The life story of Tukup’, a great shaman and feared warrior of the Ecuadorian Shuar, is in many ways unique. He has allegedly murdered a hundred people and has become a legendary character imbued with superhuman powers. His mixed Shuar-Achuar ancestry (he fought with the Achuar against the Shuar and with the Shuar against the Achuar) adds an important dimension to this exceptional life trajectory.

Although Tukup’s life has been extraordinary and particularly tragic, it is still very much a Shuar life—a life shaped by violence. The Shuar’s active role in the recent border incidents between Peru and Ecuador is a reminder that warfare and feuding are only partly the result of uncertain and fragile kinship alliances. Warfare is central to Shuar cultural and social dynamics. And although the author does not provide a full explanation for this (nor does she discuss the work of other Shuar specialists, such as Philippe Descola, who do attempt to explain it), she certainly conveys the great importance of male bellicosity in Shuar society.

Overcoming the sterile debates one sometimes finds in the literature between those who think that anthropologists should write the life histories of ordinary people, and those who argue that meaningful and revealing data can only derive from remarkable existences, Hendricks states, “the individual is shaped by culture so that individual meanings become blurred with cultural meanings” (p. 28). Tukup’ is at once a Shuar man and a legend. His way of narrating his life story is inseparable from the many stories people tell about him. If reality has inspired the myth, the myth is now part of reality. What he says about himself and the way it is interpreted form a single level of reality.

Working in the discourse-centered tradition championed by Joel Sherzer and Helen Basso, Hendricks brilliantly demonstrates that the analysis of form cannot be separated from the analysis of content. Tukup’s life story is both a biographical and a linguistic document. It is not only his life that is typically Shuar, but the way he talks about it. As used by Hendricks, discourse analysis sheds new light on Shuar cultural values, feud dynamics, political rhetoric, and poetics. This rare example of linguistic treatment of a life-history narrative should interest Amazonian anthropologists and linguists, historians and biographers alike.