History, explanation, and war among the Yanomami: A response to Chagnon's Noble Savages

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Why do people make war? Is it in human nature? Publication of Napoleon Chagnon's Noble Savages resurrects old arguments, largely displaced in recent times by study of larger scale political violence, and sidelined by more contemporary theoretical currents. This shift ceded the human nature issue to a variety of biologistic approaches, for which Chagnon's image of the Orinoco-Mavaca Yanomamo is foundational. Chagnon proposes that war is driven by reproductive competition, with men fighting over women, revenge, and status, among a 'Stone Age' people living as they had for countless generations, in a tribal world untouched by larger history or the world system. This paper challenges each of those claims, and offers alternatives that provide a very different view of Yanomami warfare, and why men fight wars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)377-406
Number of pages30
JournalAnthropological Theory
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)


  • Davi Kopenawa
  • Napoleon Chagnon
  • Yanomami
  • anthropology and science
  • human nature
  • noble savages
  • war


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