Tessa's Local Interest Book Review: Noble Savages by Napoleon A. Chagnon

While flipping through Noble savages: my life among two dangerous tribes--the Yanomamo and the anthropologists, I discovered that there were a lot of pages that dealt with New Tribes Mission missionaries.  For those unfamiliar with Jackson, one of the two campuses for New Tribes Institute is here in Jackson. Many people may be interested in what these missionaries' lives are like, and this book can really bring them to life. The volume is getting rave reviews from all over.Jacket cover

A fascinating and detailed account of Napoleon A. Chagnon’s experiences in Brazil among the famed (infamous?) Yanomamo, Noble Savages tells his own story more completely and much more intimately than in any of his previous works. The book does address the controversy that surrounded Chagnon and his early books. (The Yanomamo: The fierce people was and is required reading in many introductory anthropology classes.) 

However, this book is more a life story tracing the route Chagnon took from idealistic anthropologist to academic anathema to distinguished senior professor. Several humorous incidents are included, such as a visit to a village where the priest had given people donated clothing. A young couple, friends of Chagnon’s, come to meet him wearing some of the items.  The man, not knowing how to use a zipper, has cut out the crotch.  The woman, a nursing mother, has cut out the areas around the breasts. There they stand with holes cut in the precise areas the priest wished to cover!

In the latter twentieth-century anthropologists claimed the best and only way to live among aboriginal peoples and study them was to live just like they did.  Chagnon's experience going into the Amazon jungle himself and then bringing his wife and children to stay with him is a nightmarish revelation of the vast array of problems anyone encounters in such a situation.  I may not have finished reading this excellent book, but I recommend it! ~ Tessa   2013