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By Napoleon Chagnon

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Sample text

As we walked down the path to the boat, I pondered the wisdom of having decided to spend a year and a half with these people before I had even seen what they were like. I am not ashamed to admit that had there been a diplomatic way out, I would have ended my fieldwork then and there. I did not look forward to the next day—and months—when I would be alone with these people. I did not speak a word of their language, and they spoke only their own language. Only a few of the young men knew a handful of words in Spanish—not enough to utter even a short comprehensible sentence.

Not many anthropologists spend their first day this way. If they did, there would be very few applicants to graduate programs in anthropology. I had traveled in a small aluminum rowboat propelled by a large outboard motor for two and a half days, cramped in with several extra fifty-five-gallon gasoline barrels and two Venezuelan functionaries who worked for the Malarialogía, the Venezuelan malaria control service. They were headed to their tiny outpost in Yanomamö territory—two or three thatched huts.

That is why I decided very early in my fieldwork that I would have to go back repeatedly to continue documenting this rare event. My initial fieldwork among the Yanomamö began in the mid-1960s when few Yanomamö had any enduring contact with the outside world. Today things are very different. A great deal of change has taken place. Latecomers denounce me because the Yanomamö they visit at Salesian or other missions today are not the same kinds of Yanomamö I first met. And anthropology itself has changed politically.

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Noble Savages by Napoleon Chagnon


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