The Cubeo are a simple horticultural society located near the Río Vaupés (Uaupés) in the Colombian-Brazilian border area of the northwestern Amazon Basin. This excellent monograph by Irving Goldman, currently at Sarah Lawrence College, is one of the few detailed studies of social structure and associated cultural patterns that have been made of an Amazon tribe. The opportunities for such studies are fast disappearing as more and more of the remaining Amazon tribes are losing their cultural identities as the result of white contacts and pressures. Goldman’s study is based on field work in Cubeo communities along the Río Cuduiarí, a tributary of the Vaupés, in 1939-1940. Unfortunately, the author has not been able to indicate the nature of the acculturation that has undoubtedly taken place since 1940.
Chapter headings clearly indicate the orientation of the book: The Cubeo Community; Economic Life; The Sib, Kinship, Marriage; Leadership and Authority, Development of the Individual; The Ancestor Cult; The Drinking Party; The Mourning Ceremony; Religion; Conclusions: Principles and Patterns. While emphasis is on Cubeo social behavior, some important conclusions are reached regarding sociopolitical evolution in relation to a rain forest environment and a bitter manioc economy. Goldman believes that the Cubeo culture has a potential for further political development but that the lack of such development reflects not so much environmental limitations as fundamental patterns and principles of social organization. If so, then the suggestion is that “simple horticultural societies, as a type, are not mere victims of inhospitable environments but rather that they constitute a range of cultural systems with characteristic modes of equilibrium and adaptation that do not readily foster economic expansion and higher levels of social and political integration.” A tropical forest is not an example of a highly specialized economic environment. A variety of crops and methods of cultivation are possible, and the associated cultural patterns can be, and are, quite varied.
The book contains a simple map, a dozen photographs and sketches, and a useful index.