It is clear that the author’s major theoretical position is strongly influenced by Claude Lévi-Strauss, and this is true of most contemporary Brazilian anthropolo-Anthropological Association will soon have one thousand members. The present book by Manuela Carneiro da Cunha, who is now president of the association, consists of 11 essays published during the last 14 years. These essays provide a panorama of the scope and theoretical orientation of Brazilian social anthropology.
It is clear that the author’s major theoretical position is strongly influenced by Claude Lévi-Strauss, and this is true of most contemporary Brazilian anthropologists. These essays range from symbolic interpretations of the ideologies of Brazilian indigenous cultures, to studies of ethnic identity, to anthropological views of Brazilian history. The opening essay is a complex and rather tortured structural interpretation of a messianic episode in 1963 among the Ramkokamekra-Canela (a Gé-speaking tribe of northeastern Brazil), originally reported by William H. Crocker. In the essays on ethnic identity, Cameiro da Cunha studies the descendants of the Brazilian freed slaves who returned to Nigeria in the nineteenth century (among whom she did field research in 1975), and she analyzes the practical problem of ethnic identity among highly acculturated Indian groups in Brazil. Historians should be interested in the four concluding essays on anthropology and history. In one, the author notes the absence of formal laws in Brazil guaranteeing the slave the right to purchase freedom. Instead, manumission through purchase depended on customary “law” and the good will of the master until the law of “Ventre Livre” of 1871. The existence of a formal law was an important element in the argument of Frank Tannenbaum in Slave and Citizen (1963) and the study of Brazilian slavery by Stanley Elkins. The author traces this “historical error” to Henry Koster (Travels in Brazil, 1816), from whom it was picked up by other writers on Brazil in the nineteenth century.
Throughout these essays, Carneiro da Cunha shows her control over current anthropological literature in Europe and the United States. She always has a bold original approach to her subject. She is to be congratulated on bringing these essays together under one cover.