So writes Florinda Donner in this truly remarkable book. Like "The Children of Sanchez" by Oscar Lewis, "Shabono" breaks new ground in revealing the life of another culture by drawing the reader into its strange and unique world. Donner, an anthropologist, traveled into the deep jungle between Venezuela and Brazil to study the "curing," or witchcraft practices, of certain Indian tribes. Shabono is the story of her total immersion in a primitive society and its exotic way of life. For days Florinda Donner follows an old Indian woman and her son into the steamy undergrowth to their village, or shabono.
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So writes Florinda Donner in this truly remarkable book. Like "The Children of Sanchez" by Oscar Lewis, "Shabono" breaks new ground in revealing the life of another culture by drawing the reader into its strange and unique world. Donner, an anthropologist, traveled into the deep jungle between Venezuela and Brazil to study the "curing," or witchcraft practices, of certain Indian tribes. Shabono is the story of her total immersion in a primitive society and its exotic way of life.
For days Florinda Donner follows an old Indian woman and her son into the steamy undergrowth to their village, or shabono. As day becomes night and night day, time loses all meaning, and her sojourn among the people she calls the Iticoteri extends to a year.
Adopted by a native couple, she goes beyond observation; she begins to absorb their totems and taboos as her own. Behind the hardness of life in the jungle is an exquisite magic, a world in which the Iticoteri are born, undergo grueling rites of passage, marry, make war, and die. A world where they feast on ripe plantain and fresh fish. Where there are ceremonies in which men sniff epena and dance wildly in costumes made from the feathers of exotic birds to become shapori, or witch doctors.
Theirs is a civilization in which illness is cured by the rhythmic chanting of shapori, where fire releases the soul from the body, and the soul rises to the house of thunder.
With amazing warmth the Iticoteri accept Florinda Donner as one of their own, gently teaching her their religion, their customs, even their language. Reluctantly they guide her to the edge of the jungle at the end of her year with them. In prose that is enchanting, almost sensual, Florinda Donner combines the storytelling appeal of a novel with the very real facts of her stay in the shabono.
The result is as unusual as it is irresistible, a book that will fascinate equally readers of fiction and nonfiction. For me, it is at once art, magic, and social science, and so skillfully balanced that I cannot assess which takes the lead. The ethnographic data are there but presented in a rich, alive, and functional way.
Thus, Shabono is sheer magic because it sustains, all the way through, the overpowering and forbidden aura of a mysterious and enchanting world. Florinda Donner's artistry is to strike with words; to create fleeting images of supreme poignancy and then string them and connect them until they achieve a final result: a catharsis of feeling.
ISBN: All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law. Donner, Florinda.
Yanomama Indians. Author's Note. The Yanomama Indians, also known in anthropological literature as the Waika, Shamatari, Barafiri, Shirishana, and Guaharibo, inhabit the most isolated portion of the border between southern Venezuela and northern Brazil. It has been roughly estimated that there are between ten and twenty thousand of them, occupying an area of approximately seven thousand square miles.
The Yanomama live in hamlets of palm-thatched dwellings called shabonos, which are scattered throughout the forest. The number of individuals residing in each of these widely dispersed hamlets varies between sixty and a hundred people.
Some of the shabonos are located close to Catholic or Protestant missions or in other areas accessible to the white man: Others have withdrawn deeper into the jungle. Hamlets still exist in remote parts of the forest that have not been contacted by outsiders. My experience with the Iticoteri, the inhabitants of one of these unknown shabonos, is what this book is about. It is a subjective account of the surplus data, so to speak, of anthropological field research I conducted on curing practices in Venezuela.
The most important part of my training as an anthropologist emphasized the fact that objectivity is what gives validity to anthropological work. It happened that throughout my stay with this Yanomama group I did not keep the distance and detachment required of objective research. Special links of gratitude and friendship with them made it impossible for me to interpret facts or draw conclusions from what I witnessed and learned.
Because I am a woman; and because of my physical appearance, and a certain bent of character, I posed no threat to the Indians. They accepted me as an amenable oddity, and I was able to fit, if only for a moment in time, into the peculiar rhythm of their lives.
In my account I have made two alterations of my original notes. The first has to do with names: The name Iticoteri as well as the names of the persons portrayed are imaginary.
The second has to do with style: For dramatic effect I have altered the sequence of events, and for narrative purposes I have rendered conversations in the proper English syntax and grammatic structure. Had I literally translated their language, I could not have done justice to its complexity, flexibility, and its highly poetic and metaphoric expressions. The versatility of suffixes and prefixes gives the Yanomama language delicate shades of meaning that have no real equivalent in English.
Even though I was patiently drilled until I could differentiate and reproduce most of their words, I never became a fluent speaker.
However, my inability to command their language was no obstacle in communicating with them. I learned to "talk" with them long before I had an adequate vocabulary. Talking was more of a bodily sensation than an actual interchange of words. How accurate our interchange was is another matter. For them and. They made allowances when I could not explain myself, or when I could not understand the information they were conveying about their world: After all, they did not expect me to cope with the subtleties and intricacies of their language.
The Yanomama, just like ourselves, have their own biases: They believe whites are infantile and thus less intelligent. Principal Iticoteri. Chapter 1. I was half asleep. Yet I could sense people moving around me. As if from a great distance, I heard the soft rustle of bare feet over the packed dirt of the hut; the coughing and clearing of throats, and the faint voices of women.
Leisurely I opened my eyes. It was not quite dawn. In the semidarkness I could see Ritimi and Tutemi, their naked bodies bent over the hearths where the embers of the night's fires still glowed. Tobacco leaves, water-filled gourds, quivers with poisoned arrowheads, animal skulls, and bundles of green plantains hung from the palm-frond ceiling, appearing to be suspended in the air below the rising smoke.
Yawning, Tutemi stood up. She stretched, then bent over the hammock to lift Hoaxiwe into her arms. Giggling softly, she nuzzled her face against the baby's stomach. She mumbled something unintelligible as she pushed her nipple into the boy's mouth. Sighing, she eased herself back into her hammock. Ritimi pulled down some dried tobacco leaves.
She soaked them in a calabash bowl filled with water, then took one wet leaf and, before rolling it into a wad, sprinkled it with ashes. Placing the quid between her gum and lower lip, she sucked at it noisily while preparing two more. She gave one to Tutemi, then approached me. I closed my eyes, hoping to give the impression that I was asleep. Squatting at the head of my hammock, Ritimi ran her tobacco-soaked finger, wet with her saliva, between my gum and lower lip, but did not leave a quid in my mouth.
Chuckling, she edged toward Etewa, who had been watching. She spat her wad into her palm and handed it to him. A soft moan escaped her lips as she placed the third quid in her mouth and lowered herself on top of him. The fire filled the hut with smoke, gradually warming the chilly damp air. Burning day and night, the hearth fires were the center of each dwelling. The smoke stains they left on the thatch ceiling set one household apart from the next, for there were no dividing walls between the huts.
They stood so close together that adjacent roofs overlapped each other, giving the impression of one enormous circular dwelling. There was a large main entrance to the entire compound with a few narrow openings between some huts.
Each hut was supported by two long and two shorter poles. The higher side of the hut was open and faced. A heavy mist shrouded the surrounding trees.
The palm fronds, hanging over the interior edge of the hut, were silhouetted against the grayness of the sky. Etewa's hunting dog lifted its head from under its curled-up body, and without quite waking, opened its mouth in a wide yawn. I closed my eyes, dozing off to the smell of green plantains roasting in the fires. My back was stiff, and my legs ached from having squatted for hours the day before, digging weeds in the nearby gardens.
I opened my eyes abruptly as my hammock was vigorously rocked back and forth, and I. Instinctively I pulled the hammock's sides. Giggling, the children crawled on top and around me. Their brown naked bodies were soft and warm against my skin. As they had done almost every morning since I had first arrived, the children ran their chubby hands over my face, breasts, stomach, and legs, coaxing me to identify each part of my anatomy.
I pretended to sleep, snoring loudly. Two little boys snuggled against my sides, and the little girl on top of me pressed her dark head under my chin. They smelled of smoke and dirt. I had not known a word of their language when I first arrived at their settlement deep in the jungle between Venezuela and Brazil.
Yet that had not been an obstacle to the eighty or so people occupying the shabono in accepting me. For the Indians, not to understand their language was tantamount to being aka boreki - dumb. As such, I was fed, loved, and indulged: My mistakes were excused or overlooked as if I were a child. Mostly my blunders were acknowledged by boisterous outbursts of laughter that shook their bodies until they rolled on the ground, tears brimming in their eyes.
Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the South American Rain Forest
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