Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Politics and Violence

Politics & Violence

 1. The Yanomamo rules regarding killing differ from Western cultures because the Yanomamo people have no formal laws, there is no set of consequences that are laid out on paper. Unlike western cultures, they have certain customs and general rules about how they should behave. "The Yanomamo have no written language, precise number system, formal laws, or institutionalized adjudicators such as chiefs or judges."(pg.1). Western Cultures have government to help them get justice for the murders of their kin and the Yanomami have to rely on themselves and their kin to get revenge.

2. The process of revenge killings usually starts because of sexual jealousy, wife affairs and the retaliatory killing of a close kinsmen. "..the most common explanation for the initial cause of fighting is 'women'."(pg.2). Conflicts start with shouting matches, chest pounding matches, club fights with axes and shooting with bows and arrows. If these fights lead to killings within the village, the village fissions and then the two new groups begin to raid each other. These raids usually occur if the dispute is not settled between the men. For example, if there was a death of a kin then then revenge will be taken and there will be killings. "It is dangerous to provoke a grieving person no matter what the cause of death of the lost kin..."if my sick mother dies, I will kill some people."(pg.3). This is a part of their justice system and is not considered to be wrong.

3.  Revenge killings are dangerous for those who take part but also sometimes more dangerous for those who do not take part or drop out. Unokais are those people that have killed and it is beneficial for them because they have a higher status and more political power over the non-unokais. The men who drop out or do not participate in raiding parties are considered to be cowards and their wives may be stolen from them. The unokais have more wives, more reproductive success and more leadership than non-unokais. The more people they have killed gives them higher status of being dangerous therefore that gives more protection for their kin and village.

4. a. Political structure: The Yanomami have descent groups or "big ones" who are the political leaders of the group and the leader of the largest descent group is called the headman of the whole village. When taking part in raids and killing more than 16 men give them more political power and eventually become the headman. "Political leaders, therefore, usually have, on average, many more kinsmen in the village than do other men of comparable age."(pg.4). Headman have many wives and are very successful in reproduction. Some men have over 40 children and therefore makes their village larger.

b. Social Status/Social Organization: Men that are unokais have a higher social status than those who are non-unokais. It is beneficial to have killed and participate in raids and has positive effects because it helps maintain order and social organization.

c. Kinship: The unokais' kin is more protected because they are feared by other Yanomami. The kinship of the non-unokais are not feared by others groups because they are portrayed as cowards. Also, the Yanomami practiced a patrilineal descent because they believe that the women are subordinate to men but they also do not ignore their matrilineal descent because cousins marry each other.

d. Marriage and Reproduction: Men that have killed or become unokais have a higher marriage and reproduction rate because they have more power and are more attractive to the women. The headman has the most wives and most children, some have had up to 11 wives and dozens of children.

5. Killing other people are generally thought to be bad but we need laws against it because it helps to maintain order. Sometimes people kill because it is self-defense or because they are in a war to protect and serve their country and kin. Also killing might be a way of survival of the fittest. "..and many of life's resources are finite, conflicts of interest between individuals are inevitable because the nature of some of life's resources ensure that individuals can achieve certain goals only at the expense of other individuals."(pg.1). We should have laws against killing other people because it gives order to a society and helps some people to feel protected and to those who need to kill in order of self defense can without being punished.


  1. Julianne,

    I like how you define killing raids and present it to our Western perspective.
    "This is a part of their justice system and is not considered to be wrong."
    I agree and disagree with this statement. Killing raids is expected as a way to deliver justice, but it is more than that. It is also a deterrence from enemy or competitive villages from a possible killing raids deliver upon themselves. Let's look at I am gang violence in the street and how the killing raids take place every day in the "liberated areas" of Los Angeles. (I called liberated areas as the ones where police don't even police but after a killing is committed) The killing raids are also related as a way of street justice, but it is also to increase the reputation and control of an specific area where drug transactions take place. I have just made the connection that gang killings are not different than Yanomamo raid killings! We might be not different than Yanomamo when political control of the state are non functional! Just imagine "Mexico" as a country taken by drug lords! Yanomamo culture at its best only in this aspect.
    Alicia T

  2. Your opening paragraph discusses the issue of justice but not the attitudes towards killing, comparing the differences between the Yanomamo and Western cultures. The article clearly explains how the Yanomamo feel about killing. What is our attitude toward killing? Is it never acceptable or understandable? Is it as black and white as that and therefore in stark contrast to the Yanomamo? Or are there circumstances where killing is, if not acceptable, then is understandable and not punished? We may say that killing is never acceptable, but is that born out in reality? How about war? Police shooting a person who is endangering others? A person defending their home, family or themselves?

    Good description of the process of revenge killing, but I would have liked you to touch on the cyclic nature of this system. Once someone has been killed in a revenge killing, are their kin obligated to retaliate? I find it amazing that these populations are spending all their time engaging in raids and revenge killings, so I wonder what stops the process? Perhaps by killing a non-unokais who has no extensive kinship network and so no-one retaliates?

    Very good discussion on the costs/benefits of the unokais and non-unokais. Yes, while there is a danger to young, untested unokais (and their death rates are rather high) but once you start to gain status, power, and your kinship networks becomes larger as a result, your chance of death drops. Who's going to attack a man who has so many kin obligated to take revenge if he is attacked or killed?

    Good discussion on how this system of revenge killings impact other aspects of Yanomamo culture, but I'm curious as to why you didn't raise the point of the benefit provided to high status unokais to their kinship networks? The higher the status of an unokais, the more likely he will be to have multiple marriages (and more offspring) and everytime a man marries, his wife's family becomes his kin. His kin network grows exponentially with marriage, which (as you point out earlier) provides a great protective benefit to him, his family, and his kin by extension.

    Well done pulling in the idea that killing may have a selective benefit, from a biological perspective, but carry it out to it's final conclusion. So we need laws against acts that no one should want to commit because sometimes those acts might benefit a person sufficiently (reproductively or access to resources)such that it is worth killing. So we have laws against these behaviors not because no one should want to do them, but because people can benefit from doing them, and we need to provide a cost (imprisonment) to balance the benefits to deter these behaviors.

  3. Your comment at the end related to the need for laws related to killing brings up an interesting point. There are times in life where killing is not only justified, but necessary. The right to defend ourselves against attackers is one we must take very seriously. Lately there have been many cases brought into light in the media that describe scenerios such as home invasions, burglaries, etc where ordinary individuals have had to take extraordinary measures to protect themselves and their families. Without expressly written rights to defend such actions, many people would face prosecution.

  4. Hello Julianne,

    I enjoyed reading your blog, it is very easy to follow. The Yanomamo have no written language or formal governmental structure I wonder if that is why they have to resort to revenge killings. I agree with you on the last paragraph. We need laws to protect ourselves and maintain order. Without these laws the strong would prey on the weak. People could just take what they needed, it is interesting that only defense killing is acceptable in our society.