Feature

Author of the week: Napoleon Chagnon

Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon was once the butt of an unusual practical joke.

Anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon was once the butt of an unusual practical joke, said Jacki Lyden in NPR.org. In 1964, when the young scholar ventured into the Amazon rain forest to study an indigenous Yanomamo tribe, he worked hard at first to learn the names of his hosts, not knowing that to call a person by name was taboo. But he was still in the dark about that code when he visited another Yanomamo settlement and made a reference to the leader of his host village and the leader’s wife. His listeners burst out laughing. The names he’d been given, it turns out, were slang words for genitalia. “They just had a rip-roaring great deal of fun about that,” he says.

Many fellow anthropologists haven’t been amused by Chagnon’s jungle stories, said Serena Golden in Inside Higher Education. He first stirred controversy by insisting that violence is central to the lives of the Yanomamo he observed, and eventually was accused by peers of having incited violence and even of spreading disease to bolster his theories. Though his 500-page new memoir, Noble Savages, is partly an attempt to set the record straight, he accepts that he’ll probably always be a divisive figure. “People are very interested in the misfortunes of others who have had a little more success in life than they have had, and tend to be willing to accept stories that imply that they got ahead by dishonesty, cheating, subterfuge, or unfair privilege.” He also has a simpler hypothesis: “Some people say that I have the kind of face that people want to punch.”

Recommended

The Chinese Communist Party congress that could make Xi president for life, explained
Xi Jinping.
Briefing

The Chinese Communist Party congress that could make Xi president for life, explained

Has Liz Truss already failed?
Liz Truss.
Briefing

Has Liz Truss already failed?

Ukrainian forces break through Russian lines in southern Kherson
Ukrainian tanks in Kherson
'numerically superior tank units'

Ukrainian forces break through Russian lines in southern Kherson

North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan
A Japanese news network shows footage of Kim Jong Un.
escalations

North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan

Most Popular

5 toons about Trump's spiraling legal woes
Political Cartoon.
Feature

5 toons about Trump's spiraling legal woes

National Archives says some Trump administration records are still missing
A view of the National Archives and Records Administration building in Washington, D.C.
More Trouble for Trump?

National Archives says some Trump administration records are still missing

Ukraine takes full control of Lyman while Russian media points fingers
Ukrainian flag in Donetsk
do svidaniya

Ukraine takes full control of Lyman while Russian media points fingers