The title of this monograph is at once enlightening and a bit misleading. A considerable portion of the book is devoted to narratives of Grandfather (better known as Rucuyaya) Alonso, a Napo Runa Indian from a province near Quito, Ecuador. He told his stories to his eldest son while Muratorio tape-recorded the sessions. The stories run the gamut of topics, from hunting trips to Alonso’s relationship with the church and his recollections of the rubber boom years. He possesses an excellent memory, and though it is difficult to know exactly how much editing has been done, his stories are always clear and to the point, with a minimum of rambling and repetition. He describes in considerable detail his contact with outsiders, such as cattle ranchers and oil men, usually as a burden carrier. Other stories deal extensively with his belief system of hallucinogenic shamanism, which exists simultaneously with a superficial level of evangelical Christianity. The chapters on the shamans are probably the most powerful in the book. Thus roughly half of the book is an excellent ethnographic documentary recording of his life and times. The author apparently spent a great deal of time recording and transcribing these stories with care and an understanding of Rucuyaya Alonso and his culture.
The other half of the material is a solid analysis of the history of the Napo Runa and other tribes of the region. These chapters are scattered between the narrative chapters, but with sufficient continuity of context. Muratorio begins the historical portion with the mid-eighteenth-century contact and continues through the remaining colonial period, when the Indians were used principally as bearers. She follows through most of the nineteenth century, giving considerable attention to the influx of outsiders looking for rubber, oil, and pasture land. A chapter describes the native political structure and its ties to foreign incursion. The twentieth century is shown to be every bit as intrusive on Napo Runa culture as any other.
This is an excellent book, well written and well researched, both on site and in the local and national archives. The blend of historical facts and ethnographic discussion of hunts and curing ceremonies is extremely well done. The prose is easy to read and entertaining, and it imparts a wealth of information on the region. This would be an excellent monograph for either historical or anthropological undergraduate courses. The bibliography is useful for further research, and the glossary is a godsend. The index seems reasonably complete. The book’s organization and style leave little to criticize. I commend the author for a difficult job well done.