shamanism

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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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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