Rain Forest Literatures: Amazonian Texts and Latin American Culture

Rain Forest Literatures: Amazonian Texts and Latin American Culture

Rain Forest Literatures: Amazonian Texts and Latin American Culture

Rain Forest Literatures: Amazonian Texts and Latin American Culture


Native texts of the Amazonian rain forest have been viewed as myth or ethnographic matter-the raw material of literature-rather than as significant works in their own right. But in this unprecedented study, Lzcia Sa approaches indigenous texts as creative works rather than source material.

Disclosing the existence and nature of longstanding, rich, and complex Native American literary and intellectual traditions that have typically been neglected or demeaned by literary criticism, Rain Forest Literatures analyzes four indigenous cultural traditions: the Carib, Tupi-Guarani, Upper Rio Negro, and Western Arawak. In each case, Sa considers principal native texts and, where relevant, their publication history. She offers a historical overview of the impact of these texts on mainstream Spanish-American and Brazilian literatures, detailing comparisons with native sources and making close analyses of major instances, such as Mario de Andrade's classic Macunaima (1928) and Mario Vargas Llosa's The Storyteller (1986).

A redrawing of the lineage of Brazilian and Spanish-American literatures, this book advocates an understanding of the relationships between cultures as a process of "transculturation" rather than "acculturation"-a process that emphasizes the often-ignored impact of the peripheral culture on the one that assumes dominance.

Lzcia Sa is assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese at Stanford University.


Sheltering almost half the EARTH'S living species, the rain forest and tropical lowlands of South America are also home to indigenous peoples who speak many different languages and have diverse customs. These peoples are quite defined in themselves, yet they have never been pristine units living in complete isolation from each other, as anthropologists have sometimes wanted us to believe. For millennia, they have been in contact with near and distant neighbors. They have always traveled, fought, made and broken treaties, and traded goods, shamanic knowledge, cures, songs, speeches, and narratives. This was certainly the case before the European invasion, and has continued to be since. After the invasion, however, indigenous groups throughout the tropical lowlands, as elsewhere in America, have had to deal with a more concerted and technologically efficient pressure on their lives, cultures, and land.

Nobody knows for sure how many native American lives were claimed by disease or assassination in the region during the first two centuries of invasion, but most historical accounts agree that they must amount to millions. in addition to physical violence and expropriation of land, rain forest people were (and continue to be) subject to constant attacks on their culture by religious and secular institutions and individuals convinced of their own cultural and moral superiority. the consequences of these policies, as we know, have been devastating for indigenous peoples throughout the Americas.

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