Shaki, or Napoleon A. Chagnon’s 15 month enculturation with the Yanomamo tribe, Bisaasi-teri is characterized by fear, discomfort, loneliness, nosiness, and invaluable experiences through relationships and modesty about human culture. Chagnon documents the experience through the struggle and discovery surrounding his proposed research, as his lifestyle gradually comes in sync with the natural functions of his community. Much of his focus and time was consumed by identification of genealogical records, and the establishment of informants and methods of trustworthy divulgence.
Marriage, sex, and often resulting violence are the foremost driving forces within Yanomamo, and everything that we consider part of daily routine is completely unknown and inconsequential to them. Traveling between neighboring tribes, he draws conclusions about intertribal relations, especially concerning marriage and raiding. Chagnon deals with cultural complexity that takes time to decipher, and in process, potential risk. Confronted with seemingly trivial situations, they often become unexpected phenomena and Chagnon’s adherence to documentation is amazing.
He encounters personal epiphanies that I find intriguing, related to privacy and hygiene. This report becomes an inspiring document of an extreme anthropologic lifestyle as much as it is a cultural essay. Few articles capture my attention like this one did. I found myself evolving in relation to the paralleled maturation of both cultures. Merely sitting on my bed, I developed a detachment from the tendency to contrast my knowledge of culture from the pure consideration of theirs. My affinity for this type of anthropologic study stems from my adoration of travel.
Fortunate to travel from a younger age I have been enamored by being dropped in a stew of culture. I have vacationed to European and Caribbean countries with family and tapped into the tourism that runs the world of wealth of professional boredom. School programs have allowed me to take advantage of education abroad, and I have ventured to new personal frontiers on my own accord. This range of travel experiences paired with my father’s dissatisfaction with our society’s functioning, has planted in me a fertilizer of criticism and drive for exploration.
I have always vaguely understood the role of anthropologists, yet I never considered the connection between their professional training, field work, and my desire to be culture-dexterous as a viable profession. Ironically, as I confront a rather innate realm of product design in my studies, ethnography has been revealed to me as a significant role in my prospective career. All of the most memorable events involve the human to human interactions that force questioning on tradition, moral, and agenda.
I assume that the article is not intended to inspire others to perform this type of research, but to allow people to consider their lives for just enough time to seriously judge their preoccupations. The lifestyle which Chagnon is forced to adopt appears crude, unhealthy; nearly unacceptable for our standards. Personally, I am thrilled at the idea of enduring these hardships as true troubles of human life come to light. It is easy to trace Chagnon’s account through his growth and adoption of their traditions, lifestyles and moral codes.
As an American, my response is to first consider these adoptions, yet the Bisaasi-teri proved to be just as clever and interested in understanding and adopting the ways of “Shaki” (Chagnon’s nickname meaning: pesky, noisome bee). Many natives were infatuated with the goods that were brought with him; evoking curiosity and incessant ploys to steal or seduce him into sharing them. This became a tool which rivaled Chagnon’s incessant pestering about their lineage, which discussion proved to be a strict cultural stigma. Chagnon did well to manipulate their desires to extract necessary information.
It is difficult to judge the ethicality of doing so, based on no knowledge of what was done with the genealogical data after collected. This is a breakdown where the AAA (American Anthropological Association) might see an opportunity for ethical issues concerning the method of information attained. It is admirable to see Chagnon’s efforts remain critical as he builds relationships with the Yanomamo People. One relationship in particular is very interesting because of contradictions on previous observations and statements.
Chagnon stated, “I would be bitterly disappointed that my erstwhile friend thought no more of me than to finesse our personal relationship exclusively with the intention of getting at my locked up possessions, and my depression would hit new lows every time I discovered this. ” He observed for an extended period of time that friendship was based on lasting debts to be reimbursed, often at unequal ratios. This behavior rang true not only of him, but of Rerebawa, who married into the tribe. It becomes interesting to consider that his value
was that of material objects and debts, much like we experience in some parts of American culture. As Chagnon dove deeper into his pursuit of genealogical data, he befriended Rerebawa due to their shared alienated positions and was able to surpass language barriers and misunderstandings. Return trips have proven that this friendship is solidified in past experience and must be extremely exciting to build such connections. Statistical data and relevance of collected genealogical date were not presented in this essay, however, the overall emotion and importance of cross-cultural understanding is well addressed.
It is an exciting opportunity to be able to so definitely define current cultures, as forms of documentation have been developed in our society. In turn, it is amazing that cultures of such different developments, resources, and agendas can exist simultaneously. Documents like this should be a source of inspiration for many to explore the world as a human, not as an American. Hopefully, this idea will prompt efforts of coexistence, sustainability, and the pursuit of vitality for all life.
Courtney from Study Moose
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