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Anthropologist Returns from Stone Age Tribe with Wife, Memories, Book

January 26, 1991

RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) _ For 12 years Kenneth Good lived in the Stone Age.

Deep in the Amazon jungle of Venezuela, he led the life of a Yanomama Indian tribesman - hunting for food, bathing in rivers, trekking to villages where Westerners may never have been. Hamburgers, television and air conditioning became distant memories. Tarantulas were a coveted delicacy.

″I never missed anything,″ Good said recently.

Good recounts his memories in his recently published first book, ″Into The Heart,″ about his time with the Yanomama. He’s now working on two follow-up books as well as a movie contract.

When he returned to the United States, he brought his Indian wife with him, but left behind other friends and a life he had come to love.

The 10,000 or so members of the Yanomama tribe in Venezuela have a Stone Age culture in which lives without calendar, clothing - even the wheel. The tribe has no concept of numbers, time, competition or stress, according to Good. The men hunt while the women gather other food.

″It’s a nice, balanced lifestyle,″ Good said. ″Their culture is probably closer to the way human beings were meant to live.″

That’s what turned a 15-month stint of Penn State graduate fieldwork into more than a decade of anthropological research. As he studied the eating habits, language and customs of the Yanomama, he lived as one of the tribe.

He moved from his own hut to a communal shelter, joined in hunts for monkeys and other small game, traded his fishhooks and pots for tribe members’ help in coping with the rigors of jungle life. And he married a Yanomama.

Now 48, Good and his wife, 26-year-old Yarima, have two children, David, 4, and Vanessa, 3. The moved to the United States in 1987 and live in Rutherford, a suburban community less than 10 miles from New York City.

Slowly, the family is becoming more and more American as the years in the jungle fade into memory.

While Good teaches anthropology at Jersey City State College, the rest of the family watches television - from Mickey Mouse to music videos. Yarima is a fan of Janet Jackson and Madonna, and the children like cartoons.

But Yarima gets bored, her husband said. In the jungle she had friends and family, people to talk to. Here the children keep her company, and because she doesn’t speak English, Good is her only friend.

″She isn’t able to feel like a complete adult. In the jungle she was always out,″ Good said. Yarima becomes homesick for life in the jungle. ″She’d do anything for a nice big grub worm,″ Good joked.

The children delighted in the thought, chanting ″Mommy eats spiders. Mommy eats snakes.″

Instead, Yarima has given up those Yanomama staples for french fries and Coca Cola.

″She’s learning our culture,″ Good said. ″She loves to buy clothes. She likes to go to the mall. I hate it, of course.″

Good, who said he grew up in a ″boring suburb″ of Philadelphia, has come to hate a lot of things about America, including the competition and stress he found waiting for him after more than a decade in the jungle.

″Civilization screws up your head. Life is hectic here. We have to work harder and harder and longer and longer to make a living,″ he said.

″I would really love to be down there,″ Good said. ″I can make a list of 1,000 things that I can’t wait to get away from.″

But Good wants his children to learn English, the ways of the Western world, modern technology. That way they will be able to decide for themselves whether to live in the United States or return to their mother’s roots in the Amazon.

″No Indian would dream of living like this. It’s terrible,″ he said. But then he looked at Vanessa, crying over a nick on her finger, and wondered, ″How is she going to live out in the bush? She’s too American.″

Good said he also is too American to live out his days in the jungle. ″No one can go native. Eventually you have to come out.″

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