Discredit Anthropologist Who Calls Tribal People ‘Savages’

Target: Carolyn Reidy, CEO of Simon & Schuster Inc.

Goal: Discredit anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon’s misleading description of tribal people in Brazil

Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon has studied the Yanomami people of Brazil since the 1960s. Although most scholars have updated the language they use to describe such tribal people, Chagnon continues to use racist, outdated terminology. In his latest book, he calls the Yanomami “savages,” very similar to language he used in a 1968 study entitled Yanomamö: The Fierce People. This type of language is arrogant and patriarchal, not to mention harmful to the people it attempts to classify.

Chagnon has been one of few anthropologists to study the Yanomami, and one of the longest-standing scholars in his field. Anthropology students throughout the world read his work. However, Chagnon’s adversaries say that he discredits and misrepresents these tribal people by calling them “warlike,” especially when the US, his home country, has waged two extremely destructive wars in the Middle East over the course of the last decade.

Professionals who work closely with the Yanomami say that Chagnon’s descriptions of the tribe could be used to deny its people cultural freedoms and land rights. The belief that Yanomami people are violent has prevented government support before, once in the 1970s and again in the 1990s. The Yanomami are now threatened by illegal gold miners, who may soon be allowed to legally encroach on tribal lands. Ask Chagnon’s publisher to discredit his most recent book as racist and harmful to these tribal people.


Dear Ms. Reidy,

Napoleon Chagnon’s most recent book, Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists, describes people of the Brazilian Yanomami culture using racist and outdated language. By qualifying these people as “warlike,” “fierce,” and “savage,” he not only reincarnates patriarchal historical language of the past, but he also damages this tribe’s ability to receive government protection from violent intruders on their lands. Furthermore, other professionals who work with the Yanomami say Chagnon’s work is misleading—that these people are not violent, especially not when compared to leaders in Chagnon’s home country, who seem to wage war perpetually.

The Yanomami have already been denied government protections in the 1970s and 1990s, largely due to their anthropological classification as war-mongers. Now they are threatened by intruding gold miners, who may soon receive legal right to tribal lands. Please help these people shrug off the stereotype created by Napoleon Chagnon. Discredit the language in his latest work as misleading, patriarchal, and outdated.


[Your Name Here]

Photo Credit: Cmacauley via Wikimedia

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