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Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon

Michael J. Harner

Publication Year: 2013

Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon tells the life story of Mandu da Silva, the last living jaguar shaman among the Baniwa people in the northwest Amazon. In this original and engaging work, Robin M. Wright, who has known and worked with da Silva for more than thirty years, weaves the story of da Silva’s life together with the Baniwas’ society, history, mythology, cosmology, and jaguar shaman traditions. The jaguar shamans are key players in what Wright calls “a nexus of religious power and knowledge” in which healers, sorcerers, priestly chanters, and dance-leaders exercise complementary functions that link living specialists with the deities and great spirits of the cosmos. By exploring in depth the apprenticeship of the shaman, Wright shows how jaguar shamans acquire the knowledge and power of the deities in several stages of instruction and practice.

This volume is the first mapping of the sacred geography (“mythscape”) of the Northern Arawak–speaking people of the northwest Amazon, demonstrating direct connections between petroglyphs and other inscriptions and Baniwa sacred narratives as a whole. In eloquent and inviting analytic prose, Wright links biographic and ethnographic elements in elevating anthropological writing to a new standard of theoretically aware storytelling and analytic power.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. C-ii

Title Page

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pp. iii-iii

Copyright Page

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pp. iv-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Since the seventies, Robin Wright has immersed himself in the study of the shamanic practices of the Baniwa of Northwest Amazonia. In this book—much of which is seen through the eyes of the elder jaguar shaman and “wise man” or prophet of his people, Manuel “Mandu” da Silva—the ancient ways of the Baniwa shamans come...


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pp. xi-xviii

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pp. 1-28

This book explores the meanings of shamanic knowledge and power among the Baniwa, an Arawak-speaking indigenous people of the Northwest Amazon in Brazil, with whom I have worked since 1976. It focuses on the only living jaguar shaman among the Baniwa, Mandu da Silva of the village of Uapui, Aiary River, who...

Part 1: Shamans, Chanters, Sorcerers, and Prophets

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Chapter 1: “You Are Going to Save Many Lives”

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pp. 31-52

Mandu da Silva is the only living jaguar shaman among the Baniwa/ Kuripako population of the Northwest Amazon. In the 1970s and 1980s, he was chief of the village of Uapui on the Aiary River. Mandu’s story is extraordinary in many ways. It bears similarities to the life narratives of the powerful jaguar shamans and prophets ...

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Chapter 2: Mandu’s Apprenticeship and a Jaguar Shaman’s Powers of World-Making

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pp. 53-104

As part of my interpretation of Mandu’s life story, I will integrate his narrative with an ethnography of the process of becoming a pajé, what the community expects of pajés, and what special powers and knowledge they acquire during their careers....

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Chapter 3: “You Will Suffer Along Our Way”

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pp. 105-144

In his life narrative, Mandu refers to periods of much suffering, and there are strong reasons to believe that his suffering was related to the deaths of many members of his family caused by a single sorcerer, who was a sib-brother, from the early 1970s until 1989. ...

Part 2: Shamanic Knowledge and Power in the Baniwa Universe

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Chapter 4: Creation, Cosmology, and Ecological Time

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pp. 147-207

This chapter discusses the metaphysical and ecological principles through which the Baniwa pajés of the upper Aiary River understand their universe (Hekwapi). The most knowledgeable sources on this are the experienced and powerful jaguar shamans. Here I seek to build on and revise previously published versions of cosmology...

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Chapter 5: Mythscapes as Living Memories of the Ancestors

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pp. 208-230

Ethnographic mapping shows that there is an extensive “sacred geography” in Baniwa-Kuripako-Wakuenai territory along the Northwest Amazon border of Brazil, Venezuela, and Colombia that consists of important locations of northern Arawakan creation traditions. This includes waterfalls with petroglyphs and ...

Part 3: Transmission of Shamanic Knowledge and Power

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Chapter 6: The Birth of the Child of the Sun, Kuwai

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pp. 233-246

The child Kuwai is an extraordinary being — the child of the sun, who is spirit, animal, and person all in one. Part jaguar, part sloth or other tree-living animal, he can transform into a set of beautiful, melodious songs, or he can transform into a mysterious, monstrous, all-consuming, demonic Other. Kuwai is a complex...

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Chapter 7: Death and Regeneration in the First Initiation Rites, Kwaipan

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pp. 247-275

Initiation is a major transformative moment when the children become adults and are taught to live well in society and the world. The children are taught the differences between truth and falsity, the Other World and This World. They see the full force of the cosmic jaguar that Kuwai becomes, as he devours three children ...

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Chapter 8: The Struggle for Power and Knowledge among Men and Women

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pp. 276-294

Nhiãperikuli initiated his son with the flutes and told him to bathe in the river at dawn and cleanse his penis with a sudsmaking vine. Before the boy arose, Kuwai’s mother, Amaru, and the women secretly stole the flutes from Nhiãperikuli. As he tried to get them back, spirit darts shot from the mouths of...

Part 4: Revitalization Movements in Traditional and Christianized Communities

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Chapter 9: The House of Shamans’ Knowledge and Power, the House of Adornment, and the Pamaale School Complex

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pp. 297-324

The pajés’ songs, discourses about the Other World, and stories of the prophets refer to a place of eternal happiness, Kathimakwe, at or near the top of the universe but hidden to all but the jaguar shamans. Those pajés are believed to have the power to reveal it through the correct transformations. Their bodies become the ...

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pp. 325-336

In August 2010, when this book was in its early stages, an historic advance in favor of the protection of indigenous knowledge — in particular, shamanism and the sacred traditions related to “Yurupary” — was announced by the Colombian government. This measure was acclaimed by one unidentified anthropologist as “quite ...

Appendix 1

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pp. 337-338

Appendix 2

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pp. 339-342


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pp. 343-352


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pp. 353-364


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pp. 365-387

E-ISBN-13: 9780803246812
E-ISBN-10: 0803246811
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803243941

Page Count: 424
Illustrations: 18 photographs, 7 illustrations, 2 maps, 2 tables, 3 appendixes
Publication Year: 2013

OCLC Number: 842885890
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon

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Subject Headings

  • da Silva, Mandu.
  • Baniwa Indians -- Biography.
  • Shamans -- Brazil -- Biography.
  • Baniwa Indians -- Religion.
  • Baniwa philosophy.
  • Baniwa Indians -- Rites and ceremonies.
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