anthropology

The Spears of Twilight: Life and Death in the Amazon Jungle

By Philippe Descola

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“The Jivaro Indians of Amazonian Ecuador have earned a somewhat sinister reputation among travelers and anthropologists because of their custom, only recently abandoned, of shrinking the decapitated heads of enemies. Descola, an anthropology professor in Paris, spent three years living among a Jivaro tribe, and this engrossing, minutely detailed chronicle of daily life gets past exotic stereotypes to delineate a band of individualists oscillating between gentle anarchy and factional solidarity. Obsessed with bloody vendettas against neighbors or relatives, the tribal group nonetheless reverentially communicates with a world of spirits, plants and animals, with the wandering souls of both the living and the dead. Descola explores Jivaro shamanism, dream interpretation, polygamy, marital violence against wives and the Jivaros' loose-knit, fluid cosmology, which makes no effort to impose coherence on the world. Sprinkled with Jivaro songs, chants, myths and the author's line drawings, this lyrically precise exploration of a people's lifestyle and consciousness is a work of enchantment.” (Publishers' Weekly)

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The Serpent and the Rainbow

By Wade Davis

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“A Harvard scientist’s astonishing journey into the secret societies of Haitian voodoo, zombies, and magic.”
Not to be confused with the movie!

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The Mountain People

By Colin Turnbull

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This time Turnbull (The Forest People) turns his insight on another African tribe. The Ik, formerly prosperous, are now starving, and, as Turnbull observes, their society unravels into the proverbially vicious “state of nature.”

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The Forest People

By Colin Turnbull

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The Forest People describes the author's experiences while living with the BaMbuti Pygmies, not as a clinical observer, but as their friend learning their customs and sharing their daily life. Turnbull conveys the lives and feelings of the BaMbuti whose existence centers on their intense love for their forest world, which, in return for their affection and trust, provides their every need. We witness their hunting parties and nomadic camps; their love affairs and ancient ceremonies -- the molimo, in which they praise the forest as provider, protector, and deity; the elima, in which the young girls come of age; and the nkumbi circumcision rites, in which the villagers of the surrounding non-Pygmy tribes attempt to impose their culture on the Pygmies, whose forest home they dare not enter. (From the summary)

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Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Amazon Rain Forest

By Mark J. Plotkin

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“The thrilling account of the 13 years Plotkin, vice-president of Ethnobotany at Conservation International in Washington, spent in the northeastern Amazon's primeval rain forest is a first-rate travel and adventure tale in which scientific lore, passionate advocacy of conservation and literary gifts are combined. Thanks to the trust and friendship the author inspired among the declining number of powerful shamans ("witch doctors") and other Indians who considered him a "harmless oddball," they welcomed him at tribal rituals and assisted him in identifying plants (60,000 yet unknown species, used to treat ills from testicular cancer to earache). They even shared secrets for making curare poison and other hallucinogens (which he tried). The author has also succeeded in having the indigenous people share in the profits from their plant-derived wonder drugs, and encouraged them to preserve their heritage of botanic lore and customs.” (Publishers’ Weekly)
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Patterns of Culture

By Ruth Benedict

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For more than a generation, this pioneering book has been an indispensable introduction to the field of anthropology. Here, in her study of three sharply contrasting cultures, Benedict puts forward her famous thesis that a people's culture is an integrated whole, a "personality writ large." Her other famous book, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword, is a case study of Japanese culture during the World War II period.

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One River: Explorations and Discoveries in the Amazon Rain Forest

By Wade Davis

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In the 1940s, biologist Richard Evans Schultes uncovered many of the secrets of the rain forest, relying not only on his own prodigious investigations, but on the wisdom passed down by local tribes. Thirty years later his student, Wade Davis, followed in his footsteps. Two interwoven tales of scientific adventure bring to life the riches of the Amazon basin and bear witness to the destruction of its indigenous culture and natural wonders over two generations. (From the summary)

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Cloud-Dwellers of the Himalayas: The Bhotia

By Windsor Chorlton

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Approximately 400,000 Bhotian tribesmen live on the fringes of Tibet, grazing herds of yaks in the summertime and moving to the lowland areas of Nepal in the winter. The team of researchers arrived after an 11-days march at the remote village just in time to witness an exorcism ceremony. Includes amazing photos throughout. Part of Time-Life's Peoples of the Wild series.
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A War of Witches: A Journey into the Underworld of the Contemporary Aztecs

By Timothy J. Knab

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Anthropologist Knab's highly personal and compelling narrative on the magico-religious belief system of contemporary Aztecs has the excitement of a mystery novel yet is interspersed with rich ethnographic detail on Aztec cosmology, magic, and ritual. Through his fieldwork with two Mexican curanderos (healers/witches) Knab uncovers the survival of ancient Aztec religious beliefs and practices thought to have been long wiped out by colonial conquest and Catholicism. Caught between the worlds of academia and Aztec witchcraft, Knab recounts how he found himself subject to his informants' magical devices and began the journey to recover his tonal (soul). Knab's experience challenges traditional assumptions about ethical involvement on the part of the researcher and blurs the boundaries between informant and researcher, science and magic, and healing and murder. This book will appeal not only to anthropologists and students of Aztec religion but to anyone interested in reading a captivating real-life mystery.” (Library Journal)

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With a Daughter's Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson

By Mary Catherine Bateson

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The author's parents attended conferences with the pioneers of cybernetics, the science of communication and control in animals and machines. Her father focused on the biological implications of the science, and let others work on "electronic brains." Ms. Bateson learned a lot from her folks about human nature. This is a wonderful memoir. I also recommend her other books, as well as one her father wrote, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, for more about the complex organism, Homo sapiens.
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