Brown 1 2 3 4

Michael F. Brown, Tsewa’s Gift: Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society. Smithsonian Institution Press. 1986.

The verb anentáimat, “to think” is similar to the noun anentái, “heart,” “heart”.  Possibly also related to the term “anent”

Aguaruna man Shajián Wajai in response to a question from Brown on whether people think with their heads or their hearts.  

“The people who say that we think with our heads are wrong because we think with our hearts.  The heart is connected to the veins, which carry the thoughts in the blood through the entire body.  The brain is only connected to the spinal column, isn’t it?  So if we thought with our brains, we would only be able to move our thought as far as our anus!”  p. 19

“Many of the Aguaruna child rearing practices of the past were intended  to make the heart strong, the thoughts “straight” or correct.  One important aspect of developed thought is the ability to accomplish the practical activities by which the Aguaruna define  themselves as human beings.  In the course of completing these tasks, people employ many procedures that are not easily accommodated within the category “technology”: they perform songs to attract game and help their gardens grow; they alter their diet so that the foods they eat will not interfere with the project at hand; they attempt to manipulate the emotions of loved ones through the power of special animal, vegetable and mineral substances.  Because the efficacy of these procedures is not explained by reference to cause and effect relationships that are acceptable in Western scientific terms, we usually classify them as “magical.”  pp. 19-20.

“The approach followed here is frankly literalist in that it seeks to illuminate magical utterances in terms of Aguaruna notions of their intended purpose.  This is not to say, however, that every statement about magic need be taken at face value.  Like all human beings, the Aguaruna are able to say things “in quotes”__ to perform acts or make statements that require a symbolic rather than a literal interpretation.  But the greatest care must be taken before asserting that a given declaration is issued in inverted commas, less we construe a statement encapsulating some truly different way of looking at the world as a “merely poetic” utterance.” p. 26


Nevertheless, “magic” does serve as a convenient, if flawed, term for a congeries of phenomena that are difficult for westerners to understand.  After exploring various alternatives, including a complete purging of the term from this book, I have decided to pay reluctant homage to our intellectual history by using “magic” to label the beliefs and practices I document here.

Working definitions:

  1. J.Van Baal (1971:5-56): magic consists of “ritual acts that are directed toward concrete or practical ends.”

Michael Taussig, The Devil and Commodity Fetishism in South America (1980:15).  “Magic takes language, symbols, and intelligibility to their outermost limits, to explore life and thereby to change its destination.”