I DON´T THINK SO. I DO KNOW SO: To make a world of your own.
The Olivoristas, most of whom live in villages along the border between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, believe that the peasant Olivorio Mateo, who in 1922 was shot by the US Marines, is God. A cult has grown up around Papá Liborio, as most call him, complete with rituals, legends and hymns. The Olivoristas are not centrally organized, their cult is concentrated around various charismatic leaders. Each group has developed its own variations of beliefs and rites. They have a variety of beautiful hymns sung as antiphonal, reflecting their worldview, some are prophetic, others are preaching, or being indications of the devotees´ interaction with and reverence for Papá Liborio. One or two salves may even allude to legends and historical events related to the real Olivorio Mateo.
Olivorista hymns are called salves probably because of Salve Regina, “Hail Holy Queen”, one of the four Marian antiphones sung at different seasons of the Catholic liturgical calendar. There are several Olivorista salves celebrating Virgin Mary, though most of them have a different content. When I once asked Julián Ramos, who had been a personal friend of Olivorio Mateo, which was his favourite salve, he sang:
La Nalga de Maco sabe una cosa:
Cuidado quien dice que es profecía
cuando Colon lleve a Olivorio
a la Maguana en romería.
Which means something like: “The frog´s rear knows something: Beware of those who say it is a prophecy when Columbus takes Olivorio on pilgrimage to La Maguana." There was not much I understood of that, more than that La Maguana, or more precisely La Maguana Arriba, was Olivorio´s birthplace, where he owned a piece of land and which, because of a nearby source, was a place of worship for the entire district, even long before Columbus and his Spaniards appeared on the island. It was here the Olivoristas used to gather for celebrations around their leader, before they had been violently dispersed by both domestic and US troop units. From then on Olivorio and his most loyal supporters moved around as an armed guerrilla unit, from village to village in the Dominican Republic´s and Haiti´s inaccessible mountain regions.
When I asked Julián what the text meant he laughed and se hizo chivo "turned himself into a goat" the Dominican expression for making yourself more stupid than you actually are. Julián lied to me and explained that the Nalga de Maco was the frog's rump, and that Colon "was the great discoverer." When I suggested to him that his explanations turned the salve into pure rubbish. Julian Ramos then stated that for those who do not understand the deeper truths, they may appear as incomprehensible.
It was only when I in the archives in Washington D.C. had found US Marine reports from their pursuit of Olivorio and his men, that I realized that the Frog´s Rear was Nalga de Maco a 2 000 meters high mountain by the border to Haiti and that Columbus, Colon in Spanish, could possibly be the same person who the US reports described as Olivorio's right-hand man - Colén Cuevas.
When I after my visit to the United States came back to the San Juan Valley and once again interviewed people about Olivorio I found that several of my informants knew that Olivorio used to roam about in the area around Nalga de Maco, where he had several followers in the village of Río Limpio, which is situated close to the mountain and where it in the times of Olivorio lived many Haitians. From Río Limpio runs a path across the border into the neighbouring country. It was regularly frequented by smugglers and armed opponents to the US occupiers.
In a gorge on the other side of Nalga de Maco is the opening to a deep and holy cave, which contains several santos. These are stalagmites interpreted as different deities. People from all over the region flock to the vast cave system, carrying with them their palos, the big drums used in ceremonies, and in the light from torches and candles they dance in front of the saints, especially by a stalagmite called La Virgen de la Altagracia because it resembles the Virgin of the Highest Grace, protective Madonna of the Dominican Republic. They dress the stalagmite in blue robes. In the flickering candlelight is possible to discern signs that this is an ancient place of worship. Cave paintings adorn several rock walls, some of them faded almost beyond recognition. But some may still be discerned; trees, lizards, birds and various anthropomorphic creatures, especially birdlike shapes. It was the Taínos, the island's indigenous people who painted them. Most bird figures seem to depict the woodpecker Inrire Cahuvayal and we thus understand that the Taínos probably considered the cave, which the locals call La Iglesia, The Church, as one of the places from which the first people came forward.
When the Spaniards arrived in the island there lived approximately half a million Taínos, but war, slavery, mistreatment and above all smallpox had in 1548 decimated them to less than five hundred individuals, soon they had disappeared completely. They left behind their cave paintings, small sculptures and other objects that still can be found in caves, or in the soil. In a glass cabinet here in Rome we have a vomit spatula with an ornate effigy. It was used during the nausea that afflicted Taínos during rituals when they became high on hallucinogenic drugs.
They left some words as well, like canoe, hurricane, barbecue, hammock, tobacco, potato and maize, as well as some legends collected by the priest Ramon Pané, who accompanied Columbus on his second voyage to the island. The Italian discoverer ordered the priest to learn the native language and write down what the Indians believed in, so it would be easier to enslave them and convert them to Christianity. What Pané wrote might explain the woodpecker paintings in the Nalga de Maco cave:
They found a bird now called inrim, and in ancient times inrire cahuvayal, that is, a woodpecker, which bores holes in trees. Then, seizing those women without male or female genitals, they bound their hands and feet, and tied that bird to the body of each. The bird, thinking they were trees, began his accustomed work, pecking and hollowing out the place where women's genitals are wont to be. The Indians say that is the manner in which they acquired women, as told by their oldest men. As I wrote in haste and had not enough paper, I could not put everything where it belonged, yet I have made no mistake, for they believe everything that is written here.
Taínos also gave Pané a reason to why they honoured the stalagmites:
From Cacibayagua [the name of a cave] came the majority of the people who settled the island. When they lived in that cave, they posted a guard at night, and they intrusted that charge to a man named Marocael [the culture hero of the Taínos]; they say that one day the sun carried him off because he was late in coming to the door. Seeing that the sun had carried away this man for neglecting his duties, they closed the door to him, and so he was changed into a stone near that door. They say that others who had gone fishing were caught by the sun and changed into the trees call jobos or myrobalans [mango trees].
According to the Taínos some trees had a soul and could thus be made into effigies and drums. This is the procedure they told to Pané:
They make the wooden cemies [deities] in this fashion. If a man walking along the way sees a tree moving its roots, he stops, filled with fear, and asks who it is. The tree replies, "Summon a buhuitihu [shaman], and he will tell you who I am." Then that man goes in search of a physician and tells him what he has seen. The sorcerer or warlock immediately runs toward that tree, sits down by it, and prepares a cohoba for it […] he rises, and pronounces all its titles as if it was a great lord, and says to it: "Tell me who you are and what you are doing here, and what you want of me and why you summoned me. Tell me if you want me to cut you down, and if you wish to come with me, and how you want me to carry you; for I shall build a house for you and endow it with land." Then that cemi or tree, becomes an idol or devil, tells him the shape in which it wants to be made.
Cohoba was a ceremony when grounded peas from the yopo tree were inhaled in a twin-nasal, Y-shaped pipe producing a psychedelic effect.
Even today palos, the holy drums of the Olivoristas, are made of tree trunks believed to have a life of their own. They are baptized, have a secret name and a specific personality.
Romilio Ventura, a controversial and legendary Olivorista leader, once told me that he often visited La Cueva, The Cave, where he meets with God. What he meant was probably that he felt the presence of El Gran Poder de Dios, The Great Power of God, a vital force that animates some people, animals and plants and is especially present in sources and caves, because they are in direct contact with Earth, where the power originates. For many, the San Juan Valley is like a blanket covering the abode of spirits and other vital forces. One peasant told me:
When the Spaniards came they killed and abused the Indians, who despite being peaceful and tranquil are the real owners of the land. To survive, they settled in the land below us, where they still live. Their power manifests itself in springs and in caves.
I believed I finally understood some of the "deeper meanings" of the strange salve Julián Ramos had sung, but it was probably more colloquial than mysterious. Could it simply mean that Olivorio and his men remained hidden in, or around, the cave under Nalga de Maco and the salve was sung as some kind of coded message to their loyal supporters in La Maguana? Thus could the phrase "Nalga de Maco knows something" mean that the cave under the mountain was hiding Olivorio and his men. "Beware of those who say it is a prophecy," meant you cannot believe those who say that Olivorio is dead, because "Colon brings Olivorio on pilgrimage to La Maguana", meaning that Colén Cuevas and Olivorio Mateo will appear in La Maguana Arriba, Olivorio´s native village, on Midsummer´s Eve when people from all over the region gather for annual fertility rites at the source in La Maguana, an event commonly known as La Romería de la Agüita.
When I after returning to Santo Domingo read a notice that a certain Mark Feedman, organic grower from an agricultural project in Río Limpio, would give a talk, I went there with the hope of meeting someone who could guide me to the Olivoristas in Río Limpio and through the mysterious landscape surrounding Nalga de Maco. The audience was a group of agronomists, a representative from the Ministry of Agriculture and several Anthroposophists, including three Swedes - a likable gentleman of my father's age named Arne Klingborg and two youngsters. They came from Järna, which proved to be the centre of the anthroposophist movement in Sweden. I did not know much about anthroposophist ideas, but I had read one or two things about the movement. In the seventies I had in Sweden also visited the recently founded Waldorf School in Lund, because a friend of mine had her son there.
I found the lecture somewhat too effervescent - Mark Feedman´s agricultural project could hardly be as wonderful as he described it. However, I also thought it could a possibility that I was prejudiced. To me it sometimes appear as if some Americans are a bit too energetic, cheerfully naive and overly self-confident, perhaps due to what my Italian friend Niki used to call their "over-vitaminized culture".
After the lecture I conversed with Arne Klingborg, a cordial and enthusiastic person. Klingborg was an artist, a convinced anthroposophist and he related his creative activities to Rudolf Steiner's ideas about colours. How the founder of anthroposophy had discovered a link between growth, colour and art. How each plant grows from a seed rooted in the black earth, and then develop their green leaves and the perfection in colourful flowers and fruit, all due to the life-giving warmth and light of the sun's cosmic energy:
The green leaves, in their form and thickness and in their greenness too, carry an earthly element, but they would not be green unless the cosmic force of the Sun were also living in them. And even more so when you come to the coloured flower; therein are living not only the cosmic forces of the Sun, but also the supplementary forces which the Sun-forces receive from the distant planets — Mars, Jupiter and Saturn. In this way we must look at all plant growth. Then, when we contemplate the rose, in its red colour we shall see the forces of Mars. Or when we look at the yellow sunflower — it is not quite rightly so called, it is called so on account of its form; as to its yellowness it should really be named the Jupiter-flower. For the force of Jupiter, supplementing the cosmic force of the Sun, brings forth the white or yellow colour in the flowers.
And much more in a similar vein all mixed into Steiner's imaginative brew of theosophy, occultism, Goethe's colour theory and natural science. His thoughts on colour and growth had a great significance for the Waldorf pedagogy, where up to the age of seven children are defined in accordance with warm and saturated red, violet and pink. At puberty they are being connected with stronger shades of yellow, green and blue, which after a few years turn into intensely pink, orange and grass green, to finally settle down into more subtle, pastel-like, warm shades of green, light brown and grey.
Admittedly, Klingborg did not express himself in such a fairly opaque manner, but I could nevertheless discern some of Steiner's notions while he spoke about the relationship between growth and colour, light and clarity. It was fascinating to listen to Klingborg when he explained how he devoted himself to painting and gardening and allowed these activities to cross-fertilize each other. I became even more interested when he told me that he had been a pupil of Isaac Grünewald, an influential Swedish artist who in his turn had been a pupil of Henri Matisse and written an excellent book about his mentor.
I had for some incomprehensible reason recently read a book about the German architect Bruno Taut and it turned out that Klingborg was very interested in Taut, especially in his way of combining colours with his imaginative architectural forms. We agreed that we would have lunch together the next day and that I would bring him the Taut book. Mark Feedman and the young Swedish couple would also be there. The next day it was agreed that the youngsters would rent a car and take me and Rose with them up to Río Limpio. Unfortunately was Arne Klingborg forced to go back to Sweden that same day.
Rose and I went early in the morning with the anthropologist couple young people up to Río Limpio, where we were warmly received by Mark Feedman and his wife Chela Lightchild. It was a typical Dominican village, with open and friendly people. It even appeared to be slightly more "developed" than other Dominican villages along the frontier with Haiti. There were several well-stocked colmados, small groceries/bars, a police station, a well-kept central square and some communal installations, among them a coffee roastery, which however was out of order. Maybe all this was due to the fact that Río Limpio once had been one of the border villages which the dictator Trujillo in the 1930s had planned to populate with immigrants - Jews, Japanese, Spaniards - to constitute a kind of "bulwark" against what his political propaganda depicted as harmful influences from Haiti, the source of “Gallo-African” promiscuity, barbarism and superstition.
What was a bit worrying, however, was that Mark Feedman, while he demonstrated his neat, but not particularly extensive, biodynamic cultivations, continually stressed his major contributions as a revolutionary organizer and inspirer. A lonely hands-on and enlightened man, who single-handedly worked in a backward part of the country. He talked about his grandiose plans, how they differed from the polluting, large-scale and locally insensitive aid projects that the Government and other NGOs devoted themselves to.
Rose who is a Dominican country girl, originating from a large and typical Dominican peasant family, did like me find it quite embarrassing when Feedman depicted the for us quite familiar Dominican countryside as a backward place. Our impression was not improved when we felt that Feedman obviously did not appreciate us talking freely and openly with the locals. Furthermore, he introduced us to a young man who was visiting him, doing reconnaissance for a German TV team. The German complained that he had not found any "sufficiently poor people to film." Certainly there is much misery and poverty in rural areas of the Dominican Republic, but people are far from being as awkward as Feedman apparently seemed to insinuate.
Nevertheless, Rose and I assumed that Río Limpio could be a sufficiently interesting place to spend some days in and jumped at Feed's generous offer for a week´s sojourn as guests at his biodynamic, experimental station, something which also meant that I, along with our friend Mats Lundahl, who would soon arrive in the island, could explore the areas around the village and maybe even find some old Olivoristas to interview. The same day we left with the anthroposophy youngsters, driving along the Haitian-Dominican border, sleeping over at a rundown hostel in the little town of Bánica, from where I remember the big tarantulas who lived behind a door and a woman´s night long wailing that could be heard through the thin walls.
A few weeks later, Mark Feedman came to see us in Santo Domingo and brought us up north with his pick-up. Rose and our four years old daughter Janna sat with Feedman in the front seat, while I and Mats sat on the flatbed. It was election times and we had put on baseball caps with the violet and yellow colours of the then very popular author and former president Juan Bosch's party El Partido de la Liberación Dominicana (PLD), something that made people honk and wave at us throughout the long journey.
Mats Lundahl, who had been Rose´s professor of Economics, is twelve years older than me and at the time we worked together on a book about Olivorio Mateo and socio-economic conditions in the Dominican Republic during the last century. We always have fun together and enjoyed our time on the truck, heading for new adventures.
We slept in Mark Feedman´s "guest cottage" - a large, round hut with a cone-shaped roof made of paja, straw. I, Rose and Janna slept in a bed on the ground floor, while Mats had to climb up a ladder to some kind of loft. From the rafters hung jute sacks with seed and there were also some of them stacked up behind Mats´ bed. The bags hung as they did so the rats could not get at them. As soon as the night fell, pitter-patter and wheezing was heard in the dark. Rats crawled along the rafters above us and ran back and forth over the bags behind Mats, gnawing and scurrying, he had a tough night.
The following day, Mark Feedman once again showed us his organic crops. His approach to gardening was based on Alan Chadwick´s "French, intensive, bio-dynamic method". It basically meant that the garden beds were raised and plants were densely planted to increase their growth capacity; sunlight, fertilization and soil moisture was utilized to the maximum, no chemicals or pesticides were added, everything was based on nature´s own produce and elaborated in the same place. All fertilization was based on composting and pests were battled through natural means. Feedman pointed out that he was engaged in culture - agriculture. Everything that grows and develops, like life itself, have to grow as part of its natural environment. It has to be organic.
He and his wife had for a few years been trained by Alan Chadwick on a collective farm that 1973 had been founded in Colevo, California. It was regarded as some kind of hippie community. However, the young people had earned the locals´ respect since they devoted themselves not to drugs and radical politics, but to hard work under the guidance of their culture hero Alan Chadwick, a wise master, but endowed with a violent temper.
Chadwick, who was born in 1909 in a noble English family, had since then worked as a captain of a minesweeper during World War II and a traveling Shakespeare actor in South Africa. All his life he had also been a dedicated gardener, an interest that eventually occupied him full time and he came to be considered as one of the great pioneers of organic farming. He was religiously inclined and when he became older he entered a Zen Buddhist community. Chadwick eloquently preached the doctrine that man must return to his origins, becoming an integrated part of nature and a considerate keeper of its gifts.
It was in South Africa that Alan Chadwick met countess Freya von Moltke, widow of Helmut von Moltke, who in his castle Kreisau in Poland had devoted himself to organic farming, before he had been drafted as an officer in the Wehrmacht. Profoundly shocked by his experiences on the Eastern Front he joined the Nazi opposition and was executed in January 1945.
Freya and Alan shared an interest in Rudolf Steiner's theories about gardening. In 1960, Freya chose to live with the historian and philosopher Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy and they moved to California. When the University of California in 1967 started a course in gardening, Freya suggested that Alan Chadwick could build up a bio-dynamic garden and supervise practical horticulture.
I knew nothing about that when we met Marc Feedman, but he talked constantly about Alan Chadwick and Rosenstock-Hussey. What he also did not got tired of was pointing out that he was a practical man, someone who was not afraid of getting his hands dirty. For him practical work was equal to philosophy and he quoted Rosenstock-Huessy who apparently had claimed that the brain is the only body part that does not produce new cells and hence would be a dead organ if not continuously stimulated by physical activities.
We began to be quite irritated by Feedman´s preaching. Especially his explanations of how Dominican peasants thought and acted, made Rose lose her patience. Mark Feedman also had an annoying habit of answering questions and objections by repeating: “I do not think so, I do know so.” He claimed that he trained peasants to become" barefoot agronomists” who would spread his gospel of organic farming throughout the country. Peasants would eventually come to him from the entire country to learn about organic farming.
The day after our restless night among the rats was the First of May and we had begun to understand that something was not quite right with Feedman´s agricultural collective. The peasants who worked for Feedman said they would rather not work on that particular day since it throughout the Dominican Republic was celebrated as the day of the labourers. Feedman argued that that First of May was not celebrated in the US and it could therefore not be a day off. We understood then that the garden workers were employed, something that had not been clear before.
In the afternoon there was tuition in a "classroom", Chela Lighthild instructed the weary workers. On a blackboard, she drew with chalk a plant that grew out of the earth and the sun and the moon, then she launched one of the most muddled expositions I've ever heard - about how the sun, the moon and planets affected the Earth´s vegetation in different ways, something apparently along the lines of Steiner's more befuddled theories. The peasants listened intently. I wondered if they understood more than I did, i.e. – almost nothing. Feedman stood with crossed arms in the doorway, when he spotted that one of the audience had fallen asleep, he went over and pushed him awake.
After the lesson there was a scene in the courtyard. Someone said that they should not have been working at all during such a day, it had brought bad luck. One of the men had accidentally cut himself in the leg with a machete. The peasant who had fallen asleep during Chela´s lecture muttered to Mats and me that Feedman had withdrawn his daily payment, which apparently was the punishment for his lack of attention. Later that evening, Chela gave another lesson, this time it was about knitting to a group of women. Rose, who knows how to sew and knit perfectly well, was now thoroughly annoyed, not the least since Chela´s approach to knitting was exclusively theoretical, using the chalkboard for a theoretical review of the esoteric secrets of kitting. No one had touched any knitting needles during the hour that the lesson lasted. At our vegetarian supper Rose argued with Mark Feedman pointing out that she did not believe neither in him nor his project and left the following day with Janna. I do not remember how. I and Mats stayed on because we wanted to encounter Olivoristas.
Feedman wanted to keep me and Mats in his vicinity during the remaining week, something that meant that he did not want us to meet with any Olivoristas. Nevertheless, we managed to talk to a peasant who brought us to an old Olivorista, who lived on the hillside of Nalga de Maco. He told us the old man had known both Olivorio Mateo and one of his followers, José Popa, who in 1930 had been murdered by Trujillo's henchmen.
We had a long conversation with the old gentleman, who in spite of making himself into a goat gave us a wealth of interesting information. He denied he had known anyone with name of Olivorio Mateo. He had never heard that there would be a cave under Nalga de Maco. Such "superstitions" did not interest him. When we pointed out that he had several palos and an altar inside his house, he asserted that he kept them "for the sake of the children".
However, there was no doubt that he was a convinced Olivorista. He made one mistake after another, got entangled in his own denials and to escape his web of unsustainable fabrications he began to tell us what “others” believed in and had told him. In the end, Mats and I had gently winded quite a lot of unique material out of him; about the area, Olivorista lore, smuggling routes and revelations about a living, popular religiosity. As we walked away, we asked the peasant who had brought us up there why the old man had been so reticent. Laughingly he replied that the old man had become upset by our unannounced visit and believed we were "two generals with pistols."
When we returned to Feedman´s farm, he had been waiting for us. He was furious, claiming that we, through our “self-indulgent behaviour”, could have jeopardized the future of "his project". Mark Feedman had his position and his reputation to think about and therefore he could not let us run around and talk to people he had not formally introduced us to.
When Mats and I later in the evening were alone in our rat infested abode we decided to leave. It seemed as if our dealings with Feedman jeopardized our attempts to make contact with Olivoristas. Moreover, Feedman was far too moody and his wife apparently up the creek. The anthroposophical lectures, considered in connection with her name - Chela Lightchild, indicated that she and her husband apparently had some hazy hippie background. Lightchild could hardly be her real name and I happened to know that chela was a Hindu term for a female disciple of a guru.
However, it turned out that Feedman owned the only car in the village and he refused us to take us back to Santo Domingo, or drop us off in a nearby town. He had decided to convince us that his project was truly excellent. There was a risk we could slander him. Mats was a professor at the Stockholm School of Economics and Feedman was negotiating Swedish support, especially from the Anthroposophists and various Swedish agricultural institutions, moreover he knew that I knew some key persons in Santo Domingo.
He drove us around in his pick-up, telling us about his time as a Peace Corps volunteer in various parts of Latin America, his time with Alan Chadwick and Rosenstock-Huessys philosophy. Rosenstock-Huessy had apparently been the inspiration for the founding of the US Peace Corps. Freedman told us how hard he struggled to gain support for his revolutionary farming ideas. He was disliked by the international aid establishment, which was opposed to his hands-on approach, unlike most others he had chosen to live and work among peasants and was fed up with aid agencies who generally were the obedient servants of a squandering consumer society.
Mark Feedman was probably, after all, a true idealist, but did nevertheless appear as slightly too blunt and clumsy to our taste. His imprudent statement that he used various organizations to “pump money” and his refusal to take up hitchhiking farmers irritated us. I had not seen anyone behave like that. If there was room on the flatbed it was in the Dominican countryside customary to pick-up pedestrians.
Another day of idleness had passed. In the evening, Mats and I brought the bottle of whiskey we had bought to give to my friend Father Reilly, the priest of San Juan de La Maguana and sneaked out to visit some peasants we had talked with during the day. Together we shared the contents of the bottle while they talked about how Mark Feedman often was in a bad mood and had dismissed several of those working for him. The gringo did not like that they spoke with people like Mats and me. Unfortunately, without a horse, mule or car it was difficult to get away from the village. We had to walk a few miles to get down to the main road, unless the policemen by the roadblock by the village entrance could drive us, but they were not there right now.
Mats and I had no other choice than rising before sunrise and cautiously sneak out of the village. We had come half way down to the main road when we heard Feedman´s pick-up and saw the dust cloud around it. We threw ourselves headlong into the ditch and breathed out as he drove past, without having discovered us. While we continued our walk we were constantly worried that he would come back, but we were lucky as soon as we came down to the main road and almost immediately hitched a ride with a group of soldiers and sat with them on the flatbed, while their pick-up drove down along the border. We were singing and drinking rum together with the soldiers, relieved after having been able to escape from Río Limpio and Feedman´s surveillance.
I came to write about my memories from Río Limpio since I had just read a book about Yanomami, an ethnic group living in a remote area of the Amazon jungle. While I studied history of religions in the mid-seventies Napoleon Chagnon´s book Yanomamö: The Fierce People was quite popular, as well as his accomplished films about this isolated group of people, where men fought fierce battles to master as many women as possible.
Chagnon´s theories were influenced by socio-biology, a view which explains social behaviour in accordance with the evolutionary benefits it may provide. Chagnon felt that Yanomami´s apparent isolation made it possible to detect ancient social behaviour among them, traits strengthening a human species' ability to survive in a harsh and demanding environment. In the case of Yanomami, in particular how strong men through fights and other forms of violence insured their ability to mate with as many appealing women as possible. Chagnon noted:
Not all organisms live permanently in socially organized groups. Why some do it is a fascinating question, one that cannot be explained by the social sciences. It is biological and evolutionary matter, so it falls outside the scope of this book, outside the scope of cultural anthropology. This does not mean, however, that anthropologists can ignore this question.
Many regarded Chagnon´s book as a useful counterweight to depictions of indigenous people as noble savages, in fact, they were just as wicked as "ordinary, civilized” people - if not even worse. They oppressed women, fought and betrayed one another and all this for their own personal gain. Chagnon despised desk anthropologists who had not, like him, really lived close to the people they wrote about:
We´ve all been on camping trips, but imagine the hygienic consequences of camping for about three years in the same small place with two hundred companions without sewers, running water, or garbage collection, and you get a sense of what daily life is like among the Yanomamö.
In those days it was probably few anthropology students who had not seen Chagnon´s films about Yanomami fighting with each other, getting high on hallucinogenic drugs and living close by and through a hostile nature. I could sometimes fantasize about how exciting it could have been as a sole Westerner to get to know a hitherto "non-contacted" tribe, learn its language and arrive at revolutionary insights.
Chagnon´s book soon gave rise to a wealth of "scientific" studies of the Yanomami, and a not insignificant number of romanticized descriptions of their fascinating way of life. A great success was the anthropologist Florina Donner´s New Age inspired story about her time with Yanomami - Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the South American Rainforest. It was eventually revealed that Donner had been in Los Angeles during the time she claimed to have be in the Amazon and large parts of her experiences were plagiarized from an Italian anthropologist´s interviews with Helena Varelo, who as a twelve years old girl in 1932 had been kidnapped by the Yanomami. Florinda Donner disappeared without a trace when her husband Carlos Castaneda, a legendary New Age writer, died in 1998. However, Helena Varelo was still alive when Patrick Tierney met her in 1996 with the Yanomami group she had returned to after for some years been living depressed at a mission station.
Patrick Tierney also met Yarima, a Yanomami lady who still spoke some English after being married to one of Chagnon´s assistants, and future adversary, and then lived for several years in New Jersey, before she left her husband and children to return to the Yanomami. As a contrast to Chagnon´s adrenaline fuelled depictions of Yanomami I may recommend David Good's emotional meetings with his mother Yarima, which began in 2013, after nineteen years of separation. a goog start would be a a CBS documentary From the Amazon to the Garden State https://www.youtune.com/watch?v=LI0-gyJdi6U
It seems hat Tierney, unlike Chagnon, whom he mercilessly attacks in his well-documented book Darkness in Eldorado, made an effort to present the Yanomami as individuals. By Chagnon it is easy to get the impression that he describes Yanomami only as types, although he learned their language and lived with them for more than seventeen months, and after that returned on several occasions. Tierney describes how Chagnon´s Yanamamö in fact, was not the "un-contacted" and isolated group they seem to be in his study.
Yanomami had already before Chagnon´s appearance among them in 1963, retreated from their original areas since lumber jacks and gold diggers had begun to trouble them. They had also been decimated by a violent smallpox epidemic and from missionaries and various developers received axes, household utensils and machetes. They were thus not some completely isolated human remnants, surviving in accordance with ancient traditions, but individuals whose traditional way of life was changing in a drastic manner. A destructive process, which according to Tierney, was exacerbated by Chagnon´s wanton intercourse with them.
Something which, among other things, meant that he got the Yanomami to face his camera while he staged regular battles and fights, hallucinatory rites, revealed tabooed bloodlines and names, making them sell information and even their blood for coveted weapons, utensils and machetes. Tierney claimed that the Yanomami never had been as “fierce” as Chagnon depicted them. In fact, they avoided conflict and had shirked from people they felt threatened by. Likewise, Chagnon´s claims about the numerous battles for control of women was largely exaggerated. Several of Tierney's accusations against Chagnon have not been corrobated and for several years a debate raged for and against him. A fairly unbiased summary, which primarily supports Chagnon´s assertions, is available by Ramsay (2013).
Chagnon was not alone in exploiting Yanomami for different purposes. There was, for example Chagnon´s ally, the French anthropologist Jacques Lizot, who lived with the Yanomami for 24 years, between 1968 and 1992, and published a comprehensive Yanomami dictionary, while he surrounded himself with and sexually exploited a court of Yanomami boys, whose services he paid with guns and metal tools.
On several occasions Chagnon returned with journalists, film makers, government officials and various developers, always bringing with him a big amount of goods. On one occasion, he arrived with a helicopter, which landed in the middle of the open space of a shabono, one of the Yanomami confined villages.
In a book Chagnon wrote in response to Tierney's attacks, the reader is told that although Chagnon sometimes ventured into the jungle, though always in company with native guides and abundant goods as gifts and disbursement, most of the time he lived with his family on James P. Barker´s mission station. The shabono whose inhabitants he studied so intensely had four years earlier at Barker's advice built their village close to his mission station. Chagnon lived in a roomy hut close to Barker´s house and his kids often played in the missionary´s enclosed garden, where he had a large hen house. In The Fierce People Chagnon nevertheless rarely mentions his missionary neighbour and the reader gets the impression that Chagnon lived as close to the “natural state” as a Westerner could possibly do.
That it was Barker who introduced the Yanomami Chagnon becomes clear at the beginning of The Fierce People. A description that it may be worthwhile to quote in its entirety, not the least as an example of one of the arrival stories that Marie Louis Pratt has analysed. She stated that an anthropologist´s description of his/her arrival to the people that will be an object for his/hers scientific observations, may serve as an indication of perceptions that will dominate the research. Is the arrival description off-putting, the research findings will be framed in a negative manner, and vice versa.
Pratt's analysis is included in one of James Clifford's studies of anthropology as a kind of literary genre. He interprets anthropological studies as literary texts, finding that they seldom are “objective”, instead they are interpretations of other peoples´ reality, or as in Émile Zola´s famous definition of works of art “corners of nature seen through a temperament”.
Chagnon´s arrival story underscores Yanomami uniqueness, their physicality and menacing attitudes. Chagnon is and remains an outsider, a watcher, albeit a bold and enterprising one:enterprising one:
I had travelled in a small aluminium rowboat propelled by a large outboard motor for two and a half days, cramped in with several extra fifty-five-gallon gasoline barrels and two Venezuelan functionaries who worked for the Malarialogía, the Venezuelan malaria control service. They were headed to their tiny outpost in Yanomamö territory—two or three thatched huts. […]
We picked up a passenger at Tama Tama, James P. Barker, the first outsider to make a sustained, permanent contact with the Venezuelan Yanomamö in 1950. He had just returned from a year’s furlough in the United States, where I had briefly visited him in Chicago before we both left for Venezuela. […]
The excitement of meeting my first Yanomamö was almost unbearable as I duck-waddled through the low passage into the village clearing. I looked up and gasped when I saw a dozen burly, naked, sweaty, hideous men staring at us down the shafts of their drawn arrows! Immense wads of green tobacco were stuck between their lower teeth and lips making them look even more hideous, and strands of dark-green slime dripped or hung from their nostrils—strands so long that they clung to their pectoral muscles or drizzled down their chins.
We arrived at the village while the men were blowing a hallucinogenic drug up their noses. One of the side effects of the drug is a runny nose. The mucus is always saturated with the green powder and they usually let it run freely from their nostrils.
My next discovery was that there were a dozen or so vicious, underfed dogs snapping at my legs, circling me as if I were to be their next meal. I just stood there holding my notebook, helpless and pathetic. Then the stench of the decaying vegetation and filth hit me and I almost got sick. I was horrified. [...] So much for my discovery that primitive man is not the picture of nobility and sanitation I had conceived him to be.
Chagnon eventually participated in Yanomami´s hallucinogenic rituals, dressed like them and tried to represent himself as an intimidating and powerful shaman. However, he retained his distance and regarded Yanomami as a different group of people. In defence of his behaviour and research methods, forty-five years after his first contact with the Yanomami Chagnon wrote a book he called Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes _ Yanomamö and Anthropologists . He did not want to admit that he could have harmed any of them. He was himself a victim:
The damage done to me and my work by the false accusations in this book [Darkness in Eldorado] devastated my research career [Chagnon was already retired when Tierney's book was published], damaged my health, gravely distressed my family […] I was so overwhelmed by incessant calls from reporters during the first several weeks of the press coverage that early one morning in October 2000, I collapsed from all the stress and had to be hospitalized.
It has not been my intention to equate Chagnon´s self-indulgent behaviour with Mark Feedman´s considerably more modest and discreet efforts in Río Limpio. The suffering that Chagnon apparently caused several individuals had no counterpart in Río Limpio. On the contrary, Mark Feedman´s efforts were probably largely beneficial for the residents of the Dominican village and he has certainly also done something for the dissemination of organic farming in the Dominican Republic. The only similarity I may perceive between Chagnon and Feedman is an impression of their great confidence in themselves and their perceptions. Strangers who know best and tell others what is right or wrong - “I don't think so. I do know so.”
While I wrote the essay, I came to wonder what had happened to Mark Feedman and his project. I checked online and found that in Río Limpio was a project supported by Swedish Anthroposophists and I wrote a couple of lines to Mikko Tuononen, who heads the initiative. He sent me a very friendly reply in which he told me that he arrived in Rio Limpio in the autumn of 1986, and stayed there for seven years. At first, he worked with Mark Feedman and later on with the Working Group for Rural Development, a Swedish anthroposophical NGO in which Arne Klingborg was a board member until his death in 2006. Mark Feedman and his wife Chela left Río Limpio in the early nineties, having built up CREAR, which now serves as a kind of state-funded agricultural school. Mark and Chela live in New Mexico and the reasons for leaving Río Limpio was Feedman´s failing health and maybe also the fact that "the financing of the work might not have been so easy for him."
Mikko Tuonen wrote that I was very welcome to Rio Limpio and if I were to come by we could maybe coordinate our trips so we could meet there. Mikko lives in Finland, but visits Río Limpio every fall. I am tempted to accept his invitation.
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