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Strangely, this book about the Sharanahua Indians of the Peruvian rain forest takes its very strength from the ambiguous and curiously poignant tone it sets -- somewhere between a personal memoir of anthropological fieldwork and the professional study that resulted from it. The indecision, the tension between these two modes -- the reluctant and ethical leaning towards science and the empathy of involvement -- is both the flaw and the power of this book, for it accurately reflects the social scientist's awkward position vis-a-vis the people he or she goes to study and often winds up loving. Janet Siskind's achievement is to have made this very tension -- between love and boredom, beauty and anger, sadness and hard-won dispassion of her own experience ""in the field"" -- bear the fruit of insight into what it is to be Sharanahua, to be human, to be herself. That is, to be a Sharanahua is to be bound by a complex of restrictions and mutual obligations into a kinship structure that provides economic and emotional security. Yet this structure, like any culture, outlaws some of the lawless, innocent, dangerous wishes of the human organism; and these are manifest, often disguised, in the shared symbols of myth, hallucinogenic ritual, and individual dreams -- and also in the Sharanahua's fascination with the apparent power and freedom of local Peruvians, a situation which Siskind must accept, though its rationale is really corrupt and self-contemptuous -- the human desire to transcend one's own culture. One can feel her fighting against overinvolvement and its illusions, and this is too bad, because it gives the purely anthropological parts of her book (though absorbing and dear) a kind of resolute flatness, while every personal reminiscence leaps to vivid, contradictory life. A work of art, passionate and unafraid, fights here with a responsible anthropological study, and the result is a book that casts a shadow much larger and more dramatic than itself.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 1973
ISBN: 0195018915
Publisher: Oxford