Tsewa's Gift: Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society

Tsewa's Gift: Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society

Tsewa's Gift: Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society

Tsewa's Gift: Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society

Synopsis

"An outstanding and innovative study on hunting, gardening, and love magic among the Aguaruna.... [It is both highly useful ethnographically and an important contribution to the understanding of how a primitive culture conceptualizes its transactions with nature. The book touches on cosmology and religion as well as the ethnoecology of hunting and agriculture--with an interlude on sex."--American Ethnologist

Excerpt

When I wrote Tsewa’s Gift in the mid-1980s, I hoped my study of the Aguaruna Indians of the Peruvian rainforest would help to reframe anthropological thinking about how we should make sense of magic. I attempted to describe one people’s view of magic from the ground up and to show how magical practices are governed by deep-seated notions of causality—that is, a sense of how things happen in the world. Yet even as the work came into print, the debate about magic was ebbing, victim both of analytical exhaustion and changing intellectual fashion. Some anthropologists had come to feel that study of the rituals and myths of the world’s indigenous peoples was morally suspect, because it focused on the exotic while drawing attention away from urgent political and economic realities. No doubt the academic pendulum will eventually swing back toward concern with ritual—which is, after all, a potent vehicle for the construction of new meanings in times of trouble. For the moment, however, magic has lost some of its luster as an object of academic interest.

But books, like children, often find a place in the world that their creators never imagined. In the late 1980s, the ecological crisis of the Amazon rainforest became a matter of worldwide concern, as did the native peoples who have skillfully managed this complex ecosystem for centuries. Tsewa’s Gift has found a readership among people curious about how rainforest peoples envision the links between nature and culture. To ensure that the forest will provide the food and raw materials needed to sustain life, the Aguaruna carry on an intricate conversation with plants, animals, and spirits. Men cajole and seduce game animals to give up their lives. Women sing to the plants of the garden and comfort them with other forms of maternal tenderness. These “magical” techniques are woven into the fabric of native technology in ways that challenge our own smugly compartmentalized notions of religion and technology.

Students and colleagues often ask me how the Aguaruna are . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.