Responsibilities of Anthropologists
There is much blindness in the way “civilized” people first percieve people of other cultures. Often times this blindness can lead to arrogance. Anthropology has been important for hundreds of years, describing unknown cultures and explaining their histories. Unfortunately, not all of the work or research these anthropologists do can be completely accurate. Researchers such as Napolean A Chagnon abuse not only the culture under question, but all those who follow his work. It is difficult to understand why this type of abuse occurs. There are many explinations why, but the most prevelant being the illusion of superiority. Chagnon was a very crafty man who manipulated his surroundings to get the results he desired. Although supposedly researching the formerly unkonown tribe of the Yanomami, Chagnon essentially changed the history of the Yanomami people, in order to collect information about their past. This is an example of anthropologists abusing his or her power, to further their own career. Chagnon got the results he wanted from the start. Chagnon wanted to describe these people as violent and dangerous in order to get more people interested and make himself seem brave by living with these “wild” tribes. His descriptions were made from his own point of view, which are certainly tainted, and the worst part is that people who read his work have no idea how biased an opinion he might have. Anthropologists have a responcibility to their research, as well as those who learn from it, to be completely objective.
It is disappointing that people get taken advantage of and sometimes led to believe things that make the “reasercher” seem almost mighty. An area of much debate is whether a researcher should intereact or simply observe. Both could have positive or negative results to the people being studied. An argument can be made that the only truly objective way to research a culture is to only observe, and never interact because interacting could change the way people live. A good example of this is the experience of the Yanomami and Chagnon. Chagnon interacted with the Yanomami and eventually brought war and disrespected many religious beliefs they practiced. This could hardly be called objective. An argument could be made using the “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight” essay, for the interaction between the researcher and the culture he or she is studying. In “Deep Play” only the most visual details were available to research, and when the man and wife are introduced to the culture it is then that they are able to make significant conclusions. It is not the point of this essay to determine which method of research is the best or most objective, but rather to state the importance of objectiveness, or lack of objectiveness in Anthropology.
Jane Tompkins, author of “Indians,” questions the validity of every research, every history book, and every opinion turned fact that has been written. Tompkins believes after researching herself the relationship between the Indians and the settelers, that facts, although seemingly true, has a biased attatched with it. Thinking criotaically about this can lead to the questioning of every thing ever written about history. The difficulty she faced in finding the truth about what happened to the Indians in the hands of the settelers questions the value of what society has been assuming the truth. In almost every history book she read different interpretations of the same story was found. Not only different interpretations, but completely opposite recordings of history. This leads to the question of which research to believe and why. An answer to that question will not be attempted in this essay. Tompkins illustrates the importance of finding the answer that best suits the question, by reading different written works from different perspectives. Tompkins, who was inspired to conduct this research because she was teaching a lecture about the subject for college students, could have easily followed the standard of today’s lectureres and restated the first thing she read about the Indians and Setteler’s relationship. That is the way our educational system works for many of the students today. Students hear what teachers want them to hear, and many teachers validate what they are teaching because they read it in some book claiming to be the truth. The truth is that history might not ever have an accurate description of what happened hundreds of years ago. People might think they do, but proof of this is almost impossible to come by. Even the most reliable source, such as Tompkins example of the writings of a girl taken prisoner by the Indians, can be biased. The writings taken from the prisoner girl seemingly must be true because the girl was actually there, but the perspective she was taking tainted her truths. Tompkins also illustrates the conflicting ideas of first hand evidence of writings of two people describing the same culture. One man describes the Indians as beasts who need to be conquered for their own good, another man describes how wonderful it would be to be captured by them and live with among them. These two very different ideas of Indians illustrate the importance of perspectives and objectiveness. The man describing the Indians as rutheless beasts had his own perpective of possibly not the Indians, but of the situation. These accounts were made by a minister, “who wishes to convince his readers that the Indians are in need of conversion” (Jane Tompkins Indians, pg 684). Someone who might read this description of the Indians may believe this man because unlike any historian, he was there with the Indians. This does not make his claim true however. It only makes clear the importance of taking into account all information given and deriving the truth from an individual point of view.
Although in the future anthropology might be somewhat easier because of the advances in technology, the recordings of the world’s history can never be totally accurate. It is important for anthropologists to be carefull to avoid bias in his or her research. It is also very important that when claiming facts one must not include their own perspective, but only the undeniable facts. There are 75 members of the tribe, the weather was 92 degrees, their houses were made of mud, these are example of facts that should be recorded as such. Observations that incude things such as, they are a violent tribe, their nutrition habbits are horrible, their ideas of religion is tainted, are just that, observations, and should not be recorded as facts. An example of this type of abuse in anthropology would be Chagnon’s description of the Yanomami portrayed as facts, but really his own opinion of what he saw. An opinion that was tainted by the meddeling of his own work. Another researcher visited the Yanomami tribe later and concluded very different things about the Yanomami.
Anthropology is vital to the world today, and informs others about cultures that they might not know anything about. It is also very important that anthropologists act responcibly in attaining their information. The responcibility does not solely lie in the hands of the anthropologists, but also there is a responcibility in the readers to determine for themselves what is fact and what is opinion.
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