Kinship with Monkeys

Kinship with Monkeys: The Guajá Foragers of Eastern Amazonia

Loretta A. Cormier
With original illustrations by James P. Cormier
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/corm12524
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Kinship with Monkeys
    Book Description:

    Intrigued by a slide showing a woman breast-feeding a monkey, anthropologist Loretta A. Cormier spent fifteen months living among the Guajá, a foraging people in a remote area of Brazil. The result is this ethnographic study of the extraordinary relationship between the Guajá Indians and monkeys. While monkeys are a key food source for the Guajá, certain pet monkeys have a quasi-human status. Some infant monkeys are adopted and nurtured as human children while others are consumed in accordance with the "symbolic cannibalism" of their belief system.

    The apparent contradiction of this predator/protector relationship became the central theme of Cormier's research: How can monkeys be both eaten as food and nurtured as children? Her research reveals that monkeys play a vital role in Guajá society, ecology, economy, and religion. In Guajá animistic beliefs, all forms of plant and animal life -- especially monkeys -- have souls and are woven into a comprehensive kinship system. Therefore, all consumption can be considered a form of cannibalism.

    Cormier sets the stage for this enlightening study by examining the history of the Guajá and the ecological relationships between human and nonhuman primates in Amazonia. She also addresses the importance of monkeys in Guajá ecological adaptation as well as their role in the Guajá kinship system. Cormier then looks at animism and life classification among the Guajá and the role of pets, which provide a context for understanding "symbolic cannibalism" and how the Guajá relate to various forms of life in their natural and supernatural world. The book concludes with a discussion of the implications of ethnoprimatology beyond Amazonia, including Western perceptions of primates.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51632-7
    Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. NOTES ON ORTHOGRAPHY
    (pp. ix-xi)
  5. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xii-xxvii)

    One of my first anthropology professors, John Hamer, used to tell his students that you cannot make a person into an anthropologist; people are drawn to this field because on some level they already are anthropologists. I have thought about this idea over the years, and although I still am not sure exactly what that means for me, I do believe that it is true. I have heard anthropologists characterized as philosophers of human nature, pure scientists, humanitarians, thrillseekers, or even as people attracted to other cultures because they already feel alienated from their own. For my part, I have...

  6. 1 A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE GUAJÁ
    (pp. 1-14)

    The early history of the Guajá is not well known, but they probably originated on the lower Tocantins River and, like numerous other groups, migrated eastward in the wake of colonization. A number of events may have spurred their migration, including Portuguese slaving, introduced diseases, and warfare. One or more of these events was likely responsible for their shift from a horticultural to a foraging mode of production, including the possibility of their being actually enslaved by the Portuguese at one time. In their recent culture history, the Guajá remained largely isolated until the mid-1970s. Since that time, many of...

  7. 2 A BRIEF HISTORY OF NEW WORLD MONKEYS
    (pp. 15-38)

    Primatological research typically excludes the human primates, despite the fact that, as with all primate communities, mutual ecological influences exist. Describing ecological influences as mutual is not meant to suggest that the influences are equal. Clearly, the last five hundred years have brought increasing devastation of nonhuman primate communities by their human cousins. In this chapter, the history of human-nonhuman primate interactions in Amazonia are addressed. Emphasis is given to human behaviors which negatively affect primate habitats, such as habitat destruction, hunting pressure, and primate trade. However, additional ecological relationships are also included such as nonhuman-primate adaptation to anthropogenic forests...

  8. 3 MONKEY HUNTING
    (pp. 39-56)

    Broadly, monkeys can be considered a widely available food source in lowland South America.¹ Where quantitative studies have been done, the degree to which monkeys contribute to a given group’s diet varies from less than 3 percent to 36 percent (e.g., see Berlin and Berlin 1983; Kaplan and Kopischke 1992). Numerous interrelated ecological factors may contribute to these differences, including the specific types of species available, species densities in a given area, population density of a given group, means of extraction, local habitat differences, and historical changes in the environment and hunting technologies of a group

    However, ecological determinism is...

  9. 4 GUAJÁ KINSHIP
    (pp. 57-84)

    Monkeys are an important food source among the Guajá, but they are also considered to be fundamentally kin. In order to explain further the social role of monkeys among the Guajá, a general treatment of their kinship system is needed. Below is a description of the Guajá, kinship terminological system, marriage patterns and sexual behaviors, the role of consanguinity and affinity in reckoning kinship relations, genealogical amnesia, and the functions of ambiguous classification of relations.

    The Guajá are similar to many other lowland South American groups in that they use a Dravidian kinship terminological system, also known as the two-line...

  10. 5 ANIMISM AND THE FOREST SIBLINGS
    (pp. 85-110)

    The relationship of Amazonian peoples to local plant and animal species has become a subject of increasing interest among Amazonian researchers. In ethnobiology, both within and outside of Amazonia, researchers are demonstrating an increasing awareness that preservation of biological diversity is inextricably linked to the preservation of human cultural diversity. While this might seem self-evident, it is complicated by the attributing a Western conservation ethic to indigenous peoples. Redford (1991) described this in his article on the “ecologically noble savage,” and Descola (1998) has addressed similar themes with special attention to Amazonia. Thus, it is of paramount importance to understand...

  11. 6 PET MONKEYS
    (pp. 111-128)

    Nonhuman primates’ value to human groups often involves more than being merely a source of calories. A number of groups across various cultures are interested in monkeys because of their behaviors, particularly their social behaviors. Keeping monkeys as pets for companionship is a common practice among lowland South American Indians, including the Aché (Hill and Hawkes 1983), the Barí (Lizarralde 1997, 2002), the Huaorani (Rival 1993), the Kagwahív (Kracke 1978), the Matsigenka (Shepard 1997, 2002), the Mekranoti (Werner 1984), the Upper Putmayo River Indians (Hernández-Camacho and Cooper 1976), the Wayãpi (Campbell 1989), and the Yanomamö (Smole 1976). Primate pet keeping...

  12. 7 COSMOLOGY AND SYMBOLIC CANNIBALISM
    (pp. 129-148)

    The notion of reflexivity has been used as a means of interpreting the process of projecting one’s own cultural values onto others. Ohnuki-Tierney (1984) defines reflexivity as the sense of distance from the self to allow the self to become an object of study.¹ In cultural anthropology, it suggests that the interpretation of other cultures may reveal more about the culture of the observer than that of the observed. Within a group, animals can serve as reflexive symbols. For example, Geertz (1973) described cocks in Bali as symbolic expressions or magnifications of the self that also delineate the boundary between...

  13. Conclusion ETHNOPRIMATOLOGY IN AMAZONIA AND BEYOND
    (pp. 149-160)

    Although there are no living nonhuman-primate species endemic to the United States or Europe (except the Barbary macaque), they have had an important role in Western society through both science and popular culture. The focus of primatology in anthropology seems to be slowly shifting, or at least expanding from its original evolutionary orientation to a focus on purer ethology and primate conservation. In part, this is due to very real concerns about the fate of monkeys and apes whose continued existence is threatened by human behaviors

    Taking a step back, the earliest perspective on studying nonhuman primates was the notion...

  14. Appendix MONKEYS IN THE GUAJÁ HABITAT
    (pp. 161-180)
  15. NOTES
    (pp. 181-186)
  16. REFERENCES
    (pp. 187-218)
  17. Index
    (pp. 219-234)