The Fierce People Essay

The Fierce People by Napoleon Chagnon As mentioned in the introduction before “The Fierce People” by Napoleon Chagnon, each human group has its own culture, meaning that they have their own language, beliefs, values, norms behaviors, and even material objects that characterize a group, then passed on from one generation to the next. Napoleon Chagnon’s passage on coming in contact with the Yanomamo Indians of Northern Venezuela, (known as the “fierce people,” because they still actively conduct warfare), was something completely different than what he expected.

He essentially experienced a culture shock. In the beginning of the passage, he expresses how he was anxious to meet the Indians, stating “Would they like me? ” He felt that this was important and he was determined to work his way into their moral system of “kinship” and become a member of their society. When Napoleon arrived at the village, he was perplexed by the behavior the tribe members were displaying, saying that they had “immense wads of green tobacco were stuck between their lower teeth and lips making them look even more hideous” (18).

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As the passage continues, he describes how he feels about the tribe, slowly starts adapting to their ways of living, events that occur by just the simple process of making oatmeal/other meals, becoming dependent on the Indians at times, having to limit the food he gives out, how the Indians demanded food or tools from him, situations that he had to endure because of how the Indians were treating him, how the Indians usually refused to take “no” for an answer, ways in how men would beat their wives, taboo that accounted for fear and respect, learning how to manipulate the Indians to gain an advantage, having to collect accurate genealogies for research, the experience with Kaobawa, speculating on how the Indians had multiple wives and how they were viewed/treated, and finally, how leadership was shown amongst the Indian people. After reading this passage, I was intrigued by Chagnon’s experience and the way he dealt with the situations he encountered. I could only imagine what I would do if I saw a bunch of naked males, acting like savages and having mucus run down from their noses. I would probably turn around and walk (most likely run) away or think of this as a mere joke.

I think this is true about culture, in regards to understanding and appreciating it in the introduction to this passage. I feel as though in America, sometimes people do not take the time to appreciate what we really have, we might understand it, but I do not think people sit down and actually think about how our culture, as a whole, has developed and progressed. Culture would not evolve or become more distinct if their weren’t a couple bumps in the road. I’m almost positive that if I were in Chagnon’s situation, I probably wouldn’t even want to be with the Indians for a year, let alone a whole day. I might sound closed minded, but I do not really look at the Yanomamo culture as something I would want to follow.

I think if there were Indians constantly asking me for food or supplies, or thinking I was despicable because I did not give every person a piece of my food, or how I had to gain respect by beating my wife with a club, I would move away, far, far away and never look back. I think learning the ways of the tribe and probably adjusting to my cleanliness and my eating habits would be the most difficult part I would have to undergo when researching a culture. The vindictiveness Chagnon talks about actually kind of made me laugh at some parts because you have grown people thinking it’s funny to go steal a canoe or take a hammock, I think that seems a bit childish in my opinion.

Chagnon’s experience when talking to Kaobawa towards the end of the passage I thought was the most interesting part because he finally got to experience and know a genuine person within the Indians for the first time, without being lied to. The multiple wives and sort of incest part did not surprise me because I have heard in other cultures that that is normal, but in American culture that is considered wrong and obscene. Overall, this passage kind of opened my eyes to how you can think of how one culture is going to be, and you visualize in your head how excited you are to experience it, but then you get let down or it was not something you expected, just like what Napoleon went through, but in the end, he ended up adapting to the culture and even made a couple new friends (or more the less acquaintances


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