Welcome to the Jungle

Steven Malanga in City Journal:

SavageAnthropologist Napoleon Chagnon’s heart was pounding in late November 1964 when he entered a remote Venezuelan village. He planned to spend more than a year studying the indigenous Yanomamo people, one of the last large groups in the world untouched by civilization. Based on his university training, the 26-year-old Chagnon expected to be greeted by 125 or so peaceful villagers, patiently waiting to be interviewed about their culture. Instead, he stumbled onto a scene where a dozen “burley, naked, sweaty, hideous men” confronted him and his guide with arrows drawn.

Chagnon later learned that the men were edgy because raiders from a neighboring settlement had abducted seven of their women the day before. The next morning, the villagers counterattacked and recovered five of the women in a brutal club fight. As Chagnon recounts in Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—The Yanomamo and the Anthropologists (originally published in 2013 and now appearing in paperback), he spent weeks puzzling over what he had seen. His anthropology education had taught him that kinsmen—the raiders were related to those they’d attacked—were generally nice to one another. Further, he had learned in classrooms that primitive peoples rarely fought one another, because they lived a subsistence lifestyle in which there was no surplus wealth to squabble about. What other reason could humans have for being at one another’s throats?

More here.