Whatever the exact sequence of cause and effect (and Tierney could not, despite repeated efforts, be reached for an interview) Darkness in El Dorado, the book on Tierneyís adventures among the gold miners, which was to have been published by Viking in 1995, never appeared; instead, in the year 2000, W.W. Norton announced they were publishing Darkness in El Dorado, which was now a book about "How scientists and journalists devastated the Amazon" and in August Turner and Sponsel sent their email claiming that the book accused Chagnon and his former boss James Neel of genocide by measles. The effect was an immediate storm on the Internet, heightened because Norton refused to release copies of the book. The claims were repeated in this country by Survival International, who put out a press release, picked up by the Guardian and the BBC, though both organisations mentioned only Neel by name, since he died I February this year and can no longer sue. In November, the New Yorker published a curious excerpt from the book, with large holes in the argument where it appears that laywers and fact checkers had dined well; and in mid November, 5,000 members of the AAA gathered in San Francisco for their annual convention, or, in Yanomamö terms, five days of feasting when the ritual fighting could take place
When the Yanomamö fight in villages, they do not often try to kill each other. The men spend their afternoons snorting hallucinogenic powders which make them vomit, then drool green snot, and finally feel more cheerful. Then theyíll engage in trials of strength, where each man wants to outdo the others in enduring pain before he inflicts it back. At first, the contestants face each other, and then punch as hard as they can their opponentís pectoral muscles. If that is not enough to solve the problem, they graduated to open-handed slaps on the kidney, delivered as hard as possible and again in turn. People can die from this. Then, as a last resort before the lethal violence, there is pole-fighting, where the contestants seize the five-metre whippy poles which hold up the house rooves, and take turns to smash them down as hard as possible on one anotherís heads. The winner is the last man standing, but he will have taken some terrible blows in the process. One result of this contest is that the tonsured Yanomamö men are proud to have scalps so scarred by these tremendous blows that they look quilted.
|Patrick Tierney at the panel discussion|
The equivalent of a full-scale pole fight among the anthropologists is a panel discussion. Just as with a pole fight, the contestants are judged by their ability to take blows, as well as to deal them out; and by this criterion Patrick Tierney has a stunning tolerance for pain. A gaunt, dark-eyed, dark-bearded man, he carried himself with the serenity of a martyr. The ballroom at the Hilton hotel, where this took place, was completely packed: about three thousand people sat on chairs, but they also stood in two rows at the back so that it was impossible to push between them, and sat on the carpeted three deep in front of the front row of chairs. Not everyone there had read the book: itís probable that most hadnít, even though the nearest bookshop was completely sold out. But it is certain that they had all read Turner and Sponselís email. Indeed, the two men were to speak the following evening.Next: The meat of the accusations