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Mortal Rituals

Mortal Rituals: What the Story of the Andes Survivors Tells Us About Human Evolution

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Mortal Rituals
    Book Description:

    On December 21, 1972, sixteen young survivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 were rescued after spending ten weeks stranded at the crash site of their plane, high in the remote Andes Mountains. The incident made international headlines and spawned several best-selling books, fueled partly by the fact that the young men had resorted to cannibalism to survive.

    Matt Rossano examines this story from an evolutionary perspective, weaving together findings and ideas from anthropology, psychology, religion, and cognitive science. During their ordeal, these young men broke "civilized" taboos to fend off starvation and abandoned "civilized" modes of thinking to maintain social unity and individual sanity. Through the power of ritual, the survivors were able to endure severe emotional and physical hardship. Rossano ties their story to our story, seeing in the mortal rituals of this struggle for survival a reflection of what it means to be human.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-53546-5
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Psychology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION The Crash of Flight UAF 571
    (pp. 1-4)

    We know what the pilot did wrong: he badly miscalculated the plane’s position. What we don’t know (and probably will never know) is why it happened. When Colonel Julio Cesar Ferradas¹ radioed air traffic control in Santiago, saying that he had just passed Curico on the western (Chilean) side of the Andes, he was actually some fifty miles east of Curico, deep in the mountainous Planchon Pass. When the controller gave permission for Ferradas’s American-built Fairchild F-227 to begin its descent toward Padahuel airport, the plane proceeded to plummet into territory so remote that the peaks were unnamed. Thick clouds...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Natural Versus Civilized
    (pp. 5-32)

    The players on the Old Christians rugby team first learned their sport from stern Irish monks. The monks arrived in Uruguay in the 1950s to start the Stella Maris College, a boys’ school. For the monks at Stella Maris, rugby was not just a sport, it was moral training. Selfless striving for a common goal and individual sacrifice for the good of the team were its essential life lessons.

    On the surface, rugby appears to have little in common with a plane crash. But on a deeper level, there is something “un-civilizing” about both. Both entail a detachment from the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Evolution of Taboo
    (pp. 33-58)

    Almost immediately after the crash, team captain Marcelo Perez took control. He quickly organized efforts to free the trapped passengers. He set the strongest boys to work clearing and shoring up the plane’s interior, their only protection against the approaching bitter cold of night. Over the next few days, Marcelo formed teams with different responsibilities: a medical crew composed of Roberto Canessa, Gustavo Zerbino (two medical students), and Liliana Methol, their self-appointed nurse; a cabin cleanup crew made up of many of the younger boys; and a water-making crew composed of the injured and those too weak for anything more...

  7. CHAPTER THREE This Cold and Capricious Place
    (pp. 59-84)

    As the discussion of using their dead friends as food moved to its inevitable conclusion, Marcelo Perez was tormented by a disturbing question: Why would God demand that they do such a reprehensible thing? This was a reasonable question for the devoutly religious and thoroughly decent man that Marcelo was. But for most of the others, that question had become superfluous. Understanding why would have to wait; existential questions about their plight were fruitless. The only relevant issue was survival.

    About 4:30 a.m. on January 17, 1994, Los Angeles was hit by a strong earthquake, and a widespread power outage...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Mountain Rituals
    (pp. 85-112)

    Raphael Eschavarren’s right calf muscle was nearly torn off in the crash. It was twisted around to the front covering the shin, and even though Zerbino did his best to reset and bind it, it was still a gruesome sight. Eschavarren was in excruciating pain, and over time his condition worsened; the leg became septic and his toes were numb and purple from frostbite. The others did what they could. Canessa rigged up a hammock for him to lie in, and they regularly messaged his feet to try to get the circulation going. Once, after Daniel Fernandez had given him...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Rituals of Love
    (pp. 113-148)

    He was popular. He was handsome. And he was the king of England and all its far-flung possessions. But by the end of 1936, he had renounced it all for love. He couldn’t live without her, Wallis Simpson, soon to be divorced for the second time, then a scandal in British society.

    Edward VIII’s was romantic love. But romantic love is not the only kind of love that can compel sacrifices from those afflicted. It was the love of his father that drove Nando Parrado to climb a mountain, enduring all the pain and hardship that that entailed, in order...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Ritual Defeats the Mountain
    (pp. 149-178)

    On the morning of December 12, 1972, nearly two months to the day since the crash, Nando Parrado, Roberto Canessa, and Antonio Vizintin departed from the wreckage of the Fairchild. Their objective was to climb up and over the 15,000-plus-foot mountain peak immediately west of the Fairchild and descend into what they expected to be the green valleys of Chile. They would then summon rescuers to retrieve the remaining thirteen of their companions. This was the eighth expedition to set out across the Andes. It was the last only because it succeeded. Had it failed, they would have kept trying....

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN God of the Mountain
    (pp. 179-200)

    Because each survivor of the crash of UAF flight 571 had a somewhat different experience, it’s difficult to make any sweeping generalizations about lessons learned or lives transformed. More than one survivor, however, reported that the divine presence he encountered on the mountain was quite different from the one discussed in Sunday school. Maybe there are two kinds of gods because are two kinds of religion: natural religion and cultural religion.

    In Sunday school, the Andes survivors were introduced to the god of their cultural heritage: the God of the Catholic Church, the God of the Word. On the mountain,...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 201-202)
  13. References
    (pp. 203-226)
  14. Index
    (pp. 227-232)