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Of Passionate Curves and Desirable Cadences

Themes on Waiwai Social Being

George Mentore

Publication Year: 2005

Compelling and evocative, Of Passionate Curves and Desirable Cadences reveals the vital cultural interconnections at the heart of a rain-forest Amerindian society. The Waiwai, who live in the remote interior of Guyana and in neighboring Brazil, follow a customary subsistence lifestyle built around swidden agriculture and hunting.
How do the Waiwai experience and think about themselves and their place in the so-called modern world around them? The anthropologist George Mentore draws on years of living with the Waiwai, a compelling theoretical perspective grounded in ethnographic subjectivity, and his own Guyanese heritage to depict the social and cultural world of the Waiwai. Mentore describes the relationship between the Waiwai cultural construction of the body, settlement, houses, fields, wildlife, power, knowledge, and gift giving in a variety of contexts and roles. This web of relationships, as well as the various spaces discovered and illuminated between Mentore's social being and theirs, point to a complex organization of culture that is distinctively Waiwai. When considering the Waiwai people’s “plaited” design of passion and intimacy in the way it relates to humans, plants, and animals, Mentore promises the reader that through his text you will encounter a community of truth that tames logic and desire, where well being, beauty, morality, and care encircle the transcendent self.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xi-xiv

This book has been many years in the making. Perhaps, some would say, too many years. I can certainly attest to the fact that the manuscript has been rewritten in its entirety at least three times each rewrite the result of a return visit to the Waiwai. Contrary to...

A Guide to Pronouncing Waiwai Words

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pp. xv

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pp. 1-16

You see before you now a precautious text, once writing, once the images of an individual’s experience, once part of the lived world. Tracks of the abstract, prints left behind of experiences from the past, they can, nonetheless, lead to what lies ahead, to that which...

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pp. 17-63

A voiced resonance rather than a visual textuality, a passionate curve rather than a languid line: let me introduce you to a Waiwai literacy of social beauty. It is an appealing knowledge about people. Take care, however, because in the literary imagination, the suspension...

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From the Sutured Wound of Being

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pp. 64-79

Even without the supposed ritual requirement of “torture” or imposition of “pain,” “the body mediates the acquisition of a knowledge” (Clastres 1989:180). It is an acquired knowledge about society constituting and sustaining itself in, on, and through the corporeal...

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To the Mutability of Embodiment

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pp. 80-119

Let us in a mischievous manner begin with Waiwai mythic registers. Not necessarily because myths can show us how Amerindian thought “expresses itself by means of a heterogeneous repertoire” (Lévi-Strauss 1974:17), a repertoire with a nevertheless extensive...

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And Toward the Body Encompassed

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pp. 120-147

A traditional Waiwai girl would have adorned herself with the white beaded keweyu apron and apomi (armband) beads after her first menses and ritual initiation into the age-grade of amas-komo. Tied around her waist, the sexually seductive beaded apron announced...

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The Hidden Hazard of Generosity

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pp. 148-180

We heard shepurï, the howler monkey. His aged cough cracked the canopy in prelude to an immense aria. Then, like a hollow wind, his prolonged plea took up air and surged in one single breath through the trees. In tones of primordial delight, his monstrous voice, his...

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Grief and Shamanic Breath

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pp. 181-206

From the other side of the village, from the tight cluster of houses near the river, a tremulous wave of heartfelt grief kept repeating itself. Trembling sounds of sadness engorged the damp air and congested the empty spaces between the dwellings. They lifted me...

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The Archer and His Bow

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pp. 207-232

We beached on Pebbled Landing. Dark dolerite sentinels loomed on the murky shore. Burrowing beneath frond embankments, fretting fitfully in persuasive soliloquy, the sable river glided gently by. A toucan quizzed from the upper canopy. A legion of beetles, in...

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When the Cicadas First Sing

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pp. 233-281

The Waiwai say that when they hear the sound of the taritari (cicada), they know that the making of farms and the planting of crops should begin.1 They profess that after porin tuna (the big rains), the heat of the sun warms up the...

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The Plaited Design of Human Life

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pp. 282-310

Waiwai cultural aesthetics emphasize balance and harmony in regard to the pleasures of residential space. A proper complement to life itself has to be produced. A necessary human sense of confidence about the forest and the village must be attained and factualness...

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The Wayamnu Sentiment

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pp. 311-317

The look in their eyes spoke tenderly of romance. Its voiceless words we could hear from our involuntary oblivion. Lost from the concentrated gaze of desire, we basked in the lyrical rendering of their deep affection. The gendered beauty of their entwined bodies achieved a...


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pp. 319-346


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pp. 347-363


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pp. 365-375

E-ISBN-13: 9780803205062
E-ISBN-10: 0803205066

Publication Year: 2005