However, if the viewer of the film reads the anthropological text before watching the film, he or she may very well be able to decipher the actions of the natives without aid from an instructor. The footage of the fight allows the student to see the full extent of the chaos involved in the “ax fights” the Yanomamo take up to settle disputes. The emotional intensity cannot be captured by words on paper, regardless of how eloquent the anthropologist may write. A film is necessary to convey the emotions and reactions of the natives as they would be in a real situation.
From the raw footage, though, there arises a problem. The chaos of fieldwork that is represented in the 11 minute first section of The Ax Fight brings to the forefront the problem of anthropological interpretation, which the other two sections of the film address (Biella, n. d. ). Depending on the goals and personal beliefs of the anthropologist, the outbreak of fighting may be interpreted in multiple ways. Chagnon conducted follow-up interviews and researched the village’s history and marriage ties to come to his interpretation of the day’s events.
Thus while his interpretation is well-backed and highly likely to be what “truly” occurred, another anthropologist may see it quite differently. The third section demonstrates how raw film footage, appropriately trimmed, slowed down, and expanded, can provide “empirical evidence needed to make a credible interpretation” (Biella, n. d. ). Because Chagnon is in fact the author of the ethnographic text and a collaborator on the Yanomamo series, the interpretations are similar if not identical between the book and the film.
However, had the film collaborators been different from the author of the text, as in many cases they are for a certain culture, the interpretations would have more than likely differed by some degree, ranging from a small disagreement to a complete re-interpretation of motives and subtleties. This may in fact be more useful to the student, as contrasting interpretations would allow the student to see different representations of the same culture, forcing him to analyze each rather than blindly accept the one representation first given.
In the case of the Yanomamo culture, a different representation proves to be difficult to come across as not many, if any, other anthropologists have ventured to study the Yanomamo as extensively as Chagnon has. Nonetheless, a visual representation, regardless of the difference or lack thereof of interpretation, is essential to a complete understanding and knowledge of a culture. While a visual representation, whether it is a film or photographs, is needed to arrive at complete understanding of a society’s culture and way of life, a visual aid alone does little in respect to fostering a deep level of understanding from the student.
Indeed, “neither raw film nor raw field notes can be decoded without context” (El Guindi, 2004, p. 227). Without previous knowledge about the Yanomamo culture, the film serves as little more than a case study in internal conflict within any given society. In order to utilize the film as part of an extensive, deep learning of Yanomamo culture, the ethnographic text must be read first, not the other way around. With no cultural context in which to place the fight that erupts, little is learned about kinship and marriage ties from the film.
While Chagnon does explain the essentials of the raw footage to create a basic understanding of what is going on, he has less than nine minutes of screen time to describe what he considers to be the most important people, actions, and motives. Only twelve people of the over 50 people involved in the film are identified by name or genealogically (Biella, n. d. ). Of course, identifying all fifty persons would more likely than not to confuse the student rather than facilitate learning.
It must also be kept in mind that The Ax Fight is a visual representation of one specific aspect of the Yanomamo culture and does not even touch on other various features, such as the radical divide between the sexes, or go in depth on the kinship patterns and marriage ties. It is not intended as a representation of the culture as a whole. Other films, such as Kypseli, attempt to capture the essence of a culture in its entirety. For these types of films it cannot be argued as strongly that it is necessary to read an ethnographic text beforehand, as the film is basically the text in visual format.
However, the film is just as necessary in respect to accompanying the learning of a culture through a written account. The visual aspect of the film, and any film for that matter, adds detail that would take thousands of words to describe. Indeed, the first 11 minutes of The Ax Fight are described in 380 paragraphs of text in Gary Seaman’s “Blow-by-Blow Descriptions” (Biella, Chagnon, & Seaman, 1997). Clearly a visual representation adds valuable meaning to a written account of a culture.
The example of The Ax Fight is a fine example of the importance of a visual representation alongside the study of an anthropological text, and this argument can be easily extended to all ethnographic work through common sense. Regardless of whether a student is a visual learner, auditory learner, etc. , having a variety of ways to learn about a culture is the best way to arrive at a complete understanding of the nuances of that society as well one’s own decisions on how he or she feels about certain aspects of any given culture. A film adds another perspective to the information that is obtained from a text.
Detailed descriptions are seen in reality rather than imagination and what may have previously not been understood, is now understood. In my own case I did not fully understand the cultural custom of the ax fight until I viewed the film depicting an actual occurrence of such an event. The anger on the faces I saw and passion in the women’s cries could not be conveyed through the text. This applies to almost all anthropological texts, and the visual representation proves to be essential in the understanding of a culture.
References Biella, P. (n. d. ). Introduction by Peter Biella.Retrieved December 1, 2008, from University of California Santa Barbara, Dept. of Anthropology Web site: http://www. anth. ucsb. edu/? projects/? axfight/? updates/? biellaintroduction. html#PART%20I. Biella, P. , Chagnon, N. A. , & Seaman, G. (1997). Yanomamo Interactive: The Ax Fight (Version 1. 1a) . United States of America: Thomas Learning, Inc. Chagnon, N. A. (1997). Yanomamo (5th ed. ). Case studies in cultural anthropology. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College. (Original work published 1968) El Guindi, F. (2004). Visual anthropology: Essential method and theory. Walnut Creek: AltaMira.