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Another illustration of the difficulties of adaptationist explanations of human nature is provided by the case of the Yanomamo. There are fashions in noble savages as in other things, and the Yanomamo, a warlike and intermittently cannibal tribe living on the borders of Brazil and Venezuela, are one of the most heavily studied and nastiest in their habits of all the unspoiled people in the Seventies and Eighties. Yet two quite different adaptationist explanations of their behaviour were put forward.

The tribes are quite exceptionally violent and sexist. The Yanomamo term for marriage translates literally as "dragging something away"; their term for divorce is "throwing something away.". Villages war with villages; villagers with each other. They use poisoned arrows, spears and wooden clubs. When nothing much seems to be happening in the world outside, villagers will fight with long poles: two men will stand facing each other, and exchange insults. Then they will take turns to punch each other in the chest as hard as possible. Finally they take up long flexible poles, and once more taking turns smash each other around the head with them until the loser is felled, unconscious and bleeding all over his head. To quote one lurid description: "A man with a special grudge against another challenges his adversary to hit him on the head with an eight foot long pole shaped like a pool cue. The challenger sticks his own pole in the ground, leans on it, and bows his head. His adversary holds his pole by the thin end, whipping the heavy end down on the proffered pate with bone-crushing force. Having sustained one blow, the recipient is entitled to an immediate opportunity to wallop his opponent in the same manner."

There is nothing quite like this outside the correspondence columns of the New York Review of Books.

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