Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon


Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon

Robin M. Wright
Foreword by Michael J. Harner

408 pages
18 photographs, 7 illustrations, 2 maps, 2 tables, 2 appendixes


June 2013


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November 2016


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About the Book

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.

Author Bio

Robin M. Wright is a professor of religion and an affiliate graduate faculty in the Department of Anthropology and Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida–Gainesville. He is the coeditor of Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas and In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia.


"Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon expresses the best of both the empirical and aesthetically attuned tendencies in anthropology. . . . Wright combines decades of ethnographic observation among the Baniwa (Arawak) of the Aiarí River basin of Brazil, collaborative oral histories about a focal figure, and close attention to the linguistic and bodily practices of the jaguar shaman. The focus on a single individual, Mandu da Silva, enables Wright to craft a clear picture, tying experience at the micro level to the influence of sorcery, evangelical Christianity, and culture change at the macro level."—Aimee Jean Hosemann, Journal of Folklore Research

"Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans is a tour de force, a remarkable work of deep understanding and expressive skill that should become a classic of Amazonian ethnography."—Donald Pollock, Anthropos

"No ethnographer has ever written so extensively on a single shaman of the northwest Amazon. . . . A monumental study!"—S. D. Glazier, Choice

"What Mysteries of the Jaguar Shamans of the Northwest Amazon will be most remembered for is the essential connection between myths, religious roles, social organization, and physical places. . . . Any anthropologist interested in shamanism or animism should take note of it."—Jack David Eller, Anthropology Review Database

"Complex, detailed, fascinating, and well-written."—Rebecca R. Stone, Journal of Anthropological Research

Table of Contents

Preface by Michael Harner




Part I. Shamans, Chanters, Sorcerers, and Prophets

1. "You are going to save many people.” The life story of Mandu da Silva, Hohodene Jaguar-Shaman

2. Mandu's Apprenticeship and a Jaguar-shaman's Powers of World-making

3. "You Will Suffer Along Our Way" (Hirapithena Wapuwa).  The Great Suffering in Mandu's Life


Part II. Shamanic Knowledge and Power in the Baniwa Universe

4. Creation, Cosmology and Ecological Time

5.  Mythscapes as Living Memories of The Ancestors


Part III. Transmission of Shamanic Knowledge and Power

6. The Birth of the Child of the Sun, Kuwai

7. Death and Regeneration in the First Initiation Rites, Kwaipan

8. A Struggle for Power and Knowledge among Men and Women

Part IV. Revitalization Movements in 'Traditional' and Christianized Communities

9. The House of Shamans' Knowledge and Power (Malikai Dapana), The House of Adornment (Nakuliakarudapani), and the Pamaale School Complex





List of Illustrations

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