Consuming Pity: The Production of Death among the Cashinahua

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Essay Excerpt

This article is a study of death and the person in western Amazonia. Drawing on ethnography of the Cashinahua, it shows the process of dying as emerging from a specific form of living, one that combines a deeply anti-essentialist view of personhood and being with an emphasis on the necessary intermingling of the material and the spiritual, the organic and the disembodied, in the production of ordered social life. Bodies are the accumulated product of human intervention and individual experience, where knowledge and skills extracted from the visible and invisible environment take an embodied material existence. This accumulation, conceived as fusion of matter and multiple souls, is continuous (McCallum 1996a). It ceases only after the process of dying has terminated. The properly human body, construed as an active, knowledge-laden, and, above all, productive force, is a prerequisite for "moral personhood," which must be achieved ceaselessly in the daily round. Such a body propels its capacity to create the social into the space made available by other living human bodies. In this space, people interact to constitute sociality through interchanges that constantly seep into the realm of antisociality (an immanent quality of nonhuman bodies and spirits, including the dead), while always seeking to repel it (McCallum 1998, n.d.c). These same interchanges are the very economic processes whereby proper human persons are formed and "grown," and thus the intimacy between the body's material progress and the constitution of personhood, on the one hand, and of "society," on the other, is great, greater perhaps than in any other ethnographic area.2  (McCallum, 443-444)

About the Author

McCallum is a Professor at the University of Manchester.

Her research interests include: youth, life and death, obsterity, gender and sociality, race, and in Amazonia. 

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