SHAMANISM, COLONIALISM, AND THE WILD MAN: A Study in Terror and Healing by Michael Taussig


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A lengthy study involving history, anthropology, and reportage, about ""killing and torture and sorcery"" in southwest Colombia, where the author spent some years as a wary visitor. The resulting book is blood-soaked indeed. Whether the subject is the iniquity of colonialism or the evil that tribesmen do unto each other, the picture is dark. There are gory quotes aplenty: ""A woman suckling a small baby at her breast had her head cut off and the baby killed, cut into pieces."" Official justice in the region seems to have been, until recently, advice like, ""take this stick and beat him to death.' When explaining what he witnessed on visits to the region, Taussig is vivid, if clichÉ-prone: ""For this brief moment the surging tide of the text recedes and in the swirling eddies the discerning eye may see. . ."" begins the book, and is indicative of the author's prose style. But on the subject of historical readings, Taussig tends to go overboard in a different way. He quotes far too much, and gets lost down alleyways only partially related to the subject at hand. For instance, describing a report of humanitarian concern filed by Irish politician Roger Casement, Taussig goes into Casement's later imprisonment and the accusations of homosexuality against Casement, still murky almost a century later--and certainly besides the point. Further, despite the subtitle, there is precious little upbeat or positive here. Rather than being in any sense a balm, the section on healing begins with a shaman being attacked by a colonist, who screams, ""Kill me now, with all YOU know--great shithead, son of a whore!"" A dark, dank picture of humanity abusing itself.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
Publisher: Univ. of Chicago Press