 23 years among the Yanomami, he attributes 153 of these to unokai who were living when the article was published. He goes on to state that almost everyone in the villages he has visited had a family member or kinsman killed by blood revenge or because of a unokai hunting party. Because of this supposed high incidence of violence and its effect on a large portion of the population, he leads the reader to the conclusion the Yanomami are an exceedingly savage society and that the unokai epitomize this idea.

Chagnon's ideas are in contrast to those presented by Bruce Albert in his 1989 article in Current Anthropology. Albert, a noted anthropologist, has conducted research among the Yanomami and has developed different theories about their 'violent tendencies.' One of the most interesting is Albert's definition of unokai. He refutes Chagnon's...