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Personhood and human-spirit relations among the Yuracaré of the Bolivian Amazon

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TesisDjup, Annica. Personhood and human-spirit relations among the Yuracaré of the Bolivian Amazon.  / Persona y relaciones de espíritu humano entre los Yuracaré de la Amazonía boliviana. Ed. Göteborg : Acta Universitatis Gothoburgensis  : 2007 237 p.p. (Gothenburg studies in social anthropology, 0348-4076 ; 19) 978-91-7346-601-1
Tesis doctorales. Göteborgs universitet.  Institutionen för globala studier. 2008. Palabras claves:
Cuenca Amazónica
Antropología, Etnología | Religiones, Creencias
Siglo XX | Siglo XXI


This anthropological dissertation is based on fieldwork carried out among Yuracaré people in the Bolivian Amazon. The study explores local conceptions of personhood and human-spirit relations by looking into Yuracaré life cycle practices and associated ideas, particularly in connection with birth, girls’ initiation (menarche), illness and death. I also consider forms through which men and women, in their daily life, take account of and interrelate with numerous spirit agencies that are thought to inhabit the surrounding environment. Principal among these are the various kinds of Owner spirits that live in the forest, the river, the ground, as well as in trees and certain other plants. Analytically, the study addresses ideas about soul, body, gender, and human-spirit interactions. It develops a particular perspective on human personhood which emphasises the corporal shaping of individuals – effected through food and behavioural proscriptions and life cycle rituals – for the insurance of health and for the endowment of the physical, social and moral qualities essential to attaining ideal male and female Yuracaré persons in adulthood. A corollary of this perspective is that gender differentiation to a significant extent is construed as actively created and constituted “within” the bodies of children. The study also explores the fact that this particular understanding of personhood is combined with a conception that individuals, especially children, are highly vulnerable to spirit predation, in the form of Owner spirits capturing and carrying away the souls of their victims. In the human world, such soul captures by spirits manifest themselves as illness and death. In the dissertation it is proposed that these two ideological features – the importance given to body-shaping practices, and the constant concern for soul loss – form part of a cosmology, widespread in Amazonia, which posits bodies and persons’ sociocosmological identities as intrinsically transformable and mutable.

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