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I Foresee My Life

The Ritual Performance of Autobiography in an Amazonian Community

Suzanne Oakdale

Publication Year: 2005

I Foresee My Life is a study of the ritual performances of the Kayabi, a Brazilian indigenous people, during the 1990s. Kayabi rituals are distinct in that they center on the autobiographical narratives of living people. Suzanne Oakdale discusses these autobiographical performances in the context of shamanic cures, mortuary rites, and political oratory. In each ritual, leaders describe how some of the dramatic environmental, economic, and political changes taking place in the Amazon have affected them. For example, the Kayabi have moved from a heavily colonized area to a reservation and as a result have had to address different facets of Indian identity, new forms of commodity consumption, residence patterns, and leadership.
As they narrate their lives in these rituals, leaders also give other participants ways to address some of the pressing issues in their own lives. Special emphasis is given to the emotional effects of narrative performances and how these accounts move people to identify with others, compel them to act in appropriate ways, or assuage their grief over a lost loved one. Oakdale analyzes autobiographical performances using insights from studies on ritual, life history, and linguistic anthropology to better understand Kayabi notions of self and person and the role these narrative expressions play in their social life. Richly textured with eyewitness accounts and indigenous voices, I Foresee My Life demonstrates the enduring power of indigenous performances today

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Illustrations and Map

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pp. viii-viii

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. ix-xiv

In March 1992 I disembarked from a small plane at one of the posts in the Xingu Indigenous Park, a Brazilian Indian reservation located in the state of Mato Grosso. I had hired the plane and pilot to drop me off in the park, since during the wet season travel by bus to the park over unpaved roads is extremely timely and difficult. I was a student conducting research for my ...

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Note on Translation, Transcription, and Orthography

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pp. xv-xvi

I recorded all the narratives featured in this book. I then replayed the tapes for either one or sometimes two of the men who were assigned by the village chief to teach me Kayabi. One of them then repeated the Kayabi for me very slowly so that I could write it down. Next, either one or both of them gave me a line-by-line translation into Portuguese. A few hours of tape would ...

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pp. 1-12

Late in the afternoon of March 5, 1992, the day after I first arrived in the village of Kapinu'a, one of the most renowned shamans among the Xinguan Kayabi, called Stone-Arm, began to sing, accompanied by a chorus of the village men. The Kayabi are a Tupi-speaking indigenous people, many of whom have moved into the multiethnic Xingu Indigenous Park reserve from other locales. Stone- ...

Part 1. Contemporary Issues and Changes in Kayabi Life

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pp. 13-14

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1. The Perils of Living in the Xingu Indigenous Park

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pp. 15-33

In the afternoon heat one day in April 1992, men and women began to prepare to sing in Jawosi style in Kapinu'a village—the men were being painted with charcoal and red annatto body paint and the women with black genipap dye. Jawosi singing can be done for many reasons, including to greet a visitor, to celebrate a hunting partys return, ...

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2. The Perils of New-Style Villages

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pp. 34-54

One afternoon as I lay in my hammock, a young girl from Stone-Arm's neighboring household poked her head under my mosquito netting and said, "Come eat. Bring your plate." This sort of invitation usually happened once a day and sometimes more often during my stay in Kapinu'a.1 On some days Jacare's daughter, Thorn, had made a sweet ...

Part 2. Autobiographical Narrative Performances

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pp. 55-56

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3. The Self-Conscious "Indian"

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pp. 57-75

As São José do Xingu, the Brazilian town located just outside of the northern perimeter of the park, was preparing for mayoral elections, an event that involved many candidate-sponsored festivities, Chief João called a village meeting in Kapinu'a. In his meeting João addressed the dangers of drinking alcohol when visiting São José. ...

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4. The Healing Power of Shamanic Career Narration

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pp. 76-111

One afternoon in March, in the middle of the rainy season, João informed me that his household would be going on a trip to Diauarum Post. A shaman from another village, Monkey-Leg, was going to perform a Maraka cure there for Jacaré, who was suffering from soul loss. Jacaré had been living at Diauarum for the past few months while his son was ...

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5. Headmen's Songs and the End of Mouring

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pp. 112-140

After I had been living in Kapinua for several months, João told me one afternoon as he and Pretty swung in his hammock that they had lost a baby son just a few months before my arrival. He had taken the baby outside the park to be treated at a hospital, where the baby was diagnosed with malaria. In João's opinion the malaria had weakened the boy ...

Part 3. Understanding the Dialogic Nature of Kayabi Narrative Performances

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pp. 141-142

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6. Kayabi Life Cycle and the Development of a Dialogic Self

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pp. 143-160

A few weeks after Jacaré passed away, as Bird and I sat in the wood-and-thatch school building transcribing some of Stone-Arm's Maraka songs, I asked if Jacaré had been as old as Stone-Arm. "No," he said, "he was younger." He continued to tell me that Kayabi people compare human lives to logs on the fire. "Why some should burn ...

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7. The Cosmic Management of Voices

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pp. 161-171

One crisp morning in the dry season as I lay in my hammock under my mosquito net, with a wool blanket covering me from chin to feet, I thought about the effect that Kayabi ritual performances have upon those involved. Thanks to the Kayabi education monitors who tutored me almost daily during my stay, I had started to better understand these events. ...

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8. Conclusion

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pp. 172-174

The more comfortable I became with my Kayabi hosts, the more inadvertently I began to converse with friends such as Fire-of-the-Gods and Bird in the style I was accustomed to talking with my friends and family back in Chicago. More than once I remember being deep in conversation (in Portuguese) and commenting that so-and-so was a ...


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pp. 175-184


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pp. 185-196

Source Acknowledgments

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pp. 197-198


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pp. 199-206

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205130
E-ISBN-10: 0803205139

Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 60712621
MUSE Marc Record: Download for I Foresee My Life

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Kayabi Indians -- Biography.
  • Kayabi Indians -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Kayabi Indians -- Social life and customs.
  • Parque Nacional do Xingu (Brazil) -- Social life and customs.
  • Discourse analysis, Narrative -- Brazil -- Parque Nacional do Xingu.
  • Shamans -- Brazil -- Parque Nacional do Xingu.
  • Autobiography -- Brazil -- Parque Nacional do Xingu.
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