Summary of Napoleon Chagnon's 'Doing Fieldwork among the Yanomamo'

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Napoleon Chagnon spent 19 months living among them, gathering information about their genealogies and the value they placed on aggression in their societies (such as public wife beatings to assert their manliness). He arrived with visions of being “adopted into their way of life” so he could be listed among “successful anthropologists.” However, he was met with intense culture shock in the form of: deception and greed. A few highlights of culture shock include: being met with gnats the bit him and made him swell up; an astonishing lack of hygiene; laundry conundrums; villagers constantly high on hallucinogens; and difficulty getting enough food. Along with these came great loneliness because he was away from his family. He tried to make friends, but those “friends” robbed him, cunningly got him to give them his tools, begged for goods from Napoleon, the rich “subhuman,” and mocked him. In an attempt to get along with them, he would give in to their demands for tools or food, but soon found this to only make the problem worse, as they would come back demanding bigger and better goods. Through this he found he needed to be just as cunning to be accepted into their culture. In an effort to gather information on genealogies, he went about collecting the names of the villagers. Sadly this turned into an opportunity for the people to make up whatever hilarious and crude name they wanted, so he could never trace it to another person. They would then laugh uproariously as he would accidentally call people names such as “hairy vagina.” To counteract these attempts, he meticulously chose people that he felt were being truthful or had married in to the Yanomamo tribe. He would gage whether the list of names was truly related by the level of aggression the informant would react with, to see if the informant had been related or not.

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