Doing Fieldwork Among the Yanomamo

Published 10 Oct 2017

When it comes to such specific topics as the anthropological method of participant observation and the concept of culture shock, one particularly relatable article would be Doing Fieldwork Among the Yanomamo, written by Napolean A. Chagnon. We see that he starts off by discussing the presence of the Yanomamo, who are “thinly scattered over a vast and verdant tropical forest, living in small villages that are separated by many miles of unoccupied land’ (1). Throughout the rest of the article we see how important he makes the fact of their habitat and manner of living, as he goes on to say that “They have no writing, but they have a rich and complex language. Their clothing is more decorative than protective…Much of their daily life revolves around gardening, hunting, collecting wild foods, collecting firewood, fetching water, visiting with each other, gossiping, and making the few material possessions they own: baskets, hammocks, bows, arrows, and colorful pigments with which they paint their bodies’ (1).

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The majority of the article is based around the Yanomamo’s style of living and what their social and personal lives revolve around. We are shown their conflicts and dilemmas, as well as their issues of warfare and welfare, and in particular, “The fact that the Yanomamo have lived in a chronic state of welfare is reflected in their mythology, ceremonies, settlement pattern, political behavior, and marriage practices’ (2). In particular regards to the anthropological method of participant observation, we can see how this relates to the article in how

Chagnon spent over 60 months living with the Yanomamo, and how during that time he ended up learning their language, submerging himself in their culture and way of life, and overall just becoming familiar with their personality and way of life. He collected data under some very trying circumstances and conditions, and some of which he explained as being significantly relatable to what anthropologists mean when they speak of culture shock, which basically refers to the feelings of confusion, distress, and often depression of well, which can result from the psychological stress that is caused by the body having to alter or change to adapt to an entirely new culture.

Overall from this review we can conclude a number of different things, namely that the anthropological method of participant observation can be incredibly effective and rewarding, albeit difficult at the same time, as we have seen here, and also that the concept of culture shock is one that must be taken into serious consideration, especially when dealing with a completely alien culture, as was the case here.

Works Cited

  • Chagnon, Napolean A. 2 September 2007
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