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A Walk to the River in Amazonia

Ordinary Reality for the Mehinaku Indians

Carla D. Stang

248 pages, 29 ills, bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-555-2 $120.00/£85.00 Hb Published (July 2009)

ISBN  978-0-85745-155-2 $29.95/£21.00 Pb Published (November 2011)

eISBN 978-1-84545-931-4 eBook

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It's a great book... The focussing in on the 'feel' of life, the small everyday things, struck me as hugely important. The fascinating conundrums of original and spirit copy.... The simplicity and grace of the writing.”  ·  Michael Taussig, Columbia University

This is brave anthropology, a tale like Avatar but about the actual lives of real people, the Mehinaku of central Brazil, who have lived for centuries outside the range of Western civilization. Now, facing extinction, they have journeyed from their world to ours, demanding the survival of their people and culture…Stang sets a courageous example in trying to preserve biological and cultural diversity as a resource for all future life. This treasure cannot be preserved by global tracking devices alone, but by empathy and listening, which she displays with admirable sensitivity. She has discovered a treasure."  ·  Tom Hayden, Scripps College

The book’s integration of cosmology with everyday Mehinaku practice, along with its concise and evocative writing style, makes for an important contribution to Amazonian anthropology … Stang’s book is one of the best examples of how Amazonian research today is beginning to bridge the previous gap between studies of seemingly abstract cosmology and fine-grained ethnography of everyday practice.  ·  JRAI

“…an extraordinary ethnographic work… outstanding – in the audacious naturalism of its form, the compelling way in which Stang reads Mehinaku reality between the lines, capturing the flow and fluctuations of consciousness as well as the materiality and physicality of their existence.”  ·  Michael Jackson, Harvard University

“This is an important study both as ethnography and as an interpretive achievement. To my mind there is no better study from Amazonia that elucidates specifically the archetypal scheme of reality which is an extraordinary notion commonly encountered in Amazonian life-worlds... The book will be a contribution to South American anthropology and, even more significantly, to the growing field of comparative cosmologies and comparative systems of knowledge.”  ·  Jadran Mimica, University of Sydney

"This [book] is... refreshing because the normal picture of Amazonian symbolism/cosmology is typically written by men and based on observations of male ritual... Carla... show[s] how ordinary people (in this case, women) think about and experience an enchanted world rather than what the ritual experts (and anthropologists) claim... There is an abundance of clever, imaginative anthropological interpretations of what Amazonians say and do... What very few have ever really asked is how all this... is actually experienced and understood by the people involved. Carla does that and does it very well."  ·  Stephen Hugh-Jones, University of Cambridge

Our lives are mostly composed of ordinary reality — the flow of moment-to-moment existence — and yet it has been largely overlooked as a subject in itself for anthropological study. In this work, the author achieves an understanding of this part of reality for the Mehinaku Indians, an Amazonian people, in two stages: first by observing various aspects of their experience and second by relating how these different facets come to play in a stream of ordinary consciousness, a walk to the river. In this way, abstract schemata such as ‘cosmology,’ ‘sociality,’ ‘gender,’ and the ‘everyday’ are understood as they are actually lived. This book contributes to the ethnography of the Amazon, specifically the Upper Xingu, with an approach that crosses disciplinary boundaries between anthropology, philosophy, and psychology. In doing so it attempts to comprehend what Malinowski called the ‘imponderabilia of actual life.’

Carla Stang received her undergraduate degree at the University of Sydney and was awarded the Frank Bell Memorial Prize for Anthropology for her studies there. In 2005, she earned her Ph.D. in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. Since then she held the position of Visiting Scholar at Columbia University, and is now an Associate Researcher at the University of Sydney. Thus far most of her ethnographic fieldwork has been in the Upper Xingu region of the Brazilian Amazon.

Subject: General Anthropology General Cultural Studies Sociology
Area: Latin America

LC: F2520.1.M44 S83 2009

BL: YC.2012.a.13136

BISAC: SOC002000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/General; TRV024020 TRAVEL/South America/Brazil; SOC002010 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/Cultural

BIC: JHMC Social & cultural anthropology, ethnography; JFSL9 Indigenous peoples


List of Figures
List of Plates
Pronouncing Mehinaku Words

I. The Question
II. Writing about Lived Experience
III. Writing about Ordinary Reality: from My Walk, through Her World, to Her Walk
IV. Some Methodological Issues to Do with My Approach
V. Contributions and Limitations of This Book
VI. Some Background

Chapter 1. My Walk

Chapter 2. Configurations in Mehinaku Experience
I. Substance
II. Who Are the Apapanye?: the Substantiality of Spirits
III. The Deception of Substance: All about ‘Skins’
IV. Eternal Archetypes and the Generation of Skins
V. The Lake of Butterflies: an Amazonian Metaphysics
VI. Mirroring and Parallel Configurations of Different Soul-worlds

Chapter 3. Dynamic Aspects in Mehinaku Experience
I. The Constant Movement of Mehinaku Existence
II. ‘Star Birds’: Movement between Different Dimensions of Reality
III. The Impetus of Movement: the Dynamic of Desire
IV. The Boundaries for the Flow of Desire: Concentric Circles and Paths
V. The Ever Present Threat of the Collapse of Form: Dangerous Desire Let Loose
VI. Holding up the Form of the Worlds: Maintaining Good Relationships (the ‘Uwekehë Complex’) and Integrity of Person (the Issue of Yerekyuki)
VII. The Dynamic of Daring: to Create, Maintain and Improve Form, One Must Risk Form
VIII. The Awëshëpai Ideal: a Life of Anxious Joy, in Tension between Integrity and Risk

Chapter 4. Experience of Mehinaku Experience
I. The Concept of a Concept: Mehinaku ‘Thingness’ and the Blending of Entities
II. How Things Are Associated: at the Most Basic Level; in a ‘Story Logic’; in a Certain Understanding of Ritual
III. ‘Awitsiri’: the Principle of ‘Care/Grace’; Living with the Right Consciousness in a World Made Manifest by Consciousness

Chapter 5. Experience of the Mehinaku Social World
I. In the House of the Jaguar: Shamans and Sorcerers in Mehinaku Experience
II. Paths through the Akãi Groves: Some Ideas about Mehinaku Experiences of Gender
III. The Owl and the Toucan: General Tendencies of Mehinaku Sociality

Chapter 6. Some Conclusions

Chapter 7. Her Walk

Cross References from the Description to Chapters 2–5

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