USA 2010, 1h 50min | Denmark 2010, 1h 25min
The new film by Jose Padihla, Secrets of the Tribe – shown at Film From the South Festival in Oslo in October – looks into the consequences of anthropology. Padihla based his film on archive material and about 100 interviews.
In the 60s and 70s, American anthropologists travelled into the depths of the Amazon Jungle to find local tribes untouched by modern civilisation. One result was the book Yanomamo: The Fierce People by Napoleon Chagnon. This newly educated man postulated that the tribe was violent due to their low protein diet. A large part of the mature male population was used to killing. Those who kidnapped women from other tribes also got the most children. The book has been part of the curriculum for generations of anthropologists. Kenneth Good, on the contrary, describes the tribe as peaceful and innocent. He also married a teenage girl (13), which was common practice within the tribe – they stayed together as is seen in later recordings.
Chagnon and his fellow anthropologists have been accused of genocide, since they brought with them viruses such as measles and influenza to which the natives had no resistance. Hundreds died. The older Chagnon appears very confident of his results, denies any atrocities, and makes fun of Good’s research. White Western men didn’t care much about their research objects, it seems. Or they “cared” too much, exploiting them for sex – like Jacques Lizot (a student of LéviStrauss) who exchanged Western goods (and weapons) for sex with young boys. Of course Lizot refused to be interviewed by Padihla. Western researchers also tested various doses of radioactive material by injecting them into the natives – without informed consent. It’s common knowledge that Hitler used anthropologists to identify the traits of other “races” – in deciding who should be sent to the concentration camps and who should not. Today the US Military uses anthropologists in Iraq and Afghanistan. To “understand” the Other who just got their family massacred? To help the military understand the behaviour of their enemies? Those wars doesn’t strengthen communication with these Other cultures, that’s for sure.
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