Cultural Anthropology

Kenneth Good and the Yanomami



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Kenneth Good’s study of the Yanomami shows that there are many advantages and disadvantages for anthropologists to have lengthy stays in the fields they are working in. There is the advantage of being able to thoroughly get to know the group being studied and the disadvantage of having the researchers turning native and wanting to become part of the society they are studying.

There are many advantages and disadvantages for an anthropologist to stay in the field for extended periods of time as Kenneth Good did. First, I am going to talk about many of the points that I find are advantageous for a researcher, such as Kenneth Good, to stay in the field for very long periods of time. I am going to talk in general terms and also cite some examples from the experiences Good talks about in his book about the Yanomami, Into the Heart. In addition to discussing the advantages of extended stays in the field, I am also going to look into the disadvantages of that same practice.

There are numerous advantages for an anthropologist to remain in the field for a very long amount of time. I feel that this practice makes it a lot easier for the researcher to collect data and ensures that the data that has been collected is accurate. This is achieved in many different ways. The researcher is able to gain the trust of the natives, form bonds with them, and is also able to become accepted into the world of the subjects he is studying. The anthropologist in the field for prolonged periods of time is able to understand the culture and language of the people clearly and also gets a truly insider's look at the culture he or she is studying. The researcher also gets to collect long-term data that provides more accurate information about the group being studied. When an anthropologist is in the field with a group of people for a prolonged amount of time, that person is able to become very familiar with those natives and is able to gain their trust and cooperation. As in any situation, a newcomer is like a lost individual who sticks out like a sore thumb. Someone like that, no matter how many Ph.D.s that person has, is hard to take seriously, and especially to natives who have no concept of a culture contrary to their own existing in the world. An anthropologist comes into a very different culture and can tend to make quite a presence of himself. One of the main objectives of the researcher is to find out the intimate details of the native's life. How can this be accomplished if the natives are fearful of or don't trust this new invader? The best thing for the researcher and the ones being researched is to become comfortable with each other before any serious interaction is attempted.

When Good first came to the Yanomami, they were very curious about him. He was something totally new and mysterious to them. They would come and try to communicate with him and were very eager to learn about Good. He did not try to start all of his research the first day he arrived in their village. While his companion, Carneiro, started his research shortly after their arrival, Good spent time getting to know the people of the village. The main reason for this was that Carneiro didn't need to interact with the people to get his job done. All he needed to do was measure trees and the gardens. Good's research depended on his being able to interact well with the natives and to be able to become a more intimate part of the Yanomami life.

One of the first things Good did to help his interactions with the Yanomami, was he got to know the people of the village. He started out by spending a lot of time with the children. He got to know them and they began to trust him and spent a lot of time teaching him the language. He found that the children had more patience with him when it came to things that needed to be repeated over and over. Many of the tribes people would become frustrated with him when he would have trouble understanding what they were trying to communicate to him. Out of his alliance with the children, Good gained a very powerful tool in acclimating to the Yanomami way: language. Once Good was able to gain a competent command of the Yanomami language he was able to form important bonds with the rest of the people in the village. These bonds are very important for someone doing research to be able to create. These bonds allow the researcher to learn many things that would be otherwise impossible to figure out. Good was able to find out things such as family relations, the positions of other tribes, and important social structures that would have been hard to have figured out on his own. These kind of friendships are very helpful and important in another way too. It gives the researcher someone that he can turn to if he needs help or are confused about certain things. Bonds with the people are just as important in the field as they are in the city. Those bonds take time and a lot of effort to be able to grow and form.

After the anthropologist has been with the village for a while and is able to gain a command of the language along with bonds and friendships with the people, the anthropologist is accepted into the culture of his subjects easier. Once he is accepted into the culture, he is not looked upon as an outsider as much as he was when he first arrived. The researcher is also able to observe and participate more like he is a part of the community. This gives the researcher a better understanding of how the culture of the people really works. Nothing helps a person understand something as much as participating in the actual thing. A very important advantage of living with a group of people for a very long time is that the data that is collected is very accurate. Since Good stayed with the Yanomami for over ten years, he could be sure that all of the information he gathered on them was accurate. He could be sure about how much meat they consumed on average and not have to worry that the month he was there was just bad for hunting. He could be sure that he was recording and observing the norm and not just an exception to the way things usually are.

There are also many disadvantages to staying in the field for prolonged periods of time. A person becomes isolated from his own world and culture. The researcher might form bonds that are too strong with members of the tribe he is staying with. It is also possible for the anthropologist to lose the ability to study his tribe with an objective standpoint. Funding for a long stay in the field can also become very difficult to obtain. One of the disadvantages of staying out in the field so long is that the person is cut off from his own world. He can become so wrapped up in a world that is not his own and then can have some trouble feeling comfortable when back in his own culture. This is where the threat of "turning native" comes into play. If a researcher lives with a people long enough, he might decide to abandon where he are from and stay with the tribes being studied. If this happens, there is a potential that all of the research that was done would be lost since that person doing it decided to abandon his research and become part of his tribe permanently. All of those years of research would be wasted.

Researchers spending too much time in the field become susceptible to forming overly strong bonds with the natives. Kenneth Good is an excellent example of what can happen when one gets too close to someone who he is supposed to be observing. He was driven more for his need to be with Yarima than he was by the research he was really there to be doing. His involvement with Yarima also complicated things a great deal when he was done his research and had to get out of the jungle and go back to America. Not only was it a tiring legal issue, but he caused Yarima and her family to go through a lot of undue stress and pain. Another disadvantage of staying in the field too long is that the anthropologist might lose the important ability to be able to look at things in an abstract manner. Personal feelings and emotions can come into play and it can get very hard for the researcher to be able to stand back and not interfere with what is going on around him. Kenneth good became a very active member of the community he was staying with and would often act on his emotion when driven to it. This happened a lot when Yarima would be at stake. Many anthropologists frown upon this amount of active participation that Good was involved in.

Another problem that faces the anthropologist that stays in the field for an extended period of time is that it can be rather hard to get enough funding to continue the work that is being done in the field. Most of the time, when Good was in an actual city, he was working on getting new permits and trying to get enough funds so he could return to the Yanomami. It is not cheap to fund all of these expeditions into the jungle and someone has to pay for it. It got to the point where Good was borrowing money from all of his friends since he was so broke. He was also having trouble getting magazines to publish his articles. That was another way to get money to help pay for some of his expenses. There are many advantages and disadvantages for an anthropologist to stay in the field for a long period of time. They meet many obstacles and can find many disadvantages in what they are doing. At the same time though, they are finding out about a rare culture and helping to enlighten people. I feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. I feel that the drawbacks are worthwhile to be able to understand other cultures better and to use that knowledge to help preserve them.

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