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Cultural Anthropology Essay Sample

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Cultural Anthropology Essay Sample

Linda Rabben is an anthropologist who works on behalf of survivors of human rights abuses in the US and Brazil. She received a Ph.D. in anthropology and Latin American studies from Cornell University. During the 1980s and ’90s she returned many times to Brazil to carry out research on social movements and represent international organizations and government agencies, including Amnesty International, the Rainforest Foundation and the Inter-American Foundation. Her book, Unnatural Selection: The Yanomami, the Kayapó and the Onslaught of Civilization just like other her articles is devoted to human rights, environmental and development issues. They have appeared in many periodicals, including The Nation, Cultural Survival Quarterly and Discovery Channel Magazine (http://www.housing.wisc.edu/)

Generically, the Indigenous peoples that live not only in Brazil but also in the entire American continent are called Indians. This name is the result of a historical mistake made by the first Europeans who arrived in America, who thought they had reached India. The continuous use of the word, even by the Indians themselves, has made it a synonym of an Indigenous person in Brazil. The book covers following aspects: social conditions, ethnic identity, possibilities of cultural assimilation for Yanomamo and Kayapo Indians, social changes in Brazil, development of anthropology science in Brazil, ethnic relations and social policy in this country.

From the book we know that Kayapo and the Yanomami for a long time contacted with the outer world. They became internationally known because of their dramatic encounters with “white” world. But both of them just struggle to exceed internal division, save their traditions and protect their land from depredation. Author’s conclusion is that Kayapo’s views for the future seem to be more promising than the Yanomami’s. The author places each group in its historical and evolutionary context to examine these tribes’ relationship to Brazilian society and the other world. Linda Rabben provides a case study of the ‘rise and fall’ of the Kayapo’s leader Paulinho Pajakã in the eyes of the environmentalist community, in a book that also deals with the Yanomami. During the 1980s and 1990s, the Kayapó became famous in the national and international media as a result of their activism in pursuit of political rights and the demarcation of their lands, as well as the intense form in which they interacted with local markets in search of industrialized products. Their leaders Ropni (better known as Raoni) and Bepkoroti (Paulinho Payakã) became famous world-wide.

Their appearances in Brasília during the process of the Consitutional Assembly and the intense activities of these leaders in events and protests within Brazil and abroad were the main character of the period. The culminating point was in 1989 when leaders from Kayapo communities, along with representatives of 24 other indigenous peoples and environmentalist groups from various countries, gathered in order to stop the construction of an hydroelectric complex on the Xingu river, in particular the Kararao plant. Jointly, Raoni had gained international help from the singer Sting, which resulted in the creation of non-governmental organizations for protecting the rainforest and the Kayapo, such as the Rainforest Foundation and its Brazilian affiliate, the Fundação Mata Virgem.

Then Payakã was awarded with a medal of honour from the Better World Society, a philanthropic body for the defence of the environment and the welfare of humanity, in the category for Protection of the Environment. I think it’s important to think about the wild nature now while we still have it before it becomes too late. But there is a doubt that many sources of international help are only interested in the Indians in so far as they acted as defenders of nature. When Kayapó entered into negotiations with those economic forces that most provoke environmental damage in Amazonia: timber and mining exploration this resulted in their shifting from being ecological heroes to the real villains of Amazonia. But still Kayapó and Yanomami continue in their efforts to move on the interface between our world and their own

In a word this book is very informative and useful when one is interested in history of indigenous people and many issues involved in their struggle to protect their habitat in the Amazon. This book gave me a very good summary of the indigenous issues and different kinds of conflicts that occurred while Kayapo and Yanomami dealing with the “white” world and confronting the new historical conditions faced by them. The author, Linda Rabben covers them precisely and fairly.


  1. Rabben, Linda, 1998, Unnatural Selection: The Yanomami, The Kayapo and the Onslaught of civilization, Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press.

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