Who am I? Am I Yanomami or am I nabuh [Westerner]?
August 29, 2013 7:50 AM   Subscribe

The son of a Yanomami tribeswoman returns to the jungle to look for her. David Good is the child of an American anthropologist and the Yanomami woman he married while doing field research in the remote Amazon rainforest. Raised in the US, he returns to find his mother. [may be nsfw - images of unclothed tribespeople]
posted by desjardins (30 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was also on the excellent Snap Judgement podcast.
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 8:11 AM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


What an amazing story - thanks for posting this.
posted by jquinby at 8:25 AM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think it was interesting that the mother permanently returned to her village. It certainly challenges beliefs that the Western standard of living is somehow objectively better (e.g. less hunger, less violence).
posted by desjardins at 8:32 AM on August 29, 2013 [7 favorites]


I sat down in a used bookstore once and read through Kenneth Good's book, published before Yarima's return to the jungle. It was mind blowing.
posted by ocschwar at 8:33 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I remember stumbling on this blog entry awhile back about David Good's parents. It was one of those stories that just sticks with you in a bittersweet way.
posted by Diagonalize at 8:34 AM on August 29, 2013


I found myself wishing while reading this story that there was some sort of quote from a Yanomami person in it. Especially David's mother. Her son and her husband keep speculating about what she's thinking and feeling, but why is that necessary when she's right there? Why not ask her?
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:37 AM on August 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


This piece is great. I can't believe there's never been a proper "Darkness in El Dorado" fpp. There was this one I guess but it seems to have been pretty thin, and it only got two comments. An excellent resource on the whole Chagnon/Neel controversy is this book by Rob Borofsky(pdf).

Here is some background to give more context to this fpp:

Hearts of Darkness

Academic Warfare

How Napoleon Chagnon Became Our Most Controversial Anthropologist

Tribal Warfare

The Napoleon Chagnon Wars Flare Up Again In Anthropology
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 8:37 AM on August 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


That was really touching, and I can only imagine--given how simplified everything has to be for newswriting--how complicated all the logistics actually were.

And Yarima's choice totally makes sense in that most people want to be near family and the familiar... even though the gang-rape bit makes me shudder.
posted by psoas at 8:51 AM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


It certainly challenges beliefs that the Western standard of living is somehow objectively better (e.g. less hunger, less violence).

I hope we don't get a bunch of anarcho-primitivists in this thread. Look, it's pretty clear why she returned to her home. She missed it. She felt alienated away from her culture and family. A lot of Americans who become enamored with Japan and try to move over there, can't even tough it out. And there's much less culture shock moving between America and Japan, than America and some primitive tribe in the Amazon.

I don't think this has anything to do with challenging the "narrative" that the standard of living in the developed world is better than in the undeveloped world.
posted by SollosQ at 9:05 AM on August 29, 2013 [20 favorites]


desjardins - it seems like isolation as a factor on quality of life was the key issue:
"But life in New Jersey was not working out for Yarima. It wasn't the weather, food or modern technology but the absence of close human relations. The Yanomami day begins and ends in the shapono, open to relatives, friends, neighbours and enemies. But Yarima's day in the US began and ended in a closed box, cut off from society.

Other than Kenneth, no-one could communicate with Yarima in her own language and she had no means of speaking with her family back home." [My bolding]
It also says:
"Moreover, whenever he [i.e. Kenneth Good] temporarily left, to make contact with academics or raise funds, Yarima was left in danger in the male-dominated Yanomami society.

On one of his trips downriver, when he had been held up for several months, she had been gang-raped, abducted and badly assaulted - her ear was ripped."
So, yes, on the one hand there's something to be said for a society in which loneliness and sharing prevail by necessity. But jungle life doesn't sound brilliant either, especially for women.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:08 AM on August 29, 2013 [5 favorites]


David Good's project.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:10 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't think this has anything to do with challenging the "narrative" that the standard of living in the developed world is better than in the undeveloped world.

No, that's not what I meant. I found her personal calculus interesting and I'm trying to put myself in her shoes and wondering if I'd make the same choice. I guess I'm plenty comfortable where I am, so even if there was a society where no one had to work and everyone had jetpacks, I'd stay here. She was apparently more comfortable in the jungle, even though I wouldn't be. It's all relative and I don't think you can generalize into a narrative. There are lots and lots of immigrants from undeveloped areas who choose to stay in the developed world. Hell, even the Yanomami have adopted some Western customs like clothing.
posted by desjardins at 9:15 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Without looking at any of the links, my first throught was "Emerald Forest"
posted by HuronBob at 9:15 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are some quotes from Yarima from a home movie discussed in the article. I think the writer did not interview her personally so that is why no other direct quotes.

There are so many interesting things in this article. But two that stuck out - the upper Yanomami thought the police were an especially fierce tribe and that Yanomami men don't go bald.
posted by sio42 at 9:17 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


AElfwine Evenstar: This piece is great. I can't believe there's never been a proper "Darkness in El Dorado" fpp. There was this one I guess but it seems to have been pretty thin, and it only got two comments.

There was also this one about Chagnon himself (based on the February NY Times article), and this one about Marshall Sahlins that also was sort of about Chagnon, also in February of this year.
posted by The Michael The at 9:21 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


If this has piqued your interest in the Yanomami, check out the Ax Fight video (made by Acsh and Chagnon. Chagnon was a mentor of Kenneth Good.) and the 2007 criticism of the Ax Fight by Curtis, particularly the BBC video The Trap, which is sometimes available in 3 parts on YouTube. It shows that the assumptions made by Chagnon and Acsh may not have been....accurate and/or well informed.

The case shows how very very hard it is to maintain true "objective" status as an anthropologist and is used to show students that what we think we know is culturally bounded.

I cannot even imagine the duality of kid's experience. He glosses over the feelings of abandonment he felt as a child when his mother left him to return to the jungle. This must have colored his return there. But I can't begin to guess how.
posted by bilabial at 9:29 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like the father should have let the kids go. Kids need their mom.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:48 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like the father should have let the kids go. Kids need their mom.

So he should have let them, including the daughter Vanessa, go to where their mom got gang raped for the simple reason that their dad was away on business?

Everyone in that family got caught between a rock and a hard place. Father, mother, and the kids. Major kudos for Mr. david Good for startying a project to address that.
posted by ocschwar at 9:54 AM on August 29, 2013 [9 favorites]


I can't believe there's never been a proper "Darkness in El Dorado" fpp.

The bogus accusations that Chagnon deliberately gave people measles and the degree of support given to the those accusations by people in the field of anthropology despite the lack of evidence and underlying scientific problems with the theory make it hard to use that particular book as a starting place to discuss the validity of what seem to be more substantive and interesting critiques of of Chagnon's methodology and conclusions.
posted by Area Man at 10:18 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


There have been multiple Chagnon FPPs, I'm fairly sure.

An interesting story to read alongside this one, that plays out against Ecuadorian oil exploration and politic, is that of Randy Borman -- his parents were missionaries, arriving in the 50s, he was raised with the Cofan, he found the US alien when he briefly came back for school, and eventually he became a chief. Here's his TED Amazonia talk.

Amazon Stranger, Mike Tidwell's book about him, is a little out of date but a fascinating read. (Used copies are dirt cheap. I may have plugged it on mefi previously.)

Borman pops up sometimes in the reporting on the endless Chevron/Ecuador lawsuit story and oil/environment/culture reporting on Ecuador, but he seems to be mostly flying under the radar these days. There was this 2010 article in WashPo: 'Gringo chief' Randy Borman helps Ecuador's Cofan Indians survive, thrive. And apparently, Phil Borman, his son, who also works in Amazonian activism, was kidnapped recently (and safely returned).
posted by snuffleupagus at 10:36 AM on August 29, 2013 [2 favorites]


The Cofan story is the ideal end-game for the Yanomami. Get them fully aware of what's out there in the Nabuh world, to the point where they can use that knowledge to maintain their dignity and identity, and defend their interests.
posted by ocschwar at 10:43 AM on August 29, 2013


It's an interesting article, but I'd love a little more info on what Yarima's life was like once she returned to the Amazon --- it mentions a 'half-brother' of David Good's; did she remarry? Have other kids? Was her re-integration to the tribe smooth or rough?
posted by easily confused at 10:48 AM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


According to the essay I linked to above, she did remarry and had two more children, but there wasn't much detail beyond that. Reporter/author Patrick Tierney and photographer Valdir Cruz encountered Yarima in 1996 when they were researching for Darkness in El Dorado, and I'm pretty sure she was featured in several shots from Cruz's Yamomamo series.
posted by Diagonalize at 11:17 AM on August 29, 2013


Remarkable story, even humorous, for Good to be reunited with a mother anxious to marry off her son, with these two wonderful young girls-they'll be perfect-look here they are!

I find it hard to imagine the kind of culture shock involved. Both for Yarima, and David. I'm curious about Kenneth Good's decision to take Yarima as wife. While no doubt humans have forever been marrying across disparate cultures as long as humans have been marrying, it seems an American academic becoming so enmeshed with, let alone marrying into, the people he's studying is going to result in some serious complications. Not that I think this was necessarily an ill conceived or wrong union. Just wonder how Kenneth Good thought the union between such different people and cultures could ever be resolved.

The reunion of David and Yarima reminds me of a PBS documentary several years back, Daughter from Danang, where an American woman of a Vietnamese mother an an American serviceman father is flown to the United States as a young child in the 70s, adopted and raised in Tennessee. Then as an adult attempts to reconnect with her Vietnamese mother and family.
posted by 2N2222 at 11:32 AM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think it was interesting that the mother permanently returned to her village...
Yanomami men don't go bald.

When I worked in Brazil I worked in an area not so far from where the Yanomami live (Brazil is a huge country, and in those areas not all the roads are speedy, so in reality, everything is far). In those settlements I knew quite a few people living in traditional indigenous villages who had moved to the Big City for a while and then come back. Few of them had had the adventure that this woman did, but I did know one man who had lived in the city, travelled in Europe, and still decided to move back to his village. He liked the pace of life back in the village and its relationship with the environment.

No one in the village was bald. FWIW I later dated a guy whose entire family - and most the people in his city - were indigenous Peruvians. Very few bald guys and very few mustaches.
posted by whatzit at 12:06 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, I was thinking about this family just a couple of days ago, recalling the National Geographic film from the early 90s, and wondering what happened to them. Now I know.
posted by smoothvirus at 12:43 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


An excellent post. Yes, I am pretty curious about Yarima's thoughts and feelings.
As for the gang rape, that could have happened anywhere. So I don't see how it is relevant one way or another to her choice to go back.
She was homesick and fairly young, and suffering massive cture shock.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 1:10 PM on August 29, 2013


Just wonder how Kenneth Good thought the union between such different people and cultures could ever be resolved.

Exactly. Connection with another human being is a powerful thing. I wonder how much of his decision was made from the standpoint of a male being used to getting his own way, not understanding in his gut, how different the culture is/was. Intellectual understanding and emotional understanding are two different things.

Then there's a selfish willfulness about how much better things are in one's own country. Hidden nationalism, I suppose. I've heard American servicemen who marry Orientals express disbelief that their wives could be unhappy in this best of all possible worlds. An Irish gal, friend of mine, who eventually divorced her serviceman husband and went back to her family and friends told me that she felt there was an uncomfortable cultural difference.

I can't imagine.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:20 PM on August 29, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm blown away. Posted here, then went to AskMe and found these two answers in this thread:

I moved to the UK from Scandinavia. I held a university degree in English and I had also studied in the UK. I thought I understood British culture and that the two culture were extremely compatible. Nevertheless it took me nearly three years to feel settled here.



My ex moved from Australia to the U.S., two of the most compatible, similar countries on the planet. Same language even. It was no small feat and although we had problems (he is my ex, after all), my respecting his unease at living in a nearly-the-same-but-completely-different bizarro-world was not among them. It *is* different, profoundly so, even when it doesn't appear to be.

So, yeah. It's a thing.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:02 PM on August 29, 2013 [1 favorite]


That was a great piece. Thanks, desjardins.
posted by homunculus at 7:22 PM on August 29, 2013


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