Contradictions of the Piraha Culture
Daniel claims that he is impressed by Pirahas’ patience, their kindness and happiness (pg 85) However, he notices the problem of Pirahas’ drinking and violence after he and his family experienced their violent actions. Pirahas will have “a bad head” after they are drunk. However, though the Pirahas are having simple material life, there are times when they have wants and feel unsatisfied. There is inconsistency and flexibility in Piraha culture; they are nice when they are not intoxicating with Cachaca, and they will demand for only the things which benefit their life.
Pirahas are likeable and peaceful in general, and this is true if, and only if they are sober. Once they are drunk, they no longer respond with patience, love, and understanding. For instance, Kaapasi killed his brother’s much-loved dog while he was drunk. His brother forgave him and claimed, “He did a bad thing; but he is drunk and his head is not working well” (101); Daniel and his family were nearly murdered by drunken Pirahas. The Pirahas later apologized after they slept off their drunkenness, saying that they were sorry.
They blamed the drink for their wrong-doing, saying that it makes their heads go bad when they take it, thus making them to do wrong things (66). The tipsy Pirahas are violent and impatient; they cannot control themselves from doing some silly things that may hurt others. This shows that there is a condition for Pirahas to be peaceful- without drinking Cachaca. When they are drunk, they usually like to show off their toughness and braveness by targeting on the innocent.
In Daniel’s mind, Pirahas are happy and content people, but sometimes they will desire more with the aim of bettering their life. Although the jungle provides Pirahas with basic materials, in several occasions Pirahas are demanding. When Daniel was hurrying to take his sick wife and daughter to hospital, the Pirahas did not show much empathy, but only asked him to bring back some goods from the city. Moreover, the Pirahas wanted Daniel to buy them a new canoe from the Brazilians because they were unsatisfied with the canoes they made.
One man complained to Daniel, “Bark canoes do not carry weight; one man, some fish, no more. Only the Brazilian canoes are good. Piraha canoes are not good.” They are satisfied with their living environment, but they would like to do things which benefit their life. As Daniel claims, “The Pirahas have built their culture around what is useful for their survival” (273). They want the Brazilian canoes to boost their fishing productivity, since the Piraha canoes are not useful at all.
The Piraha culture is, indeed, contradictory; they seem content and patient all the time, but in fact, may be demanding and rude under certain conditions. All they want to do is to survive; therefore, there is flexibility in their culture.