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


November 2016


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April 2020


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June 2013


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June 2013


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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 Silva for more than thirty years, weaves the story of Silva’s life together with the Baniwas’ broader 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. Exploring in depth the apprenticeship of the shaman, Wright shows how jaguar shamans seek the knowledge and power of the deities through several stages of instruction and practice.
This volume, the first study to map the sacred geography (“mythscape”) of the northern Arawak-speaking people of the Northwest Amazon, demonstrates the 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 an associate professor of religion at the University of Florida. 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 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

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

"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

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations




Part 1. Shamans, Chanters, Sorcerers, and Prophets

1. "You Are Going to Save Many Lives": The Life Story of Mandu da Silva, Hohodene Jaguar Shaman, coauthored by Manuel da Silva and Ercilia Lima da Silva

2. Mandu's Apprenticeship and a Jaguar Shaman's Powers of World-Making

3. "You Will Suffer Along Our Way": The Great Suffering in Mandu's Life

Part 2. Shamanic Knowledge and Power in the Baniwa Universe

4. Creation, Cosmology, and Ecological Time

5. Mythscapes as Living Memories of the Ancestors

Part 3. 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 4. Revitalization Movements in Traditional and Christianized Communities

9. The House of Shamans' Knowledge and Power, the House of Adornment, and the Pamaale School Complex


Appendix 1. Letter Authorizing Reproductions of Kuwai-ka Wamundana

Appendix 2. Description of The Mysterious Body of Kuwai




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