“Tsewa’s Gift” (1986)

TGTsewa’s Gift
Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society (rev. edition)
Michael F. Brown
Paperback: 220 pages
Publisher: University of Alabama Press (January 31, 2006)
ISBN-10: 081735364X
ISBN-13: 978-0817353643

Originally published by the Smithsonian Institution Press, now distributed by the University of Alabama Press.

From the jacket copy.
Magic has been a central concern of anthropologists since the emergence of the discipline.  The apparently illogical character of magic confronts social science with a riddle:  How can people with an eminently practical grasp of their surroundings—indeed, whose empirical knowledge is often astonishingly sophisticated—subscribe to beliefs and practices that seem to us self-evidently false?

In this book, Michael F. Brown explores this problem through a detailed analysis of the uses and meanings of magic among the indigenous Aguaruna [Awajún] of northern Peru.  Brown describes the socioeconomic setting of Aguaruna life and then explores the Aguaruna world view as embodied in magical songs and practices associated with hunting, horticulture, and domestic relations.  He concludes with an epilogue assessing the changes that are taking place in Aguaruna society and speculates on the future of magic among a people who are increasingly obsessed with acquiring digital watches and polyester trousers.

By thoroughly and sensitively exploring the philosophical grounding of the Aguaruna world view, Brown demonstrates the logic underpinning Aguaruna magic as a conceptual system.  In doing so, he challenges a number of standard anthropological assumptions about magic, in particular the prevalent view that magic is based on expressive rather than instrumental intent.

“An outstanding and innovative study on hunting, gardening, and love magic among the Aguaruna. . . . [It is] both highly useful ethnographically and an important contribution to the understanding of a how a primitive culture conceptualizes its transactions with nature. The book touches on cosmology and religion as well as the ethnoecology of hunting and agriculture—with an interlude on sex.”—American Ethnologist

“A well-written and carefully crafted account of Aguaruna magic and its practical applications [that] diverges from more traditional approaches by focusing not only on the symbolic realm of magic but also on the instrumental intent.”—American Anthropologist

“An excellent ethnographic account. . . . This book is highly original, imaginative, and readable. It should be popular among specialists of Amazonia, as well as useful in a broad range of anthropology courses.”—Latin American Anthropology Review

This site offers information about the book UPRIVER (Harvard UP, 2014), other books by Michael F. Brown, issues related to Amazonian peoples, events at the School for Advanced Research–Santa Fe, and occasional meditations on anthropology and human social life in general.

%d bloggers like this: