Consuming Grief

Consuming Grief

BETH A. CONKLIN
Copyright Date: 2001
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/712324
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  • Book Info
    Consuming Grief
    Book Description:

    Mourning the death of loved ones and recovering from their loss are universal human experiences, yet the grieving process is as different between cultures as it is among individuals. As late as the 1960s, the Wari' Indians of the western Amazonian rainforest ate the roasted flesh of their dead as an expression of compassion for the deceased and for his or her close relatives. By removing and transforming the corpse, which embodied ties between the living and the dead and was a focus of grief for the family of the deceased, Wari' death rites helped the bereaved kin accept their loss and go on with their lives.

    Drawing on the recollections of Wari' elders who participated in consuming the dead, this book presents one of the richest, most authoritative ethnographic accounts of funerary cannibalism ever recorded. Beth Conklin explores Wari' conceptions of person, body, and spirit, as well as indigenous understandings of memory and emotion, to explain why the Wari' felt that corpses must be destroyed and why they preferred cannibalism over cremation. Her findings challenge many commonly held beliefs about cannibalism and show why, in Wari' terms, it was considered the most honorable and compassionate way of treating the dead.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79823-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. About the Artist and Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
  5. A Note on Orthography
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
  6. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. xv-xxxii)

    Jimon and Quimoin’s people call themselves Wari’ (pronounced wah-REE), though in western Brazil, where they live, most outsiders know them as the Pakaa Nova.¹ When Jimon and Quimoin were children in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Wari’ still lived independent of Western civilization, and they disposed of the bodies of their dead as their ancestors had done, by eating the roasted flesh, certain internal organs, and sometimes the ground bones. This book examines how Wari’ understood and experienced this kind of cannibalism and explores how this seemingly exotic practice reflects on broad human questions about love and loss, emotional...

  7. PART I: CONTEXTS
    • CHAPTER ONE CANNIBAL EPISTEMOLOGIES
      (pp. 3-23)

      Cannibalism is a difficult topic for an anthropologist to write about, for it pushes the limits of cultural relativism, challenging one to define what is or is not beyond the pale of acceptable human behavior. As one of the last real taboos in contemporary cosmopolitan society, cannibalism evokes a mixture of revulsion and fascination that guarantees any account of it will be read against a host of preconceptions.

      Beyond the emotional reactions the subject of cannibalism provokes, there is the issue of its political implications. Cannibalism is a staple of racist stereotypes, and one of the oldest smear tactics in...

    • CHAPTER TWO WARI’ WORLDS
      (pp. 24-46)

      Wari’ cannibalism developed and was practiced in the context of the way of life that Wari’ experienced before they were brought under Brazilian governmental authority. In their precontact social universe, the distinction betweenwari’ (we, persons) andwijam(enemies, outsiders) was fundamental. The line between endocannibalism (eating fellow Wari’) and exocannibalism (eating outsiders) was drawn at the boundary betweenwari’ andwijamand reflected the spatial and social separation that existed between the Wari’ and other human beings.

      For many decades before the contact, the network of groups that spoke the Wari’ language constituted the totality of their social universe....

    • CHAPTER THREE CULTURAL COLLISIONS
      (pp. 47-62)

      The end of Wari’ autonomy came in stages between 1956 and 1969, when expeditions sponsored by the spi (Indian Protection Service, the Brazilian government Indian agency at that time) persuaded various groups of Wari’ to break their isolation and enter into peaceful relations with outsiders. Wari’ in the Dois Irmãos area were the first to be contacted, in 1956, by a team composed of Brazilian spi employees and missionaries from the United States and Canada affiliated with the New Tribes Mission (ntm), an evangelical Protestant organization devoted to bringing Christianity to native peoples, especially those with little prior contact with...

  8. PART II: MOTIFS AND MOTIVES
    • CHAPTER FOUR FUNERALS
      (pp. 65-86)

      Since the 1960s, Wari’ have buried corpses instead of eating or burning them. Although the way they dispose of bodies has changed, many other precontact funeral practices have continued through to the present. In the following description of Wari’ funerals, I try to make clear which practices have been modified or abandoned since the contact.

      Much of this account is based on interviews rather than observations, for fortunately no one has died in a village while I was present,a nd consequently I have never seen a whole Wari’ funeral. The closest I have come was witnessing a truncated version of...

    • CHAPTER FIVE EXPLANATIONS OF EATING
      (pp. 87-108)

      Before examining in more depth how Wari’ beliefs and values related to their former practice of eating the dead, it is useful to consider some of the theories that westerners have proposed to explain cannibalism in other societies. Scholars have approached cannibalism from several distinct perspectives, each of which raises a particular constellation of issues to consider. A materialist perspective would focus on questions about cannibalism’s dietary role: Did Wari’ eat human flesh because they needed the protein or other nutrients from human corpses? A psychoanalytic perspective would focus on questions about emotional drives: Did Wari’ endocannibalism express aggression, ambivalence,...

  9. PART III: BODILY CONNECTIONS
    • CHAPTER SIX SOCIAL ANATOMY
      (pp. 111-131)

      One bright October afternoon, I wandered through the nearly deserted village of Santo André to see if anyone was home at the house of Manim Oro Eo and his wife, Tocohwet Pijo’ Oro Jowin. Their household was always a busy place, with chickens scratching in the yard and babies underfoot. This afternoon, the only person there was their daughter Diva, a middle-aged widow. Kneeling on a mat beside a large slab of wood on the clean-swept earth in front of their house, she was grinding corn to make chicha. After chatting for a few minutes, I offered to help; she...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN EMBODIED IDENTITIES
      (pp. 132-156)

      One of the striking aspects of Wari’ funeral practices is the amount of attention and emotion focused on the corpse. From the moment of death until the body is disposed of, relatives hold the corpse, clinging to it and throwing themselves upon it. The keening, crying, and eulogies all take place around the corpse and are directed toward it. With such intense affirmations of caring focused on the physical body in the first stages of a funeral, it may seem paradoxical that, in the past, Wari’ then proceeded to assault the integrity of the corpse in a most radical way,...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT BURNING SORROW
      (pp. 157-178)

      The deep attachments Wari’ feel to the bodies of those they love and with whom they live come to the fore when death poses the problem of what to do with the corpse. This chapter explores why Wari’ consider the persistence of the corpse to be problematic and why they used to consider it imperative to destroy the bodies of their loved ones.

      The intensity of meanings that Wari’ associate with the corpse may be difficult for westerners to understand, accustomed as we are to thinking that the essence of an individual resides in immaterial qualities like mind,consciousness, personality, or...

  10. PART IV: EAT AND BE EATEN
    • CHAPTER NINE PREDATOR AND PREY
      (pp. 181-204)

      The distinct and respectful manner in which Wari’ handled corpses at funerals emphasized the understanding that the human flesh was not ordinary meat. At the same time, dismembering, roasting, and eating the corpse obviously resembled the preparation and consumption of game. This ambiguity —the dissonance of the corpse that simultaneously was and was not like animalmeat— was an ambiguity that gave the act of eating the dead much of its symbolic power. Wari’ relate to animals in a multitude of ways, and identifying the corpse with aspects of animalness opened up a plethora of potential meanings to which mourners might...

    • CHAPTER TEN HUNTING THE ANCESTORS
      (pp. 205-223)

      Death imposes an irreversible distance between the living and the dead,a divide across which the two groups perceive each other only dimly and with distortion. Only after both the dead and the living have accepted the finality of the changes death has wrought and have become reconciled to their new lives can they once again approach each other in forms that each can perceive clearly. Wari’ say it takes a long time for dead people’s spirits to adjust to their new existences because they miss their living relatives. Only after a spirit has become fully integrated into the ancestral society...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN TRANSFORMING GRIEF
      (pp. 224-240)

      The short path that led from the house where I had once lived to Manim’s house was a path I had walked hundreds of times, but suddenly I was lost. Nothing looked the same. It was 1991, and I had just returned to Santo André after having been away for four years. Most of the village looked largely the same; some homes had been enlarged, and some new houses had been built for young couples who had become parents. But the big, old mud-brick house where Manim and Tocohwet Pijo’ had lived with their two sons, their daughter Diva, Diva’s...

  11. AFTERWORD
    (pp. 241-241)

    My brother, to whom this book is dedicated, died on the day I completed the final draft of the study in which I first tried to come to terms with the ethnographic material from which this book has evolved. Jim was myxa, younger sibling: flesh of my flesh, the one I carried on my hip, as Wari’ would say. When the news of his death arrived, every fiber in my being resisted. The impulse for denial came from deeper than I knew possible. ‘‘No,’’ was my first response. ‘‘This isn’t happening. My brother isnotdead.’’

    But he was...

  12. APPENDIX A: THE STORY OF MORTUARY CANNIBALISM’S ORIGIN
    (pp. 242-246)
  13. APPENDIX B: THE STORY OF HUJIN AND OROTAPAN
    (pp. 247-251)
  14. NOTES
    (pp. 252-262)
  15. REFERENCES
    (pp. 263-276)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 277-285)