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A new paper by Survival International Director, Stephen Corry, exposes serious flaws behind the long-standing claims that the Yanomami tribe of the Amazon are ‘fierce’ and violent. The paper was published on Saturday by independent US news organization Truthout.
Professor Noam Chomsky has welcomed the paper, saying today, ‘I’m glad to see Corry’s demolition of the Brutal Savage myth. His new analysis of Chagnon’s role leaves little standing.’
The claims about Yanomami violence, promulgated by American anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, are enthusiastically endorsed by popular science writers, Steven Pinker in the United States and Richard Dawkins in the UK.
Chagnon claims that the tribe (which he calls Yanomamö) live in a state of chronic warfare, where most fights start over women, and 45% of males are killers. He claims that killers have a genetic advantage over men who have not killed.
His work is used to underpin the assertion that human society was much more violent prior to the creation of the state.
However, in his new paper Corry shows that:
- Chagnon wrongly represents his own data. Even if it is correct, which is unlikely, Chagnon inflates by one quarter the proportion of Yanomami who claim to have killed.
- Even taking Chagnon’s figures at face value, Yanomami violent deaths are fewer than in some industrial warfare, rebutting the central argument of Steven Pinker’s recent book ‘The Better Angels of our Nature’.
- Chagnon contradicts his own accounts concerning how and why the Yanomami raid each other.
- Chagnon leaped to his conclusions on his very first day with the Yanomami.
- Chagnon relies on exaggerated evangelical missionary accounts to support his theory. In turn, he welcomed the work of these missionaries and was dependent on them. His ‘Brutal Savage’ beliefs accord closely with evangelical portrayals of ‘pagan’ tribal life.
Stephen Corry said today, ‘This is so much more than an academic spat: it’s a question of how we view our development. The idea that the ‘modern’ state is ‘scientifically proven’ to bring peace and prosperity is nonsense, but it’s now being used to justify the terrible cruelty it inflicts on the powerless. Chagnon’s false portrayals harm tribal peoples in general.’
Notes to editors:
- Read Stephen Corry’s full article published by Truthout on September 21, 2013
- Read more about the myth of the ‘Brutal Savage’