Cognition and Emotion (II): The Ontogenesis of the Waorani Ethos of Violence

Carole Robarchek, MA, Wichita State University

The Waorani are a hunting and gardening people living in the upper Amazon basin in eastern Ecuador. Until recently, they were at war with all outsiders and among themselves, and some bands remain so today. Prior to the first peaceful contacts, they had the world’s highest recorded homicide rate; more than 60% of deaths were the result of homicide. While that rate has decreased dramatically in recent years, in comparative terms, it remains astronomically high. The authors conducted two long-term ethnographic field projects among the Waorani, seeking to understand the psychocultural dynamics of this culture of violence.

We found a complex of cognitive assumptions and associated values centering on individualism, autonomy and egalitarianism that constituted a behavioral environment where the appropriate emotional response to any perceived infringement of these values is rage, and the likely behavioral response is homicide. This paper examines this complex of existential and normative assumptions and how they constitute a psychological and behavioral environment where the typical emotional response of individuals to a broad range of situations is rage, and where a legitimate and appropriate response to a wide variety of situations is homicide.

The 2007 Conference