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"Thus Are Our Bodies, Thus Was Our Custom": Mortuary Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society

Beth A. Conklin
American Ethnologist
Vol. 22, No. 1 (Feb., 1995), pp. 75-101
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/646047
Page Count: 27
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"Thus Are Our Bodies, Thus Was Our Custom": Mortuary Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society
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Abstract

This article examines the cultural logic of mortuary cannibalism practiced, until the 1960s, by the Wari' (Pakaa Nova) of western Brazil. Wari' practices are inadequately explained by the materialist, psychogenic, and symbolic interpretations prominent in recent cannibalism theories. This analysis emphasizes indigenous understandings of the relation of cannibalism to experiences of mourning. Concepts of the human body's social significance made its destruction important to the working out of grief and the attenuation of memories of the dead. In a social process of mourning concerned with transforming mourners' images of the dead, cannibalism appeared as a key element that affirmed ideas of human-animal regeneration and reciprocity expressed in Wari' myth, cosmology, and eschatology. [cannibalism, body concepts, ritual, death and mourning, Amazonian Indians]

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