In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia

Duke University Press
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In Darkness and Secrecy brings together ethnographic examinations of Amazonian assault sorcery, witchcraft, and injurious magic, or “dark shamanism.” Anthropological reflections on South American shamanism have tended to emphasize shamans’ healing powers and positive influence. This collection challenges that assumption by showing that dark shamans are, in many Amazonian cultures, quite different from shamanic healers and prophets. Assault sorcery, in particular, involves violence resulting in physical harm or even death. While highlighting the distinctiveness of such practices, In Darkness and Secrecy reveals them as no less relevant to the continuation of culture and society than curing and prophecy. The contributors suggest that the persistence of dark shamanism can be understood as a form of engagement with modernity.

These essays, by leading anthropologists of South American shamanism, consider assault sorcery as it is practiced in parts of Brazil, Guyana, Venezuela, and Peru. They analyze the social and political dynamics of witchcraft and sorcery and their relation to cosmology, mythology, ritual, and other forms of symbolic violence and aggression in each society studied. They also discuss the relations of witchcraft and sorcery to interethnic contact and the ways that shamanic power may be co-opted by the state. In Darkness and Secrecy includes reflections on the ethical and practical implications of ethnographic investigation of violent cultural practices.

Contributors. Dominique Buchillet, Carlos Fausto, Michael Heckenberger, Elsje Lagrou, E. Jean Langdon, George Mentore, Donald Pollock, Fernando Santos-Granero, Pamela J. Stewart, Andrew Strathern, Márnio Teixeira-Pinto, Silvia Vidal, Neil L. Whitehead, Johannes Wilbert, Robin Wright

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About the author

Neil L. Whitehead is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Among his most recent books are Dark Shamans: Kanaimà and the Poetics of Violent Death (published by Duke University Press) and Beyond the Visible and the Material: The Amerindianization of Society in the Work of Peter Rivière (coedited with Laura Rival).

Robin Wright is Associate Professor of Anthropology and Director of the Center for Research in Indigenous Ethnology at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas in Brazil. He is the author of Cosmos, Self, and History in Baniwa Religion: For Those Unborn and the editor of several books in Spanish.

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Additional Information

Publisher
Duke University Press
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Published on
Jun 3, 2004
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Pages
336
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ISBN
9780822385837
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Best For
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Language
English
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Genres
Body, Mind & Spirit / Magick Studies
History / Latin America / General
Social Science / Anthropology / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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On the little-known and darker side of shamanism there exists an ancient form of sorcery called kanaimà, a practice still observed among the Amerindians of the highlands of Guyana, Venezuela, and Brazil that involves the ritual stalking, mutilation, lingering death, and consumption of human victims. At once a memoir of cultural encounter and an ethnographic and historical investigation, this book offers a sustained, intimate look at kanaimà, its practitioners, their victims, and the reasons they give for their actions.

Neil L. Whitehead tells of his own involvement with kanaimà—including an attempt to kill him with poison—and relates the personal testimonies of kanaimà shamans, their potential victims, and the victims’ families. He then goes on to discuss the historical emergence of kanaimà, describing how, in the face of successive modern colonizing forces—missionaries, rubber gatherers, miners, and development agencies—the practice has become an assertion of native autonomy. His analysis explores the ways in which kanaimà mediates both national and international impacts on native peoples in the region and considers the significance of kanaimà for current accounts of shamanism and religious belief and for theories of war and violence.

Kanaimà appears here as part of the wider lexicon of rebellious terror and exotic horror—alongside the cannibal, vampire, and zombie—that haunts the western imagination. Dark Shamans broadens discussions of violence and of the representation of primitive savagery by recasting both in the light of current debates on modernity and globalization.
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