Benoît de L’Estoile, Federico Neiburg,
and Lygia Sigaud
Anthropology and the Government
of ‘‘Natives,’’ a Comparative Approach
Two recent events help to illustrate some of the contrasting aspects of
anthropology’s present predicaments, including the way these predicaments
are embedded in complex power relationships. At the meeting of the Ameri-
can Anthropological Association in San Francisco in November 2000, a
large crowd of anthropologists packed into a conference room for a special
session titled ‘‘Ethical Issues in Field Research among the Yanomami.’’ The
session had been convened by the association’s ethics committee in the wake
of the uneasiness stirred up by the publication of Patrick Tierney’s contro-
versial book, Darkness in El Dorado, which denounced the alleged mis-
conduct by anthropologists among the indigenous Yanomami populations
living on the borders of Brazil and Venezuela. The atmosphere in the con-
ference room was dramatic. Beyond the troubling accusation of a grave
breach of professional ethics lurked the potential damage to anthropology’s
public image, perhaps putting at risk the discipline’s funding and even its
access to the field: during the session, an anthropologist speaking on behalf
of the Dirección de Assuntos Indigenas, the Venezuelan state agency in
charge of indigenous populations, announced the agency’s decision to place
a moratorium on all research in indigenous areas by local and foreign
Less than three years later, during summer 2003, the prestigious Cartier
Foundation for Contemporary Art hosted an exhibition in Paris titled
‘‘Yanomami, the Spirit of the Forest.’’ The show displayed various works by
contemporary artists invited to visit the Yanomami village of Watokiri in
Brazil, through the mediation of French anthropologist Bruce Albert, along
with the help of two nongovernmental organizations (ngos): Survival Inter-
national and the (Brazilian) Pro-Yanomami Commission. The exhibition
was presented by Davi Kopenawa, a Yanomami shaman and leader, as a way
Previous Page Next Page