SHABONO by Florinda Donner
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A small, blonde, blue-eyed anthropologist treks the jungle fastness between Brazil and Venezuela, guided by a dying old woman and her son: Iticoteri Indians of ferocious acclaim. Mother dies en route to the shabono, the settlement of palm-thatched huts of her people. What follows is the story of a short stay that grew into a year--in which our heroine adopts native ways and mutual affection blossoms. Is this not the stuff of Hollywood's innocent days? It is indeed. Yet it happened; and Donner's account is convincing in its detail and character descriptions, and above all in her ability to convey the emotional transformations that turned her from a note-taking anthropologist into a participant--painted from head to toe with bright red lines and circles, weeding the gardens with the other women, sleeping in a bark hammock. Her primary interest had been native curing practices, and she is a keen observer of shaman rites. The Iticoteri believed that she had been sent to bring the old woman home, and that (exceptional for women) she possessed hekuras--spirits that shamans lure to their chests after taking hallucinogenic snuff. This privileged status enabled her to learn more of native lore--but also led to a seduction on her way back to the Catholic mission. (Not told as titillation but revelation.) An occasional florid passage might have been excised, and some adjectives might have been pruned; but since everything Donner describes is rare--food, language, landscape, people--hyperbole is hard to resist. And, as Donner convincingly gives the lie to the myth of primitive savages, the Iticoteri themselves are hard to resist. For unjaded non-cynics: a winner.

Pub Date: May 3rd, 1982
Publisher: Delacorte