When Did the Measles Epidemic Begin among the Yanomami?

Thomas N. Headland


Thomas Headland’s report
to the AAA president

Hand-delivered to the president through the courtesy of Glen Baly,
AAA Media Relations Manager, on November 16, 2000


To Louise Lamphere, President of the American Anthropological Association
From: Thomas N. Headland (fellow of the AAA)
Date: November 16, 2000

Regarding the Tierney book's allegations about measles among the Yanomami

For your information, I submit to you, along with this my cover statement, two documents from American missionaries who personally eye-witnessed a measles epidemic among the Yanomami on the Toototobi River in September and October 1967.

The first document is from Mr. Keith Wardlaw, which he sent to me on November 11, 2000. I have added a few notes into his text in square brackets. The second attached document consists of quotes taken from ten letters written by a Dr. Charles N. Patton and his wife, Mrs. Louise Lillian Patton, to their mothers in 1967 and 1968, which Dr. Patton sent to me recently. Dr. Patton, age 73, is a former member of the American Medical Association. He is a now-retired American medical doctor living in Indiana. He lived in Brazil for most of the years from 1960 to 1970, and for some of those years in Boa Vista, Roraima, where he served as a medical missionary under Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Dr. Patton was an eyewitness to the measles epidemic that occurred among the approximately 150 Yanomami on the Toototobi River, in Brazil, in September and October 1967.

Attached hereon are short portions of those letters that I have extracted because they refer to Chagnon or Neel or to the measles outbreak that broke out among the Yanomami on the Toototobi River in September and October 1967. I plan to give copies of the ten complete letters to the President of the AAA on November 16, 2000.

Finally, I refer you to the recent book by John Early and John Peters titled The Xilixana Yanomami of the Amazon (University Press of Florida, 2000). Here we read that "in 1967-68 a measles epidemic broke out among the Yanomami in Brazil and Venezuela. Through unknown sources, it spread to the Apiau area. The Apiau Ninam [Yanomami] suffered an estimated one hundred deaths" (p.254). In two emails to me on November 7 and on November 12, 2000, Peters (a sociology professor at Wilfrid Laurier University) said that a Yanomami man named Tehara (#027 in his field notes) who was about age 65 died of measles at his research site on the Mucajai on April 1, 1967. Peters said that was the only person at his village to die of measles in 1967-68. The Apiau Yanomami lived about 15 miles south of Peter's research site. He says in his book that by 1975 the Yanomami population on the lower Apiau River had declined 76% in eight years (p. 255). The fact to note here is that the measles outbreak at this location, as well as at Toototobi, began before Neel and Chagnon arrived in the Venezuelan Yanomami area on January 21, 1968. (This was not of course their first time to visit the Yanomami. Chagnon's doctoral fieldwork there was from November 1964 to February 1966, and he and Neel visited the missionaries at Toototobi in January 1967.)

I close by quoting a statement made by Bruce Alberts, president of the National Academy of Sciences, posted on the Internet on November 9, 2000, titled "Setting the Record Straight Regarding Darkness in El Dorado": "News of a measles epidemic, first reported by Protestant missionaries deep in Yanomami territory, preceded James Neel's entry into the field."

Respectfully submitted,
Thomas N. Headland (Summer Institute of Linguistics).


To the president of the AAA: The following letter was written by Mr. Keith Wardlaw, age 77, and sent to me on November 11, 2000. Thomas N. Headland (Summer Institute of Linguistics and U Texas at Arlington). November 16, 2000


To the president of the AAA: The following quotes were taken from letters written by Mrs. Louise Lillian Patton, with some sections written by Dr. Charles Patton, to their mothers, from Boa Vista, Roraima, Brazil. I extracted these sections because they refer to Chagnon or Neel or to the measles epidemic that broke out among the Yanomami on the Toototobi River in September and October 1967. I plan to give copies of the ten complete letters to the President of the AAA on November 16, 2000. [Note added by TNH on December 9, 2000: I gave those full letters to the AAA president on November 16.] The Pattons gave me permission to list here their phone number and email: 765/447-7850; chaspatt@prodigy.net. TNH