Yanomamo Series

An image from the Yanomamo Series

Napoleon A. Chagnon (born in 1938 in Port Austin, Michigan) is an United States anthropologist and retired professor emeritus at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Chagnon is best known for his long-term ethnographic field work among the Yanomami, his contributions to evolutionary theory in cultural anthropology, and to the study of warfare. The Yanomamo are a society of indigenous tribal amazonians that live in the border area between Venezuela and Brazil.

Working primarily in the headwaters of the upper Siapa and upper Mavaca rivers, Chagnon conducted fieldwork among these people from the mid-1960's until the latter half of 1990's. Because he was constantly asking questions, his Yanomamö informants named him "Shaki" which means "pesky bee". A major focus of his research was the collection of genealogies of the residents of the villages that he visited, and from these he would analyze patterns of relatedness, marriage patterns, cooperation, and settlement pattern histories. Applying this genealogical approach as a basis for investigation, he is one of the early pioneers of the fields of sociobiology and human behavioral ecology.

Chagnon is well known for his ethnography , Yanomamö: The Fierce People (Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1968) which was published in more than five editions and is commonly used as a text in university level introductory anthropology classes. Chagnon was also a pioneer in the field of visual anthropology. He collaborated with ethnographic filmmaker Tim Asch and produced a series of more than twenty ethnographic films documenting Yanomamö life.

Darkness in El Dorado controversyEdit

In 2000, journalist Patrick Tierney in his book Darkness in El Dorado accused Chagnon and his colleague James Neel, among other things, of exacerbating a measles epidemic among the Yanomamö people. Groups of historians, epidemiologists, anthropologists, and filmmakers who had direct knowledge of the events investigated Tierney's claims. These groups ultimately rejected the worst allegations concerning the measles epidemic.

The American Anthropological Association convened this task force in February 2001 to investigate some of the allegations made in Tierney's book. Their report, which was issued by the AAA in May 2002, held that Chagnon had both represented the Yanomamo in harmful ways and failed in some instances to obtain proper consent from both the government and the groups he studied. However, the Task Force stated that there was no support to the claim that Chagnon and Neel began a measles epidemic.[1] In June 2005, however, the AAA voted over two-to-one to rescind the acceptance of the 2002 report [2], noting that "Although the Executive Board’s action will not, in all likelihood, end debate on ethical standards for anthropologists, it does seek to repair damage done to the integrity of the discipline in the El Dorado case."

Most of the allegations made in Darkness in El Dorado were publicly refuted by the Provost's office of the University of Michigan in November 2000 [3]. For example, the interviews upon which the book was based all came from members of a Catholic church which Chagnon had criticized, and thus angered, in his book.


  • Yanomamö: The Fierce People, 1968
  • Yanomamo - The Last Days Of Eden, 1992
  • Adaptation and Human Behavior: An Anthropological Perspective (with Lee Cronk and William Irons), 2002


  • The Yanomamo Series, in collaboration with Tim Asch, includes 22 separate films on the Yanomamo Culture, such as The Ax Fight (1975), Children's Magical Death (1974), Magical Death (1988), A Man Called Bee: A Study of the Yanomamo (1974), Yanomamo Of the Orinoco (1987).

See alsoEdit


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