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Brazil - Juruna Shamanism

Brazil - Juruna Shamanism

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Published by: Ixtlan on Jun 27, 2012
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 Tânia Stolze Lima 
In his celebrated comparison between stud-ies of hysteria and totemism, Lévi-Strauss refers toa situation where the thoughts of the scientistaccount for more than those of the people studied— the latter for this reason becoming “more
than they are” (Lévi-Strauss, 1974, p. 5). Thisimage comes to mind when I find myself facedwith certain characterizations of indigenous Ama-zon cosmologies employing notions such as an-thropocentrism or animism: these remind me di-rectly of the totemic illusion — that is, the idea thatit should be possible to deduce the identity be-tween animality and humanity, nature and culture,from ethnographic materials.Starting from the obvious fact that the exten-sive and intensive definitions of the terms nature andculture are historical and/or cultural products, I shallargue that the differences in the ways this distinctionfunctions in various semiotic systems or “regimes”(see Deleuze and Guattari 1984 and 1988) is a moresignificant ethnographic fact than the diversity of contents it may assume in particular epochs andcultures. First I shall make some brief observationsconcerning this distinction in anthropology, beforemoving on to the Juruna ethnography.
Nature and culture according toourselves
In the process of taking these two terms asmacro classes between which all things can bedistributed, we place humans in both classes. Andwith this move, we submit the distinction to aconcentric schema. Perhaps the best illustration of this method can be found in Lévi-Strauss (1967 and1976). Nature includes (enables and in a certainsense determines) culture; the latter is both part of nature and one of its particular modalities of expression. Even for the anthropologist who, likeSahlins (1976), rejects the abstract reductionism oLévi-Strauss and asserts that it is culture that deter-mines nature, it seems impossible to escape aconcentric reading of the distinction. Moreover,one finds in the work of Lévi-Strauss not only bothways of conceiving their relationship but also asynthesis of the two models, one which expressesthe idea that nature must be determined by culture.
*Published originally in
Revista Brasileira de Ciências Sociais 
, volume 14, n. 40, June 1999, pp. 43-52.Translated by Frances Tornabene de Sousa and revisedby David Rodgers and the author.
 Brazilian Review of Social Sciences, special issue, no. 1, October 2000 
It is also true that the distinction may berepresented by a segmentary schema, since it maybe transposed to the field of culture, therebygenerating a dichotomy between “society” and“culture”. In this instance, it is generally “society”that receives the values attributed to nature, while“culture” may become newly dichotomized as anopposition between “material culture” and “sym-bolism”.But this segmentarity should not conceal thefact that at each of its levels the terms still obey aconcentric regime. For Durkheim or Radcliffe-Brown, for example, “culture” is clearly envelopedand determined by “society”, while for Sahlins, theinverse is true.Expressing, therefore, a hierarchical readingof the distinction, anthropology shares with com-mon sense the strange idea that nature is
more real 
than culture, that nature is objective while culture isnot. Moreover, it is on this basis that Lévi-Straussformulates the curious paradox of the opposition of nature and culture. He begins by observing that itssimplicity would fall apart if it were the work (as theanthropologists claim) of humanity as such, as then,he continues, “it would be neither a primitive fact,nor an objective aspect of the world’s order” (Lévi-Strauss, 1967, p. xvii.). That is, if anthropology werecorrect in saying that humans distance themselvesfrom nature, then the opposition would be strictlyimaginary. The way out of this paradox is well-known: Lévi-Strauss proposes the existence of areal continuity and a logical discontinuity betweennature and culture, an outcome that then allows theopposition to be employed as an instrument of analysis.If an anthropologist like Lévi-Strauss canchoose to disbelieve in the opposition of natureand culture in the name of a “superior naturalism”(Sahlins, 1976), it may also be rejected in the nameof a new culturalism, based on the principle of natural relativism” (Latour, 1994).In an attitude which at first seems to clashwith current anthropological rhetoric, Bruno Latour(1994; Latour and Woolgar, 1997) maintains that if there is one rule to be respected in any ethnograph-ic research into the science and cosmology of self-styled “modern” societies, this rule is none otherthan to disbelieve in scientists and epistemology,and to break with the (self) definition of the modernworld. In other words, it is above all necessary tobreak with the great nature/culture division.Arguing that the distinctions such as Us andThem, Moderns and Pre-Moderns, Modernity andTradition, produced by modern cosmology (of which anthropology would be part) derive fromthe transposition of this great division onto thewhole of humanity, Latour asserts that this opera-tion casts an asymmetric character on anthropolo-gy. I think that his alternative — a symmetricanthropology — depends primarily on thinking of the nature/culture distinction in a non-concentricand therefore a non-hierarchical fashion.
What deserves stressing here is the radicaltransmutation this approach allows Latour to intro-duce into anthropology: the plurality of nature! Ina gesture that evokes the figure of Boas, it isperhaps possible to say that following the pluralistrevision of the notions of civilization and thehistory of humanity, we can now envisage theextension of this procedure to nature. The out-come is doubly significant: (a) nature is not naturalbut fabricated; (b) culture is not cultural but... real.Just as real as nature, at whatever level we happento find ourselves.Latour’s argument, on the other hand, ispursued in such a way that taken in the light of Juruna ethnography, it appears to wrap itself in aparadox. By transforming the distinction into a trueidentifying trait of the (self-styled) moderns, Latourseems to suggest a portrait of Amerindians aspeoples who would
separate nature and cul-ture... thereby re-instating the same division of Usand Them condemned by the author himself at hisoutset.His works are without a doubt of someinterest to those who study Amazon cosmologies,and my impression is that nowadays there is atendency to claim that “based on Latour” thesecosmologies ignore the nature/culture distinction.I will try to show why I disagree with this tendency,and that more important than the question of thepresence or absence of this distinction is thequestion of the diversity of the regimes throughwhich it operates.
The hypothesis underlying my analysis isthat the great division comprises one specific re-gime for dealing with the nature/culture distinc-tion. This regime can be provisionally character-ized as follows: applying itself all at once to variouslevels of reality, the great division necessarilyimposes the overlapping of these levels, overcod-ing, as Deleuze and Guattari would say, the distinc-tions generated at each level. In other words, thedistinctions between Nature and Culture, Objectiv-ity and Subjectivity, Truth and Error, Writing andOrality, Moderns and Pre-Moderns, Future andPast, and so on, are articulated in such a way thatthe moderns retain nature, objectivity, truth andeven time itself, leaving the leftover terms for othersocieties.What takes place in Juruna cosmology isvery different. Distinctions such as River and For-est, Living and Dead, Humans and Animals, Con-sanguinity and Affinity, White-Lipped Peccary andCollared Peccary, do not overlap: the peccary is nota consanguine, nor are the dead of the forest.
Nature and culture according to the Juruna 
Looking at the question from a distance, onecan affirm that the notions of nature and culturehave no counterparts in Juruna cosmology. Suchan assertion is primarily based on two pieces of ethnographic evidence: humans do not belong tothe class of animals, nor do they distinguish them-selves precisely from the latter through the posses-sion of culture, language and social life.These last three functions are primarily relat-ed not to humans but — how to put this? — to theliving beings that inhabit the different regions of the cosmos, some of whom are defined as
souls and others as
souls. For animals, spiritsand humans, having a soul means having aware-ness of oneself and others, being able to think,being a subject. Whoever thinks or lives in effectbehaves like humans: in this sense, animals havean awareness of their own humanity, act in accor-dance with this, and consider humans properlyspeaking to be their similars; in turn, the souls of the dead think of themselves as living people.Here, culture denotes a universal functionwhich is simultaneously defined as thought andsociality (and is, therefore, neither a domain isolat-ed from an exterior reality, nor a distinctive func-tion of humanity in opposition to animality).
Thisfact is suggestive of a profoundly anthropocentricvision of the world and seems to correspond towhat is conventionally called animism. From Tylorto Descola, the question of the applicability of thenature/culture distinction to so-called pre-modernsystems has been put forward. The question iswhether it is suitable for us to apply such labels toAmazon cosmologies: despite Descola’s argument(1992), I think it is not.Firstly, the question of culture is not onlysituated on the level of generality that I just out-lined. There is another level, for which we mayconveniently employ the term civilization, a leveldefined by the diversity of food regimes, numerousmusical instruments and artifacts, categories of spirits and regions of the cosmos, and even theenvironment itself wherein the lives of humans andanimals unfold. And here a differential betweenwild and civilized is introduced: certain humansocieties have practices that are reminiscent of those of the jaguar.It is true that on the first level the humansimplied are the Juruna: peccaries and howler mon-keys think and act as if they were Juruna. However,as far as the human genus is concerned, each socialgroup possesses its own modes of action, and theirsubjective experience is not a simple replica of theaction and subjectivity of the Juruna.Secondly, what I learnt about the soul andcivilization amounted to a very elementary lesson:(a) animals and the souls of the dead have differentpoints of view to ours in respect to reality, and (b)the Juruna are not necessarily in agreement withwhat these other beings think of themselves andthe Juruna.I believe, then, that to fashion a generalcharacterization of Juruna cosmology through theuse of notions like anthropocentrism and animismis to lose sight of the essential: for the Juruna, therelation of identity between humanity and animal-ity is primarily given as a condition for imaginingtheir difference (Lima, 1996).

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