“War of Shadows” (1991)

War of Shadowswos:
The Struggle for Utopia in the Peruvian Amazon

Michael F Brown Eduardo Fernández
University of California Press

Paperback ed., 275 pages
ISBN: 9780520074484
December 1993  $31.95, £21.95

Jacket Copy:  War of Shadows is the haunting story of a failed uprising in the Peruvian Amazon—told largely by people who were there.  Late in 1965, Asháninka Indians, members of one of the Amazon’s largest native tribes, joined forces with Marxist revolutionaries who had opened a guerrilla front in Asháninka territory.  They fought, and were crushed by, the overwhelming military force of the Peruvian government.  Why did the Indians believe this alliance would deliver them from poverty and the depredations of colonization on their rainforest home?  With rare insight and eloquence, anthropologists Brown and Fernández write about an Amazonian people whose contacts with outsiders have repeatedly begun in hope and ended in tragedy.

The players in this dramatic confrontation included militants of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), the U. S. Embassy, the Peruvian military, a “renegade” American settler, and the Asháninka Indians themselves. Using press reports and archival sources as well as oral histories, the authors weave a vivid tapestry of narratives and counternarratives that challenges the official history of the guerrilla struggle. Central to the story is the Asháninkas’ persistent hope that a messiah would lead them to freedom, a belief with roots in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century jungle rebellions and religious movements.

“For the Asháninka, engagement in this fight was but one episode in a long struggle for their own identity in a utopian world without evil.   Brown and Fernández place that struggle in the larger continuum of utopian hopes and uprisings that have shaken the Amazon for centuries, but that have become ever more ferocious and poignant as ever larger number of outsiders invade the Amazonian world.  The authors present us with the study of a single case, but one that not only has all the fascination of a mystery story exquisitely told but also addresses a universal human predicament of these terror-ridden times.”–Eric Wolf, for the dust jacket of the cloth edition.

“A highly readable narrative based on a most impressive variety of sources, ranging from obscure historical documents to interviews with many of those directly involved, from both sides of the conflict […] It provides an excellent example of how historical scholarship and an awareness of contemporary politics may be combined in a mutually reinforcing way with insights derived from intimate ethnographic enquiry.”–Paul Henley, Times Literary Supplement.

“The book has the flavor of a journey along jungle trails, where myth and mist cohabit the dense underbrush and make it hard to see down to the roots. The  inevitable secrecy, fear, and danger of the present guerrilla war–both to authors and informants–only add to the excitement, and to the impossibility of ever knowing for sure.”–Florencia Mallon, American Historical 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.

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