Native Peoples of South America

Native Peoples of South America

Native Peoples of South America

Native Peoples of South America

Excerpt

The Indians of South America are widely known through popular tales and legends. Everyone is familiar with the gold of the Inca-- the fabulous wealth of native Peru--which motivated a handful of men under Pizarro to conquer an empire of 3,500,000 people in 1532. Today one still frequently reads of expeditions seeking El Dorado and buried treasures. The mystery that clings to the many incompletely explored regions of South America provides a backdrop for stories based partly upon fact, such as those of head-hunting in Ecuador and the "white Indians" of Panama, and tales of pure fancy, such as those of the "pygmies" of Colombia or of lost cities and civilizations.

In the present volume we undertake to present a simple, straightforward description of the native cultures of South America. While there are several good books about South American Indians in general and about the Indians of particular localities, the information in the Handbook of South American Indians now makes it possible to delineate the various cultures more accurately than in the past. But, more importantly, we go beyond factual or descriptive accounts that follow the conventions of ethnography; we offer interpretations and explanations that are not usually found in the literature.

First, we attempt to recognize the several types of native South American cultures as the results of particular causes or processes. For this reason we pay special attention to subsistence or food-getting activities and the ways in which societies had to organize themselves for such activities. We also ask whether surplus production was possible in local areas and, if so, how such features as groups of special artisans, social classes, priesthoods, militarism, and political leaders were related to surplus.

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