Posted: August 15th, 2013
Chagnon’s Genealogical Research among the Yanamamo
Initially, Chagnon decided to use kinship terms in the collection of genealogies, but he discovered that the Yanamamo kinship terms were ambiguous. To remedy this mistake, Chagnon decided to use their personal names. The Yanamamo identified this as a violation of their longstanding taboo of not revealing their real names even to kinsmen and decided to trick Chagnon with the aim of withholding their genealogical information (Chagnon 50). To achieve this, they invented new names for all the tribe members and ensured that all members were aware of their so-called names. This information was accorded freely to Chagnon, even with a fabrication of implausible genealogical relationships. When Chagnon pronounced the names to the people, they would laugh out a loud and he thought they were honest.
To reassure him that the names were genuine, when a person was identified by his given name, he would exhibit a high level of annoyance and displeasure to Chignon. To make sure that he acquired the right information, Chagnon checked and rechecked the names and information with different informants. He collected five months worth of information, before realizing that they had tricked him (Chagnon 120). Chagnon discovered the lie when he went to visit a village 10 miles away from Bisaasi-teri, when he revealed the name of the wife to Bisaasi-teri’s headman. The people from the second village translated all the names he had been accorded with and he concluded that his five months’ work had been a lie and he had to give it up and start afresh.
In this context, he decided to employ new methods for acquiring the required information from the un-cooperative informants. In this case, he started by privately conversing with different informants who were not aware of what was reveled by the other informants. He stated by learning the names of the children and later the adults. He tested the information of new informants to weed the false informants. With time, he acquired valuable information but acquiring the names of the dead was the hardest part such that he acquired false information from an old informant who tricked him (Chagnon 214). After the accident with Rerebawä who revealed the names of the deceased members, he decided to take advantage of animosities for the collection of all the information he required. After one year, the Bisaasi-teri’s headman decided to aid him in his work.
Initially, the main purpose of Chagnon’s study was to collect information based on the Yanamamo genealogy, kinship, settlement patterns, reproduction, marriage practices, politics and migrations. All the needed information could be acquired through the collection of the correct genealogical information about the people. The information about who was the parent of whom and who was related to who could provide information based on the social structures adopted by the Yanamamo (Chagnon 96). Since the Yanamamo can be identified as a primitive society, it might not have any documented information that could aid Chagnon in acquiring all the information he required but recording their genealogical information would provide a good idea of how the Yanamamo were organized socially, economically and politically.
He believed that the extensive data on marriages, reproduction and genealogies could provide him with a clear understanding of the social organization of the Yanamamo. What he was trying to do is acquire information from the original source to ensure that the finding that he presented to the world after the completion of his research was based on verifiable facts that could not be disputed by most anthropologists (Chagnon 269). The anthropologists who had tried to discover most facts about the tribe had never succeeded due to the frustrating nature of the tribe and so Chagnon believed that if he collected enough information from the Yanamamo genealogy, he could be able to contribute largely to anthropological research.
The genealogical information that was collected by Chagnon was not only required for the testing general facts about the Yanamamo culture but the whole human behavior in general. This is because the Yanamamo is a tropical forest primitive Indian tribe that continues to live in the primitive conditions that early man lived under before the era of civilization (Chagnon 286). This tribe depicts the human behavior that was adopted by the early man. In collecting the genealogical information, Chagnon not only reflects different and valuable aspects of the Yanamamo culture but also general human behavior because he tries to show the changes that have occurred to human behavior on the onset of civilization and technological advancement. The human behavior exhibited by the Yanamamo reflects the behavior of early man and it can be used to compare with modern human behavior to identify the changes that have taken place.
A clear understanding of the social organization and ways of life of the Yanamamo can be attributed to the actual genealogical relations’ information and acquired by Chagnon from his interactions with the villagers of Bisaasi-teri and beyond. In this case, it is understood that the Yanamamo are people whose villages are small and made up of 40-50 people. The large villages can be made up of close to 300 people (Chagnon 175). Additionally, the numbers of children and babies in those villages exceed the numbers of the adults while their life expectancy is very short as is common for all the primitive populations. The Yanamamo are still engaged in inter-village warfare that largely interferes with their settlement patterns, daily routines and social organization. This can be translated into a statistics that asserts that close to a fourth of the male population in Yanamamo lose their lives violently in inter-village warfare.
Their social organization is based on marriage exchanges among descendant and kinship groups, leadership through Headmen who maintain law and order in the villages, kinship relations and the determination of relationships between the villages by the village headmen. The village headmen originate from the largest kinship in the village and they must be the forgers of peace in the village as well as intrepid warriors (Borofsky & Albert 134). Marriages among the Yanamamo are arranged with the help of the older kin and it is translated into a political process as the girls are promised into marriage in their young age. There exists a sex-ratio imbalance in the villages as a shortage of women is experienced in most Yanamamo villages while some men have multiple wives, which complicates the issue the more. Most of their conflicts originate from sexual affairs but they are usually well coordinated to ensure minimal loss of life. All this valuable information was extracted from the genealogical relations as posited by Chagnon.
All populations regardless of their primitivity should be accorded with the right to privacy. Most social sciences researchers are guided by the ethics that protect the societies that are not willing to provide the information required by the social scientists (Staff 247). The ethical issues attributed to social sciences’ researchers when they want to study a group that do not want to be studied encompass the consequences of the methods to be used during the research. If the method to be used is going to be harmful to the people to be studied, it should be replaced by an alternative method that is more viable. Another issue is the misuse of the information acquired by other people. This can be asserted by the fact that following the research conducted by Chagnon, some Yanamamo members lost their lives to the Brazilian miners who decide to shoot at them, as they were afraid of the violence that had been described in Chagnon’s work.
The benefits the participants would acquire from the research are another ethical issue that faces social sciences researchers. If the benefits accrued to the research are minimal, the research should not be conducted but if the benefits of the research are major, the research should be carried out. Though many anthropologists have criticized Chagnon’s work based on ethics, the choice that he made was the best this is because he shed a light not only on the Yanamoma’s culture but also human behavior in general (Staff 255). If he had backed off when the Yanamoma were not willing to provide their genealogical information, then the background information available about this primitive tribe would not be available to the world.
In terms of ethics, the methods that Chagnon used to come by the information required were not harmful to the people. This is one of the aspects emphasized on under the social sciences research ethics. His research was not harmful to the community because after one year, the Bisaasi-teri Headman decided to accord Chagnon with all the help he needed (Staff 251). The headman would not have accorded him with help if he had realized that this would be harmful to the society. The reason why Chagnon used the methods that he employed in acquiring his needed information was because he did not want to produce a work that was not based on facts he wanted his work to be as competent as possible hence he was acting in accordance to the ethics stipulated for the social sciences research. His research issues were based on the best scientific judgment that he could come up with hence there are no grounds to criticize his work based on ethics.
In general, it is better for anthropologists to decide beforehand on the topics that they would like to study rather than choose them based on what the people are willing to provide information on because in most cases people will be willing to provide general information about their population (Borofsky & Albert 325). This information can be easily accessed from historical books but coming up with specific topics to be researched on whether the people are willing to provide information on them or not is the best option. This is because different aspects of the society that have not been studied by other anthropologists can be identified and recorded to provide insight to the whole world. Deciding on the topics provides an avenue for researching on topic that has never been researched on before. In this case, new information can be provided to the world to provide more insight into human behavior. In conclusion, the research conducted on the Yanamamo by Chignon might be ridden with controversies but it provided valuable insight into the social organization of the Yanamamo.
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