At the outset, Peter Riviere correctly describes his work as “a contribution to that stocktaking” of the vast quantity of current ethnographical and anthropological works. Although his compact 124-page volume does a necessary service of condensing and comparing, to a certain extent, the works of Arvelo-Jiménez, Thomas, Henley, Kaplan, and others, there are obvious gaps. The author does admit that, in the case of the Wai-Wai and Wapisiana, there is a dearth of material, yet the few works there are on those tribes, as well as on the Akawaio, could bear more investigation.
Scant acknowledgement is given to ecological conditions for influencing settlement patterns, although Riviere admits the importance of the nearness of the hunting and fishing zones. The reasons for shifting and fission of villages are indeed too numerous and complex to be discussed fully in a short work.
In chapter 5 (“Social Relationships”) the author offers an excellent comparison and contrast of the relationship of affines in the various societies of the lowland Amerindians; the attitude of parents and grandparents to offspring; that interesting relationship between mother-in-law and son-in-law; and the initial distrust of the Amerindians towards strangers. Yet most writers on Amerindian society agree, and it has been my experience, that, once the barriers of suspicion and distrust are broken down, Amerindians open their hearts and offer warm hospitality to strangers. The author’s discussion on the role of sickness and death seems all too brief and dismissive, for among Amerindians the medical aspects of life in relation to the spirit world have long played, and continue to play, a significant role concerning settlement vis-à-vis migration. Whether on the coastland, the lowland, deep forest region, or savanna, to the Amerindian sickness and death do not stem from natural causes but are the results of the machinations of evil spirits. Thus, the role of the shaman, or piaiman, is crucial—so, too, that of the kanaima, that “self-appointed avenger of evil” (Menezes, 1977), who is feared, especially among the Caribs. The kanaima system is also vital to an understanding of the distrust and dissension between tribes, and the kanaima is rarely of the same tribe as his victim. The whole issue of the roles of the shaman and the kanaima calls for a more incisive discussion in plumbing the depths of sociopolitical relationships, particularly as Riviere stresses village history as political history. But this is seen through a historian’s lens and may not be an ethnographer’s perspective.
There is very sparse material on the Akawaio in the text. I looked for some investigation of the religious/political influence of the leader of the Hallelujah religion among the Akawaio, of whom Butt has made a study. Riviere’s requisites of a leader are concisely and accurately summed up, yet it must be pointed out that the leader is not necessarily a shaman, as he seems to imply (p. 74). In many villages there are a number of shamans who, indeed, wield no formal authority but whose authority subtly controls both the village and its leader. One misses, too, a discussion of the role of women in the society and of the couvade system, with its child-mother-father relationship, as well as the implication it has on the division of labor and the work routine. Some illustrations and a glossary would have enhanced the text.
According to Napoleon Chagnon, the quality of life “among the Yanomami is not readily found in anthropological textbooks or journal articles.” This gap has been bridged by Jacques Lizot’s lively description of daily life, love, religion, and war among the Yanomami. The fruit of his six years of intimate sharing of the Yanomami’s life explores their emotions in detail, drawing one into close contact with those “fierce people” whose passions in their sex life are equally as intense as in their warlike skirmishes.
In his preface, the author writes: “These Indians are human beings. ” He then proceeds to examine and illustrate through tales of love, hunting, and violence, mostly in the tribe’s own words, how intensely human they are. The love stories pulsate with an earthy passion which makes pale those of the modern novelist. This is due as much to the author’s craft as to racy dialogue of the Yanomami themselves. Through Lizot’s descriptive powers, one breathes the forest environment; experiences the tropical rainfall; inhales the dampness of the vegetation; and hears the chattering and squawking of the monkeys and birds. Adultery, incest, homosexuality, heterosexuality, and polygamy seem to fill the work, implying that the Yanomami lead a very sex-conscious life. The author lays bare the role of women and their relationship to males, striking at the heart of the matter thus: “when it comes to women, no one has faith” (p. 58). Women’s lives are hard, but never boring, and Lizot indicates that women have ways and means of coping with male brutality. Here he is very much in agreement with Chagnon, who posited that such brutality was viewed as a sign of affection!
The role of the shaman is highlighted: the ritual of initiation; the far-reaching influence of this personage; and a passing reference to a female shaman—not at all unusual among the coastal tribes of the Guiana region.
Lizot brings to the fore the Yanomami’s oneness with their environment; in the words of Wordsworth, the world of nature is “all in all” to them. The influence of the warrior (p. 183) is stressed—and rightly so. The brave, fierce, cruel male is respected; the chest-pounding duel gives him status, and feasts end with this duel, not only to express friendliness but also to demonstrate the warlike potential of the tribe. After all, they are “the fierce people, ” and neighbors and friends must never forget that.
For the modern world, the Yanomami, whose only recognizable vice is avarice (p. 184), have a message: their brutality is tempered with delicacy, sensitivity, and love.