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The Crystal Forest: Notes on the Ontology of Amazonian Spirits

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image of Inner Asia

The ideas sketched out in this paper date back to my work with the Yawalapíti and Araweté in the 1970s and 1980s, where, like any ethnographer, I had to confront different indigenous notions about nonhuman agency and personhood. However, the event catalysing them in the here and now was my much more recent reading of a remarkable narrative issuing from another Amazonian culture. This was the exposition given by Davi Kopenawa, Yanomami thinker and political leader, to the anthropologist Bruce Albert apropos the xapiripë, the ‘animal ancestors’ or ‘shamanic spirits’ who interact with the shamans of his people (Kopenawa 2000; Kopenawa & Albert 2003). These texts are part of an ongoing dialogue between Kopenawa and Albert, in which the former presents Whites, in the person of his interlocutor-translator, with a detailed account of the world’s structure and history; a narrative which also doubles as an indignant and proud claim for the Yanomami people’s right to exist. Here I shall transcribe the shorter version of the narrative, published in Portuguese in 2004.


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