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    Carlos Fausto

    Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

    This article explores the relation between beliefs and practices manifest in the interactionbetween indigenous people and outsiders in contact situations. Drawing on oral history,myth, and written documentation, it seeks to reconstruct the experience of the Parakan, aTupi-speaking people of Southeastern Amazonia, in their early stable contact with nationalsociety. It focuses on some apparently implausible events in order to address the question ofhow certain beliefs about the nature of the whites were put into action during the contactprocess. The article also employs historical data from South America and comparativeethnography from Melanesia to suggest new perspectives on the Sahlins-Obeyesekere debate,making use of the Peircian notion of abduction to account simultaneously for the flexibil-ity and the resilience of magico-religious ideas.

    Lavoisiers method was not to read and pray, but to dream that some long and complicatedchemical process would have a certain effect, to put into practice with dull patience, afterits inevitable failure, to dream that with some modification it would have another result,and to end by publishing the last dream as a fact (Peirce 1940 [1877]: 6).

    I once asked an old man: Are all stones we see about us here alive? He reflected a longwhile and then replied, No! But some are. (Hallowell 1960: 24).

    In this article I revisit an old theoretical question, the rationality of beliefs,through the analysis of the contact process of an Amazonian people. My initialstimulus was Obeyesekeres (1992: 124) remark about the possibility of apply-ing his deconstruction of Cooks deification to other famous apotheoses. Iintend to take up this challenge here, but in another direction. Drawing onmy ethnographic data and on written documentation, I seek to re-constructthe experience of the Eastern Parakan, a Tupi-Guarani-speaking people ofSoutheastern Amazonia, in their early stable contact with national society. I

    also make use of historical data from South America and comparative ethnog-raphy from Melanesia so as to analyse the relation between beliefs and prac-tice in contact situations.

    Ever since Tylor, anthropology has been concerned with the explicationof apparently irrational beliefs, to use Sperbers expression (1982). Modernanthropology provided a standard answer to the problem, which at the sametime derived from, and was directed towards, the fieldwork situation: one mustexplain natives beliefs in their own context, since they are part of a wider

    Royal Anthropological Institute 2002.J. Roy. anthrop. Inst. (N.S.) 8, 669-690

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    social system or a meaningful whole. Once in context, there is always a rea-sonable reason to believe that witches can fly, that twins are birds or that theBororo are parrots, and thus to act according to these beliefs.1 The central

    tenet of contextual understanding is that the justification for someone believ-ing in something has to be evaluated according to the epistemic standards ofthe community in question (Haack 1993: 190).

    For most anthropologists, contextualism is both an epistemological beliefand a methodological instrument. Despite its theoretical aporias, it works wellas an heuristic principle for making sense of fieldwork data, and I will resortto it in my rendering of the Parakan contact experience. However, a con-textualist response to Obeyesekeres challenge would not suffice, since his cri-tique is Janus-faced: on the one hand, he contextualizes European myth-makingand, on the other, he universalizes Hawaiian behaviour on a cognitive basis.

    These are not unrelated movements. They are part of a wider effort todispose of the category of totality, and related concepts such as culture orsociety. If there are no bounded meaningful worlds, only worlds within worldsconnected in various ways, for whom then are twins birds; for whom dowitches fly; for whom is Lono a god? One answer to this question has been:for anthropologists. If the context to explain beliefs and practices cannot bethe natives, then it must be our own. Cargo cults, cannibalism, deificationsare thus to be dismissed as figments of imperial imagination.

    Obeyesekeres second move is of a different order, but it is also a way out ofthe concept of culture. Experience has a residual epistemic status in culturaltheory: beliefs are interwoven into the great fabric of culture, they stand bythemselves and imprint themselves on peoples minds as if the mind was a blankpaper.2 Obeyesekere adopts a cognitive universalism and a sort of empiricalfoundationalism to counteract this idea. He assumes that there are basic repre-sentations that stem from practical engagement, which are strongly constrainedby the objective properties of the world and by the structure of the mind.3

    In this article, I will reverse Obeyesekeres first argument and offer a dif-ferent interpretation of the second.Through the analysis of an empirical case

    with no historical or geographical relation to the Hawaiian case, I claim, first,that the assimilation of conquerors to divinities is not only a pervasive tropein European narratives but is also a recurrent and lasting interpretation ofthe colonial encounter among indigenous peoples. It may thus correspond toa structural feature of these historical phenomena. Secondly, I argue, as didboth Sahlins (1981) and Obeyesekere (1992), that this assimilation is notimmune to experience or alien to practice. By employing the Peircian notionof abductive inference I hope to account for both the flexibility and theresilience of this assimilation. My general question is how to explain a phe-

    nomenon which implies at one and the same time the practical engagementand the stability of certain representations.

    Before exploring this argument in full, let us consider the facts.

    Setting the plot

    Par, Brazil, 1970.The Transamaznica road cuts through the Eastern Parakanterritory, located some kilometres from the left bank of the Tocantins River.4


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    Local Amerindian people ransack the working camps, obstructing one of themajor national projects of the time: a road traversing the whole of BrazilianAmazonia. The military government had no time to waste, and sent the

    Agency for Indigenous Affairs (Fundao Nacional do ndio, hereafter Funai)to make contact with the Parakan and draw them into state administration.This was not the first time that a road had crossed the territory of the

    Parakan people. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the governmentof the state of Par began the construction of a railway to connect the cityof Alcobaa (present-day Tucuru) to Marab, then a centre of rubber andBrazil nut production. Amerindians, among them Parakan, plundered theworking camps, and the Agency for Indigenous Affairs was called in to resolvethe situation. In 1928, the Agency (then called Servio de Proteo aos ndios,hereafter SPI) established a base at the 67-kilometre point on the railway,which came to be known as the Tocantins Pacification Post. The SPIs ideawas to attract the indigenous population through the distribution of goods,in the hope of bringing them to civilization (and hard, ill-paid work).

    From this point onwards, the Western Parakan became regular visitors tothe Post, receiving hundreds of different items, particularly metal implements.Although for many decades Parakan people had made peaceful visits to thePost, they remained outside the control of the Brazilian authorities until the1980s.The Eastern Parakan, for their part, never discovered this wonderlandof desirable objects.Apart from occasionally attacking and plundering the fewwhites who ventured into their territory, the group had little access to com-modities until the Transamaznica road crossed their lands.

    In 1970, the Funai abandoned the static posture that had characterizedSPI activity in the region and mounted four Penetration Fronts (Frentes dePenetrao) to contact the Amerindians who were jeopardizing the advance-ment of the road.Their orders were to track them and find their villages. Butthe Parakan made the first move. On 12 November they ransacked one ofthe Funai campsites with displays of fierceness. Tracking them, the agentspenetrated deep into Eastern Parakan land, finding and entering numerous

    campsites and gardens. The sertanista Joo Carvalho headed the Funai teamand had some knowledge of the Parakan language since he spoke a relatedTupi-Guarani tongue.5 On 30 November he wrote in his diary:

    we arrived at a camp where the fire was still lit. We were so euphoric that we didntexamine everything; we wanted to meet the Indians soon and see their reaction. At 3.00p.m., we arrived at a place where they had gathered honey We came along cautiously [When] we were at 100 metres [from them], we dropped our stuff, leaving the rifles andkeeping the revolvers, since our shirts covered them. I opened my backpack and got out

    the gifts When we were at some 50 metres, we stood in a row to shout altogether. Assoon as we did so, the Indians stopped speaking We shouted a second time; they answeredwith anger, uttering a war-cry and running in our direction with the arrows in their bows,telling us to go away, otherwise they would kill us. The Assurini Indian [the interpreter]wanted to run away, but we didnt consent to it. They stood at 20 metres from us, shout-ing, while we spoke We spoke for five minutes until they put their arrows down andcame out to meet us. We distributed the gifts and they gave us three land-turtles and the

    young of an agouti. Then we noticed that we were surrounded because more Indiansappeared from all sides. Our encounter lasted twenty-five minutes. In the end the inter-preters had calmed down and were talking. So we asked to stay with them. But they revoltedonce more, ordering us to leave (Carvalho 1971: 30 Nov. [1970]).


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    Three weeks later, Parakan men and women started visiting the Funaicamp. They received gifts and paid (-wepy) for them with land-turtles. Thiswas a pattern followed by both Parakan branches since the end of the nine-

    teenth century. Parakan say that they learned how to pay for metal instru-ments from Moakara, who is considered to be the first master of the whites(Torijarypya). Moakara was the leader of a tiny Tupi-Guarani community livingnear the Parakan territory which maintained sporadic contact with Brazil nutcollectors down river, at a time when the Parakan were completely isolatedfrom the whites.6

    During the first months of 1971, the interaction between the Parakanand the agents intensified, and some trust pervaded their relationship. Men,women, and children visited the camp, where they obtained axes, knives, glassbeads, dogs, and food.The agents worked intensively for the Parakan, huntingfor them with guns, cooking for them in aluminium pots, and sharpeningtheir metal tools. In all encounters the natives asked the agents to sing anddance with them, but refused to allow them to visit their village. In April,they finally agreed to a visit.

    Another visit followed, and the contact process advanced at a steady pace.On 6 May, Parakan men and women came to the Funai camp.

    I saw a woman carrying our bottle of Especfico Pessoa [a regional phytotherapeutic againstsnake venom]. I said it would have no use for her, since it was a medicine against surucucu

    [Lachesis sp.]. Then Picaua asked me to put some of it on his wounded foot. I cut the skinwith a Gillette blade and pressed a piece of cotton wool soaked with Especfico against thewound.When I finished, Jauarauaqua said: Let us raise him/her who is interred. At first,I didnt understand.Then the captain [the headman] invited me to go When we arrivedat the grave, he ordered Gerson [a Funai agent] to remove the stuff placed on it and dig.He began digging with his hands, but they told him to use a stick My curiosity wasroused. I told [another agent] to fetch a hoe When we uncoverd the patellae (it wasburied with the knees upward), and Gerson held the bones, and then the shins, I asked whatthey were going to do, and the captain said it was for me to murrem, which means to takeout. It was to make the body raise up. I understood the goal. I was to revivify the dead(Carvalho 1971: 6 May).

    This little episode, narrated by a Brazilian civil servant, resonates with somelong-standing anthropological questions concerning irrational beliefs. Whatwere the bones really for? Were the Parakan seriously considering the pos-sibility that the whites could bring the dead to life? And why the whites?

    Myths of immortality

    In Parakan mythology, whites are associated with shamanism and super-human creative powers. Their very origin manifests special transformativecapacities. The myths narrate how the whites-to-be differentiated themselvesfrom a common humanity through a process of self-transformation and bodyrenewal, a process which is often associated with immortality and the capac-ity to bring the dead back to life. In a well-known myth, the white-to-bedances around his mothers grave, while blowing the smoke of his cigar. Heraises the skeleton and dances with it. The boys grandmother, however, dis-turbs him and the revivified dead escapes to the forest as a big rodent. Later


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    Figure 1. Two Parakan men and a Funai agent (left foreground) during the distribution ofknives. Photo:Y. Billon.

    on, having become a full white, he brings his mother back and takes his new

    kin out of the earth.The image of the boy-shaman dancing with the skeleton is a compelling

    one.The same motif appears in almost all Tupi-Guarani versions of the mythof the twins, who are children of the same mother but have different fathers:one is the son of Mara, the great primordial shaman, the other is the sonof Opossum, the sign of death and decay. Maras son tries to resuscitate theirmother, but his brother disturbs him, preventing the revivification. TheParakan narrative is a transformation of this myth, in which the white-to-beplays the role of Maras son, conveying his association with shamanic power.7

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    For the Parakan, the main icon of the whites creativity is the objectsthey make. Axes and machetes are not only useful and desirable, but are alsosigns of their producers powerful agency. The objects stand as evidence of

    shamanic capacity.


    Another narrative illustrates this point well. It was origi-nally told by a woman captured during the attack on Moakaras group, at theend of the nineteenth century. It goes like this. Two of Moakaras sons diedof fever and their kin decided to take their bones to a Brazil nut collectorwho was on friendly terms with them. Upon arrival, they shouted to himfrom the opposite river bank, and he came to their meeting in a canoe fullof goods.

    Moakara enquired of the white man:Is it you who makes the axes?

    Yes, it is me.We do it, he answered.Well then, revive my sons for me! I brought my sons so that you can resuscitate them forme, replied Moakara.(Akaria Parakan, recorded in 1995, tape 9)

    The connection between technical knowledge and the resurrection of deadpersons may escape us, because our notion of creativity is different from thatof the Parakan. For us, an invention is the result of a cummulative historicalprocess and a brilliant insight. For them, it results from eventful interactionwith others (enemies, animals, and other entities) in their condition aspersons.This interaction is realized by those who truly dream, and the dream-ing experience is an integral part of the Parakan lived world. The profusionof objects is thus a sign of a rich oneiric life and the promise of immortal-ity: Is it you who makes the axes? Well then, revive my sons.

    The identification of whites with powerful shamans and immortality has along history of its own. It is a theme that pervades the very first informationabout Brazilian Indians, written by missionaries and other colonial agentsin the sixteenth century.9 The term Caraba, by which the Europeans becameknown among the coastal Tupi-Guarani, expresses this identification: theCaraba were shamans who circulated among villages, curing, foretelling thefuture, and talking about a life with no death, no labour, no incest taboos,and many enemies to eat.10

    Brazilian historiography channeled this identification into a classic inter-pretation of the Conquest, according to which the European expansion wasseen, from the western side of the Atlantic, as the coming of god-like people.Frei Vicente do Salvador, who was the first to write a history of Brazil, thusnarrates the arrival of Pedro lvares Cabral in 1500:

    The said captain disembarked there with his soldiers armed for combat, because first he senta boat with some men to discover the lie of the land and they brought news of the numer-ous gentiles they had seen. However, the weapons were not necessary, because just fromseeing clothed men with shoes, white, and with beards (all of which they lack), they tookthem as divine and more than men, and in this way, calling them caraba, which meansdivine thing in their idiom, they came peacefully to our men (Salvador [1627] 1982: 56).

    This interpretation of the first encounters between indigenous peoples andEuropeans is not unique to Brazil, nor even to the New World. It is a classic


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    Figure 2. An Eastern Parakan woman holds an axe given by the Funai servants during thecontact process (1971). Photo:Y. Billon.

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    theme in the colonial process, whose conformity to the natives point of viewwas challenged by Obeyesekere (1992) in his critique of Sahlins (1981; 1985).Obeyesekere claims that the equation between gods and whites is a self-

    aggrandizing European myth, which must be dispelled in the name of a prac-tical rationality, defined as the process whereby human beings reflectivelyassess the implications of a problem in terms of practical criteria (1992: 19).

    Let me rephrase Obeyesekeres problem with our case in mind: how canwe reconcile the Parakans supposedly irrational belief in the whites capac-ity to resurrect the dead with their rational behaviour in their practical dailyaffairs with the same whites? Is this belief a phantasmagoria of an imperialimagination or does it also correspond to deep-rooted cultural assumptionsabout life, power, and death among these Amerindians? Before answering thesequestions through an analysis of the empirical evidence, some theoreticalobservations are required.

    Ontological assumptions and abductive inferences

    I will follow here some propositions advanced by Boyer in his book, Thenaturalness of religious ideas, to address three problems: first, the conflation ofepistemic and cognitive phenomena; secondly, the over-simplified character ofthe opposition between representations and practical action; thirdly, the truth-value of apparently irrational propositions. I begin with the first.

    Boyer (1994: 49-52) points to the necessity of distinguishing between twolevels of analysis, one epistemic, the other cognitive.According to him, anthro-pology has tended mistakenly to conflate them. The fruitful anthropologicalprocedure of understanding natives beliefs and practices in their own termsled some to presuppose, or even postulate, different cognitive principles inoperation. Passing from cultural representations to thought processes or mentalstates did not seem to pose a problem. Ever since Durkheims social con-structivist interpretation of Kants transcendental aesthetic, the dominant

    notion of the mind in anthropology is that of a poorly structured structureupon which culture freely inscribes its meanings.We have hardly ever assessedthe implication of the distinction between being culturally reasonable andconforming to reason. Rationality has come to mean both of these in anthro-pological discourse.

    When Obeyesekere talks of an area of cognitive life, a mode of thoughtwhich he calls practical rationality, he is reversing anthropological commonsense by postulating a cognitive device in order to deny a cultural inter-pretation. But if we cannot pass directly from culture to cognition, neither

    can we do the reverse. Moreover, as Boyer (1994) suggests, what may char-acterize a representation as religious is precisely its counter-intuitiveness; thatis, the fact that it violates intuitive expectations.11 No anthropologist woulddeny that religious representations have a special resilience which demandsexplication, not dismissal.

    My intention here is not to explain cultural beliefs in terms of cognitivecauses. I am concerned with knowledge practices and aim to understand howa group of people, in a specific historical situation, puts certain beliefs inmotion in order to meet the needs of comprehending and acting upon the


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    world.And here is my second point: I claim that propositions like the whitesare superhuman or the whites are capable of reviving the dead are not themere projection of native cosmologies onto facts, but are based on empirical

    inferences. As Boyer (1994: 142-8, 211-18) suggests for all magico-religiousrepresentations, the main modality of inferencing here is neither deductivenor inductive, but abductive.12 From new data that demand explanation aproposition is postulated, which, if confirmed empirically, accounts for theobservable data. Of course, what counts as evidence (and as experience) isalso culturally modulated.13

    The well-documented first contact with New Guinea highlanders showshow empirically orientated the process can be. When Michael Leahys teamtraversed the highlands valleys in the early 1930s, the highlanders variouslyassumed that they were dead relatives, mythological beings, sky-people, and soon. They scrutinized the gold-miners, both to identify their deceased clans-men and to determine whether their assumptions were correct. Any bodydetail could be relevant: the colour of the skin, the size of the penis, the smellof the faeces:

    Leahy and Dwyer found it necessary to choose a secluded spot and post a guard when theywanted to relieve themselves A screened latrine-pit was dug within the roped-off area.But the highlanders curiosity could not be left unsatisfied for long.One of the people hid,recalls Kirupano, and watched them going to excrete. He came back and said, Those men

    from heaven went to excrete over there. Once they had left, many men went to take alook.When they saw that it smelt bad, they said, Their skin might be different, but theirshit smells bad like ours. (Connolly & Anderson 1987: 44).

    The investigation could lead to disproof of the initial hypothesis, as hap-pened with the people of the Asaro valley who believed that the dead couldtake human form by day and become skeletons by night. A witness recountshow two warriors managed to find out if the whites turned into bones:

    There were guard dogs in the camp during the night, but these two men were very careful.They crept very quietly They spent the whole night trying to peep inside the tent They watched and watched, and they expected to see bones in there, but they could seenone. They saw no changes taking place. The strangers stayed the same. So they said weshould stop this belief that they were dead people (Connolly & Anderson 1967: 43).

    What was at issue here was what kind of being the newcomers were. Newfacts generated new hypotheses, which put into motion a process of con-tinual inferencing and debate. This leads to my third point. If propositions

    like the whites are sky- or dead people proceed by abduction, and are notdivorced from experience, then their truth-value is necessarily conditional. Irefer here to the degree to which a belief is held to be true by a person, andnot to its truth-indicativeness or orientation. As Boyer (1994: 217-18) pointsout, abductive explanations are conjectural, and the process of inferencing istriggered by the explanatory needs of particular situations.

    Conditionality thus implies flexibility, but also resilience. Conditional truth-value accounts for behavioural flexibility and practical engagement, and at thesame time for the stability of magico-religious assumptions. No single piece


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    of evidence is sufficient. No particular situation can disprove a general assump-tion. When a proposition is subjected to close scrutiny, the network of onto-logical assumptions that sustains it is not thoroughly affected.14 The proposition

    is tested in context.Thus to say that Leahy and his team are not dead peopledoes not mean that the dead cannot assume human form and interact withthe living during the day. It may just mean that Leahy and his team are notdead people (see also Sahlins, 1995: 185).

    Even the belief that whites are ancestors or have a privileged relation-ship with them can be re-actualized in new situations. Commenting onSalisburys observation that the Papuans finally realized that the visitors weremen and not spirits, A. Strathern writes that one may wonder a little aboutthis, since in both Hagen and Pangia the idea that Europeans may bespirits continues to be entertained along with the normal working assump-tion that they are probably people (1984: 108). Tuzin suggests that asinteractions with whites become more intense and diversified, practical affairsmake the balance lean definitively towards this working assumption. However,this was not yet the case for the Ilahita who took Tuzin himself to be areturnee from the dead well into the 1980s (1997: 135-6; see also Leavitt2000).

    The trickiest question is how and when a network of representationschanges to such an extent that it no longer motivates certain actions. Howand when are the main ontological assumptions discarded or held as margin-ally true? In epistemic terms, it may help us to think of this network as amore-or-less coherent and integrated set of representations, some more basicthan others, which configures a world-view. The degree of supportivenesswithin this set is called into question in practical situations, being eitherreinforced or weakened. This process is continuous, and transformation isnecessarily part of it. Change, however, requires not only stopping the flowof supportiveness among previous representations, but creating new connec-tions and new flows among new ideas. It is the cumulative effect of thisprocess that may account for change.

    Let me return now to our story and consider whether the notion of abduc-tion illuminates the bones affair.

    Crossing the Great Divide

    Among the Tupi-Guarani-speaking peoples the assumption that some indi-viduals, especially great shamans, can come back to life has been well docu-mented since the sixteenth century. This belief is rooted in pre-contact

    indigenous representations, but cannot now easily be distinguished from theinfluence of missionary Christianity and its discourse on immortality. Twoknown examples manifest the equivocality of the encounter between Catholicand shamanic imaginaries. In the seventeenth century, the Jesuit priest Ruizde Montoya found a house where the Guarani of Paraguay preserved thebones of powerful shamans, who were believed to be capable of coming backto life, recovering their former flesh, now beautified by juvenile freshness(Montoya [1639] 1985: 108). In the same period, the Tobajara, a Tupi-Guarani


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    people of northeastern Brazil, conserved the bones of the Jesuit FranciscoPinto, whom they considered to be a master of the rain (Carneiro da Cunha1996; Castelneau-LEstoile 2000).

    According to the Asurini of Par, a contemporary Tupi-Guarani group, deadshamans should not be buried, but rather put into a basket. After the cor-ruption of the flesh, the bones should be collected and preserved.The womenwill then make sweet porridge for the soul, night after night, until the soulgets used to the living again and comes back to life (Andrade 1992: 220-2).I have never heard Parakan people refer to such a funerary practice, despitetheir geographical and cultural proximity to the Asurini.They say instead thata great dreamer can resurrect a person by dancing on his or her grave whileintoning songs of revivification (ywy-jeengara, or songs of the Earth). In thedreaming, he learns from an enemy how to make [the dead] leave (-mo hem,precisely the term that Carvalho transcribes in his diary as murrem).15 He thenrepeats the act in a wakeful state, singing the songs he received from the enemyof whom he dreamt.

    Piawa, an old Western Parakan man, narrated one of these dreams to me.In the dream, he went to see his fathers brothers grave and met a white manwho showed him how to resurrect the dead. By dancing and singing, Piawamade his fathers brother come out of the earth. He stank, and demanded thatPiawa fetch some water. Piawa washed him and said, Very well, I made ahuman leave [the grave]. Other resurrections followed suit. When Piawafinished recounting the dream, he asked me: How do you make the deadleave (-mohem)? I had no answer.16

    The ability to resurrect the dead is not attributed exclusively to the whites.Other enemies (akwawa) are capable of bringing the dead to life becausethey are held to be the real owners of shamanic knowledge.17 WesternParakan assert that they are ignorant of the technique for extracting thepathogenic agents that cause diseases. For this reason, all true healings mustbe performed by enemies, who are summoned to cure by the dreamers.Thereis a type of dream called bringing in the enemy (akwawa-reroawa), which is

    composed of two parts: in the first, the dreamers double (-aowa) meets anenemy and asks him to come and cure. Then the dreamer wakes, promptingthe second part of the dream, which the Parakan conceive of as a wakefulstate. In this part, dreamer and enemy meet in their real skin (ipiret), as theyput it, and the actions have the same existential status as those which occurin waking reality.

    This is a limit-case of a more general issue concerning the status of dream-ing as a kind of experience.18 I am convinced that Parakan people are beingliteral when they say that the second part of the dream of bringing in the

    enemy is waking reality (see Fausto 2001a: 355-84). In any case, even whenthe dreaming is held to be an experience of a component of the person (thedouble, the soul, and so on), it is not something that happens internally tohim or her. It is conceived as an experience of an exterior dimension of theworld, where the dreamer actually interacts with other people.19

    Facing a similar question, Needham wrote that dreams are real when weare in them only then they are not dreams.They do not become dreamsuntil we wake, and it is then that we are faced with the question whether we


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    believe them (1972: 67).This is true in so far as one has an internalist theoryof dreaming. If not, the question of belief is posed differently. First, one canlie about having dreamt, and it is for others to decide if the dream has taken

    place. Parakan people have a simple method for judging these matters. Ifsomeone knows a new song it means he or she has really dreamt, since songsalways result from interaction with enemies in dreams.

    Secondly, a dream may be interpreted as forecasting coming events. In thiscase, to believe it means to act according to its message.An extreme exampleis the Iroquois practice of publicly acting out their dreams, even when thisinvolved acts of violence or sexual promiscuity. A dreamer who had a night-mare about being captured by enemies would ask his fellows to torture him,believing that after this imaginary captivity he would never actually be a pris-oner (Wallace 1958: 240). Performing dreams by transforming them into ritualaction is a recurrent feature of ceremonial life in Amazonia and elsewhere. Asa guide for action, dreams may inflect vital political and economic decisions.Its importance tends to accrue during periods of rapid social change, becauseit provides, along with mythical fabulation (Gow 2001), a creative device tointerpret new situations and act in new contexts (Stephen 1982). Hence itscentrality in indigenous millenarian movements observed throughoutAmazonia and Melanesia.

    What I suggest here is that the dreaming provides an experiential basisto support and motivate beliefs and practices. This is not only because itis so lively and vivid an experience for the dreamer, but because its experi-ential density can be communicated to others by means of narratives andrituals (Graham 1995). It is thus turned into powerful embodied and sharedexperiences, which constitute a significant dimension of the lived world.Moments of intense excitement or affliction, of great intellectual or practi-cal bewilderment, tend to activate the memory of these experiences. Deathis one such moment, contact is another; both are part of our contexthere.

    The bones affair

    Let us accept, then, that there is a network of beliefs, contextually motivatedby the necessity of acting and understanding, which supports the associationof the whites with shamanic power, and with the possibility of resurrectingthe dead.The question I wish to address now is: how was this nexus of beliefsmotivated in 1971 so as to result in some Parakan men asking the Funaiteam to ressurect the dead? To answer this question, I will return to some

    events that happened before 6 May, when the bones affair first came intoquestion.

    The first visit of Funai agents to the village was on 17 April. Hitherto theyhad not allowed the agents to visit their settlement. On that day someParakan arrived early at the Funai camp. They received bunches of bananasand some machetes. Carvalho offered them a quarter of a large rodent.Theywere puzzled by the smallness of the bullet hole in the animals flesh, andthey asked how he had killed it. For the first time Carvalho displayed his rifleand showed them how it worked. Then the Parakan invited the whites


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    next months, Arakyt insistently asked Carvalho to sing: Before dawn, writesthe Funai agent, the captain always comes to my hammock and asks me tosing. As I have said, songs are the sensory evidence of a special relationship

    between a person and the akwawa. Songs can only be obtained through inter-action with these alien persons in dreams, and are therefore a sign of shamanicpower. Names are obtained in the same way, and young parents usually askdreamers to name their child, as did Arakyts son to Carvalho:

    Piriar arrived with his wife and his new-born son. I asked him what his name was. Hetold me to give the name. I thought and gave the name of an Urubu-Kaapor warrior:Tamer. They found it so beautiful that they asked me to name a girl of the same age(Carvalho 1971: 13 July).

    One week after the visit, the Parakan took them again to the village, tothe all-too-familiar routine of dancing and sharpening. But something newhappened.

    Around 9.00 p.m., we were dancing and suddenly Miarin [another Funai agent] fell down This was like a bath of cold water. Every young Indian got a machete and asked if hehad caruara (if he was a shaman).We said, No They ordered everyone to go to sleep andthey kept their machetes under their hammocks (Carvalho 1971: 25 Apr.)

    Miarin had fainted. His faintness could be interpreted in two related ways:he could have been attacked by pathogenic agents called karowara, or he couldhave been dreaming as a result of the dancing and tobacco intoxication. Bothinterpretations invited the same conclusion: for better or for worse, powerfulshamanism was on the scene. So the dancing stopped for a while, only to startagain before the break of the day:

    By dawn, almost every single Indian was singing and dancing.They performed the song ofthe howler monkey, the rail, the tayra, the anteater, the peccary and others, and in the endthe white-man song. This one, they requested me to sing with them until I learnt it fully(Carvalho 1971: 25 Apr.).

    Carvalho had to learn a song given by a white man in a dream. He wasrepresenting the dream enemy in his real skin. This conflation betweendreaming experience and wakeful interaction was fuelled by the positiveresponses of Carvalho and his team.20

    Finally, on 6 May, the Parkan asked Carvalho to murrem the dead; that is,to mo-hem, to make leave. More precisely, they asked him to make a specificperson alive again. As far as I know, it was a young woman who was recentlydeceased and much mourned by the Parakan people. This is Carvalhosresponse, which I omitted from the first quotation:

    the captain said it was for me to murrem, which means to take out. It was to make the bodyraise up. I understood the goal. I was to revive the dead. I informed them that I was noshaman.They told us to arrange the grave as it was before, and ordered Gerson to wash hishands (Carvalho 1971: 6 May).


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    Were these Parakan men convinced by Carvalhos answer? Apparently,since they told him to close the grave. But it might have been that he wasmerely unwilling to display his powers. Perhaps it was just too early to ask

    him to do this. In any case, Carvalho seemed to know that a great shamancould revive the dead, otherwise he would not have said that he was noshaman.

    One who dies never lives again

    May 1971 was a sad month.The epidemics that would kill 30 per cent of theEastern Parakan population began to ravage the country. At least nine out of

    some one hundred and forty people died within a couple of weeks. TheParakan stopped visiting the whites. By the end of the month, the agentshad decided to track them.They found abandoned camp-sites full of squeezedpieces of Brazil nut tree bark, a native treatment for fever. They also foundgraves and a corpse, covered only with cloth.

    In the first days of June, some Parakan people reappeared at the Funaicamp, and Carvalho noted in his diary that the captain [headman] saidsomething about taking the bones out. I didnt fullly understand what hemeant. So many deaths in so short a time had probably motivated this new

    comment, since the losses were difficult to bear. But the contact process wenton.The agents resumed their visits to the village, and even began to stay therefor more than one night at a time. Whenever they passed near a grave,Parakan men ordered Carvalho to sing, probably not to ask questions, hewrites.

    By 18 June, a new gadget was introduced to the Parakan: a radio con-necting the camp to the Funai network. Carvalho made them listen to it andspeak into it.

    they were happy, everyone wanted to listen to it, even the children. Every man said hisname to hear the radio responding. Whenever a word imitating their names came out, itwas sheer bliss. I turned on the radio at 8.10 a.m., and at 11.30 the captain [the headmanArakyt] told the women to leave.As soon as they left, he invited me to remove some bonesfrom a grave. When we arrived there, he asked me to dig and the other Indians encircledthe grave.The captain started to blow the smoke of his cigar I asked him why he wantedthe bones. He told me he was going to take them and brought a basket to put the bonesinside, all the while blowing smoke.When I had already laid the arm and leg bones [inside],I noticed that they were still clammy I told the captain it was not good to take themout yet, since they were stinking. He said [I was] to return the bones to the grave and askedme to come back later, remove the bones and bring them to him. I think they are going

    to perform a symbolic burial into those large pots Ive seen in the village (Carvalho 1971:21 June).

    This was not the case, however. The Parakan do not practise secondaryburial. Carvalho was judging what he saw by what he knew about otherAmerindian peoples. For the Parakan, the deaths and the radio once againraised the issue of the powers of whites and motivated them to act.This time,however, Carvalho did not deny that he was a shaman. He was uncertain of


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    Arakyts purpose, and said that it was not yet the right time (implying thatthere is a right time). If we assume that it is possible to cross the Great Dividebetween us (the living) and them (the dead), the crucial question is: Who can

    do this, and when?From July to August, Carvalho was absent from the field, and the diary iswritten by other Funai agents. During his absence, there was an outbreak ofinfluenza.This time Parakan men and women came immediately to the Funaicamp, asking for medicines. It was the peak season for anti-flu, anti-catarrh,and antibiotics injections. On 13 August, for instance, twenty-two people(among them children) received injections, and an agent writes that all ofthem accepted the medication well (Carvalho 1971: 13 Aug.). By the timeCarvalho had returned, the outbreak was already under control. More confi-dent, Parakan men begin to ransack a nearby town that had grown up alongthe Transamaznica road.The government instructed the agents to put an endto the contact process, moving the Parakan to a new village near the Funaicamp.

    Meanwhile singing continued to be a daily activity. Now the Parakaninvited Carvalho to participate in the all-male nocturnal reunions in thetekatawa, the plaza.When they finished smoking the 20-centimetre-long cigar,they asked me to sing I sang songs they didnt know, in other words, Iinvented them. Then it was Nelsons turn, he imitated me, and in this waywe sang many pieces without repetition (Carvalho 1971: 23 Sept.). TheParakan were about to perform the opetymo ritual. The stage witnessed byCarvalho is known as the nurture of the jaguars (jawara-pyrotawa). It consistsof the dreamers giving the songs (called jaguars), which they had receivedfrom the dream enemies, to those who were to dance in the festival. By askingCarvalho to sing in the plaza, Parakan people condensed these two figuresinto one, treating him again as the dreamer and the dream enemy.

    The ritual was aborted by an outbreak of conjunctivitis. The EasternParakan had already suffered from many diseases in the previous months.They now eagerly took medicines, particularly penicillin injections whose

    rapid effect had a great impact on them. On 30 September, Arakyt calledCarvalho to come to the village and give his sick little daughter an injection.Finally, by 2 October, they abandoned their village, moving to a new one builtby the Funai agents near their campsite. During the trip, the bones affair cameto the fore for the last time:

    When we passed alongside the grave of an old shaman, which has a beautiful shelter overit, we sat to rest and talk. I asked the captain [Arakyt] who was there. He said it wasmy grandfather and asked if I were going to take him out. I said it was not the right

    time yet, since he would still stink. He agreed, but asked me to give him [the dead shaman]an injection. I said that it was impossible to inject into the bones, and besides one whodies never lives again, and the medicines only cure when there is still life.They agreed, buteven so wanted me to take the bones out. I questioned them as to why they wanted thebones, but obtained no satisfactory answer, and I still remain in doubt (Carvalho 1971: 2Oct.).

    Arakyt asked Carvalho to open the grave and inject medicines into thebones. They were both uncertain. Carvalho questioned his first assumptionthat he was to murrem the dead. Arakyt wanted to know if the injections


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    were the whites well-guarded secret of immortality. This time Carvalho wasperemptory: death is irreversible, one who dies never lives again.

    What Poenakatu said

    We can now understand the status of the proposition the whites can revivethe dead entertained by the Eastern Parakan during the contact process.Theproposition was based on deep-rooted ontological assumptions and on his-torical and dreaming experiences, crystallized in narratives and represented inrituals. Many other propositions were implicated in this one, such as one whodies can live again, some shamans can resurrect the dead, shamans interactwith powerful enemies, the whites are powerful enemies, the whites maybe powerful shamans, Carvalho may be a shaman, and, finally, Carvalho mayknow how to resurrect the dead. As one comes from the general to the spe-cific, there is increasing conditionality on the truth value of these proposi-tions, which sets into motion an inferential process based on empiricalevidences.

    During the first months of contact, the veracity of the latter propositionswas reinforced by some facts. Carvalho mastered songs and names as onlydreamers do. The question then for the Parakan was: how powerful is thisman? If he cures with injections, controls the flow of goods, operates theradio, and is the head of the whites, he may be very powerful indeed. In 1999,commenting upon these events, the headman Arakyt confirmed to methat they envisaged this possibility: We asked ourselves: do the whites resur-rect people? (oporowaa pa rimo Toria, oroja rakokwehe). This reasoning wasgrounded in a series of assumptions about the nature of whites and enemiesin general, which were knit together into a shamanistic ontology. The finaltest was to ask Carvalho to resurrect the dead, but unfortunately he failedthree times.

    What did this failure mean for the Eastern Parakan? They concluded that

    either Carvalho himself or the whites in general did not know the shaman-istic art of resurrection. But they remained impressed by the whites power tocure, and even more by their power to cause diseases. For many years, theEastern Parakan suffered from acute epidemics, and many of them died.Theynever asked the whites to resurrect their kin again.

    In 1998, however, the death of a teenager caused a tremendous commo-tion among them.They buried him and built a shack over the grave. For manydays his father and other elders danced on the grave, smoking their long cigars,and singing the Songs of the Earth. The whites remained in the Indian Post

    at a respectful distance.The elders danced again and again. In vain. No dreamersucceeded in bringing the young man back to life.

    Despite so many failures, there is no definitive disclaimer of the plausibil-ity of crossing the Great Divide. So long as there are dreams and shamans,there is hope. Poenakatu, an Asurini Indian, once explained to an anthropol-ogist why his father who was a great shaman did not return to life:Our fatheralways told us not to bury him, but to make a basket and leave him in thereuntil all the flesh was gone That is why our mother did not want to havehim buried. He was going to live again for us. The whites, however, urged


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    them to bury him, and Poenakatu laments,The Whites, they didnt know thathe dreamt (Andrade 1992: 220).


    This article is a version of a paper presented at The Ethnohistory of the So-CalledPeripheries Wenner-Gren Conference, held in London, Ontario in 2000: my thanks toMarshall Sahlins, Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, and Neil Whitehead for the invitation and com-ments. The present version has greatly benefited from the criticisms I received when present-ing it at the cole Pratique des Hautes tudes, the cole des Hautes tudes en SciencesSociales, the cole Normale Suprieure, the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology,University of Oxford, and the London School of Economics. I am grateful to those who invitedme: Patrick Menget, Philippe Descola, Benot de lEstoile, Laura Rival and Roger Goodman,Peter Gow and Stephen Feuchtwang. I have also benefited from the suggestions made by

    Aparecida Vilaa, Christina Toren, Carlo Severi, Adam Kuper, Luiz Antonio da Costa, and theanonymous JRAI reviewers. I would also like to thank Yves Billon for granting me the rightto publish his photographs and the Instituto Socioambiental for making them available.Research among the Parakan was financed by Financiadora de Estudos e Projetos (FINEP),Associao Nacional de Ps-Graduao em Cincias Sociais (ANPOCS), the Ford Foundation,Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), and the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthro-pological Research. I completed this article during my stay at the Laboratoire dAnthropolo-gie Sociale (CNRS/Collge de France) in 2001 my thanks to P. Descola for the invitationand to the Coordenao de Aperfeioamento de Pessoal de Ensino Superior (CAPES) for pro-viding the means for my stay.

    1 The structuralist answer was different, for it focused on the mind, not on the socio-

    cultural system. Lvi-Strauss (1962a; 1962b) universalized analytical reasoning and rereadethnographic data through the lenses of classificatory and categorical thought.These two answerstogether were so successful that the issue of rationality became a meta-anthropological questionrather than an anthropological one. See, for instance, the contributions to Wilson (1970) or toHollis and Lukes (1982).

    2 Here I employ Lockes famous metaphor about the mind, which allowed him to affirm thepre-eminence of experience as the source of human knowledge. Culturalism espoused a classicempiricist theory of the mind without embracing its corresponding experience-dependenttheory of concept formation.Acquisition was thus seen as a simple process of inscribing ready-made contents in the individuals mind.

    3 In response to one of his critics, Obeyesekere defines practical rationality as a term that

    helps me to see Hawaiians and others engaged in certain activities that show a rational means-goal nexus and links them up with others engaged in the commonplace tasks of planning andmaking do as they struggle with want and scarcity. I cannot imagine humans living withoutsuch a mentality, call it universal if you will (1995: 272).

    4 The Parakan split into two groups, East and West, at the end of the nineteenth century(see Fausto 2001a). In 1999, the Western branch totalled more than 400 people, and the Easternbranch just under 300 people.

    5 Sertanista is the most senior position in the career of a Funai agent.The term comes fromthe word serto, which during the colonial period denoted the Brazilian hinterlands and wasapplied to a person who accompanied expeditions into the woods, in search of gold and nativeslaves.

    6 The Parakan are probably remnants of a large Tupi-Guarani population reported to havelived in the region since the seventeenth century.The intensity of relations with colonial agentsin the remote past is impossible to determine. The forebears of the Parakan may have beendrawn into contact with missionaries and merchants.They may have suffered from the numer-ous epidemics that ravaged the Tocantins valley during the first centuries of colonization.However, the Parakan have no memory of such events. Their view is that they had dis-covered the whites by the end of the nineteenth century; they think of themselves as com-pletely isolated until that time.

    7 For an analysis of this myth and its transformation, see Fausto (2001a: 470-82). Forthe other Parakan myth on the origin of whites, see Fausto (forthcoming). For this same


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    theme among the sixteenth-century Tupinamb, see Thevet (1575 [1953]: 39; 1576 [1978]:100).

    8 In Amazonian mythology there is a recurrent motif that explains the technological asym-metry between natives and whites. In primordial times, they had to choose between two tech-

    nical items offered by the culture hero. The ancestor of the Indians made the wrong decision(choosing, for instance, the bow instead of the rifle), condemning future generations to tech-nological inferiority. This myth was first recorded in the seventeenth century among theTupinamb (Abbeville 1614: 60) and appears today among other native peoples. Its structure isidentical to that of the myths which explain how death entered into the human world (seeLvi-Strauss 1964). We have thus only one motif that accounts for both mortality and tech-nological inferiority. On this topic, see Hugh-Jones (1988: 143-4); Viveiros de Castro (1992:30-1); Giraldo-Figueroa (1997: 280-1); Goulard (1998: 464-515); Gow (2001: 205-18); Fausto(2001a: 469-531).

    9 For a splendid analysis of the Tupi-Guarani assimilation of Europeans to great shamans andthe cultural hero Mara, see Viveiros de Castro (1992).


    This designation was generally applied to the Europeans, whereas Pero was used forthe Portuguese and Mara for the French. Some of the shamans known as Carabaheaded messianic movements during the first centuries of colonization. There is much con-troversy concerning the status of these movements, especially in what concerns the impact ofthe colonial process upon them: see inter alia Clastres (1975); Vainfas (1995); Fausto (1992;2001c).

    11 Boyer claims that religious ideas are at the same time natural (because they depend onuniversal properties of the human mind) and perceived as unnatural by human subjects (becausethey violate intuitive expectations).The cultural transmission of religious representations woulddepend on a certain combination of intutitiveness and counter-intuitiveness, that is, on a cog-nitive optimum, in which a concept is both learnable and nonnatural (1994: 121).


    Abductive inferencing is not peculiar to magico-religious explanations. For Peirce, whointroduced this notion into epistemology as a third term, to be situated between induction anddeduction, it was a perfectly rational procedure. Today it is recognized as a step in the con-struction of knowledge, although some hard empiricists contest its legitimacy (see Boyd 1995:212). See also Peirces distinction between strong induction and abductory induction (1940[1901]).

    13 I am aware of the implications of this statement, and would like to avoid an ultra-relativistic reading of it. I am cautious about the idea that standards of evidence depend onlyon the epistemic community to which one belongs. I do not want to dwell on this problemhere and will merely quote from Haack: There is a relevant ambiguity in what counts as evi-dence. In one sense, there is much divergence in what counts as evidence; in what one

    counts as relevant evidence, which depends on ones other beliefs. In another sense, perhaps,after all, there is not much divergence in what counts as evidence; in appraising the securityof a belief, pre-scientific as well as scientific peoples may be assessing its fit to their ex-perience and to their other beliefs If we think of criteria of justification at the appropriatelevel of generality, of framework principals rather than material content, of the constraints ofexperiential anchoring and explanatory integration rather than of specific judgements of rel-evance, there may, after all, be commonality rather than divergence (1993: 207).

    14 The expression ontological assumptions should not be confused with the cognitive notionof intuitive ontology.The former refers to a set of cultural categories about the beings exist-ing in the cosmos, while the latter refers to a natural set of ontological categories built intoevery human mind.

    15 Among the Parakan, the default gender of a dreamer is male. Old women, however, dodream and give songs for the festivals, although not to the same extent as men: see Fausto(1999; 2001b).

    16 Compare Piawas question and my reaction with Leavitts (2000) analysis of similar situa-tions involving anthropologists in Melanesia.

    17Akwawa is the general category for all entities, in their condition as persons, who do notbelong to Egos community. I translate it as enemy. Animals are akwawa when considered assubjects endowed with intention and verbal communication (as happens in dreams and mythi-cal narratives). As game, they are classified in the general category for objects, maejiroa. For details, see Fausto (2001a; 2001b).


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    18 I thank P. Menget for calling my attention to this question.19 When narrating a dream Parakan people employ the same epistemic marks, indicating

    direct witnesses and not hearsay, which they use to communicate events on a day-to-day basis.Another Tupi-Guarani people, the Parintintin, employ a specific epistemic mark to differen-

    tiate dreaming experiences from wakeful ones: rauv (Kracke 1987), which is a cognate ofthe Parakan term for double (-aowa). I do not interpret it as a mark of irreality or inter-nality, but rather as an indication that the events narrated were experienced by the personsdouble.

    20 The Parakan seem to have entertained the idea that the whites were like people you seein a dream long before stable contact.The dreamers generally address the dreamt enemies witha formal vocative for father and fathers brothers, miang.The Parakan originally employed thisvery same term to address the whites. It already appears in SPI reports as far back as the 1930s,and reappears in Carvalhos diary as the way the natives addressed him.


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    Laffaire des ossements: une interprtation des pratiques

    de savoir indignes dans les situations de contact daprs uncas amazonien


    Cet article examine le rapport entre les croyances et les pratiques manifestes au cours delinteraction entre des populations indignes et des trangers dans des situations de contact.Avec des matriaux tirs de lhistoire orale, de la mythologie et de documentation crite, cetarticle a pour but de reconstruire lexprience des Parakan, un peuple de langue Tupi delAmazonie du Sud-est, au commencement de leur situation de contact stable avec la socitnationale. Lexamen de certains vnements apparemment implausibles permet daborder la


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    question de savoir comment certaines croyances au sujet de la nature des blancs entrrenten action lors du contact. Cet article utilise aussi des donnes tires de lhistoire delAmrique du Sud et de lethnographie compare de la Mlansie afin de suggrer denouvelles perspectives sur le dbat entre Sahlins et Obeyesekere. La notion Peircienne

    dabduction sert rendre compte de la flexibilit et de la rsilience simultanes des idesmagico-religieuses.

    Museu Nacional-PPGAS, Quinta da Boa Vista s/n, Rio de Janeiro, RJ, 20.940-040 Brazil.

    [email protected]