Schackt, Jon: A people of stories in the forest of myth

Schackt, Jon: A people of stories in the forest of myth

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Teh Yukuna of Miritiparana

The title of this book plays on the importance myth has held as a focal theme in the study of Amazonian cultures. This is not least due to the work and legacy of Claude Lévi-Strauss, whose influential theory of myth was largely based on the study of material gathered from tropical South America. However, the survival to this day of strong oral cultures and traditions among Amazonian Indians provides an underpinning for the lasting significance of the theme...

 Many Indian peoples of this region place high value on oral skills, and some emphasise as well the importance of upholding their extensive oral traditions. The Yukuna, an Arawakan-speaking group of Colombian northwest Amazonia, in fact self-identify as ‘the People of the Stories’, looking upon themselves as custodians of a vast body of oral traditions inherited from their ancestors. They regularly narrate long myths and legends in public and ritualised settings where narrators gain honour and prestige by demonstrating their comprehensive knowledge of these.

Much of the scholarly literature on myth and oral traditions is ­focused either on the formal analyses of motifs and symbols or on story­telling as a social discourse. In this book, Jon Schackt takes a more holistic approach. Weaving extracts from recorded narratives ­together with his own ethnographic work on the Yukuna, he demonstrates how essential the narrated stories are, not only to the identity and self-understanding of this people, but to their kinship system and social structure as well. The Yukuna and their narrative tradition form two sides of the same coin. That is also what the Yukuna say: only those who manage to uphold and transmit the oral traditions to new generations will prevail as Yukuna. The alternative is to ‘become lost’.

Jon Schackt (Dr. polit., b. 1951) is Associate Professor at the Depart­ment of Archaeology and Social Anthropology,

UiT The Arctic University of Norway, Tromsø, Norway.


Preface 9

1.. Introduction 13

The Yukuna of the Miritiparaná River 14

A people of stories 18

The forest of myth 21

The past in the present 26

2.. The Yukuna in the past 31

Wayward Arawakans 31

Slave raids and trade contacts 38

The rubber boom 42

The Colombia-Peru War (1932–33) and a measles epidemic 46

From rubber to coca 48

The mission and the boarding school 51

Between missionaries and anthropologists 56

3.. Fieldwork among the Yukuna 59

Arriving in the field 59

Fieldwork and local politics 63

4.. Maloca society 71

Malocas and maloca groups 72

The gardens and the forest 77

Maloca dances 84

5. Origins and genealogies of Yukuna patri-sibs 95

The story about the Kamejeya: A people of ‘origins’ 96

The story of the Jurúmi’i: A people without ‘origins’ 109

6.. The creation of the world 115

The first maloca and the works of the Karipúlakena 116

The manioc plant and the garden crops 121

The Moon, the Paint Woman, and the Rainbow 131

7.. Maloca cosmology 141

The maloca cosmos and the afterlife 142

Maloca dances of men and animals 148

The visit to the Women of the Underworld 156

8.. Maintaining the world order 161

Shamanic powers 162

The Yurupary cult 169

The rules of Kajyuwaka (Yurupary) 174

The theft of the Yurupary musical instruments 178

9.. Kinship, heritage, and myth 183

Patri-sibs, sub-sibs and sibling groups 184

Marriage and affinal relations 191

Heritage and myth 198

10 Myth, history, and story endings 207

Appendix 1 213

Nacimiento Yukuna (‘Yukuna Origins’: a version of the Yukuna origin myth) 213

Appendix 2 247

Kinship terms 247

Appendix 3 251

Census data 251

References 255

Index 263


1. The Resguardo Miritiparaná in Amazonas, Colombia, 1985 16

2. Northwest Amazonia: Cultural groups 36

3. The Miritiparaná River and environs 41


1. The maloca and its parts 73

2. Yukuna subgroups and their relationship to the Yukuna heritage  (An interpretation based on their oral tradition) 204


1. The maloca of Néstor 17

2. Toasting coca leaves on the cooking pan 74

3. The pair of manguaré drums inside the maloca 75

4. Hunting along the sidestream 78

5. The Yaó Dance 87

6. A tori dancer ingesting tobacco snuff 150

7. Wind dancers about to enteri the maloca 151

8. Boa dancers inside the maloca 151

9. ‘Big Ear’ dancers (‘Orejones’) inside the maloca 154

ISBN 978-82-7099-742-8, 271 pp., hardcover
Format: 17x24 cm, weight 0,8 kg, year of publication 2013, language: English

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