To Square with Genesis

To Square with Genesis

Causal Statements and Shamanic Ideas in Wayãpí

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214 pp, 6 photos, 3 maps

"…highly readable, at times gripping. Campbell has a flair for ethnography, for using cameos which contribute to the constitution of an atmosphere where real people come to life."-Jean-Paul Dumont

The Wayãpí Indians of northern Brazil's Amazonian rainforest, thought to be extinct until their "discovery" in 1973, are threatened now by the overwhelming forces of an expanding frontier. To Square with Genesis presents an unusual, iconoclastic ethnography of these beleaguered people and a strong appeal for less distant, more humanistic anthropological writing.

In this moving, personal narrative, Alan Campbell challenges traditional ethnographers and their vocabulary by emphasizing the relational nature of fieldwork, asking particularly why we have difficulties understanding Wayãpí and other "outside" ideas of life and death. He finds the answer to this puzzle by going beyond the distinctions embedded in our grammar, distinctions that have prevented us from realizing the similarities between "us" and "them."

Campbell's central puzzle is causality-why are the causes that the Wayãpí ascribe to such misfortunes as illness and death so unacceptable to us? Going against the grain of much current anthropological writing, he relates examples of Wayãpí shamanism, the couvade, "animism," and associated cosmological ideas without the usual ethnographic filter. His controversial, highly original volume will strongly interest any student of South American Indians, culture change, ethnocide, symbolic or humanistic anthropology, and linguistics.