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.
Subjects: Anthropology, Sociology
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