Uncut version of Chagnon story Page 4 of 8

They encourage the Yanomamö to move in from the highlands to the territory closer to the river, where they are more accessible to Western medecines and influences. Chagnon believes this makes the more vulnerable to diseases, too: "I got back into the field and re-censussed 25 villages I had worked with before. I began to see that this policy was having the effect of increasing the death rate in the resettled villages.

"On one of these trips a priest at Mavaca told me that they had attracted a village which I had found deep in the jungle years earlier to the river. He said they might not be there, becasue there was a week ago some jungle rumour that there was sickness there, but, he said, you know those Indian rumours. I went up there the same day and found that 25 people had died in the previous week and the goddamn missionaries had not even bothered to look.

"In general, the Yanomamö are constantly explaining epidemics in terms of the malevolent actions of anthropologist A, priest B or village X. And you donít want to take to much notice. But this I saw with my own eyes."

His other charge, even more fiercely disputed, is that some Salesian missionaries have themselves exacerbate the fighting among the Yanomamö by arming them: "The missionaries have consistently used shotguns as a matter of policy to lure Indians away from the protestant missionaries. I found evidence of one raid deep in the interior, an unknown, remote village where the missionary village had gone to that village, killed a bunch of people stole a bunch of women, using shotguns. And there was no pre-existent enmity involved. I have evidence that the Indians from the mission village killed those Indians."

On his return, he made those charges public, and in an article for the New York Times added that he no longer dared return to the region because the Salesians had announced that they could not guarantee his safety there. He read this to mean that his enemies among the Yanomamö could feel free to kill him, knowing the missionaries would do nothing to stop them. At this point, in 1994, the public meeting at an AAA convention was held which ended in such raucous recriminations. "Youíre goddamn right I want to respond" shouted Chagnon from the floor, when Turner promoted the cause of his own favourite Yanomamo spokesman.

Home quilted scalp

There matters rested for a while. Chagnon could not return to the jungle; the Yanomamö themselves became poorer, more miserable, and more fashionable. Contact with the West is often fatal for South Americans, partly because they lack resistance to common diseases such as measles ó which is a trivial childhood disease in Europe, but if it reaches an unexposed population is more infectious and more dangerous than the black death. It is expected to infect everyone who comes into contact with a sufferer and to kill at least half of those infected. Measles is only the most dramatic of the lethal diseases that contact with civilisation brings: tuberculosis leprosy and malaria can all be devastating in different tribes. Part of the vulnerability is genetic: it appears that South American Indians have immune systems that are uniquely vulnerable in some ways. Part is social: the normal response of an indigenous community to an epidemic is to flee, leaving the sick without nursing care. But a great deal is political. Dr Magdalena Hurtado, a Venezuelan anthropologist who has worked extensively with the Ache hunter-gatherers of Eastern Paraguay, says that government corruption and institutionalised racism all over South America mean that hardly anything is done to provide consistent, long-term medical care to newly contacted people, and often nothing is done in the short term either. She cites on Brazilian expedition to contact an unknown tribe, which consisted of 26 people, among them eight journalists from National Geographic magazine, and not a single doctor. It is believed that the entire tribe may have died as a result of that contact: they have since vanished from sight. Among those tribes whose fate is known, between a third and a half are expected to die within five years of first contact.

The Yanomamö are in a particularly unfortunate situation because their territory is believed to hold large gold reserves, and the impact of landless, desperate Brazilian gold miners has been terrible. In one notorious case in 1992, 12 Yanomamö women and children were massacred by gold miners. This led to a wave of fashionable outcry: they were the people whom Sting went to visit; but little practical help emerged. It was at the stage that a journalist named Patrick Tierney, who had earlier written a book claiming that human sacrifice survived among some Indian Andean tribes, spent a year among the gold miners. In 1995, he says he sent four or five chapters of his account to Professors Turner and Sponsel, who were then members of the ethics committee American Antrhropological Association. Sponsel, in Hawaii, did not meet him until this year. But Turner and he certainly met; and the book that Tierney proposed changed character sharply.

Next: Patrick Tierney gets some help