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It!H B&llilIURO

[Olumo INitWIt'> 01 MI(HH fO�!u1I
MI(HH fO�lUll

PilOt [U\lRfI




Willi'" I. Buoru,�



Translated from the French by Jeanine Herman

This edition ('of1yright 1'1994 Scmiotl'xr(e)
This translation co pyr ight �1994 Jeanine Herman
All righ ts reserved,

Firsl published in rrench in 1980 as RC((,(c/I('s

d'(lIIrltropologif poliriqllc by E ditions du Stui!, Paris.

Thanks to Jeiminc Ilcr1mn. Lewanl1c Jones. SylvCrc Lotringf'f.

Keith Nelson. Shack Pastf'. Peter Lamborn Wilson <lnd Jordan Zinovich.

Semiol<:xt(e) offIces:
522 Philosophy 11:111, C ol u m b i a University. New York. New York 10027
rOB 5G8 \OVilli:1111Sburgh SI;1tion.l3rooklyn, New York 11211 USA

Tt'lrphot1e: 7iU 387-6471 rax: 718 963-2603

Printed in the UniTf"d States of America,


The L.lst Frontier 9

I Savage Ethn o (JT<:lphy 19

3 The Highpoint of the Cruise 37

4 OF Ethnocidc 43

5 Myths and Rites of South American lndi,ms 53

6 P()\\'er in Primitive Societies 87

7 rreedom, Misfortune, the Unn;:lIne8ule 93

8 Primitive [conomy 105

9 The Return to Enlightcnment 119

10 Marxists and Their Anthropology Il7

II Arch e ol OrlY of Violence: War in Pri m itiv e Societies 139

II Sorrows of the- Savage Warrior 169

rHf Lh�r fRONrlfR
'T�n'wl'i! \'CJy�g\·s.
f�rew('l1 s;lvageS .. "
CI:l\lrlr Ll'vi-S(ra1J�'"

"\.isten! 'Ihe rapids!"

rhC' forest still prevents us from seeing the r;v('r, but thr rO:lr of nash­
ing \Vatcr on great rocks C:ln be hl';lrd clr<lrly. FinC'rt) or [v·,tnIY minutes of
wnlking and we reach the C;lIlOC. None lOO soon. I f l ni"h my trek like my
companion. COVCT<>{j in din. my snout in Ill{' mud. ('T;lwling in humus that
no sun will ever dry.. Still. pl<1ying lkr k f'tt ' s Molloy in til{' A rwl zo ns j,
quitt something.
For close to lwO months, Jacques l . i zot <lnd I have !H'l'n \f;lvelillp:
through Vtnewela's southern tip. in the territory of the Yanomami Indians,
known hert." as the Waika. Their country is the last unt'xp[nrt'd (ullexp]o;t­
('dl region of South Am('fic;). This cul-dC'-sac in tht: Amazon, part of both
V{'nl'Zuel;] <lnd Br;],:il. h<l" up until now r{'sist('d pC1ll'tration llil-ou),!h ;] vari ­
ety of n;]!ur<ll obSI;]ele,,: tilt: unbroken forest, unnaviJ.!ahk rivl'f'i (ontT o Ill'
ap lJro<lciles their sourer,,), Ih(' rrmolcrH:SS or l'vl'rythin!!:, mnt"', and malar­
i<l, Allor this is h<1rdly auranivt to ('olonizt'rs, bUI Vl'1)' f:rvoT;lhlf;' to till'

f'if!;t publisheci in LH' Tt'HlJH MO(it'rlH'S, No. )98, M;ty, I'T/I, PI!. 1')11-1 940

y.t twnlami , ce n i linly tht la s t frt:� primitive society in South Anwrit'a and
no douht tilt' world. Polilirians. t'nlrt'prt'nt'urs and investors have kt t hrir
I maginations run wild, like the Conquistadors four cen t uri e s ago. S(,t'ing in
thiS unk nown south a !l e w and fabulous Eldorallo. where one could find
everything: I)ttroleurn, diamonds. rare minerals, etc. In the meantime. tl1r
Y a rHl rn ami (('main tht, solt' ma.,lns of their te rritory. At p resC'n t. m;)ny of
the m have nev('r seen tilr W hite Man, as we used to say. and only tWl'nty
yeus ago. ;'l1!l10S1 all wt.:rt oulivious to the ('xiS[CllcC' o f the Nabr:. A n
i nc redi ble bonanza for all ethnologist. Lizot is � tutlyi ng these Ind ians. has
alread y spent twa years among tbem. which h<l� n0 1 heen e<1sy; 11(' spC';!ks
th ei r languflge very well and is now beginn ing another st<lY. I am "('CO)11-
panyi n� him for several m u n th s.
We Spl'nt the first two wtt:ks in December shop pi ng in C'ar:J(';J<;: a motor
for the canoe. a rine. food ill1d objrcts to t ra d !.: with the Indians, il1rludillg
macheu:s. hatch ets, kilomel('rs of nylon fish i ng lint. tllOUSillHls of rl',hhooks
in all sizes. casts of m:1tcb hoxes. dozens and dOLens of spo ols of th re ad
(used for tying f't'<ltht'rs to arrows), beautiful red f�l hrir willl w h ic h ttl(' men
w il l make loincloths. From Paris we b r ought about n dOL('n kilo s of rin e
ht'il(l<; in black . while. red and hlue. I was surprised by the quantities, but
Lizo! simply s;)jd: "You'lI see when VH' g(·t I hl' r(· . Thb will go faster than you
think." Thr Ynnomnmi are big c on s umers ; these prqmrations are necrss i'lry.
not only for us 10 be well received. b ut 10 hI' received ;!t all.
A small I wo- en gin t" sea plane picks us up. lilt' pil ot doesn' t want t o
tnke all o f o u r car go because of ils weight. S o w e leave 11i{' fuod. W e wi ll
rdy on the In dians. Four hours later, after fl ying Over the savanna. I ht'n
over the he ginning s of the great Amazonian fo rest. we land 1200 kilollle­
ler.s to the south. at Iht: confluence of the 0('<11110 an d the O ri no co. on it
runw ay buill Len Yl'ars ago by the Salesian l1Iission. A brit-f "'top. JUSt long
en ough to grct't the m is s io n<1 r y. <I large. fmndly. che c rf ul Italian w ith a
p ro ph et' s beMe!; we load the (·anoC'. the 11I0tor is (Iliadit'd. ; I nd we leave.
Four hours upstrC';)m in a (dnoC'.
Shall we ).Haise thl' Orin oc o? II deserv es it. Ev en ;)t its source. this river is
nut young. bUI old and i mpati e nt. rolling forcefully from tlle;)ndl'r to meandl'r.
lhousand" of kilometers from its delta it is slill vcry wide. Were iL not for the
noise of tllr motor alld th e water sliding beneath the hull. it would seem as
lhoug h we Wl·n.: not moving. Tlwre is no scenery; evt' ryl hing is lhe same, l';)ch
<;('ction of SIMCt' identic;!l to the next: watCT, �ky, (lnd on both banks. infUlit('
lim'''' of sweej)ing furl·st... . We will soon s{'{' all of (his frolll it') inlninr. Gn.·at
wlliH' hirds emergl' from (rees and fly stupidly in front of us. lv{'nlUally. Ihey
realize I hey must lack an d fly behind us. A few tortoises from tim{' to linw. an
alligator, a large venomous stingmy blending in wilh tht sand bank.... No thing

much. It is during the night that the animals come out.

Twilight. Hillsides like pyramids rise from the dense vegetation. Tht
Ind i ans never climb them: evil spirits lurk there. We pass the mouth of the
Mav(lca, a trbutary of the h·ft ba nk. Several hundred meters to go. A shad­

owy fIgure wieldi ng a sm<lJ! tor ch runs along a Sleep b<lnk and catches t he
rope we throw him: w e h av e arrived at Mnvac a . inhabited by t h e
Bichaansiteri. Li70t hns built i\ hou se here, very close to their cllaht/llo (col­
lective Hving q unrter s). A wnrm reunion for the ethnologist nnd his savnges:
t he Indians arc vi sibly happy to see h im ag ain (he is, it is true, a very gener­
ou s whit e man ]. O ne q uestio n is settl('d im m edi at ely: I am his olde r brother. ...
Already the n ig ht is fll l('([ with tht songs of shamans.

We wasted no ti m e . The n('xt day at dawn. a vi sit to t h e Patanawateri. It

is rather fnr: haI r a d ay of nav igat ion. up river once again. and then a fu ll
day of walkin g. ,It an I ndian ' s pace. Why lh is expedi ti o n: TIH' m ot h t r of one
of lizot's you n g ('rtw members is a native of this tribe, al thou gh sht married
into anotht'r. ror several weeks , she h;!s been vis iti ng her rclativts. !ier son
wants to see her. [rhis filial desire a c t ually masks a completcly di ffcrtnt
desire. We will come back [0 this.) It gets il hi t complicated in that the s on 's
tribe (the fathe r'S) and the mother's native tribe are ilrch cncmies. The young
man, old enough to make a good warri or, quite simply risks being pi trn'd
with an ;mow if he shows up t he re. But (he Pat anawate ri leader, the boy's
maternal unde. informed the warriors: �Death to he who tOllches my sister's
son �" ln short. we can go.
It is no picnic. Tht ('ntire sou t hern zone of the Orinoco is panicularly
sw;!mpy: we are some times plun grd w a is t level int o fl ooded l owlanus. o ur
fr et t angle d in r OOt s . and have to pull a way from (he mud's suction - we
mUSI, (lfter al l , keep up with the others, who burst out laughing when they
s ee a Nabe having p roh le ms. We i m �gin e all the runive life forms in the
water (g re il t venomous sna.k('sj an d forg(' a.head through t h e same forest.
unC'x po s('d to sky o r sun. Amazoni<l. ;) lost par (l disC' ? It depel1d<; on for
whom. I find it rather infernal. Let us not spcilk of it further.
As night falls, w(' SCI up call1jl in the n ick of time at a temporary site. We
Sl't up tile hammocks. l ig h t the fires and cal wh ilt we have. mostly banan<lS
p;rilltd in ash. W(' wa lch our neighbors to m akt sure they don't take more.
Our g u ide, a middk-aged man. h:IS lil'('n graced with an incre di ble appl'lit('.
I ll' would gladly flni<;h off my sl1nre. I\e can w ai t.

The next day around noon, a quick hath in a stream. This is t'liqlll'U{';
the dwbul/o is nOI far ofr. and it is only fIlling that we be clean whl'n WI.:
pre s ent ourst'lves. We IOSl' no !inl{' pen et ra ting the very larg(' gardens wht"rt'
hundreds of hanana tree s grow. Our twO young boys p:linr (heir faces with
UruCII. A few strps away the grr;]l circul;u awning stands. We quickly tllilke
our way over to the srction occupied by thr m:uernal aunts of our friend
Ileh('wr. A surpri...t': with the exception of tlucc or four old men, there is not
a sinp;le man. II is an enormoos dlUbulIO, sheltering more tl1an ont" hundred
and fIfty proplr. Scores of children p lay in the ce nlm l area, skeletill dogs
bark wt'akly. I [ebewe's mother and aunts. s q uatting, launch into a long
lit<lny of r('t rim in <ltions ag;tin<;t thrir son and nephew. The mother fInds him
in<.,ufrlcirntly attentive: 'Tvr heen waiting for you for <;0 long. You h:lven't
co m e , What misfortune to helVe il son lik" you ! " As for h im, strelcherl out in
his h am mo c k, he affects the most tol n l indifference, That done, we nre
rrcri ved, that i<; to !lay, they bring us hot uan;1nn puree (e11lircly wclc:ome). In
fact, durin g our three- day vi"it, H('I>('w('S mother, a fille (lnd charming SilV­
ngc l ad y, offers uS food at all h ours of the day in smn ll qU:'Illlitirs c;1ch time :
forest fruih, liule cr:'lbs and swamp fISh, tapir 111ral. Green b;lJlanas grilled in
ash accompany cvctything. This il) like Vil Cil tion ; we cat. we swing in ham­
moc ks, wc chat. we f<1rt. (TIH' Yilnolllami are true ;mi'its in t h is n'gard ,
bec<1ust:' of the favorablc effects of the b<1n;1I1<1s. In the nocturndl silence.
thcre is a const;tnt fusill<lde. As for our own decibel IcvC'!. ours are hdrd to
hear, and hard for u" to hear.... ) There afe worse fates.
To hr honest. the peaceful slown('ss of things is due in part to the
ahscnce of Illt"n, The women ilre much more reserved, less givt"n to in<"olence
than their hushands, who have all gone 10 war against an enemy tribe, the
tl asuhu (' tNi. A Ydnom:1mi W;lT i<., a surprisl' r<1id: they attack at dawn when
prople <Ire still ;l"leep, ninging their <1rrows over the roob. Th03e injurt.'d, Ihe
rart c;tsu;tities, arc mOSt often accidents, in th(' way of the arrow's fall. The
<lllackcrs then nt:r :'I" q uickly <1S possible. for the other<; immrdi<lt('ly COuntrr ­
<1ltack. W� would gla dly have awaited the warriors' rl'lurn for it was, UlOt
informed me, iI ve ry i mpressive ('('r('mony. But one can never visit for long
h<.:fnrC' hecom i ng a nuisilllcC, <lnd moreover, our (ompilnions are r:lthn :'Inx­
lOllS to kilVl', They have d one whilt they set Ollt to do, il nd are not in te rest ed
in p rol onp;ing their Stay. The day we <l rrived. Hebewe spoke with his mother
ill l e l1 !!th, He qUl:stiontd her about his reliltiv('s, wanting to know who his
r otl s i n ... Wl'ft'. But tIl(' rilscill is hilrdJy concernl'd w ith e nr k h ing his
ge nralogic<l l k now l cdge : what he W<llltS to know is wh o is he nOI rcl dt ed to.
in otller word,. which girlc: he can c:l('rp with. Indeed, in hi, o\":n Irillt' - till'
l\arohiuTI - he is felated to almO\l l'Vl'tyon(' (nil (he wO lllen ;He ofT l imils).
lie mu..,t look for them elsewhere <IS <I result . This i<; ll1r prinlflry goal of his
trip. lie will "uain it. AI ni�htfall. his own <lunts bring him a fou rteen- or
flfteen- year-old ¢irl. [hl'Y are hoth in thl' saml' hammock, nexi to minl'.
Judging frOIll ,[1(' commotion. tl1(" violent move lllents wresling the hammock.
tht stined murmurs, it doesn' t seem 10 b(" going well, 111(' girl d o('s n ' , W:'1I1I

10. They struggle for quite some lime. she m:lnages to gt't away. Wt" makr
fun of Hebewc. But he dOl'sn't give- up, for a rew minutes lalrr, a darling
twelve- or thincen- year-old girl comes in, her brl'ilStS barrly d('velo l)cd. She
wtlnts to, tlnd their frolicking gocs on <til night. extremely dis<:Ttl'tly. III..' muSt
have had sex with her seven or cight times. Sht" can't complain.
A few minutes bl'fore leaving, the distribution of pre-sl'nts. All those who
w ant some-thing get it, depending on our stork of course, and alwnys in
exchange for something ("Ise: arrowheads, quivers, feathers, e arrin gs, or elsr
a sort of credit: "G i ve ntr some fishing line. When you tome IJilck, I'll give
you some fIsh." Among th emselves, the Yanomami never give nnyrhin g for
nothing , It is rltting 10 behave accordingly. Besides, the l'xch<lnge of goods is
no t only it trnns (l ction that satisfIes both pa rti es, it is an ob li gation : to rtfuse
an offer of exrhange (it is practicall y unthinkable) would be interpreted as
an act of hostility, a s a pt rp0 ri1 1 ion whose enrl frsult could be war. "As for
rnyc:elf, rm a very generous man. I\nd you?" peoplr say when they ilrTivc
hert=. "Do you have mnny objects i n your hag? liere, wke thtsl' lJanilnas,"
An exhausting return, accomplishrd in a day. The hoys are afraid of nUlM
ning into warriors on their way bnck; one never knows what may happt'n.
One of them insisr.<; on taking Lizot's backpad: "Walk ahead with your rine.
[f the raiders attack. you will defend us." We arrive at the river in the
evening. without having run infO anyone. But illong the WJY, they point out
;\ sm;'lll area off 10 the side. Last year, <l w<lrrior who wns injured during <In
a{(nck died here ('n route. II is ('ompanions erected a funrral pyre to burn thl'
body and bring the ashes hack to the dlObul1o.

Two days of rest at home. Wr need it. The l3 ici1 Jansiteri make up a raliler
ltlrg!? tribe; t hey have divided themselves into two cilablillos. Ont' on thi..'
ri!:iht b<lnk of the O rinoco, ,Inti one on the otht:r sidr. A Sales i <ln mission
(therr arr th ree in the :'IT('a, all Jt the edge of the river) has been SCI up at the
sitr of thl' f Irst (haullno, :lnd the second, on aUf siue, is inhabited by a fami­
ly or Y il n kee Protestants, They don't surprise m(', I've seen tht:ir like... t'lsc­
Wht'fe: fJnat ic , hrutish, practical ly illileralr, So Illuch the brltrr. It is a plea­
sure to confirm the vastnl'SS of l'vangclical failure. (The S <1 lesian s arc no
Illore su cc ess fu l . but thr Indians tolerate thrm more eas ily.) The kadrr :'Ind
shaman of tIl{' rip;ht bank tribe compl a in ahout the AmeriCil.n who preilches
incessant l y against tht: USe of drugs, claims th;ll the Hckoura (spirits invoked
constantly by the sorcl'rl'rs) do nOI rx is l. and that the leader should give up
two of his t h ree WiVl'S. Amen! "That guy is SlaTting to <lnIlO)! us. This yt'ar
we are going to rehuild til(" (1IOhulI() much further away to distance nurstlvl's
from him." We heartily ar'IHove. Wh;)[ torment for this peas;1nt from
Arkans<ls 10 hear the drug-intoxicatl'd shamans dance and sing every night

in the (hob/wu... This prove� to him th(, devil"s exiSten c e.

Tu mul t. Shout ing. 1\ c"l'rt'llloniaJ proc ess ion in the middle of Ihe
.:l fter ­
noon. Everyone is on the SH'l'P bank, Ihe men are armed with
bows and
clubs, the kader bra nd i shes his axe. What is this? A man from
the tribe
across the way has ('ome to abduct a married woman. The offended
m the others.
peoplr pilc into canoes, cross the river and demand justicc fro

And there, for at least an hour. there is an explosion of insults.
voci fer<ltion, howled ilrrusation. It looks a s tho ug h they w ill kill ('ach olher
off. and yetlhr who le thi n g is rather entertaining, Thr old w o men
from bOlh
camps are veritable rabble-rousers. They rncourage the m en to fight
terrifying rage ilnd fury. The cuckold is motionless, leaning on his club:
he is
chnllenging the other man to fight one on one. But the man and his
havr fled into the forest. I\s a r('sult. no duel. Little by little, thr
StOPS, and ev e ryo ne quite simply gors back home. Mu(h of it \\',IS
tho ugh the sincerity of the actors cannot be denied. B('sides.
mill1y men have
large scars on the tops of their shaVl't1 heads, rollected eluring
the l'ourse of
in a few dilYS,
these duels. As for the t:uckold. he will get his wife back
when, ('XhClUSIC"d from lo vC" Clnd fasting, she rC"(,nlers
doml'slic lif('. She will
sUTrly be punished. The Yanomilmi are not always gentle with
their wives.

Nt hough not as powerful a� the Orinoco, the Dcamo is g re ;n river. Th('

lr m dscape is ilS ted i ous as ever, a I.."ontinuous forest . but nilvigating makes it

Irss so: one must look out for sand bilnks, TOl.."ks just beneath the Willer's sur ­
face. enormous tre('s that block llie current. Here w e ilre en route to the
U p pcr O('arno, territory of thr Shiitilri, as the souther n Yanomami call them.
Three Indians <1ft' wi th u s , i n c l u d i ng Hebewe and the l ta d e r of tile
l3ichaansiteri of the ri ght bank. JUSt as we were leilving, h e showed up
d resse d from head to toe in a shin whose tails reached his calw$, pants, and,
mOSt surprising, tennis shoes. Usually, he is naked, ilS is almosl everyone
elSe". his penis attached by t ile foreskin to a small cord knotted ilround his
waist. He t'"xplains: "The Shiila ri (Iff.' gr ea t sorcerers. They will probahly (a
' st
spells on all the paths. With thes(', my frct will be p rot eC ted. " 11(' wa nted to
come with us bec iluse his older broth e r whom he hasn·t sc('n in ilt least
twe nt y years lives there, I\s for us, we want to v isit new tribes and do busi­
ness with Ihem. Since the wholc trip is by w al rr, we can bring t1. lot or
objects with us; Ihere is no weight limit as ther e is when on fool.
The topography has gradu ally changed. A (hilin of hills domin<ltt's (he
right bank, the forest gives way to (I kind of Silvannrt with sparse vegetation,
We can cl earl y see a w'lterf.:lll. s p arkling in ( he sun's rays. On this l'vening·s
menu: a duck I.izot killed ('arlin today. [ delllrt nd thilt it be grilled <lnd not
boiled as usual. The Indians ('onSent reluctantly. While waitin g for it to cook.

1 ,
IHI: &R(Hf010GY Of VIOlfN{f

I wander off. Scarc{'ly t w O hundrrd melcr<; aW ily, [ com l' upon a temporary
("ilmpsite. This ron's!. for a w h ile Jl1an surrounded by all of nat ure ' s hostili­
tie<;, tt.'l'ms with secret hUnliln life; it is tr a veled , crossrd, inhilb\ted I� y the
Yanomami rrom tOP 10 bollom. It is rare to walk an hour or two Without
('oming across a trace of thcir pa<;<;(lgr: campsites of hunters on expeditions,
vi<;iting tribes, groups of peop l e collecting wild fr uil.
Tile duck is <;oon cooked, overeooked even. We e<l! it. Even without salt, it
is g ood. But only tcn minutes liller our three c ompanio n s bl'gin to w11impcr:

·'We·re si(k! We're so sick!··

··What's wron g ? ' "

··You Oltlde us eat raw meat!"·

Their bad faith is cyniral. but there is somrthing comic in wiltehing these
�turdy men rub their bellies ilnd l ook (IS though they will hurst in to ( rars.
Su rprise d perh8ps by our {c<lsing, they de cide tlli'lt 10 cure themselves they
will have to eat il lilli r more. One goes off to fish. a no ther (w ho knows how
to shoo t) takes the ritle and tries 10 retrieve the for es t p,Hlridge w e heard
singing in the vicinity,., One gunshot goes orr, ilncl a partridge is killed. The
flshrrman soon rt.'turns with twO big piranhas. These wa[erf.i ar(, liwarming
w ith the Cilnnihrtl-flsh. If the pa nridge flesh is d el icious , tht' fIsh on Ihe other
hilntl is tilslrless. This doe<; not prevent the Indi an<; from boiling eV l'lyt hin g
all ,'It oncc i n a stew.., Soon, illl that is left ilre tht' hones.
The next day, we come across four canoes. The Y(lnonl<'lmi go down (he
river to trade wilh the downstrp(lm tribes. The bOiltS arc rilled with p ,\ ck ages
of drugs. All the Indians (al I('"ast the men) are great users of eb('"ll(l. and Ihr
sh<lmans would not be ilb le to function without (onsuming (snorting) it in
very stro ng dos.:lges. l3ul th e trees that produrr th('se hililucinog('nir seeds do
not grow everywherc, so that certili n tribes, such as those of Sitrr a Parilllil,
hardly have ilny [It (Ill. On the other hand, the Shiitari ma intai n a qU<lsi­
monopoly on pr oduuion or lhe drug; they do nOI ('ven need to cultivaH' tile
Trees, which grow n.:llUrally on tht: savanna of their region. They hilrv::-St
much of it, and through sucns�ive tra de agrl'emcnts from tribe to tri be .

('/lclla c v ("ntuili ly n:i1ches those who are deprived of it.

We stop for <t few moments to chat with tht' Indians. Upon learning til<'lt
Wt'VC pla nned tl visit to thl'ir home, three of tht'm - two young mcn <lnd
one older man - jump into our ranoe and go h;lck up with u�. Shortly
brfore noon, we arrive ilt a "mall cove. These arr the Aratapora rapids.
According to our passengers. (he cllabuno is still far away, We havC" I here4 .

fore . to unload the- canoe , carry thr baggilge five hundred meters up tht'"
river, thl'n pull th e canoe through foaming w ate rs. TIl<' current is stron g, but
thrrc arr lot of us. Almo st two hour� of r f fo n nontthl'ltss. We rest for il
moment at the rdge of the covt'. The area is IHt'lty, the forl'st It's... surror;lt-

1 \
l H f A I ( H f O L O GY Of V 1 0l f N ( E

ing. revealing a heath of flnt' sand from which t'mergl' l'normou� houldns.
Dozens of grooves. some mort' than two centimeters dcep. tIrc etched in the
surfi1cc: these are blade polishers. Everything one might need for the manu­
facture of po1i<;hro <;tQne hatchets is here: the sand. tht' water. the stone. But
it i:-. not the Yanomarui who desecrate the boulders this way; I hry t10 not
know how to work with rock. From time to limr, they wil] fmd a polished
hatchet in tht' fort'S! or <It the rivrr"s edge. and think it the work of the spirits
of the sky. They will usC" it lO crush ebcllo seeds against the bonom of a clay
pot. Who Wl'(C these patient polishers? We do not know. In any Cilse. they
were formrr occup;"lnt... of (urrcnt Yanot11ilmi territory and h ave di sa ppeared,
prohailly Cl't1turk... ;"lgo. All th<lt r ('ma in are tht {«leCS of their labor. <;c<ttttred
throughout Ihe- re-ginn.
We reload the canoe. head off and arrive fiftl.' e n minutcs later: the
dwbullo is actually q u it(' clo<;(' lU the rapids. whose rushing we C,tll still
hear. The Indians Il:tve lied to us, What they wfl nle d WilS to show up <It
tl1{' ir homc with White Mcn in a mOtor boat. They allow cd us to struggle
for two hOlHS. when we {"ould havc easily finished the trip on foot. Now,
they <Ire beside Ihemsl'lves wit h p ri de- ilnd are acting cocky, The inh il bitants
(aboul fifty) arc calling from the bank. Among them, a man with a gO<"ltel'.
our l3ich;'lansiteri compnnion's brotllC'r. Thty recognil(' each o th er immedi­
ately. TIl(' o 1 cltr brotlle'r is very txcited. gesticulates ano talks a 101 as he
t'lkt·� us 10 his house. The younger urothe-r is no less happy. but t1ol'sn't ICI
it show. a� i.., filling for a visitor. Strctchrd out in his hammock. one hand
ovtr his mouth, an expression of feigned displeasure on his fact. he lets
some timC" go by. I hen we ha v e some uan;]na puree.", and we call relax,
Such aft the rulcs of l·tiquette.
To ccit-u ratt:' the event. tht' olner brother or gani7.cs a drug session and
prc.-parcs t h e ('bella. Seve'r;]1 m en run uncj('r thtir tents and ftappear more
or !e ...... dressed up. Two robust frllows have donned long dress('<;: t h ey are
not aware- of the diffrTc-nc(' buwtl'n men a nd women's clothing. Our Curn�
pan ion,>. more a(CUSlOlnl'd to the busint'ss of whi te men. have no rc:-;erva­
lions about poking fun at these bumpkins. Thc m i�� i onarits have an imbc­
cilic m,lni;! to dis t ri b u t e clothing to t h e Indians for which t he y havc
alJ... olutely no u�e, ,)5 opposed to metallic tools. fishing lint'. ttc., u !lckni­
a bly more usc-rul in that they fildlitate their work. Thesl' st"l"ond-hand
clothrs, Soon filthy. a re purt" prestigt' items for their nl'W ownl'r�. The cri­
tique l"ontinuc-s when the food is o ffered : 'These people art· :-;;lVages! Thty
serve tlll'ir v;uest� ungutted fish!"
C'nlshtd. then dril'd and mixed with another vegttable substant"e. tbel/a,
fm c. £/l"Cn powekr. is ready to be consumtd: it reed tube h fIlled <lnd your

neighhor blows it up your no<;(' hy exhaling powerfully intn your nostrils. All

I 6
l H E U ( H E O L O G Y or Vt O t f N C f

the ml'n. croul"hl'd in a (:irde, take some. They sneeze. l"ou�h. �rimacl', �I-'it.
drool: Ihe drug is good. plrasingly strong. evel)'one is happy. A good start to
a shamanic session. The visiting brother. who holds a position of leadership in
his tribC', is also a mid-level shaman. l.ower level shamans treat their families
or dogs. ThC'se animals, recently ilcquired from whites. occupy a place in the
hitrarrhy of beings approaching human: like people, they are burned when
they die. But the Indians have little respect for them: they scan.:ely rt"td thtm.
As a result, dogs have taken ovr-r garbage collection at til(" dlObullos.
The most esttt'mcd shamans eX('('c-d others in experience. skill, the num­
bl'r of rhilnts they know. ;tnd spirits they can invoke. Among the Bichaan­
sileri. thefc is on(' of this c(llibl'r. He officiates almost daily. evt'n when no
one is sick (and so he nt'eds a lot or drugs). This is uecause till' communilY
l11ust be ('onstilntly protccted from the illneSSeS <lnd {'vii spirits that shamans
fr om enemy tribes mobilizt' agilinst it. !I(' himself makes surl.' to expt'l all the
diseases capable of anni h ilating till' others. Among the I ndia ns. a nation of
ghosts h aunts the world of men. The chants. an obsessive fepe tilio n of the
samr melanic line. nevcrthekss i l i lo w for c{'Ttain vocal vilriations: they
sometimes oscillate bct',vl.'cn it Gregori<lll chan! and pop music. AeaUliful 10
hear. they m<"ltcll exactly the slow movement of the dance. the to and fro of
arm:!. crossed or raisrd up along the tent awnings. Shamed be anyone who
doubts the seriousnl'ss of these riles (it is. after ill1. il matter of life and
death). And yet, the shaman will stol> from time to time to tell his wife:
'"lIurry and hring some bananas to relative so-and-so! We forgot t o give him
some!"' Or else. approaching us: "Listen, Lizol! I necd some fishing line!"
And, Quitc simply, he continu('<; his service.
We have gone up the Ocama a bit onCe again 10 do some night hunting.
which hilS brought us illl unexpected en<:ounter. A small Yanomami tribt
has JUSt srt ilself up ilt lhe river's edg(', and their c/wbuHQ i ... not 4uill' fll1-
ishtd. Wt' arc llwir flrsl whites. we arl' th(' {'xotk ones this time. For us. they
arlO hardly different from thc others. there- ilre no surpriSl's. All the lri b('s
now possess meta llic instrunwnls. l'v('n those wi lh whom contact will not
be established for y(';]tS. As a result. differences belween groups al the edge
of tll(' Orin oco and thost' of the interior arc s li ght: ilmong the fornH'r, tht'fl'
i... a l o o k of beggarliutss (due to tht cl o th es ) but thaI i s nOI deeply
ingraint'd, sinu' sodal and religious I ifl' has not ill <Ill betn affected by Iht'
mb...ion �rie s· vain (l llt'mpt" (at lcitSl not up until now). [n short. llil"rt, ;trt' no
"civililCd" Yanomami (with <Ill the repugnnnt d('gradation which that st ate
signifies) to contrast with still "savage" Yan omilmi : Iht'y arl' ,Ill. ('qually.
proud and warlike pagans.
Four young men gesticulate on the hank. We dork. They are blessedly
t'uphoric and do not hide it. lhtir excitement before [he Nab(' is so greal thill

1 7
[Hf �R ( H E O I O ' Y Of VI O I E N { E

they have difflculry expressing themselves; a tOrrent of words is ha ted by l

t h e clicking of the i r tongues, while thcy hop in plan.' a nd m;nk the rhyt h m
by sl a pp i ng the i r th ig hs . I t is il true p easu re t o see a n d hear tilem rtjoice l i k e
this. The Shi it;'\ri are likable. Upon l e av i ng, a few hours laler. w e offer them
three crocodiles that Lizot has killed.
On the day of departu re, we exchange our goods for drugs. Not for per­
sonal use, but to e c hange with till" Parima t rib es, which ilre sorely d p ri ved
x t
of t he m . This w i l l be an excelltnt passpo rt for us. The l e i1 d e r is h appy, ht d i d
good business with his brother's p('()ple. who promise to visit him again. I n
ext'hange for all his cl oth es (which he knows the missionaries will easily
replace), he hi1s ohtain ed a lot of ebella, As we push off rom the shore, an f
incident: one of the two boys we took up river with us (he m u st havt been
about t h i rtetn or fourteen y('ars old) suddenly jumps i n t o the cano('. H e
w a n ts t o go with us, see the coumry. A w o m a n - his mother - throws her­
self into th(' water to h o l d h i m bilck. He then sei 7es a heavy pa dd l e and tries
to hit h e r. Other women come to the rescue and m an<l ge to extract h i m , rag­
ing m <ld ly. from the ca n oe. I/e hitl'S his m Ol h r r. Yanolll<lmi sodery is vrry
liberal with rtspect to boys. They arc a ll owed to do just <lbuut ilnything th ey
w <t n t . T h ey ilre rve n e n courag('d from early rh il dho od to ckmonstr<lt(' their
viole nce an n <t gg ression . C h i ld re n p l ;'ly gilml's th:11 ar t often brutal. a r;lre
thing <tmong tile Indian�, and p ;-Irt nts avoid {'onsol i n g them w he n. h <lvi n g

rrceived a h i t on the head w i t h ;1 sti c k, t hry co m e r u n n i ng and h,IWI:

"Mother! He hit me!"
"Hit him h a rder ! "
The (desired) res ul t of this peda gogy is that it fo rms w ar ri O iS.
We p a ss ovtr Ihe rClpids e as i l y. It is a reve rse procession of th e Si1me
spi1ce. It i s just as du l l. We spene! lht.' n i gh t (,mlping in th e open. We have
already slept a f('w hours when suddenly there i <; a d ow n p o ur. As qu it'kly as
possible. Wf' t;lke down the h a m m ocks <lnrl s o m eho w take s h e l t e r beneath
large Iravts. It passes, we go back to bed. go back to sleep. One hour later, it
S«lrrs all over <lg <l i n : rain, waking up wi l h a s t an, ru n n i n g for cove-r, ttc. A
t e rri b l e New Year's Eve.

Returning to M av aca , w(' !tarn the outcome of Iht comb,it two wt'l'ks ear­
lier, which had set tile Patanawa\t.'ri against the I insubu('teri. The results arr
g rave : four denths, it set.'ms. (OUI of a unit of forty 10 flfry men) Clntont the
I Clttcr, three by fIrearm. What happe ned ? For th i s raid. the PCltClnawal{'ri allied
with another tribe. t h e Mahekodoteri. a very bellicose people, pcrmanl'ntly at
war with almost all the tribes in the regi o n . (l hey w ou l d gl a d l y clo Lizot i n ;
11(' i s a fritnd o f thl'ir e ne mi ('� . l O n e o f th e lhr('{' S a l es ia n mission<; was estab­
lished n('aT their ehnil/Illo. That says a lot ,Ibou t till' fai l u re of I h l' priest... who,

I 8
1 11 £ A R C ll f ll L ll fi Y Il f VIO t E N {f

"fter close to fIftee n years, havl' no t been able to temper t h e Indians' warlike
,mloT o n e iota. Just as well. This resistflJ1('{' is a si gn of health.
Still t h e fact remains tha.t the Mahekodoteri possess thret:' or four rifles, a
�ift fro m the missionaries with the promise that they be used only for hunt­
ing Clnd not fo r war. But try to conv ince warriors to renounce an easy victo­
ry. These <lre not saints. This time they fought likt.' whites. but against the
;'l rrOWS of oth e r Yanomami. This was n o t u n fores eeabk. Tht' attackers - t h e re
m us t ha v e been ab ou t tw en ty- fo ll r - Irt a vo l l ry of arrows fly ov er the
rlwbullo i1t dawn. thtn retreated into the forest. Aut i nstead of ru n n i n g hack
to the pClth I tild n g to their territory, they waited for the counterillt<lck. Whe n
CI group is attacked. the warriors must launch a counter-offensive, lest they
he considered cowards. This would soon he known. and their dwbul/o woul d
bccome a tCl rget for other tribes (to carry off t h e i r women, steal their goods.
and, quite sim ply, for the p l easure of war). n,e Ilasubueteri, t hu s , fel! i n
a mb ush . Tbt.' ri fl es, which they w e re not exp('cling a t a l l, ex ploded, a man
ft·11. The others finished him off w i th Clrrows. Stu n ned, h is compa n i on s fled
in confusion. Tiley threw thtmselves into the Orinoco to swim across it. And
th ere, three of them pe rishrd. twO from butlet wounds, ont fro m an arrow.
Ont' of the w o un dtd, fIshed out, received a fi n a l hlow: a bow th rtls t into h i s
sr oma ch .... The hatred for the enemy is stro ng. . . . Now. t h e H asuh ue teri a re
prep <l rin g their revenge. Passions arc passed on fro m father to so n .
Somewhat p a n i ck ed hy ( hese events, the missionaries, strongly urged by
Lizot, decide to no longtr furnish mu n it i o n s to the I n o i a ns. A wise deeision,
for the M'lhrkodoteri. eXillted lJy this initial success. would from now on us e
Iheir riOes i n every comb,H, and assured of their 5ulJcriority. would multiply
the raids. There could be large-scale s l a u gh te rs that would have b ee n p r<l c ti ­
(ally i m po ssil J l c with <lrrows. (ExcqH i n t he very rare cases when: g ro up
invites another to a pa rty with the deliher<lte intention of m assac r i ng them

upon a rriv a l . It was i n this way that several years Clgo thirty B i chaans it er i
l ost the i r l iv es . res pon d ing to an inviuuion from southern tribes: they wCfe
t reac he rously shot by arrow s ill tht dlObul1o.)
We hav e spent the ftrst three w('eks of January p('acl'fully traveling back
and forth between Mavaca and th e tribes of the Mani1vicile riverside, another
tributary o f t h e Orinoco. We a rl' fa m ishe d and have been eating ill th('
Indians' in short v isi ts of two to th ree days. Even if t here is no nH',\l or fISh,
the re arc always banan<ls (more than six kinde; arc c ul t i vated ). Staying with
the Karohiteri, l.izot's best frientls, IS very pl easa n t. We relax thl'rc. lhe peo­
ple afe fri en d ly, not vel)' demanding, even gi ve n to k i nd n ess. The shaman
offers me tapir l11('at and urges me 10 re m ai n among lh('m. This is a change
from the other tri bt's where, having just arrived, one is i mmeC\ i il tc l y i'\CCOSI­
t'd: " G ive me this. give me that. I ' ve run out of flshhook�. I need a m:lchete.

I ,
' � f A R ( � f O L O GY O f VI O l f N C [

What do you havl' in your bag? Your k n i fe is nin:!" And this gut·s on C'on�
5t<ll11ly. They arc tireless. and were it not for tile strong imprl'ssion Lizot has
made On them. they would quite simply try to steal our things. The few sc.'n­
tenct's I have I('ameu anu remember, having said them hundred" of ti mes,
are: "I don't hav!: enough, There isn ' t any. We don ' t haw any more, Wait!
Later!" Th e tiresome Yanomami.
They do have a sense of humor and are quite prone to jokes. To start
with, they avoid telling the truth on principle (even among: themselves).
They are incredible l i a rs . As a result, a l o n g process of verificiltion and
inspection is required to validate a pirC'(" of i n fornwtion. Whl'n wr Wl'rt; i n
the Pilrima we crossl'd a road. When asked about its dest i n ; l1 i o n , lhe young
miln who WilS guiding us said he didn ' t know (he had trflveJrd I h is pa th
maybe fifty li m es).
"Why ;He you lyi n g ? "

"I don't know,"

When I as ke d the name of a bird one day, thry g<lve me tile term that
signifies penis, i 'lll ather time. tapir. TIl<' young men are particularly droll:
"Come with us into the garden, We'lI sodomize you!"
During our v iS i t with the Pamnawatcri, IIcbcwl' calls over a boy :lround
twelve ycars old :
" [ f you let yourself b e sodomizt'd, I'll give you my rinl·. .
I:veryone bursts into l a ugh ter. It is a very good jokc. Young mcn arr
merCiless with ViSitors their agr, They are dra gged into the gardens undrr
some pretext and there. hrld down while the othcrs unl'<lp their penis, the
supremt' humilimion, A running jokl': You're slumbering i n n occruly in your
hammock w h e n ;'\11 explosion p l u n ges you i n t o a n a tlsC'<t t i n g cloud. A n
Indian hasjusl fa rtC:d two o r threr crntimeters from your facc...
Lift: in ttl(' chobllJlos is generally monotonous, As everyw here ('Ise, nJP�
tun.�s in t he customary order - wars, festivals , orawls, etc, - do n ot ocC'ur
evrry oay. The most evidcnt activity is the prepllTn l i o n of food <tnd lhe
prot'csses by which i t is obtained (bows, <lrrows, rope, cotto n ) , Lt't us no t
think fo r a mi n ute that the I nd i <ln s are undrn1ourished, Betwt'tn basiC' f;'lTm�
i n g . h u n t i n g (g<lrne is rti:ltively a b u n d a n t ) , fi s h i ng a n d h a rv cs t i ng, thc
Y<lnomami get <l I an g v('ly well. An <lfnuent society, then, from il Certa i n per­
s prc ti ve, in that all p eo pl (" s needs are m et, even more than mct, since thert'
is �lJrplus production, co ns u med during celrbr:ltions . But the ordcr of needs
arc a"cet i ca l ly determined ( i n this sense, the missionaries creilti.' an artiflrial
n('('<1 for u n n ecess<try Clothing <lnlong certain tribes) . l:unhermorC', ftrtiJity,
i nf<t ntici<il' and natural selection assure tribes of <I demographic optimum, we
might s<lY. as much in quantity as i n qual ity. The hulk of infant mortality
occurs in th(" first two years: the most Tt'sist<lnt survivt'. HenC'l', thr nourish.

, 0
l H f U ( � E O I O 'Y O f � t O l E N( E

ing, v ig o rous appt'aranc(' of al most eve lYo ne, men and WOlllen, )!{)unl::( :lnd
o l d. All of the"e bodies arc worthy of go 111 g nnkl'd,
It i s u n i formly snid in S o uth America thaI Indians (lrc lazy. Indt.'ed, they
arl' not Chr,·sl,· •ans a n d do not deem it Il('ress(lry to earn thrir bread by the
,wcal of their brow. And since, i n general. they are most conrrrned with tak­
ing other peo pl c's Im'ad (only th(,n do their hrows swc t). we see that for

them joy and work fall outside of one another, That sc\ld, we should notr
t h a t among t he Yanomami, <III Ihe necds of society ilre cover d by an av{'f­ �
age of I h ree hours of work per person, per day (for adults). Llwt calculated
this with chronometric rigor. This is n o t h i n g n('w, we a l ready know that thiS
j<; how it is in most primitive societies, let us re m clll br r this at s i x ty when
d e m a n d i n g: ou r rrti rr m en t fu nds .
It is a t'i v i l i L. at i on of leisurr sincr: they s p (' n d twenty-one hours d O i n g

n o t h i ng. They krep thcmsel ves amused. Siestas, prilC'tical jokes arg u m tnts
�H· n tl. o n
, ,

drugs, eating, taking a dip, they manage to k i l l liml'. Not to s ex .

. .
vVhich is not to s<ly t h a t that i� a l l t h ey t h i n k aboul, b u t It dt:flnlldy
counts, Ya pcs h i ! This is oftrn hea rd : I fee! l i k e h<lving st"x! ... O n e day, at
M<lv<lca, a m a n and a woman s t rug gl e on the noor of a house, Thrrc arc
(Tics, sr ream s, protrsts, laughter. The wom<ln, who s('rms to know what she
wants, has slipped a h<lnd 1)('lween the man's l egs and grabbed <l testic l e .

1\1 hiS s l i g h test move to nee, a slight squee7e, This must , h u ' b u t slle ��
. .
doesn't 1f't go: "She wants to copulate! She frC'is like copulaung,, And tillS,
it stems., is indeed whnt happens,
As i f relations brrween people were not enough to nourish commun ity
l i fe, natural phC'nomena bccome soci<ll events. This is becausC', i n a ce na in
way. there is no nature: a climatic di"orc!er, for eX01mple, i mme i <lt ely tmns­ � ,

l at rs into cultural terms. O n e late afternoon <lmong tl1e Ktl roh ne n , a s t o rm

breaks out, preceded by violent whirlwinds which threaten to carry away tile
roofs Immediately, all tIll' shamans {six or s('ven of t he m , tht' �rctlt o n e and
the lesser ones) position tht'lllsdv('s along the it'lltS . standing, atte m pt i n g to
pu"h b a ck the tornado with great cries and grand gest u res , Lizo! :lnd I a e �
rrcruited to co n t ri bul(' our a r ms ;'lnd voices, For this wind, these gusts, <I re I n
fact evil s p i rits, surely se n t by �h<lm<lns from an enemy t ri be,
Sharp cries, at o nc(' u rge n t and p\;1intive, s ud dt n l y ourst fo nh all over
Mavaca. About twenty women havr spread <I l l ilTOund the cJranullo, E;lCh is
:lrmed with fistful of t w i gs With which she b eats the ground. It looks as
though they arc trying to cxtr;t('! somcthing, Th is turns out

t� be the . cil.,c. A
c h i l d is grav(']y i l l , his soul h<ls left h i m ; the women are lookIng for It, sum­
m o n i n g it to reenter thl' body and rl'store hralth to the liuk o n e. They frnd

it. and, forming a l i n e , push it i n fron t of them in t h e dlreC1l0n of he :
c/wbutlo, w(lving thtlr bouquets. TIwy art both gract'ful and fervent.... I he

1 1
I H f & R C H f O t I H Y 0 1 V I O l f N ( f

shaman stands beside us. S p on ta neously, he sluts telling the myth thai is the
basis and foundation of thi s fcm<lk ritual . Uzot takes fu riou" notes. The man
then asks whether women do thr samt thing i n our country: "YtS, but that
was long ago. We've forgoHt n everything:' We feel poor.
I have Stt'n the rites of dtilt h as well. This was among the Karohiteri....
Around midnighl, the low chant of the shaman awakens us; he is trying to
cure so meon e. This lasts for a while. then he is quiet. A great lament then
ri ses into the n i ght, 11 trag i c thorus of women before th e irremediable: a
child dies. Th e parents <lnd gra n dpare n ts chant arollnd th e small cadnver
curled in its m o ther's arms. All night. all morning. without a moment of
i ntc rruptio n . Till" nrxt day, the broken. hoarse voic{'s a re heanrending. The
orhrr women of the tribe participate in the mourning in shifts. the men do
not l eave their ham mocks. It is oppressive. Beneath the sun, the father. still
chimring, prepares the pyre. Meanwhile, the grandmother d.:lnces around it,
her de,HI grandson in a kind o f sl in g : five or six steps forward. two or three
ba<.:k. A ll Ihe women are uniled beneath tht" funeral tr nt . the Illen surround
the pyre. bows and arrows in their hands.
When Ihe faiher p laces the body onto the pyre. the women burst into
low sobs. all the men cry. a si mi l a r pain got'" th rough us. We ca n no t resiST
the cont<1gion. The fal her brt'aks his bow Clnd arrows and throws them into
the fI re. Smoke risrs an d the sham::!n rushes forward to m ake it to go straight
up to the sky. for it co n t<l ins evils spirits. About fIVe' hou rs later, when the
ashes are COld. a close n'lative lakes a basket and meticulously collects Clny
fragmt'nts of bone that were not burnrd. R educed 10 powder and prcserved
i n a calabash, they will give rise to CI fu n eral festival lal('r on. Thl' follow i n g
day a t dawn. evt'ryone hilS gone down t o t h e river - the women and chil­
drrn in order to purify themselves carefully, the mtn to w ,!Sh their arrows,
soiled hy the baleful emanations of smoke.

Around the twen tiet h of Janu<lry, we: <Ire on the road for an expedition
into the S ierra Parima. We first h <lve to go up the Orinoco for <llmost two
day". As we pa,>s the M a hr kodoteri rl1(Jbllllo, sevl'Tal I n d i a n s threrllen us
with words and gesture". l.i701 is carefu l to slay eX;1ct ly i n t h e' m i dd le of
th e river; they would be q ui t e cllpable of l a n c i n g <1 f(·w a rro w s at us. Easy
p<1'>"age of the fi rst rap id. A hugt' otter dOl("S o n a rock, then p l u n ges in,
h a rdly disturhing the water"s su rfacr. Befort" w e know i i , our companions
have set up camp for thl' night. cu tt i ng vines w it h their leeth. It is elt'<lT
that were thl' supply of m eta l tools suddenly to run OUt, it w o ul d not have
much be�ring- o n the l n d i <l n s ; t hey would go back to their old methods (fire
rep l a c i n g m et a l ) . Liznt kills a \;1rge capyh ara. bUI we lose ii, a o d t h e cur�
f(' n t C<lrr i es it ofr. 1·loping that a trunk might haw stopped it. wr look for i t

2 2
1 11 [ A R C ll f O L O G Y O � V I O L E N C f

fOT an h o ur. i n vain. It's a S h ClnlC, sinet.' this was at least fifty kilos of good
rneat. We. find (l pol i s her here as well. The next day anothrT ra pid stops us,
hut we do not cross it, for, from here o n i n . we will continue on foot.
Upriver, the Orinoeo is practically unnavigable. Losing its majestic p rop r� �
tion s. it i s transformed little by !iIIit' i n t o a torr('nl. We are very c lo s e to us
>;ource. discovered oat too l o ng ago .
O u r day e nd s, and W� spend the night i n the Shuimiwcitcri cl1ablll!o,
wh icl l d o m i n ate<; a high, rocky i mp ass e . The n o rm<11 rites of welcome take
pI are, we giv e the chief drugs, which are ra rt' here, and which are immedi­
atl'ly p repa red a n d consumed. "Stay with us." he insists. ·· 0 0 n ot go to see
till' oth e rs. They are bad!" These good apostles are hardly thinking of our
welfare. What is bothering them are the p res e nts that will be distributed t o
tilt.' ol he r tribes: they would gladly b e the recipients of this manna. They
�ivl' u'> a g ui d e n o n l'thel('ss. Quitl' ofle n . a g roup will invite anoth("r to
engage in l r<1 d e, then at t he last minute d('cide th<1t it has given mOTe than
it has recl'ived. Without anotht'r thou ght, they will catch up to the others,
who h a v e l e ft, a n d use threat to d e m a n d that t h e gifts b e returnt"d,
alrhOugh thq themselves will not r('turn what they have received from
t hei r p;:mners. The idea of a co nt ract would no doubt be lau ghab l e to them.
The i r word is ant.' th i ng they w ould never dream of g ivin g. We will h(lve to
clt'al w i t h it as best we can.
In the co u rst of the night, the increasingly loud cries of a sic k young
woman wake evpryone up. The diagnosis is immediate: a ghost has seized
tht woman's animal tiouble, an Oller. The other women make 111(" patient
walk up and down. imitating "II the cries of the il ll i mal in order to m<1ke it
COllle ha ck . The treatlllent is effectiv(·. for at dawn, she wakes u p cum\ . ..
S oc iet ies . Oil{' m igh t s(ly. only allow thrJl1selves those illnesses they know
how Ir. treat; the fIeld of patholOgy has mOTe or less been mastered. I t is no
doubT because of this that our own civilization. able to rliscover so many
new re medies through science and technology, is so [) esieged by illness. The
way t o a m i ddlt grou nd \)('Iwe('n t he two is not evident. Too bad for us.
rhe Parima is not really cha i n of m o u nt ai ns wilh valleys below. It is
ra t h er a disonh: rly herd of con ie;11 <1nd pyr;1I11id�shapecl mount<1ins. pres sed

up a ga i nst each other, o ft e n more thim a th o us an d mete·rs high and '>l'par!'!l­

e(1 at their base by :,wampy lowlands. Brtween the rJltlbu/los of tht: region,
tht· pa ths follow ("T('Sts: we climb. descend, climb again, etc. It is an effon,
but <l ll ih in gs con>;idl'red, less tiring (ir one is in good hrallh] than wallowing:
t h rou gh st<1 gn <1 l i ng wateT o r slipping o n 111(' ro tle n trel' l run k s that serve as
hridgt's. Aftl'r four hours, we reach the I h i rubitcri. We hardly stop tlle rl' UU"I
lnng enough to drop o ff SOIlll' tbella so that we will he wel c o me on our way
h;lCk) clf'sp ite their in"iSlence that we stay (again. a miltl('r of Ihe gift� 10 be

2 1
l H f � R C H f O l O G Y 0 1" V I O L f N C f

distribUTed to the others). We forge ahead, and i t i s long. l I appily, everythi n g

h;)s an end. a n d toward even i n g, w(' come to the Matowatf'ri.
There are compensations. It was worth coming all this way.
We penetrate the chabuI1Q and immediately there is a n i ncn:dible ova­
t i o n . They recognize lizot. We are surroundtd by dozens of men brandishing
bows and arrows, shouting and danCing around us: ""SIIori! Shori! Brother­
in-law! Brother-in-law! Take these bananas, and these! We are fri en ds ! Nolli!
Fritnds!"" When there are too many bunches in our outstretchtd arms, they
remove them and replace th em with others. This is pure joy. Halleluj;l h ! Hei!
/lei! Th ey allow us to rest a bit, but not l o n g enough. For I am soon snapped
up, seized and transported by a bunch of fa natics yelling incomprehcnsilJle
thi ngs i n unison. What is this?
rirst of a l l , there is a v i s i t i n g tribe i n the (therefore overcrowded)
chabuJlo th ;1 t has never se-e-n w h ites. Th(' m e n , i n t i m ic!at('d a t first, stay
behind the othe rs, barely dilring: to look at us (the women n...: n w i n heneath
the a w n i ngs). But they "oon lose th('ir reservations; lhey approach us, touch
us, and from that moment on, tlwrc is no stopping them. Second, they ;"Ir!.'
much more j nttre�ted in me th;"ln i n Lizat. Why? J cannot t'xptain this with­
out describ i n g myself a bit. During our walks, we we;"lr shorts and tennis
shoes and, of ('ourse. go bare-chested. Our bodies ;"Ire exposed, and conse­
quently, so is thl' body hair adorning my pector<lls ( not h i n g extrcnlt', let me
assure you). And this rascinates the Indians who h<lv(' nothing more to show
than 1.i70t in th is regard. I ;Jm the first fealherless bip ed they 've- met. Thcy do
no � hide t � eir c n �husiilS�l : ""A Iwi! lie is so hairy! vVa kOi! You are il strange
� �
h a lry a n . Just I ke a lug anteater! He is a veritabl(, anteater! Have you seen
thIS haIry man? , Thl'Y ('annat get over it, r<lving and insisting thin I take- a
('ompltt(' tour of the chabllllo so t hat the- women. lounging: in their ham­
mo cks , m i ght witness the spectacle from the comfon of thtir own hOllies.
What to do? No one asks my o p i n i o n , a n d there I am, a s l r,mge .1nimal
p<lraded fro m aw n i n g to awning am ids t ;"I deafe n i n g cho rus of eXC1;]miltions
(sec above). Meanwhile, I am hardly in a stare to rt'j oice, since I fc('1 rather
Itke .ItSUS ill the Pa ss ion. For thr women are not contrnl to look or touch:
they pull. they gr<1b t o s('c i f it is well-attached, and J have a very hard time
protecting my guillcry. MomC'nts like Ihis stay w i t h you. In the: proce<;s, I've
("ot lect('d quite a few banan;lS. Which is bWt'r than nothing .... During all of
t h is. the <..'Il<l rit;"l iJle Lizol h,ts been douhled ovrr with lilugiller.
DUring o u r S tilY, there W;]s a be aut i ful shamanism sessi o n . Our drugs
were welcome. .rhe shamiln danced a n d chanted and wagt'd a tough baltlr
agaillst an evil spirit, wh i(:h he fln<llly suc('('('dec! i n imprison i n g i n a basket.
J l(' then killed it wilh a hatchrt ;]l1d, compl rt('iy exhaustc-d hy the struggle.
fell to tilt 1100r. pantlll!1:. fht' spe(""I <l LOrS warmly encoura�td h i m .

, 4
I H f U C H f O L O G Y O f V I O l E N C E

I nstead of plunging deeper i n t o tht, Parim<l, we tlilve turned back. This is

brieny rested
nl) loss. We have stopped at the lhi rubiteri C/I(lbIlIlO where we
on the way. And here wt: w('r(' able to attend the Yanomami ' s most soh'mn
festival , t he reall ll, t h e ritual consumption of lhe ashes of the dead. Some
dist<ln ce from the chabullo, we crossed a provisional campsite, occupied by
�Utsts of the Ihirubiteri. Tllt'y were gelting ready for !ht' afternoon's festivi­
DC'S. but they still found lime to force our h<lnd: a few c<lns of hooks. a f(,w
.. po o l s of fIshing l i n e ; it's always lhl' same.
lhe leader scltits us next door to h i m i n tilt cllablillu and offers us
banana and swe{'t potato puree. He is in poss('ssioll of an rnormous ]Hl i r of
tl'sticles which swing gracefully. They make a strong impression o n LIS. Th('ir
O'WIlt'[ seems to think he is norrn i'l i . W h i l e the visitors are gett i n g ready,
t il i n gs are just as busy here. Every Iria n carefully tidies the fro n t of h i s
dWt'lIing with little sweeps of his hand or a slll(lll broom. Soon th(' are(l is
d rilred of droppings, bits of ;1 ni mi'l l ann fish bonrs, brok('n baskets, fruit pits.
a n d snaps of wood. When everyth i n g is ('lean, evt:ryone got's to i)('d and
there is a brief rest i n g period.
rhen the festival hegins. As though propelit'd, twO hoys about twelve
.wars old burst into the dwbul/o, and nlll , bows and (lrrows r(lised. dancing
around its entire circumference in opposite directions of carh other. Th('y
i naugurate the visitors' dance of i ntroduction . Tht'y I.·xit at the same time
and art' i mmt'diatt'ly followi.'d by twO adolesct'nls, a n d then by tht' men, two
by two, singi ng. Every fIve or six steps, they stol) and dance i n place, some­
timrs flinging tileir weapons t o the noor. Some' brandish Illilcllel('s or metal­
lic hatchets. Lizot points out that they usually exhibit the o�jccls that they
inte'nd to trade during the dance. This w(lY the others know w h at to txpect
ahf'ad of timr and (,<1 n brgin their calculations.
Shouts and whistles streilm from all the awnings: the spectators approvr.
applaud, cheer, yrll out thrir admiration al the lap o f their l u n gs. Art' th l'y
being s i n cere? I n getting to know the Yanomami, I am sllspicious, and imag­
ine that secretly they musl be saying to themselves, "These people art� nor
ev en capable of dancing properly." I mysclf cannot hold back my praise. 1\ 1 1
nf th r m I1re magnificently painted. <lnd circles ilnd lines o f UflICU ancl black
yellipa undulate ,md stir on tl1l'ir naked bodies. Oth ers ilre painted white.
S o m e display sumptuous feather ornamcnts on their ears and arms. The
hllrd afternoon light spark, the richl'sl h ues of th e forest
Once the men have paraded out i n pairs (this t i m e- th{' women do not
daIKe). they come together to do a sort of hon orary walk to lhe same rhythm
lind to the sound of the same chants. Th(' point simply is: it is beautiftJI.
As soon as the visitors have gone baek into the dwbulJo. th{' rite that is

, I
l H f A R C lt f 0 1 0 G Y O f V I O l f N C f

the reason for this festival is celebrated. Men from h01h tribcs who are
r('[<lted to the dcad person will cat his ashes. The women a n d children
arc excluded from the meal. An rnormous leaf tied ,lt both ends - it
looks like a rowboat - has hccn fIlled to the brim with banana puree, I
am not sure how much there is exactly, but it must be dozens of kilos.
lhe ashes arc blended into the puree, whose taste is probably not even
altered. It is cannibalism, to be sure, since the dead art' being catc-n, bur
in a very atten u<ltcd form compnrrd to what exists elsewhere in South
America. The participants crouch around tht vesscl nnd dip their cnl­
ai>ashrs into it. The womC'n's chants of mourning set the mmosphere for
the men's funcrenl banqu('!. All of this is carried out without ostenta­
tion ; non-participnnts go on with their activities. or their p<lssiv ity. And
yet. the festival of the rea/Ill is (I crucinl moment i n tribal l i fe. Sacred­
nC'ss is i n the air. They would take a dim vitw of us were we to approach
t h i s Holy Communion. As for lilking pictures, that would be unthink­
able .... Things involving dcath must be hand[(,d with care.
It is then the hosts' turn to bC' polite to the visitors. P<linted, fenth­
ered a n d adorned, the men dancc. But it is obvious thnt Ihey put less
conviction into it than t h e othcrs. no doubt t h i n k i n g it is not worth
t h e effort. Then t h e p e o p l r pro("eed to t h e trade. The diabullo i s
buzzing. They display their riches, admire t h e size of arrowh('ad�. the
strllightness o f rods , the solid ity of rope, the beauty o f o r n a m e n t s .
Things come. g o , a l l i n rt:lativt' s i l e n c e and i n great mutual distrust.
The p o i n t is not to get a bad deal.
Night has fallen long; ago, but the festivities continue. The adoles­
cents of both tribes (there are about twenty or twen ty-flve) now cele­
brat{' a h u n t i n g ritual. S i n g i n g and danci n g a l l together, bows n n d
arrows raised, they make t h e night {'cho, hammering it w i t h their strps.
The-ir singing is full of glorious l ife.
We have scarcely h a d a m o m e n t ' s rest. After t h e young hunt ers
d a n ce. the ritual of separation lasts u n t i l dawn. the two tribC's saying
their good-byes. This consists of <1n oratoriC<11 duel. A m a n from o n e
tribe, sented, shouts a series of sentences very loudly and vC'ry quickly.
like a psalmody. from the othn ('nel of thc rhabullo his partner responds
- he simply has to repeat what the other has said without m il k i n g a
mistake, without omitting a single word, at the sam{' speed. They don't
Sity anything of particular sign ificance to each other, they eXChange
news. repeated a thousand timC's, thC' only pretcxt a n attempt to make
the adversary stumble and to ridicule h i m . When the two men hnve fln­
ished, two others replace them, and so o n .
At the fIrSt light o f day, everything stops. The celebration i s over.

1 6
l H ! ,I R C H f 0 1 0 G Y O f V I O t f N C f

The guests receive two enormous pack(lges of fo od. meat and bananas prc­
p;JfC'd i n ildvllnce by the rcahu's organizers n n d well-packC'd i n leaves (the
Yanollltltl1i are experts i n I Ji.lckaging). This is the signal for departure. S i l e n t
<llul swift, they disappear i n t o t h e foresl... .
As we walkcd toward the Orino("o, w e stOpped n moment t o rr!icve our­
sclv\:"s. The Indians (If(' always interested i n thr way we pee. They crouch.
The vulgariry of o u r WRy consists in letting the stream splash onto the
�r()llnd and make noise. One of them observed mc (' (In'fully.
" You pee like an old man. It's all yellow."
This was not (I triumphant rC'turn. but. something murh morC" SUbtle. And
when Lizot, who was walking ahead. shouttd: "listen! The r<lpids!" [ did not
play coy, I did not say: " A l ready?"" I said 1('l"s go.

A thousand years of wnrs. a lhous<lnd yrars of cclebrations! That is my

\..,.ish for tht Y'lI1omami. Is this pious? J " m afraid so. They are the last of the­
b('sieged. A mortal shadow is b e i n g cast on a l l sides .... And <:lfte f'll..' (lrds?
rtrh<lps we w i l l feel brttC'r once the f1l1nl frontier of this ultimat(, fn:,eclom
has been broken. Perhaps we w l l l sl ("('p without waking a single time .... Some
day, then, oil derricks around the cllabllllos, diamond mines in the hil lsides.
policC' o n t h e paths. boutiques on the riverbanks .... fl<lrmony l"vC'rywl1cfe.

1 7
Let us fIrSt say that no peny q u i b h l i n g ("an alter tht n:spcCI a n d fondnt!)s
lhi� hook! deserves, which. w ithout hl'<;ilation. w e can call great. And let us
;11<;0 bear w ilnt'ss to the admiration that tht' qUOlsi-anonymous author of this
<itan l i n g book, Elenn V<1 1cro, whose story was rapt -reco rde d by the fOI1Unalt
hal ian doctor, EtlorC' Biocca, w i l l rouse i n the souls of all innO(cnl rca(\rf"S.
lIaving: given tvtrybody th e i r duC'. let us proceed.
This book i s. we might SilY, an autobiography, {('counting twenty-two
years in a WOnlilll'S life. whirh is nev e rt h e l ess not its central thenle, fascinilt­
ing .1S it might be. For through tht personal experience of [lena Valero. thl'
social l ife of <l p ri m i t ive society. capt u rC'd in its most absolute otherness and
its most sophislicflled w e a l th is bratt'd, e rn b r<lcrd, drscribed i n ddt find

n U :l n c c d s t ro k e s : t h e In ti i ;) n t r i u t of t h e Y a n o a m a w h o l i v e fI t t h e
V('nezue!:lll-Brazil i:lll b o rd er i n the mountains o f the Parima. The encountl'r
hetween Elena Valero find the Indians took place in 1 9 )9, when she was
tlevrn yr,1rS old; fI poiso nc-(\ Clrrow in her Slonl<Jch est<Jblished her rlrst can·

I "/fO!l!IIlt', taliieT t , \'01. ix, 1%9. pp. 58-6').

rirsl p\lbli�lied in
1 Ellore Bioeea, Y(//WO/llo. Recir d 'l/llt" felllllle /Jres;/i('I!IIc ('111e/'fe por Ie�
IlJdiells, P ari s Pion, Terre luunaine, 1 96ft

l H F H C H [ O l0 6 Y O F VI O L [ N ( !

tact with thelll. A band of warriors attacked htr fil mi ly. poor whites of nrazil
i n se;lreh of precious wood in an area as yet unexplored. The parents and the
twO brothers n("d, 1C'aving 'Elena i n the hilnds of he r assaililntS, a n unw itti n g
s pectaTO r 10 the most brut:ll <lnd u nexpected rupture th:lt one (an im ag i n e in
thE' l ife of a yo u ng: girl [who could read and writ{' ilnd had had her First
Communion). The Indi:lns kidnapped her and adopted her; she became a
woman among them. then became ihe wife of two succcssive: husbands. the
mother of four boys. In 1 9 6 1 . after twenty-two years, she abandoned [he
tribe and the forest to rcenter the world of the whites. Thus. Elena Valero
spent twenTY-two yrars - s('am:ly believablt for us - in an :lpprenticeship,
undergone at first in pain and tears, which then l t ssen ed and was rven
txperi rneed as happin('ss, in the savage l ife of the Yanoama Indians. One
might say that through the voic(' of this woman. whom fate threw into :l
world beyond our world. forring her t o inttgr:lte. assimil atl' ,lnd inttriorize
the' very subsra/1ce of a cultural universe light-yea/'!) away from her own as
the most intimate part of herself. one might say. then, that th rough Elrna
Valero's voice, the Indians a re Jctually speaking: thilt thanks to her. the face
of t h e i r world and th e i r bCing-in-th is-world are gradui'l l ly outlined through a
free, unconstrilined discourse, having rome out of her own wo rl d. and not
ours. j uxl<lposed with thr other without touching it.
I n short for t ht first limt'. miraC'ulously, a primitivt culturt is bting
recounted by itself; the Nrolithic d i rectly exhibits its marvels, a n Indian so('i­
ety rlt'scribes it�elr from lI'it/lill. For t h e first time, wr can �lip into the egg
without brt.'aklllg the shrl l . without breaking and e n ttri ng : a rare occ asion
that merits celebration. How w a s t h i s possib le ? The answer is obvious:
btca use 01H' day Elena Val('To dedded to i ntcrrupt her gre'lI journey. the story
of whid} would othrrwi�t ncvtr havt' bern told. Thus. in <l way, tht Indi<ln
world rejt('\('(I F.lena from its brl'ast, dc-spitf' her long association with it,
allowing us to p ne trate i t through the bias of her hook. The woman's depar­
tUft \ I1 vi tl'S us to considrr the c h i l d 's arrivJl, ihis "accu1tufJtion" ag<linst t h e
grain, whi('h raises tIlt' question: how was El en i'l Valero ablc' t o bl'collle: so
profoundly I n d i a n i'lnd ytt ('Lase t o be so? The C<lSt i� interl'stin� in two ways,
firSt in th<lt it concerns an eXl'l�ptitlnill pe rso n ali ty, secondly in that. t h ro ugh a
rt'percu'>s ion. it sheds light on lhe opposite nlovcmt'nt o r I n d ia n s toward the
white world, on this repugnant dcgradatJon that the cynlc;tl o r the natV{' d o

not hesiHlte to ch rist l' n "ilC'('ulturation." The young girl\ ag-e sltould ('ol1lllltlnd
our auentiolt. lin e n t ran ce into tllr lndi<ln world occurred viol ently. t h rou�h
a ki<lIw)lping. But sht was, it seems to us. at th e perfect agl' both to deal with
t h l' Ir:luma and eventually :ldapt {O her nrw l i fe. and 10 ma i n t<l i n a disI<lncl'
rrom it, 10 take a step back. however small. which would prev ent l1('r from
ot>coming cfllIIJ)ferely Indian :lnd would lall'r incite hrr (0 dC't'idl' to return to

l 0
l H f A H H f O t O GY O f V I O L f N ( £

her first world. o n e she rH'vtr wtilily forgo(,2 lIad she been a few yrars
youn gtr. that is, had she n o t yet perfectly integrated her o w n onginal eivi­
l iz:l tio n . she wo uld have certainly made :l radic<ll leap. would have become a
Y<l noama , and would never have dreamt of leaving.
Elena Valrro is n ot th(' only case of a white child abducted hy Indians.
But they almOSt <llw<lYs disappr:lr for('ver. The r(,<'Iso n for this is simple: t hese
very young [hildren soon die, or more likely, l ose all memory of (heir place
of origin. Elena' s d i fference, luckily for liS, is thac she was already irre­
\"ersib ly while' <It elewn yE'i'lrs of age, :l prrson from the western world . I n
her stol)'. we clei'lfly see that after twenty-two ye<lrs, sh(' had not completely
fo rgotten htr native Portuguese. whirh she still understood well. And let us
nOle lh a t for many yt .. rs afttr her rapture, sht could still recite a few "Our
F<lthefs" and a f{'w "Ilail M<ll)'s" if she found herself in a critical silu<ltion.
O n tIl(' other han{1, h ad she been o lcler, that is, almost fully grown (for a girl),
she might not have been able to withstand the shock as well, and would not
have manifested the surprising will 10 livt which allowed her to emerge snfe
and sound from d i ffIculties we c<ln only imagine. W h i l e still preadolescent.
slw had to flee her hosts' clrobullo and l ive in the forest alone for seven
months without fire (her atttmpts. by the way. to make a fire through fric­
tion. the Indian method, W('f(' i n vi'l i n ) . Consequently. her :lge :lncl h e r per­
,>onal iTY surely m<lde the task easi('r. And Irt us not forgr[ that t h i s was a
woman, that is. an individual mu('h less vulnerable [han a man. I n other
words, for a 1J0y taktn at tht samt age itS �h t was, the work of l earn in g the
Indian world might not h<lve been as easily accomplished. A short time after
her capture, the young girl met a I3razili<ln boy her <lge who had also been
kidnapped. Sudd('nly. he was n o longer spoken of. An abducted woman is <I n
extra commodity for the community. a free gifl, a bonanza, w h i l e a m a n is a
taker of womt:n giving nothing; in eXChange; the tribe would, in principlt,
have nothing to gain lJy letti n g him livt'.
Throughout the book, one notices thnt Elena V:llero was as much faced
with the l ndi (l n world as ill it: o n e C<ln see her obvious pleasure i n observa­
tion, a capacity for wonder, a tendency to question (lnd comp(lre. EIC'Il<l was

) This to us est ab l ishes the d ifference benveell a document such <1S Yat/oallla and
the autobiographies of in d igenous peoples collected
in othef pans of th e world. in
Nonh America in p a rti cu l a r. An informant. no lII iltter how great
good his memory. re m a i ns 100 CTllrencherl in his own world. too dose
his talent and how
to it. or else.
f!ll the contrary, too detached. for his world h<1s
('ivilizarioll. Ultimately then. there is ei ther the i1l1Jlo....ihility of speaking.
been destroyed by COlltilCt wilh our

discourse. Th is is why a n Indian ('Quid never have

or fata l
written YUl10ama all d why t his
hook. is singul:lr.

I H f .d R ( H f O L O G Y O f V I O L f N ( f

ablt' to ust: th ('se clrarly ('thnogr;jphic t,llenls precisely bt'Ta us( shl' did nOI'

a l l o w herself to be c-n g u l fC'd hy Indian l i ft brcaus(' slw had always main­


t;'l i n rd il bit of a ci is tCl n ce, because she w as Cllwnys Napagnouma, O.wghter of

Wh i t es, not only to her Ya n o <lm a com p a n i o n s but to h e rs(' l f. The savage

ethnol ogy that o ur h e ro in e p r:l c t ices goes as far as co ntest a t io n ; fo r example,

for a l o ng time, she" rema i n ed ski' ptical of the Indians' n:1 ig io us beliefs and of
the cxistenC'e or the /frkollrtl. the sp i ri t s of p l an ts animals and nnturC' tholt

i nsp i re the shaman� and protert th(' p t'op l l "The w o m c n ilskl'd me: 'Don 't

yOll b el ie ve in it?' I r(' pl i ('d : 'No, I don t beli('vl' in it. I don ' t st'(, a nyt h i n g

alHI I 've newr seen a Hdwu ro.'" Ce r l a i n prankes in sp i red a repulsion in her
that s he ra t h er im pru de n t ly lleg:l e C'ttd to conreal from the Indians. espeC' i a l ly
the endorannib;ll ritual du ri n� which the a sh es of dt:;'Id rel<Hives' boms a re
('onsllmC'd, Ther('. i n it" most llakl'd dimension. ap pe i'll"; <I t rClce of our rul­
tun.', n<lmely the horror provoked hy lI n t h ro p op h;'l g:y, Ekna re[alC's the argu­
mt.'nt (for it is tnJly an <l rgued displIlGrio) thin sht: hnd about this with her
hushand. wh o "aid to hC'r: "You, you pu t y o ur re l a t i vf''i u ndergr ound where
worms eat them; you don'l love your peOI}\e," To which she veilt.'lllently
replied: '''What I S.:ly is true, You uurn th(' body, th('n you g<lthrr the Tl'Il1<lins
a n d crush th elll , I-vC'n ;tfler Ihey are dead, you make th e nt suffer, Then you
put the asht"s in a SI('W or hananas a nd yo u ('<It them, P i n n l ly. after h av i n g
eaten thrm, you go into the forest <lIHI you shit tht"1ll out: the n'mains slill
have to go through th nl.' Thc /oucllall'G l oo k{'d tit me s t riotl sl y and said:
'Never let tinyone ever hrar you S;)y t h <lt...· I I1('se facts ;'In(\ n t h o usa n d ot hers
cl ea rl y show t h a i Elena preserved a certain rre(,dom in I1('T re l at i o ns h i p with
the l ndi<lns, t h a t s h e always mnde <In effort to mi'lintain her clirfen:nce whilt"
among thelll, Th is Signifies that till' idt.'a of <I r[,turn to her peop le never
totally left her. except. we sh oul d stress. during the time she w a s m.:lrrit.'d to
hC'r rlrst husband, Fusiwe, I n tllt' second part of her n a rrative, 'ihl' dmws a
po rtrai t of h i m fIlled w ith warmth tind am'Clion. and ultimatc-ly wilh bitter­
n('S5 as well. fro m w h i c h thl' crus h i n g figure of a classic hero rJ1le"rg{'s.
W i th o u t a doubt, Thcvet. w hose POUrirairts des 110/111/11:5 iIl1l5trt:'� i ndu des a
p o rt ra it of the gre <l t rhitt' Tu p i n a ll1b <l Coniamb('c. could hay(' :lclded th i s nne
of Fusi we Elena's very Indian modesty and discrt:tion when speaking of h e r
hushand only furtlH'r emphasizes the depth of the b on d that united her 10
this man, o('sp i te the occasi o n<ll outbursts of rage. as when he b rok t: h er a rm
w i t h a bl u d ge o n . "I was s t ;'ly i n g w i t h the Namotri," she recounts, when
Fusiwe t o o k h e r for his w ife "Afler that day, I n o l onge r t rie d \ 0 esca p e.

Fusiw(' W;IS big. he W(lS s t ron g, "

So much for Elena Valrro. Wh<lt of the h ori z o n <lgainst which Ihis l i fe's
q u a s i - I t' g e n d a ry t raj e c t o ry is o u t l i n e d ? L.egend<lry, indrtd. in t h a t t h i s
Eurydice returns from the b ey o n d : a beyond i n two Sl'tlSl'�, we would say.

l I
I H f � H H f O l O G Y O f V I O t f N C f

si n ('e p rimitiv e societies su('h as those of the- Ya n oam a constitute the limit.
th e beyond or o u r own civilLcation, !Jnd perhaps. for t h is reason. the mirror
of its own t ruth, and that. moreove r. these very c ul t u res tire. fro m hefe on in,
dead or dy i ng, Thus. in twO sensrs, N,lpagnouma i s a ghost.
What of the Y a n o a m a ? The e t h n og ra ph iC' richness of t h e book tllat
describes them is such that one has d ifTlC'u l ty fu l ly und (' rsta nd i n g t h e sw a rm
of details the deplh and vClriC'IY of obsrrvalions menIioned in pas�ing, the

pr('dsion Clnc! the a h und ;'l n ce i n the description of m u lt i p l e f;'lC'C'ts of these

tri he'i l i ves. A bando n i n g. then, the ic!ea of ret<l i n i n g the we<l lt h of material

thai satu rat('s the n ; l frativ('. we shall limit D u rse lv {'s to pOinting out a few
sal i.e nt t �ai ts . Not � ithout t<l kin g a mQment, however. to suggesl a p roj ec t
winch mlght be of tn t('r('st. II wo ul d con,� ist of o rdt"ri n g ;'Inc! ilnalyzing illl the
raw matl'rt<ll colleC'ted here <lnd ext ract i n g fro m i t - l i m i ti n g our re<l di n g to
YUl1o(Jllla - ., son of monographiC' study. the results of which would t h (' n be
nl ea" u red ilgainst those i n the fo u r volumes that Biocra h as dedit. a tt'd 10 :

cf i {' se I n d i n ns. The comparison would perhaps be fruitful.

The desrrip ti on of endoc<lnni balism is pa rtir u lMly no te w orthy The
I II I t s e l f h<ls b e e n re c o gn i z ed fo r il l on g t i m e , a n d we k n o w t h.,
. faC't
, ,
t th e
Amazonia n Northwest is a ba sti on of ritual <lnthropoph<lgy, <l l bei t i n a more
ane n uate,d form thilll i n other re gi o n s , Wh('n ,I p e rs o n dies, the body is
('n clos�d I n a ba sket a nd h u n g o n a t ree until the flesh dis<lPPc;'Irs, or els(' Ihe
h ody IS hurnrd imm('diat('ly. But i n hoth C<lS{ S, thr honrs ar{' g ; lI h e TNI.
ground. red �c('d to powder and pr('scrved i n a calabash. Littl(' by lillie.
on reremonl<l l n e eds they are co n s u med i n <I p u ree of b an a n as . It is
s t ri k i n g
to come across the S,'l me theory o f t'nciocann ibalism from th e mouths
of the
Yil n o a m � as that formulate d by the G u a ya k i And yet Guayaki a n
. t h ro­
pophagy - unattcnua tcd - is the exaCI opposite of that of t he Yanoilma
since t h ey grill th e flesh and eat it a n d t hro w away the charred
111 both C<lSf'S, i nd i ge n o us thought holds Ihis ri tu al to be a means of rero
bones. But :
nri l ­
I � g tl1(' l i vi ng and thl' detl d, One can also nOt(' that in both t ri ues. dead rt'l;l-
11�('S are e a,len e o l l rcti vely i n lavish cclrbratio ns to which rvcn fMaway
fnends <I re IJlvlted and that, w h ethe r bone powder or grilled
flesh, m<ln is
n ev cr eaten <llone. but a l w ays bl('nded i n to a veg(,
l a b l c suhstance (here,
hana n � puree. am o ng the Guayaki. piJ/do pith) En do can n i b i s m
i n srribes
It s('lf,. I n a h O �l O gen eOU s space w h i r h surely stems from a si n g l e system
. <ll

variOus forms. Yrl r<ln s u ch <I I h ro ry b(' ri<lhorat{'d w i t ho ut also

�lrSPII(, Us
Including exocilnnil Jalism, sueh ;IS that which the Tupi-G u;lrani Hacriee?
� nd w o u ld not the two forms of a m h ro po p hagy fall within a fI eldI which a
s l n ?le a n � lys i s would unite? Vollwrd (Inc! H ogl ar's hypothes
is. i n ally C'<lSt.
�hlCh � rt l cu l a tcs Nonhern � m zoni<ln rndocil n n i hillism ns "b('g i n
, . � n i n g <lgri­
culture, IS nOt w h ol l y convlnclIl g, O n go ing rcsean.:h will p erh aps shed more

l l
I II ! A I ( lI f O L O G Y O f V I O L E N C E

light o n this maUer. (The chapler of the book entitltd " Endocannibalism and
the Elimination of Widows" remains a mystery to us. since it is a question
neither of one nor the other nor of a relationship b�tween th� two.)
Equally invaluabll' are thc very nu merous indications theH Yalloama
offers on t h e topic of shamanism. One can find complete a n d detailed
descriptions of cures carried out by Yanoama donors. literal transcriptions of
ch:lnts through which the shamans invoke thrir lIe/wllra. " spirits" that pro­
tect men. To be a shaman. one must know the chants to call all t h e Hekollra.
One chapter shows us precisely how a young man learns this trade, under
the strict guidance of elder doctors. His studies are nOl easy: abstinence, fast­
ing. repeated snoning o f ebellQ, the hallucinogenic drug which the Yanoama
put to such great use. the constant intellectual effon o f remembering the
chants that the masters teach ; all of this drives the n eo p hy te to ,I state of
physical l'xhaustion and quasi-despair. necessary for winning the Hekouras'
good grace and becoming worthy o f their benevolence: "Fattler, here come
t h e lIekouras; th('re ilre many of them. They are dnlleing toward me, Father.
Now, Y{'s, now I, roo. will be a /-Ickoura!..... We would hI.' mistahn 10 think
of t h e l-kkollras as a n instrumental vision: far from existing as neutral tools
exterior to the shaman. content to invoke them and use them according to
professional need. they become for him the very substance of his self. the
root o f his existence, the very vital force that keeps h i m at once in the circle
of men and in the realm of the gods. An indication of the shamans' omic
statuS is one of the names that designates them: Hckollra, precisrly. And the
sober and tragic end of a young shaman, fatally wounded by an arrow,
indeed demonstrates this: "Turning toward his father. he murmured: Father.
the last Hckollra ncar me. the o n t that made me live until your arrival.
Pachoriwe Ithe mon key HekouraJ now abilndons Illt'. I. . .J l i e pressed himself
against tht trunk. stiffened ,Ind (lied." W h a t do current conceptions o f
shaman istic phenomena have to say about this? And what ·' possesses" this
young man. allowing him to put orf his death for several hours until hc Cln
gaze upon his faltler one last time and then, this fInal wish fulfl l l l'd, die? [ n
reality. the meager categories o f ethnological thought hardly ilppcilr capable
of mensuring the depth and density, Dr evcn the difference, of indigenous
thought. Anthropology uncovers. in the name of who knows what pallid Cer�
tai ntil's, a flcld to which it remains blind (like the ostrich, perh ;) p s? ) , one t hilt
fails t o l i m i t concepts such ilS mind, soul. body, and erstasy hut ,Il the c("ntcr
of w hic h Death mockingly poses its question.
FaIt, which is perhaps not fate, would have Napagnourna heco nH' the
w ife o f a chief. rusiwe, who already had four wives. Though sil(' was lhe fifth
she was not the last. She was visibly the favorite. and her husband l'ncour �
aged her to give orders to the others, at which she balke-d. But thm is not the

l •
l � f A R C H f O I O G Y o r � I O t E N ( f

qUl·..,tion. What is of in(;'slirnable irl lcrcst to us is tbat, in spl'aking of her hus­

hand. she paints the very portrait of an Indian chief su(h as it appears i n
fl't'urring fa�hion throughout the entire South American rontinent. We find
once agel in the traits that ordinarily describe the model of political nuthority,
of chieftainship among the Indians: oratorical wlelll, the gift of song, gen­
erosity, polygyny, valor. This loose enumeration dots nOt signifY that any sys­
! em organizes these properties or that any logic assembles them into a signifl­
(ant whole. Quite the contrilry. Lct us simply say that the person of Fusiwe
pl'rfe(tly illustr<tt('s the Indian con(eption of power. radically di fferent from
ou r own. in that all efforts of the tribe lend precisely to separate chieftainship
and ('oercion and thus to re n de r powl'r powerless in a sense. Concretely, a
(hief - it would perhaps bt' more ;) pt to call h i m a director or guide - holds
absolutely no power over his people. outside of that w h ich is quite (\iffC'Tcnt -
of his prestige among them .lnd of the T.'specl
t lilat he is able to i nsp i re . Hence
th(' subtle game between the chief and his tribe, read;)ble between the lines of
1'1l'na 's n n rr;)liv(", which co nsis t s of the former knowing how 10 apprec ia te
and measure at every mO Tllellt the intl'nlions of Ll1l' l;)tter, in order to then
milke hImself their spokesperson. A delicate t a sk, with mally fmC' pOin ts, to be
accomplished under the tribe's discrcN but vigilant control. Should the tribe
IO{'ille the- slightest abuse of power (tha( is, the- use of power). the- chkf·s pres­
rige ends: he is abandoned for another more nware of his duties. For having
a(1('mpted to drag his tribe- into a war expedition that it reruse-d, for having
confused his (Icsirc and the tribe's intcntions, Fusiwe wined himstlf. For�<lken
by almost everyone, he nevcrthtless persisted in waging Ilis war to fma11y die
i n it. For his death. almost solitary. was in fa(t a suicide: lhe suicide o f a chief
who could nOl bear the re-pudiation inflicted by his companions, one who,
u n a b le to survive as chief in the ('yes of his people and his white w ife, I)re­
fnred to die as a warrior. The question of power in this kind of soci('ty, posed
properly, breaks with the acad('micisll1 of simple d('scriplion (;) pt'rslH'ctive
close to and compl icitous with the most tiresome exoticism) and points fa m i l ­
Ia.rly t o men of o u r sociery: the dividing l i n e betwcen archaic societies a n d
··western" societies i s perh aps less a malter of technical development than of
the t ran s fo rma t i o n of polit icill ;)utho rity. l l ere. �s well. is an ;)rea tin t would
he CSSl'ntial for tile Sci('tl Cl'S of man to k,un to in h a b i t. if only to b ette r ocru­
py its own place in West e rn thought.
There is a circU!1lst�ncc, howevl'[, in which [nd i(lll societies lolera ll' tIlt'
prov i sional enrounter 1Jl'tween chitftain"hip ;1I1c! authority: Wilr. perhaps the
only moment wlwre a chief agf('es to givr orders and his men to execute
them (and this still has to be examined morc closC'ly), Since W,lf is almost
('onstantly present in the text that we are dealing with, it leads us to ask:
what impressions will the reader, even the slightl) forewarned reader, have

l 5
l H F U ( H F O t O G Y O f V 1 0 t F N C [

aftervvards? ThC'rl' is reilson to fcar that th ese i m p ressio n s w i l l br u n f<lvo r_

:1ill('. W h a t to t!link, i nd eed , of p�ople who ceasC'lessly k i l l �ilch other with
rclcntltss intensity, who do not hC'sitate to riddle with arro\vs today those
who only y('stl'rday w('rC" their uesl friends? And from then o n , the illusions
of t h e Noble S C'l v:1g:e 's peaceful habits coli <Ipse, s i n ce we o n l y set WC'lr of l i t ­
c ral ly rvrryo n e against everyonc, rhe presocial state of m a n ac co rd i ng to
Hobbes. We should bc e!tilr: Ho b be s ' bellul/i omnium cOlma oll1nrs does n o t
correspond to iln h i s to r ic m o m e n t i n h u m fl n t:' v o l u r i o n < I n y m o re t h a n
Rousseilu ' s stiltr o f nature dOt'S, a l th o u gh th{' ilbun ri a n l'{, o f warlike episocies
migllt sugg est the con t ra ry with regard to thr Yan o<lnw, F i rst, Ekna V<llrro's
narmtive spans twenty-two yC'ilrs: secondly. sh e probably g<lve pri o rit y to
repon i n g that which impressed her most. n <lmrly. comh<lL F i nCllly, Itt us not
fo rget. without trying to rt'duce the sociologi('al importance of war in these
cultures, that tile Cl rri va l of wh i trs ('verywhC'n' in AmericjJ - Nortll as well as
South - led al m ost automatic<llly to a do ub l i n g of h o s t i l i ty and w<lr uetween
tribes. TI1C'sl' po i nrs nl<lde, it seCJllS 10 us th<lt even the lC' rm WiH does not
ilppropriately dcs('riIJe the filcts, ror which l'ntitirs <lrt o�post'd? ThesC' ;He
l ora l allied tribes, t hat is, t ri bl's th<lt lmele their women, a n d who, as <1 result.
<Irr rdated to each otl1er. We- may hi1vr a hard t i me undrr'> l a n d i n g how
brothers-in-law can think of ma ss<l cri n g ci1rh oth er, hut it srems clear that
"war" a m o n g the Indians must first be thought of i n terms o f the cirl'ulation
of women. who are never k i l l ed. In ilny ca sr, the Y<l n o a m <l know this very
well, A n d w hcn possible, subs t i tute the bloody confrontations using <lrrows
with ritU(lJ c o m b <lt us i n g cluhs. thanks t o which vengeilnce c a n be played
out. The result is Ih,tt the bound<lrics between pe<lce <lnd violence, betw('en
marriage and W<lr, becoml' very bl urred and that one of the merits of th i s
book i s to i nfuse this problem w i t h i ncompar<luly lively mate ri 'l ! .
A fln<ll word i n conclusion: wh<l! or th e reilder of such a work if he i s a n
ethnologist? It k,1Ves h i m ovC'r",/hd mc:d, but not si1tisflC'd. Indeed. (OmpiHed
to the teemi n g l i fe of Cl pri m i t i ve society. the schol<lr's d iscourse se('ms Ih('
hesistant m u m b l i n g of a o n e-eyed stutterC'r. A som ewha t biller book. then,
]rilv i n g us with the c('[tainty that w e trav el on the surface of m e a n i ng which
slides a little further aW<ly with e<lch step we t('lke to appro<lch it. But this is
no longer a mailer of ethnO l ogy, Th in gs rem<l i n i n g what tiley are, th(' l a n ­
guage o f science (which i s n o ! bei ng put i n t o question in any Wily hne-)
seems to rrmain, by destiny pnh<lps. a disco urse on Savages and not it dis­
course of Savtlges. INe C<lnnot conquer the frcedom, any mort" C(lSily ttJiln
they. to be o n e and the other a t OI1C(,. to be h e re ,me! there a t lhe S<lme time,
without losing everything altogether <lnd no longer residing' anywher(', And
so etlch is re fuse d the ruse of k now l ed g e. whkh in becoming ilbsolute. <lbol­
ishes itself i n s i l e n c!.',

l 6

The boat travels t h e l a s t meters and washes smoothly o n t o t h e beach.

The guide jumps on l a n d and shouts: "Women and children fmt!", <l joke
met w i t h joyous laughter. He gall<lnlly o fft: rs his arm to the women, and they
disemb;:uk i n l ively c o m m o t i o n , They are a l l there, t h e Browns <lnd the
Murdocks, the Foxes and the Poages, the MacCurdys :l.Ild the Cooks. BeforC'
deptlrture, they were ildvised to cover themselves well. but sC'veral of the
men have opted fo r sllons. Tiley sl ap themsC'lvcs on th e calves and scratch
their l arge. p i n k k n ees which the m osqu itoes have i m m e d i <ltely sponed. We
aren't going to live our l ives in air-conditioned hotels! You have to rough it
from ti me to time, get in touch with nature.
"We leave ('Ig<li n i n two hours ... w:i!ch your s calps ! "
This is prrhilps the tenth contingent of tourists he has led to the I n d i a n
village. ROlltine for h i m . Why cil<l n gc h i s repanee? [t is m e t with favor every
time. But fo r these people, it is very different. They have paid tl prC'tty p en ny

First published in 1('5 Temps Moricrll{,s, No. 299-300, June-July. 1 9 7 1 , pp.


l 7
I H E 6 H H f O t O G Y O f V I O t f N { (

(0 come here a n d St'e the savages. And for the i r money tlwy get the merc i l ess
Slln, the b knd ed odors of rivl' r Clnu forest. thC' i n sects, a l l of this strange
world which they will bravely co nqut'r.
" W i th t h i s l i gh t . I'm goi n g to St'! the ap en u re :11. .. "
Some distance aw ay, we 5C't' the domes of fou r ur fIve great (ollcctive
living quarters. Cnmerns purring and clkking. th(' S iege ueg i n s.
" I t was so i ntere st i n g to SC'C' thost' NC'gro('s! What a curious t h i n g those
rituals are!"
"... no m o n than ten dollars, I told him. In the C'nd, it worked.. "·

"ThC" fe vrry uackward. nut much mon° l ik :l bl e than o u r own. uon·1 you
.... .Then when I S:lW WC' could do tite l.3 aha m a.:. as wl'll for the Si'lme pricr.
[ s a id to my w i fe: t h at ''> it. we 'Tr going... "
The lin Ie g ro up advancrs slowly on Ihe path l i ll ed witit UflH· U uees. Mr.
Brown ('xplains that the Indians p ai n t thenl',t'lvrs with the red juice of Ihe
fruit when t h('y go In war.
" I re:ld this book. I don·! n:mC'mbcr wh:lt tribC' it wa� on. Hut i t doesn·t
matln, they're a l l thc same"·
Such C'rudilion in"pirC's respect.
"The Prescotts? Th ey' re .iUst fo o l �. TIley sa id they werC' t i red. 1 h(' truth is,
tht'y wC'rc s ('<1 rrd ! Yes, �carr<i of Ihe India n s. "
The penh goes t h ro u gh a l a rge g:lrden. Mr. Murdock l o o ks at the han:lna
tree.:.. He wOlild v('ry m u ch like to e;:11 a fruit. hut it is a little h igh. hr would
have tu jump. I ksitaling. he pulls orf hi<; h,l! for a Illonll'nt and wipe� h i s
balll bC'ad.
·'At least you dOll" havC' to worry about gctting scaiprd !"
lie gives up on the ! J a n a l1il. Everyone L� i n :l good mood. Hen.' they are at
the end of lhe path. bC'f\'1eC'n twO of the {'n orm ous huts. Th t'y stop it moment.
as though at :l thresh ol d. The oval place i s deserted, clean. u nsC'ul i n g. I t
serlll<; like a de<ld city.
"This is wherC' Ih('y do their d:lllces at night.'·
At the center is il p o le decorated w i t h black ;"Ind while diamond Shit P l'S.
A vely 3kinny dog sprinkks tfle base of it. barks we:lkly and trots ,tW ity.
"And ! h e t th:lt"s where tht'y to rtu re Pt'oplt' <1t I he Slake!"
Mr. Brown is not completely sun:. but h(' is the ('xPC'rt. Wh i sp e rs. pic.
tures. dri kious sh udde rs .
"Do you think they know how 10 sp('ak?"
Yl.'lJow and green, r(,d and hlue parrots anu great Ill fll'<lWS are t aki n g ,I
n:lp, perrhrd on rooftops.
"Tlwy rould a t l eil'>t say somrthing. romt' ou!. gn't't u.:.. I do n t know."

This is b e C'O m i n g disrollccrting. thie; hC'avy siitnct'. tilt' wt'ight or tltt:'

l B
l il t A H ll t O I O G Y O f V I O t f N C I:

egi n t o e: � erge from t i ny op � nings, bare·

light . Fortun:ltely, the inhabi tants b
the i r � k l rtS, me � , too: 100kll1g out from
rlingin g to
br(,:l sted womC' n. childre n
laZIly throw tng b i ts of wood t o the
under th c: i r browS at t h e stmngers and
beg i n. the l ad ies w � nt to c� re ss t h e � ea d s of
d(lgs. C o n fused conversations .
u n g m a n With a Wide grin t l felessl y
small childre n who run :lway. a y o
l igh tcd.
repealS: ··O.K.! Good Morni ng! O.K.!"· M r. Po age i s de
"Well, old chap. hC'w gOtS it?"
H e sl ap s th e back of the polyglot. I n shon, the
icc has been broken. we
ho me with the savages, not everyone could say as
much. Of co u rse. It
arc at
is not cx act l y what we expecte d, but
j u st the sa m e . There th ey are. the
I ndians. Sows and arrows lean against the houses ' p al m·l ea f walls.
Everyone goes off on the i r own. There is d ca rly nOlh i n g to fea r, and it is
b('\Ier not to (fowd. for the p h otoS ilnd a l l . n o t to look rettdy for war.

Determin ed, Mr. Brown, followcci by h is w i fe, m:lkes his way toward
t Indian. He will methodically take a complete tour of the v i ll a ge . Two
n t',He s
hours to get Ihe triht' on fI l m i s n ot very m uch . Off to work. Tht'
ma n is sit·
an a mm a l. From
ling in the shade of a small wooden brnch in the s hn p e of
time to time. he brings a baked dilY tube to h is mouth; he smokes his
whkh s e e ms to sec not h i n g . lIe doesn·t even
without displacin g his gaze,
nineh when Mr. Brown plants himself i n fronl of him. His bl:lck l o cks tumblC'
ovt'r h is shoulders. rrveal i n g: the large empty holes in his pi er ced C'a rs .
As Mr. Brown is abo u t to act, so mrthi ng stops him. What ilm I goi n g to
say to him? I'm not going to c<lll him Mister, after all. And if I address h i m
casually, h e might gCI mad and throw a wren ch into the works.
··What do you think? lIow w o uld you :ldd rf'':'s Ihis... th i s m an ? "
"Just d on 't SilY anything. In an y case, he surely wouldn't understand."'
Hc ap p roaches and utters. somcwhc re bctwcen injunctio n and request:
'· PhOto."
The l nditln's eyes travel from Mr. Brown's feet to h i s k n {·('s.
"On e peso."
Good. At le as t h e knows what money is. We s hou l d h a v e known . .
Anyw ay. t h a t ' s n ot ex p en s i v t'.
"Yes. but you have to take off :lll t h a t! Photo, but not with tl1tH!·'
Mr. Brown mimes t he sliding of pants down legs. de m on s tra te s the
unbuttoning of :l s h i rt. He' undresses the silvage. he frees him of his filthy.
sccond·h:lnd clOlh('s.
"Me. take off clothcs, fIve pesos."'
Good God. how profit-minded can y o u be? 1-1(> is gtn i n g carried aw ay for
a picture o r two. Mrs. Brown is starting to lose he r pat iC'n ce.
"Well. a re you going to take this pict u re? "
"You s('e how difftcult hc's ueing:!"

l 9
l H F A R C H E O L O G Y O f V I O L f N C f

" Get a new Ind i a n ."

" It 'd be the S;lme thing with the others . "
The m a n i� still sealed, i n different n n c! sm ok i ng pC;lcefully,
"Very well. Five pesos."
He gol's inside for sl'veraJ momcnts and rea p p ears entirely naked, athlct­
ic, relaxed and comfortable with his 1J0dy. Mr, Brown daydreams wistfully,
and Mrs. Brown lets her gaze wander over his sex.
"Do you re ally th i n k.. . "
"Oh, don't complicate things. This one is ('nough,"
Click, click, click, clid ... Five pictu res at d ifft.' re nl angles, Rt'ady for t h e
" F i n ished,"
Without raising his voice, the mall has given a n order. Mr. Brown does
not dare disobey. He disdains hi mse1r, loath(,s himself. . . [, a civiliz(,d white
man convinn:d o f rac i a l l'quality, consumed by rra lt' rna l feelings loward
those who did not hav (' t he go od fonune to be white, I comply with the fnst
wo rd frum a miserahle wretch who livcS in th e n ud(', whcn he's not dressed
up in stinking rags. He dem a nds five pesos. and I cou ld giVl' h i m five thou­
s;'lnd. He has nothing:, he is less than nothing. ane! when he S;'lys "flllished." [
stop, Why ?
"Why the devil does he act this W;jY? W hat difference does it make to
him, onl' or two more p ic-tu res?"
"You've corn(' ;jc-ro�S ;jn expensive st;'lrh'L"
Mr. Brown i s in no mood for humor.
"Look! What does he want to do with that money anyway? These men
live on nothing, like an im a ls !"
" M aylle he wanls to b uy a C;1nlera,"
The I n d i a n eX(lmincs the old fIve peso bill for a l o n g time, thcn puts it in
tht house. He sits down and takl's up his p i pe again_ This is re;'l l l y annoying,
he isn't paying us the slightest attention. we're here (l n d i t ' s as if we
w e ren 't. . , Hatred: th is is what Mr, Drown bcgi ns to feel llefore this b l ock of
inertia, Coming al l this way, the expense on 101) o f it. It is i m possi bl e to
rel<l i n a di gn ified attitude. to hu mb le this sav;jge by tel ling him to go to he ll .
M r, Brown does not want to have come for nothing.
" Whal (l bo ut the fe;'l thers? Aren't the re any fcathers?"
With grand gest ures he adorns Ihe Indian with fInery, covers his head in
ornamenl�, equips h i m with l ong wi n gs,
"You laking pictures 111e wl'aring fei1thers, flftcen P('sos."
The offer h not disc-ussed, Mrs. Brown smiles approvin�ly. Her husb a nd
chooses m;).rtyrdom,
"O.K, Fifteen pesos."

• 0
! H f 6 R C H f O L O G Y O f V I O t f N C f

same careful
The five peso bill. the H'n peso bill are suhjected to the
em('rges fro m the dark lair, A l;).rgc headdress. J
��' rut i ny, And a dem igod
n faste ne d to b iS hair, now tied in a po � yt;'l il. I n
pi n k and black sun. has b ee
, bunchl's of w ute feath­
lhe dark oriflc('s o f his ears, twO woodt.'n dIsks, Two
ers al his an k l es ; the vaSt t o rso is divided by two ne ck l c e s of sma l l shells
h is chest. His hand rests on a heavy club.
<;l u n g d i a go nal ly ;'l('TOSS

"Anyway, this WtlS worth it. I-Ie's beautifu l ! "

Mrs. Brown admires him unabashedly. Cl i ck . click, clil'k, dick ... The
dellligod o n ly intervenes after the tenth photO in wh k h M r. B row n , modest
and paternal, poses next to t he R ed Sk i n.
And i t starts all over ag(lin when he wants to buy the s ma l l clay stat­
uellCS, the headdresses, the arrows. a bow. Once the price is i n d icated. the
m:ln doesn't say another word, Brown has to knuckle under. Th(' p ro ffe red
weapons ,He fi n e ly made. embellished with the down of a wh ite bird, Much
din-e re nt from the large bow and the handful of long arrows that rest ;'l giii n�t
Ihe hut. sober, unadorned, serious,
"How much?"
"A hundn'd pesos,"
"And {hos('?"
For the fir�t timt' t he I n d i a n e x p ress es an e m ot i o n : his icy face i s
mom e n ta rily unsellled b y m i l d surprise ,
"That? My bow_ Fo r anim al s:'
Scowling, he pointS to the ma�s of the forest a n d mimes the gesture of
�hoot in g a n a rro w.
"Me not selling."
This one is n ot getting past me,We'll sec who 's stronger, if he cnll ho ld oul.
"But I want this one. with the arrows,"
" l .ook, w hat do you want with this one? The others arc really m u (" h prrt­
Th e 111<111 lo oks first at his own weapons, t h e n at { ho se he (";). r{'fu l ly made
for potenti<11 c ustome rs. He t<1kes an a rrow and admires its snaightness, hc
feels the i)Qll('
ti p with his fmger,
"A thousand p e� os, "
Mr. Brown W;'lS n o t ('xpl'{'ting thi;; at all.
"What! l I (" s r ra lY ! TI1;'lt's m uc h 100 ('xp('llsiv('!"
"That. my bow. Me k il l in g a n imals,"
"You're ma k i n � a foo l of yourself. P<lY it. To o bnd for you!"
The h uslJand holds out a thousand peso lJill. But the otheT refuses. he
wants tel1 h un dred peso bills, Mr. PO(lge is <lsked to b re ;'l k 1he large bil l . Mr.
Brown. ('xhausll'd, lrnv{·s. his how a n d hunting arrO\v'i i n h,we!. He fI nishes
off h i s roll or fI l m disc rt:l't!y. l i k(' a th ie f. taking adva n t a ge of the fact that n o

• 1
tHf A R C Hf O L O GY O f V I O Lf N C E

one can sec h i m .

" W h,ll a b u n ch of thievC's these people a rC'! C o m p l etely corrupted hy

mon ey t ..

Mr. M<leCurdy more or l ess sums uJl lhe rourbts' gener<11 fee l i n gs as they
('ome back to the boat.
"Two hundred pesos! Can you believe it? To film three m i n utes of tht"se
gi rl s d<ll1C'ing n;)ked! I ' m sure they'd sl cep with <lnyolle for t w enty ! "
" W h a t about m e! This is t he first r i m e l 'vC' seen m y husb<llld gel taken.
And by w h o m ! "
" A n d b <l rgai n i n g is out of the quC'slion. They rea l l y are (Tude. Lazy. It' s
l'asy to mi1ke fl l i v i n g thaI way!"
"The Preseotls werc right t ..

4 2
A few year:. ago. the term elhnoC'ide did nOI ('x is!. Profiling from Ihe
t'pl1emeral favors of fash ion. ;)nc! more ccrt;)inly. fro m i ls (l b il i ty 10 rcs p on d
10 a dcm<lnd. to s a ti sfy a c ertain need for term i n o l ogi ca l p rl' ci s i on. the use of
th e word has largely and r<lpidly cxtended t}(·yond its piCle(' o f origin. ethnol­
ogy. 10 e n te r somewhat into the publiC' domain. 13IH do es the accelerated dis­
lribution of CI word insure the coherence i1nd rigor of the idea i t has set out
t o convey? It is not clear lhM the meaning of Ih(' word be11('flts from lh e
extc ns i o n an d th at u l ti m at rl y we know exactly w h a t we are t al k i ng about
w h e n we refer to ethnocide. In the minds of its inventors. the word W<1S sure�
iy d rst i n rd to translate a real ity that n o other term expressed. If the need
v'I as felt to (.T("Hl· .1 n ew word, it w as 1)l'('Clus(' Ihrrc was sot1wtil i n g new to
I h i n k about. or t'"lse something old that had y e t to oe thuught. In o t h e r
words. we fell it inadequatC' or i n a pp ro p ri a te to usC' t h e much more w id el y .

Ilsed ··g('no('irie" 10 s<1tisfy this new dem<1nd. We C<lnno!. co n se q u e n t l y lwgin .

s{'rious reflcCTion on Ihe id('(l of elhnocide wilhout fi rst <ltt(' m p l i n g 1 0 d('1('r­

m i ne that w h i c h di:;tinguishes the aforementiuned phen ol1lenon from the
reality that ·· genocide" fl' preSl't1ts.
Created i n 1946 at the Nuremberg trials. the leg-al (.'on(.' eption of genocide
is ,I rt'l· ogn i t io n of a typ (' of nimin<liilY her('tofore unknown. More predsl'ly.

rir$1 pllb li s lied il\ i;lIcr('/oJl('riia I!lIil'cr'itJli�. Pal is, Ed. 111l i\·l'1"s:1 Ii�. 1 9·/4. jlJl.

4 1
I H f A R C H f O L O GY O f VI O L f N C E

it refers to the first milnifeslation, duly r{'('onkd by t he law, of th is criminilli­

ty: t h e systematic exterm i n at i o n of European Jews by Gernwn N az is. The
l e ga l derlllition of th(' cr i m e of gen oc i de is root ed, thus, in rClcism; it is its
l o gi ca l and, flllCllly, n('('r5sary rroducl: a rac b , m that ckvelops frrtly. as was
the ('n s(' i n N az i Germany. can only lei1d to genocirle. Th e successive colonial
wnrs throughout th(' Third Wo rl d since 1945 havl' also given rise to speC'iflc
nn:'usations of ge n o cide agai n st colonial powers. But the gilnlC of i n terna�
t i o n il l relations nnd the re l n t ive i n d i fference of p uhl i c orinion prev('nted the
i nstitution of a co n sen sus a n a logous to th at o f NU T(' m b c rg ; the I.:ases were
ncver pursued.
If the Nazis ' anti-Semitic genocid(' was the fi rst to be tried in the nilme of
t he lilW, it was not, on the ot)]('r h a n d. the first to be pl'rp�trat('d. The h is to ry
o f western exp :l n s io n in the 1 9 th c(' n t u !)'. the h isto ry o f the establishme nt o f
colonial empirl's by the great [uropr;1n powers i s p un cl u;1t td b y l11l'lhodicn]
m assacres of n a l ive popuintions. Nevertheless, by its continental rxpansion,
by the vnstness of the de m ograph i c drop that it provokt'd. it is til(' ge noci d e or
rhe i n d i genous Americans tll,ll rtta i n s the most a t t e n t i o n . Since 1492. <I
mRch in e of d estruni o n of I n di a ns was put into ge<1r. This machine c-ontinues
to function where tl1(' last "silvage" triites subsist nlong the g rei1 t Am,1zo n i a n
forest. Throughou t these past yenrs, the massacres o f ! n d i n n s htlve b('en
denoun('rd in Brazil. Colombin, and Paraguay. AlwilyS in v:lin.
I t is primarily from tl1e-ir Amerkan ex pf' rie n ce tlwt eth n o l o gi sts, in par­
t icular Robert J au l i n . W(' ft' l ed to formulnLc the cO/H:ept of {'rh n o cid('. The
c o n cept \-vas first us('d to refer to tl1(' lndi(lns of S o ut h Americn. Thus WI.'
h(lV\' at h a n d a f(lvorable terrain. we might say, for res earch on the
di s ti n c ­
tion brtween genocidr nnd rlhnoci(je, since the last i n digenous population
o f the continent are sim ul t a n e o usly victims of tl1ese rvvo typ es of c rim i n a li ty.
I f the term genocide refns to the idea of " racc" and to th e will to extermi­
nate a rnci<ll m i n o rity. elilnocic!(o signals not th e physical destructio n of
(in wl1ich ('asr we r(' ma i n within a gentK'idal situation) , but the
destrunio n
o f their culture. Ethnocide is then the systemati c destructio n o f ways
o f liv­
i n g and t h i nki ng o f people d i fferent from those who lead this venture
destnlctio n . In sum. gr n o ( i d e ,Issassi n a t rs people i n t h ei r llodies.
kills them in their m i n ds. I n tither cnse, it is s t i l l a qUt'�tion
of <k at tl. but of
a d i ff(' ren t death: physi("<iI a n d immrdia.te el i m i n ;ltion is
not c u l t u ra l oppres­
s i o n w i t h dC'ferted t'ffects, d e p e n d i n g o n the a b i l it y of resistanc
e of thr
oppressed m i n o ri ty. The quest io n here is n ot to c h o os e the
lr55er or two ev i l s ;
� �v
th a n s (' r is too obvious, l ess b n rh a ri ty is better thnn
morr h a rb n rity. That
s<"lld. It IS cthn o e i d e 's tr u e s i g n i fi can ce u p o n wh ich \VC' s h n
l l renect herl'.
Fthnocid e shares w i t h genoririe an ide n tica l vision of tht Other;
Other is d i fference. certain ly. but it is ("s p ec i a l
l y wrong d i ffertnce. Tht:se two

4 ,
I H f 6 R ( H f O L O GY O f V I O L f N ( f

ntl it udes ilre div ith'd o n the kind of t re a t m e n t that should be reserved for elif­
f('fr ncr. The g�nocidal mind, if W{' ca n call it that, s i m ply ancl purdy wants
to elrn y difTerenc{'. Others arc extermi nated bl'cause they are a l.Js ol ute ly evil.
Ethnocide, on the o ther hand. a d mi ts t h e rel nt ivi ty of evil i n diffcrt'm'c: oth­
{'rs are ev il , but we can i mprove th{'01 by making them t ra n sform themselves
until they are identictll. preferably. to the mod e l we propose <I n c! i m pose . Th{'
l'111l1ocid a l nt'g at i on of t h t Other leads to sclf-id{'lltification. One could
o p p ose ge n oci d e (lnd ethnocide as t w o perverse fo r ms of pessimism a n d opt i ­
mism. In South A m {' ri ca . the ki ll ers of Indi;ms push t h t' p o.-; it io n of O t h n as
di ffe rence to its l i m i t : the s<1vnge I nd ia n is !lot a 11ll111(11l bring, bUl i1 nlrre
.:l n i nlill . The murde r of an Indian is not a c r irn i n n l aCI; racism is even totally
absent from it, si n c e the practice of rncism would imply the recognition of a
mi n i m u m of IlUmanity i n the O rh n. Monotonous repetition of a very old
insult: in d isc u ss i n g ethnocick. before i t w a s called that, Clnucle l.rvi-Str<tuss
rem i nds us in Rare et llistoirc h ow the Indians of the Islts wondtr�d w h t't h �r
the n e wl y arrived Spaniards were gods or men, w h i l e the whites wondered
wlwther th e i n digenous proples were h u m n n or animal.
Who, mor{'ovt'r, are- the practitioners of ethnocirle? Who <l1!:lcks people's
souls'? F i rst in rnnk n fe the missionaries, in S o u th Allleri(a but a ls o in other
region s. Militnnt propagators o f Christian faith. they strove to substitute the
pagans ' barbarous beliefs with the religion of the western world. The evan­
ge l ic n l process i mp l i es two nmai n t ies: fIrst. tila! rJi ff('fC'ncr - pnpn islll - is
unacceptable <"lnd must be refused; seronc11y, thnt the evil of t ll is w r o n g d i f­
ference can be attenuated, indeed. nbolished. It is in this way that the ethno­
cid,,1 n t t itude is rather optimistic: the Other, b;)d to st.:lrt w it h , is co n s id ered
pe rfecti b l e ; we r{'cognize in l1im the means 10 e l ('va te hi msrlf, by ici{'ntiflca­
tion. t o the perfect ion that Christianity represents. To crush thr strength of
p a g.:l n belief is t o destroy the vny substance of the society. The sought�aftl:r
n·sul t is to lead [he indigenous peoples, uy way of true fai t h . from snvngery
to civilization. Ethnocidr is prncticed for t he good of the Savagt. Secular
d isco u rse says the same thing whcn it announces, for example. t h e o fficia l
doctrine of the Brnzilian government regarding i n d i g e n o u s policies. " O u r
Indinns," proclaim the ilom i n i strators, "are human beings l i k e anyone else.
l3ut the snvage life they lead i n tht fo rest s ("ondemns thcm to poveny and
misrty. I t is o ur duty to help th(,111 emancipate themselves from servitude.
Th ey have the rigl1t 10 rais(' thrmsc!ves to the d i g n i ty of B r az i l i a n citizens, i n
ordn to participate fully i n t h t dt.'vl.'lopmt.'nt of national society lind en.ioy ItS
benefitS." The spirituality of ('t hnocide is the ethics of h u m a n ism.
The h o riz on upon wl1ich the C'thnocidnl m i n d a n d practice take shape is
determined ac co rd i n g 10 two axioms. The fi rst proclaims the hil'r(lrchy o f
c u l t u r es : there are inferior cultures. n n d s u p e rio r cultures. T h e second

4 5
I H t A R f H f O L O G Y O f Y I O l E N C f

axiom affirms tIll' a uso l ute superio rity of wesu'rn Culture . Thu,""
it can only
mai n t a i n a relatio n<;hip of neg;ni on with other cultures,
with primiti ve ont'<;. But it IS a matter or positiv e n e
and in particu lar
gat i o n , i n that i t wants
to su p press tht' i n ferior cu l l u re, insof3 r as it i s i n ferior,
to twist i t 10 Ihe
level of Iht, superi or culture . Tht' Indi<ln nes::. of the I n d i a n is suppre
ssed i n
order to make hint a Bra7ili an citizen From its agents ' perspt' ctive.
quent ly. C't h no c i d e would not he a n undert aking
. conse­
of dt'stru ct i o n : it is. on the
a n i ') m in<;rrib ed ill the
{.:ontra ry. a neCt's'iary lilsk. deman ded hy the h u m
heart of w('stt'rn culture.
We c a l l this vocati on to measu re differences
or on ( s o w n c u l t u n: ethnoc entrism . The Wesl would be ethnoc
accord ing to the y,Hdst ick
idal tH'c;lUse it
is ethnoc ('ntric, uecaus e it beli('ves itself 10 br the civiliz
ation. Ont' qu{'sli on,
nevert heless . is raisrti: do(,s our cultur e hold Ihe monop
oly un C'thno cen­
trism? E th n ologi ca l experi cnce sugg('sts an a nswer. LC't us
consid er (lie man­
ner in which prim iti v e socirt ies name ti1cms
elvrs, WI! can sec' that. in fact,
tilrrr is no auto-d enomi nalion to the extent thm sotietirs.
i n rel"urr ing fash­
ion. almost always attribu te to Ihemselvrs (l singlr namc:
Ml'n, J l l u stratin g
thiS cultur al trail with sevl'ral l'x<1m ples,
we n1<1y re cal l Ibm t h e G u a r a n i
I n d i a n s ('all th r ms e l ves Ava. which sign
ifIes me n ; lilat the GuaY<l ki sa y ti1ry
are Ache . .. Perso n ... .. ; that I h t WaikO l of VcnrL ucla
Yann marni , Ptopl t.· .. ; lhat till' Eskim os arc the
procl aim thems elves
I n u i t, " M e n . " Wr c o u l d
di n io n ;u y in
('xp<1l ld till: l i s t or ti1('se proper names
i ndtfr n i t ely, comp os i n g :l
w h k h a l l t h e> words have the same meCln ing: men. Invl'f<; ely. each suciety
sy,",tem aucall y (i<'sie;natcs ils neil-{hbors by namr'i
ful. in<; u l t i n g.
thtit an' pejorativt, d isfi:lill­

All cuJ ture� t h u s crrate a d i v i�i on of h u m a n i l Y hc tw (' (' n tlll'ms c tv('s on

till' one h;tnd. a repn·... tntat ion p:lr ('xcd lt'nce of tilt·
huma n . and the other".
which only pOIrtic ipate i n huma nity 10 a lesser
primi tive s o c i et i es U'it for thr1l1s
degrl't. The dlsco u r<:;(' thaT
clvt's, a discourse co n d e ns( d in the
t h �y (,01: fer upon thC Ill'i c lv('s,
' n a nles
is thus etl1no celllr ic throu gh .1IHI throu gh: a n
a reru3al 10 recog nize others
artlrm atlOn of the super iority of its cultu ral 3elf.
as rquals. Ethno centri sm appeOlrs, then.
to be the most shared t h i n g in the
�v o rl (1. and in this persp ect iw. at ) eas t . w('Slr rn cultllrt" does nor di sti
n guish
lIselr from the oth er<;. It would
tvrn be possi ble. pushi ng the a n a ly�is
rurther, 1O think of ethno('C'nrrism as a forma a bit
tions . itS i n lltren t !O cultu re
l propeny or all tUllur al forma­
itsrlf. It is part or a cul t u rc s essC'n c('
noce ntric , pn.'cisely LO tbe degr
' to be cth­
ee La wh i ch every cultu re consi dcrs
cultur r par excel l e nce . In other
itself lhe
words. cu l tu ral aheri ty i� nevt'r thoug
ht o r as
o n a hir ra rc il ical axis.
I)Ositlve dirft.'r('nce. nUl always as infrri ority
The r;t Ct rema ins n evt'l1hd('<;s
. lh a t if every c ul tu re is ethn oC'ent ric.
. only
. Thus. it follow s that ctltnocid;tl pr
a c ti c e is not
W(''ite rn cultu re is (,lhno cidal

, 6
I H f A R ( H ! O t O G Y O f Y I O L f N ( f

. . .
( , ly
nrc""sar· linked to ethnocentric conviction. Otherwise. all cultures would
hav e t o be ethnocidal, and this is not the cast'. It LS on titlS level, It seems to
liS, t ha ta c('rtain i nsufflciency can be located i n the research that scholars,
rightly concerned with thr problem or eth n Oc �. de, have conducted for s� me
time now. Indetd. it is not enough to recognl7e and aiTIrm the erhnoCldal
nature and function or western civilization. As long as we are content to
r�tatJllsh the white world as the ethnocidal world, we remain at t h e surface
or thi n gs, repeat i n g a d isc ou rse - certainly legitimate, for nothing has
('hanged - thilt has already been pronounced, since even Bishop Las Casas,
1'01 example, al t h e dawn or the 1 6th century. denounced in v('ry clc:ar terms
tltt' genocidE' and elhnocide to which the SI)ilnish subjected Indians of t h e
h i es a n d of Mexico. From reading works devoted to ethnocide, we come
away w i th lhe impre5sion that, (Q their authors, western civili7ation is a sort
or ab::.traction withoul sociohistoric roots, a vague esse nc e which has always
t:llvelopcd w i t h i n it an eth n o c idal spirit. Now. our culturt' is in no way a n
abstracti o n : it i s tht' slowly constitul('d product o f hiscory. a matter of
�enl'alogical research. W h a t is it that makes western civilization cthnocidal?
This is the trut: question. Tile analysis of f'tilnorid(' implirs a ll inrerrogation,
beyond the d t: n u n r i a t i o n or raCts, of the historically dt"termintd nature of
our cultural world. It is thus toward history that we must turn.
Western Civilization is no more an extratemp0r<11 abstraction than it is iI
homogeneous re a l i t y, an undifferentiated mass of id e n t i cal parts. This, how­
ever. is the imagE' the aforementioned authors seem to give of it. But if the
west is ethnocidal as the sun is l u m i n ous. then this ratalism makes the
de n u n c i a l i o n o f crimes and the appe<11 to protect tl1(' victims useless ;lnd
evrn absurd. Is it not. rather, because western c ivi li za t i o n is ('thnocid(l\ first
ll'irlJill itsdfthal it can then be ethnocidal abroad. that is, against other cul­
IUral romlations'? We cannot t h i n k of western society's ethnocid<1i i n c l i n a ­
tions w i t h o u t l i n k i n g it t o th is charilcl rristic or our own world, a ch<Jracteris­
tic that is the classi(' crit e ri o n of distinction between the Savage and the
Civilized. hetwt'en the primitive world and the weSIt"rn world: the former
includes all societ ies without a St <1 t('. tht' l at te r is composed of societies with
a State. And it is upon th is that we must attempt to reflect: c;tn w t" leg it i­
nlOltC'ly put i n t o persptt'tive t hese twO properti rs or th(' West. 015 eth n o c i d:l l
cult ure, as society with a State? If this is the case, we would understand why
primitive socicties c;m br rthnocentric without necessarily b e i n g ethnot'ida1.
since they are p re c i se ly societiec; without a State.
Ethnocide. it is said. is Ihr c;uppr('ssion of cultural differences deemed
inferior and had; it is tile putting into crrect of principles or identification. a
project of reducing the Other to tht" SClme (the Amazonian J n d i a n suppressed
a'i Other and reduced to the Samc as tht Br<17ilian ci t iL cn ) . In othc;r word'i,

, 7
! II [ � a ( II [ O L O � Y O f V I O t f N f f

ethnocide results i n the dissolution of the multiple i n t o One. Now what about
the State? It is, in cssC'nce. a putt in g into play of centripetal force, which,
w lll n circumstances demand it. tends toward crushing the oppositt' centrifu
' ­

gal force-so The State considers itself and proclaims itself the centt'r of society,
the whole of the so c ial body. the absolute master of this body's various
organs, Thus we disrovtr at the very heart of tht S tate s substance the active

power of One. th(' incli niltion to refuse the multiple, the feilr and horror of
differcnce, At this formill level we Sf'(' th .:n ClllIlocidal pr<lttice and the St<lte
m achine function in the same Wily a n d produce t h e same effrcts: the w i l l 10
red u cC' diffe rcnce and a l te rity, a sensc and tilsLe fo r the i citntica l ilnd the O n e
C;ttl s t i l l h (' de tected i n t h e fo rms o f w estern civilinltion and t h e State.
Leilving this formal and in some ways struClu ral ist axis to tackle the
diachronic axis of co n c rete history. i<'t us consid e r French culture as a put ic­
ulu cas(' of w este rn rivilization. as an ('xemplary i l lustration of the spirit
lind the destiny of the West. Its format ion, rooted in a secul ar past, appears
stri c tly coextensible to expansion and to reinforcemellt of Ih� State appara­
tus. first under its monarchic form. then und('r its republican form. To e<lth
developm en t of cen T ral power corresponds a n increased dep loym en t of the
r u l t u ra l world, F r e n c h c u l t un.' is a n a t i o n ill c u l L U re , a cui LUre of t h e
FrC'nchman. The extension of the State' s a utho r ity translates i n t o the expan­
<;ioni<;m of the State' s l<l nguilge, fn:'llch, TIl(' n<ltion Illay consider itself con­
stituted, <lnd the State may p roc l a im itself the exclusiv(' holder o f power
when the p eop le upon whom its aut ho rity is exercised speak the s a me lan­
guage as it does. This prorcss of i n t egr:lIion obviously i n volves the suppres­
sion of d i fferences, It is thus th<lt at the dawn of thl..' French nation. when
Franct' wa" only Franchimanie <lnd its king a pnle lord of til(' Nonhrrn Lo i re ,

the Albigeois crusade swept down on tll(' South in order to nbolish its civi­
li7<ltion, The t'xtirpat ion of tile Albigensian he resy, a prC'lL X I and means fo r

('xprlJlsion for the l:lpetian mo na rchy, establishing rranct's borders :llmOSI

dC'fmitivcly. appears to be a case of pure ethnocide: the CUlture of Iht' Somh
of france - rel igion, literature, poctry - W<lS i rrev ersi b ly condemn('d and th e
people of the La ngucdoc became loyal subjects of [he king of France,
The Revolution of 1 7 St), i n allowing tile triumph of the .latobins' central­
ist tho ught over the (i i ron d i ns' fl'deralbt tendencies, bT(Jught the pO l i t ica l
<ls�{'ndnnry of P.3risian <ldministration to nn end. The provinres. ns territorial
units, h;1<.1 each re l il d on an ancient. c ul tural ly ho m oge n eo us reality: 1.311-

�uage, politital tr.3ditions. etc. Provinc('s were repl(lced by a hSlran division

Into d ('p� �tmenb. i n t ended 10 b reak all references to local particulari�ms, :lnd
th us .acdlt at(' th(' penetration of slille authority evcrywhere. The final st ;1 ge

of thiS movement through which differences would van ish befo rt:' State
power was the Third R('puhlic, which defi n itively transfoml(,(j the inhabitants

• a
I li f 6 R ( H f O t O G Y O f Y I O L f N ( f

of the- h exagon into citizens, due to the institution of free and o b l igatory
Whatever remoined o f
s e cu l a r schools a n d o bl i ga t o ry m i l i tary S('fvice,
\ U to n o m o u s ex i s t e n c e i n
t h e p r ov i n c ia l a n d rural w o r l d s u C( : u m b e d .

rra n df l c a t ion hild been accomplished, C't h n o c ide consummated: traditional

languages were attacked as backwards patois. village l ife redu<:ed to the level
of fol loric sp('ctacle destint'd for the consumption of tourists. Ctc.
This brief glance at our country 's history suffices to show thm ethnocidr,
,IS II more or I('ss authoritarian suppression of sociocultural d iffere n c es, is
alre,!dy i nsc ribed in th e nature (lnd functi o n i n g of th(' Stilte machine, which
... tandardizes its rapport with individuals: to (he Sla te , all ci t L ccns art' ('qual
be fo re the law.
To affirm that ethn oc id e starling with the French eXC'lmpk, is part of

t h e State 's u n i fying ('sse ncc, logi c ally leads to the conclusion that all state
form;'ltions arc eth n o c idal . Let us b ri efly examine t h e Glse of St ates quitc
diffcret\t from Furopean St;'ltt's. Thc l n cils built a govcrn m e n til l machine i n
the A nd es that the Spanish <ldmired as much for irs V<lst terri t o ri a l exten­
sion as for the precision and detail of administrative techniques that pt r­
milt('d the em pero r a n d his n u merous bureaucrats to exercise almost tot al
and permanent control over the empire's i n habitants, The properly etll ll o c i ­

dal aspect of this st a te m a ch i ne ue co mes a ppa re n t i n its te n d e n cy to I nca­

iLe th e newly conquered populations: n o t on ly obliging them to pay tribute
to the new ma <:t NS, but fOTci n g thtm to cclebrate thl' ritual of tIlt' cnn­
qu('rors. th e worship of the SUIl, that i s I nca hi msel f. The Sta te rel igi on

waS i mposed by force. reg ardl ess of the detriment to lo('al cults. It is also
true that th(' p ress ure exerted by the I n CilS on the subjugated tribes never
reached the violence o f the mani;'l cal Leal w i t h which t h c Spa n i<:; h would
1:ltrr a n n i h i l a t e indi genous ido l at ry. Though skillful diplomats, t h (' I n c n s
k n e w to u s e force w h e n ne<:essary. a n d th e i r organiz;)tion reacted with [he
greatest brutality, as do all SlatC apparalUses when their powrT is put i n t o
question. T h c frequent uprisings against t h e central authority o f CULCO,
first p i t i l essly repressed, were then punished by massivc deponation of t h e
v a nquished to r('gions very fa r from their nativ(' territory, that is, (('rritory
milrked by a n e two rk of pl aces of worship ( sp ri n gs, h i l l sides. grottoes);
uprooting. deterritori alization, et ll n oc idc . . .
Ethnocidal violence, like the neg<lt i o n of difference, is dearly a I><lrl o f
t h e es�ence o f lhe Stene i n barharous e mpires a s wtll a s i n t h e civil ized soci­
('tics of Ihr West: all statr orgC'lniZalions aTe etlmocida\, (,Ihnocide is tile nor­
mal mode of existente of the State, There is thus (l cenai n un iversillity t o
ethnocide, i n that i t i s t h e characteristic n ot o n l y o f a vague, indetermin ate
"white world," but of a whole ensemble of societies which arc societics with
a St ate Reflection on (·thnociclt' involves an ,:lIlaly...i<; of th(' Sta H' hut must i t
, ,

. ,
l li l 6 R ( 1I 1: 0 L O G Y O f V I O l f N { E

stop rhere? MuSt i( limit itst'lf to thl.' obs{'rvation th<lt i:l hnocidl.' is tlH' Sl<lte
<lnd that, from this point of view, all Statts arc equill? This would bt to fall
back into (he s i n of abstraction with which we have just fl'proilChcd the
"school of tthnocide"; this would he once again to disregard lh(:" conl'rete
history of our own cultural world.
Where do we 10(<Ite the difference th<lt prevents us from putting lhe
barbarous States (the InC'as, the Pha r<lohs, oriental despotism. etc.l and the
civili2t'd States (the western world) o n the same level or i n the S;lmC' hag?
W(' detC'C't this d i fference" first ilt t h e ievrl of the (,lhnocici.:!l of
state apparatus("s. I n the first eilse. t h i s C'<lpaC'ity is l i mited not by [ h e
State 's weakness b u t on t h e contrary by its strength: ctllnoddal p ractice -
{O abolish difference when it beCOnH?S opposition - cea:-es once the Stiltt'S
strength no lon ger runs any risk. The Incas tolrnltrd the relativ{' aUlOnomy
of A n d e a n communiti{'s unC't the lanl'T r{'cognizcd the political ;lnd reli­
giouo; authority of the EmprTor. We notiC'e, o n the othe-r hand, thilt in the
second case - western Statt's - the {'thllOcidal cap;Jcity is l i mi t l ess, unbri�
died. It is for this vtry T('ilson tha t it ran lead to genocid(', that a nI..' can i n
fnrt speak of tile we51('T1l world as absol utely rthnoclda1. [3ut wlltr!' clof'S
this come from? What docs western civiliziltion contain that makes it i n fi­
nitely morc ctl1flocidal t!lan all o\lH'r forms of society? I t is il� system uJ
('('ol/omie prOdllcrioll, precisely a sparr of the tlnlimitl..'d , a space without a
locus i n that it eonstilntly pushes b<'\ ck bound<lrirs, an infinite spact: of per­
manC'nt rorgi n g ahead. What dirferentiates thC' West is c'lpitalism. as thr
impossibility of rttlla i n i n g within a froll tin, as the pas.; i n g beyond of a l l
fro ntiers; it i s l'apitalism n s a system o f production for which n o t h i n g is
impOSSible, unless it is nOt being iln end i n itsrlf: wht'tller liberal. privatr,
itS i n Western Europe. or p l a n n e d , ()f t h e Stnt<.. as in Eastern Europe.
Industrial soci ety, the most formidable marhine of production, is for that
ve-ty rea:-. on th(' mOst terrifying m(1chine of d estru rt ion . Races, <;ocitl Jl.'s.
i n d i v i d u a l s : space, nature, � eas , forests, subsoils: every t h i n g i s useful,
everything rnU<il lJe used, tvel)' t h i n g must be productive, w i t h productivity
pushed to its maximum rate of intensity.
Thio; is why no [('spitl' could b(' givl'n to societies that left the world to its
original. tranquil un produC'tiviIY. This is why i n [he eyes of the West, the
waste represented lJy the non-exploililtion of immense resourc{'<; was inlol cr­
tlble. The choice left to Illest' societirs rai"ed a dilemma: cithrr give in to
production or disappear: either cthnoddc or genOCide, A t the end of (he Iflst
century. thC' Indians of the Argentinean p;lmpas wen' completely ext(' fminat­
cd 111 order to permit ti1{' l'xtrnsivr breed i n g of o;herp or cows which founded

the wealth of Argentine-an capitnlism. AI The begi n n i ng of Ihis l'cntut)'. hun­

dreds of thousands of AlllaL.oniiul Indians perio;he-d IJeneath the blows or ruh-

\ 0
l il f 1o R ( ll t O I O G Y 0 1" V I O l f N ( f

India ns are su('-

ber-sct'ke rS. Pres ently. i '
n all or Sout h Ame rica, the l ast free ' .
cum IJl· n. b
ilian grow th
thrust of econ omic . grow th. BraZ

0 r w Il l· C h IS
benC' ath the enor mou s
acce 1 erat-
colll inrn tal roads, cons trtJct lon
ni7a tion of the tt'm tOTlC' S traversed waC'
. , r. The trans .
In pa l-.!c ul., ' .
: to
axes of colo
ing. cons titut e the
cau ght in the pat h!
the Ind ian s .
Wha t weig ht
have comp ared
do sevc ral thou sand u nproductive Savages
. fare m i n lo:rals , pttrol('um, cattl c r:l.l1c hrs, �
('offrc p l il ta-
to (he weal th of gold
lio n S. . e l c . ?. Product'
. The North AmenC'all
or die. this is the motto of the West
almo st to the last to all o w pro d U l' ­
1 tllI,·,ns lcarn ed this i n the t1esh. killed
d ec <l I It
re( · III
tion ers, Gene rnl Sherm an. i n genu ously
tion. Onr or their execu
us killer of India ns, Buffalo B i l l : "As rar as
I can
a ktttr addressed to a famo
estim att, i n 1 8 G2, there were
l o . tbe
half millio n burra III
Rocky Moun tains . 1\1 \ o them havt' disap­
aroun d n i n e and a

plilin s o<t'tw eell Misso uri and the �

]J"'H(' d. h u nted for their meat. skins, ilnd hones
. [.' ] At thiS same d.:lte. there
wert aroun d I ()S,OO Il(lwn ee, Sioux
. (heY t'nne, KIOwa, a n d I\p<lc he-. whos
these buffa lo. They also disap ptan: d nne!
a n n u a l food suppl y depended on
the numb er of mrn and wom en of the
.'\ g; mh'n and who ('an bt' coun
wt're replan'd by douh le a n d triple
w h i te: ran:, who have mack this l:lnd

laws of niltur e and l'ivilizal ion. his I

taxed <Inti governed <ll'l'or ding to the
wao; a whole some chilnge and w i l l uc
carrie d out to lhe encl." I
be carrie d Otlt to the e n d ; it will
lht gener al W<lS right. The chang e will
left to dliln gl',
end when there is n o l o n gcr ilnyt hing

1'1 I/isruin: dr, /,ulirll5 P('(JlI.r

I Qllot{'d in R. lll(�v('llin and P. COlt', .UUt'IIr<i
RUII!}C.', Paris: Payol. 1':)',2..


One cannot seriously attempt :1n exposition of Indian rel i g ions of South
Americ<l without fIrSt mentioning. i f o n ly schematically. a few gen{'f;ll (;'l(,IS.
I"hough obvious [0 the specialist, thry must nevtnheless prC'red(' the exposi
tion itself in order lo f:1rilitat(' the ex am inati o n of the problem of religion for
the less familiarized re;ldn: indeed can o n t ilpproach the fIeld of the prnc­
ticE'S and llel iefs of South Americntl Indians w ithout flr!ir knowing how the",t
propies lived. how their societies functioned? Let us thus he re m i n ded of
what is only 11 truism in a p pearance : South America is a contine-nl whose
i m mense surfil('(" w it h a few rare ('xccptions (such as th(' AlaC<iIll<! desl.:n i n
northernmost Chile), W<"\S clltirely oc c up i e d whrn America was disrovcrrd at
the rnd of the 1 5th rl:ntury. As tile work of pre-historians w i l l n t tes!. t h i s
occupation was q u i t e n n c i e n t , cl ose (0 thirty m i l l e n n i u m s old. We "llOUld

The following texts ftrst appeared in Lc Dictiol1lJuire des mwl1ologies et do

Paris. EditioHS rlnmmarion. 1 1) 8 1 . lInder the dire,tion of Yves Bonnefoy
[Published in Engl ish as MYI/w/ogi('s. Chicago, Ullivl' r<iily of Chicago Prl'ss. 1 9 9 1 .]

\ 1
I H t � H H f O L O ' Y O f V I O l f N [ E

notf'. funh ermo n:. that contr ary to

curre nt widl'sprtad conv it'tion . the
de n si ­
ty o f the ind ig('nous popu lation was
relati vely high. Otmo graph ic rl'sear
r. o t<lb l y that cond ucted Clt tile U n i vcrsi
lY of Cillifornia a t Ber keley in
U n i ted Statcs. const itutes a rad iC !l 1 reexa
mina tion of the " <:lass ie" bd ief theH
South Amer ica. exctpt in its Ande !ln
])ans . was a quasi -dese rt. Thro
Sill' of the popu lalion (�everal t(' ns
ugh the
of mill ions). the conti nenta l vastn
ess of
its trrrito ry. South Amer ica offen
'd IhC' condi ti ons for eX!\:Jlsive cu l tu ra l and
therefore re l igi ous di ve rs i ty.
What are the pri n c ipCl I sl)cioculwral
eh'lracl('ristics. the essen tial ethno
l ogica l determi n a n t s of South Amer
a n d re su l L i ng d i lllatic variat ion make
ican prop1 es? Th e te rri to ri a l ex te n sion
for a su ccess io n of e co l og i l'a l e11vir on­
ments a n d lan dscap es thai lead fro m th
e humid . equ<lt ori:ll forest of the
North (the Ama70 n ian b<lsin j to th e
s<I\"<l n n <lS of Pat ago n ia and the harsh cl

mates of Tierra d el Fue go. D i fferences
the spc(' i fl e adilp t,ltion s they dema
in the nat u ra l su rrou n din gs. t h rou
nd in man. h<lve fas h io n ed very co
fil rmer<; of the Andes, tile i ti n e ra
f n g cultu ral mofl e ls : th e sl'de n w ry
n __I(I<;h_
and- burn farmers of the forrst.
n o m ad i c hUlltC'"TS and colle ctors . BUI
g culturcs in Sout h Ame rica are ab�
o l u t e­
m ust i m m edi a tt'ly note that h u n t i n
Jy in tll(' m i n o r ity. Its arca of
exp a ns i o n tsst'n tially correspon
ds to zone s
where agric ultur e was lmpo s�ibl
r eithe r bt'cJuse of the clima te
(Tierra dl'l
ru ego j or beca use of th e natur (' of
w J lh tllt' l f <l bsen ct of fortst). J-:vny
t h e Vl'ge t!ltio n (tht ArgentJDtClIl p<1mp
s i h l e in
whl"T c else. i f agric ultur t is p os
{('rm s of indig enou s ttch n o l ogy
(thl' use of fire. t h e ston e ax, the-
hoe. ttc.).
then It exists. and has for s('vl'Tal
mille nniu ms. as tht d iscov e ri es
of 'l rcht'o l ­
ogists and ohno lJOt!lnists s h ow.
Americ;ln ('o mi ne n t . And it has
This conc erns the l a rgest p,m of
th e SOllth
b ee n t'stab lisht:d that for I h t few hn l a
hu n ting socie tifs that bilarrely ureak
up the mon oton y of tllis cultu r<ll
� land ­
c(' of a pre­
sca e . thc abs('nce of agri c ul tu re
is the r('sul t not of the pers istrll
agnc ultuf <11 way of 11 fe. but of
a loss: the G uaY,l k i of PCl r a gua
y. lhe Sirio no
n !lgrie ullur e. ;l<; did their neigh L
of B o l ivi a prac tked slash -and -bur
a n's u lt of vario us histo rical cir('u
J or.... But ClS
msta nces. the pranice W<lS lost
long ago,
and they bec<l l1le hUl1leTS a n d
col1l'{"tors o n n' agai n. I n otht r
. we flntl an enor mou s. hO l11ogt
words. i n sl(,!ld
of an i n flni t(' v a riety of eul tun:s
of soc il'! ies with � i llli l il r modc s
neou s milSS
of prod uctio n.
In orde r to local(' an ordering prind plt-
in the d iversi ty of peop les who
i � ha hit a give n r('gi o n . to su b
m i t the m u l t ip l i c ity of cultu res
Slfl(':<IIlO n. we pr('/r r to call u p on l i ngU
, to pr i rn<l ry ('1<1s­
istic nilc ria. And fro m tlien o n
, we see
Ihe Lmagl' of al nl O...t pl'rfect cultu
ral uniTY va n ish. an imag e sugg
('stcd by The
f('Cll r ren('(' of ,II mos t i d en ti ca
l mate ri,ll reSourc(·':l. Wha t, i n
em·ct. i ... Sout h
in broad s T rokl's? In no olhe r reA"io
An1t'ric,'l's l i n g-ui ... tic I11Clkt'up. draw n
n of
het! !O s uc h a n
t h e w o r l d . p e rh a ps, is the
brea kdow n of l !l n gu agts pu ...

\ 4
I H f � R C H [ O L O ' Y O f V 1 0 L [ H [ f

t")(tn:. n"� . l'her£» are don'ns of large l i nguistic f;} m i l i es. each comprising a
nu111 b\.." r o f di;Jkcts son1l'times s o distanced from the mother ton gue that
th t' m cannot understand cacll ot h e r. Mo rt'(Jv{'r, a cons ult-r-
hose . w ho ,'Ileak
i Il I I' n u mbe r of so-cal l l'd isolatnl l a nguages have to be
t ,
l \ \ .Into .consldera­
. .
. taken
. . .
for they are impossible to integrate IIlto thl' p n n c l a IOgUlSIIC sto(,k.
\ . pe r-
1l01l. .
ThiS e xtr aord i n ary crumbling of la n guage results In a sort 0 f C UI t raI (Is �
of l a n gu <l in f<lct. often p ro vides tile foundatIOn for tile
�ion . The u n i lY ge,
ultur'll unity of a people. the "sryle'" of its civilization. the spirit of liS c l­ �
wn'. Of ('our..('. there art some exceptions 10 th is "rule," Th us from the pOInt
or view of t h e i r l,mguage. th� Gu'lyaki. nomClci hu n te rs. bt.:! o n g to t h e grl'at
rupi-G uarani sloek. w h ic h com pri ses a gr ic ul tu ra l tnbes. Sw.:h a b e rra n t C<l')l'S
arc very rare and stem from historical conjunctures th:lt <lrt' r �'J a !lvcly easy
10 establish. One essential point should bt noted here: t he TupL-Guararu.. for
eXillllple, occupied <Ill im mense territory by the millions and spoke t h e Same
l a nguage. with the- e-xception of d ia \ rct i ca l variations that wt'rc n ol �ubstan­
Hal enough to prevtn t communication. Now. dtspitc the distances thJt sepa­
r!lIe thr most far-off tribes, the cultural homogene-lty is rem i1rka bl l'. O1S mue h
i n te-rms of socio('conomic l ifl' as i n their ritual activitil'S or the structure- of
tlw i r myths. It goes without say i n g thi'lt cultural unity dOl'S n O f in <l n y way
�ignify l)Otitica! uniry: tht Tupi-G ua ran i tribts pan iC'ipated in the same ul­ �
llJr;l1 model w i t hout ever consti tu t i n g a " n ation." S i nce t h ey r('rn a lnrd 111 a

perm<lnen{ state of war.

But in recogn izing this affinity bt-twt'{'n language and cui tun.: a n d dLS­
('overing i n the former the pri n c ipl e of unity of {he l atter, w e i nuned i atdy
fllHl ourselves forctd to accep t the mOSt immcdi!lH' consequenCl' of I h lS rl'I<l­
tiollship: there w il l be as Illany cultural co n fi g u rati o ns and thus. :.y�tems ?f
he l ie f. as thrre- are la n gu <lges. To each ethnic group co rresponds a speCIfiC
assonment of bel i efs. rite-s and myth s . The- probl em from now on is mt'lhod­
o l ogi cal : we obvio usl y cannot "dopt till' i l l usory solution of � ?
"dieti n3ry"
that would offer an e n dl ess list of known tribes aod the teemIng ViJnery of
their beliefs a n d practices. The difficulty In choosing a m et hod for the pre­
s e n t a t i o n of re-Jigious f'l l tS
· stelT1S i n large part from the c o n t r a d i c t i o n
hetwten t h e cu ltu ra l homogenrity observed o n a so d o e c onom i c l e v e l dnt!
the irred uc i h l e l1t'ttro�ell eity o n a ...triclly cull urClI level. ,, 0 Ihal ("<lch ethnic
group POs�('sses and cultiv<lles its part ic ul a r pe rso n <l l i ty bcrwe-en matt' rial
resources Clnd '"point of h o n or." Yet co ul d olle n o t discover 1 1 11\.'S of ro r('('
capable of dividing an abstract ic\elllity, transversals ablt to regroup s p ec ift c

flrst Europe,ms ap proa ch ing the New World put into effect : 011 the one
differences? It is indetd such a dtvision among tile A m e n n dia n peop1ts that
hand. soc i eties of t Ill' Andes subj{'cted \0 t h e impt.'rial power of t h e slrong
In('iln st ate machine. on the other. trillt·... th i lt p o p u !med the rl'\[ of the c o n i i-

\ \
l H f ! 2 ( H f O L 0 6Y Of V I O L ft U f

nent, I n d i a n s of the forest, savanna and pampas, people "without faith, law,
or king," as the chroniclers of thc 1 6th cenJury said. And it is not t oo su r­
p ri Si ng 10 learn that this European point of vitw, bascd largely o n th(' l"thno­
centrism of those who formulated it, WrlS e ch oed exactly by tl1(' opinion that
the Incas professed regarding the po p u l ations that crowded th(' steps of t he
Empire: they w ere nothing but palhl"tic s av il gl"S to them, only good e no ug h,
if they ('auld be so reduced. to paying tribute to the king. It w ould not be
any more surprising to l e;'! rn that th e Incas' r('pugnance toward the people of
tht' forrst h;'!d a lot to do with t h e customs of the latter. considef('d h<H­
ba ro us : it was often a qU('<;tion of ritual p ract i ces.
I t is indeed a l o n g these l i n e s that the i n d i geno us people-s of SOUT h
America arC' d ivided and sC'paratcd: the Andeans and the Others, the (i vi t iled
and thc Silvilges. or. in the terms of t rad it io n al classifl('ation. high ('uJtures
o n t h e on(' hand and forest civilizations o n the othe r. Cultural (as w e l l (IS
re l igi o u<;) di fference is rooted as much i n political modes of functioning as i n
�co n o m ic modes of produl'tion. I n ot h r r words. th er(' is n o substantial d iffr r­
en('e - in terms o f riles and myths - between hunting peopte-s a n d fanni n g
peoples w h o , instf."ild, form a homogeneous cultural whole in the fa(,e of the
Andean world: an opposi t i on otherwise STated as that of so('ieties wi tho ut a
State (or primi t iv t· sotieti('s) and societies with a Slate. This at least all ows
for the s truc turi ng of the rrJigious space of pre-Columbian /unerica. ;lnd at
thc same time the economy of an exposition of i t. This i s why the flTSt pa rt
of this cssay w i l l ue dedi('ated to the rd ig ious world of primitive so('ielies.
farmer� and hunters combincd. The second part will be a presentation of
Andean rt l i gi on : the i<;sue will be to distinguish two autonomous levels, olle
in<;crihcd in the very ancient tradition of pe ilsant ('ommuniti<'s of this regi on.
the other. mu('h more r('('cnt. resulting from the for mat i on and ex p an s i on of
Ihe lncan stilte. We will thus be sure to "cover" thr twO domains i n which
the spirituality of Smull Ameri(,<ln I n d ian s u n folds. Though tOl1sistcnt with
the gCJl('ral sociocultural dimensions o f th ese sotieties. the bipartition of the
rtllgious firld would not offe r a sufficiently precise image of it s obj('ct.

tivC' '' modrl as Ill uch by their modes of produ('tion as by their political insti­
Indeed, a ct'rtain number of ethnic groups that stem from th e classic "primi­

t u t i o n s nrv('rthtless br("ak away from this mod("1 pr("cisely through the

inllabilUal. indeed. enigmaTic form<; that th('ir rrligiou<; thought and p T<l(' t i ce
t,-Ike: a brea k pushf'd to it s ('xtr('me by th e lltp i-Gutlrani tribes whose reli­
g i ous tthn og rap hy demilll cis spt:cial deYelol)mcnt . whirh shall make up the
third part of this essay.
WI' mus t consider every document co n ce rn i n !!: I n d i a n A m eri c<l as an
ethnographic re<;our('l'. The i n formation at our disposal is th erefo re wry
ahu n d ; 'IIl t. <;ince it begin<; with the di s('overy of Am eri c a. n u t ill the Si]tHt'

\ 6
1 H E 6 H ll f O L O G Y O f V I O l f N ( f

ib e.. t hat have d��ap -

tion is incom plet.e : of t�e nu merous tr
time. this i n forma . ated
n ThIS lack IS n ('vcrthel e la rge ly co m.p t n s
s s
pear,d . ooly til' n ,ilmes remai .
po ulatiO n s t�at
of two ue('ades of field work � the . p
for by the resultS . lVe SOC iet ieS at our diS­
have not been wiped ou
t . The docu me nts on pTlmlt
entury chron icles to the most rec� nt r�scarc
posal . then, range from 1 6th-c
As for t h e Andea n religio
since the
ns, more or less ext i rpated by t he Spani sh
an: know n only th a n k s to descri ptions left by
mtd-seventeenth century, they
colon izers, not inc�ud ing the t es t im on ies
Piaaro's comp anion s and the first
s u rv ivors of t h e lncan
. m edi. a tel y
,1TIsto cr,lcy I m
I! a t h('red direct ly from the
;Ifter the con q u est .

1 . IOCIUIfI Of ! H E fOREIl

co nst an tly noted, either to

Trave lers. missio naries. o r eth n o l og i sts have
anach mt'nt of primit ive peoples to
rejoice in it or to deplore it, the strong
t h e i r custom s and traditi ons. that is,
th e i r p ro fou n d religiosity. Any amou nt

of time spent ilmon g an Amaz onian

society, for e x am p l e, allow s o n t o �
but the invest ment of r('l1glous
observe not only the piety of the Sav a ges
co nce rn s into social life to II point that seems
to d issolve the distin ction
to hlur tht' hound ilri('s \)etwcen the
hetwe-e-n the- se-cular and thr religious,
the sacred: nature. in short. like
doma in of the p ro fane and the sp he re of
with the s up ern atur al . Anim ill or �
soci cty. is trav e rsed through and through
i n gs a n d super natur<ll agent s: If
plant s c<ln thus at once be natur al b e

atta('ks someo n(', or a shoou ng

fal l i n g trec i nj u res som('on(", or a wild b('ast
wi11 be interp reted not as accidents, but as effects
star crosses the sky, they
powers, such as spirits of t he
of the del iberate agg ress i on of s up er n atural
forest. souls of the de ad . indee d, enem
y sham ans. The decided refusal of
the profane and the silcred would
chance and of the disco ntinuity between
l og ic ill l y lead to a b o l ishi n g I h(' auton
omy of the religi o us spher e. whi('h
would then be l oc at ed in all the indiv
idual a n d collcc tlve event S of the
completely absen t from the multi­
tribe 's daily life. In rt'al ity. though, never
of a p ri m itive culture. the religio us d i me

�i on m a n ages to assert
rcumstances. Ihey are therefore more
ple aspects
itse lf as such i n certai n sp ec ifiC ritual ci
if we fIrst isol;lt e the plal'e and fun ct i o n of
divine fI g ures.
easily deter mined


religion such as . i t cie<;c ri bes the

I n keepi ng with the Eu rop ean idea of
d ivi n e. and more s pect ll cal ly. 11(,I,:" een
re l a t io n \)('tw('('n tli(' huma n and th('
s h<lve been h aun Ted , sOIll{'l1mt.:S
men and God. ev a n gel is ts and researcher

5 7
I H f A R C H f 0 1 0 (; Y O f V I O l f N C f

u n k n o w i n gly. by the conviction that thert· is n o authenlic rei igious fact

except i n the form of monotheism. They have attempted to di5COVl'r among
South American Indians cithrr local versions of the single great god o r the
embryonic seed of the oneness of the divine. Eth nogr<tphy shows U5 the
futility of such an undertaking. Almost always. as a matter of fact. Ihe cul­
tural practices of thesr peoples develop without implicit rcfm;:nce to a single
or crntral figure of the divine. as we shall sec. I n olh('r words. religious l ife,
s eizect i n itS ritual reality, u n folds i n a space outside tiltH which western
thought is ac(ustonled to calling the sphere of t h e divine: the "gods" are
i1bsent from the ('ults and rites that men celebrate, becnusc they ,Ire not
intended for them. But does (he absence of worship necessarily signify the
absence of the divine? We have believed it possible to dctect. here and the re,
dominant divine f,guTrs i n the myths of various tribes. But who decides on
this dominance, who evaluate" the h i erarchy of tlH'se represcntaiions of the
divine? [\ is sometimes precisely cthnogri1phrrs and more often missionaries
who, i m m ersed in the monotheistic f;l ntasy, imagine thcir expecta tions ful ­
filled by the discovery of such and such particular divinity. Who are these
"gods " thaI ilre nOt worshiped? Th r i r names, in fact, designatC' visible ct.'lc!'­
t l a l bodies: Sun, Moon. sUns. constellations. whost' metamorphoses from
hum;m to astra! are recountfd i n nUn1rrous myths; thry also name "violent"
natural phrnomcna such as thunder. storms, lightning. Very often the names
of thr "gods" also r('ft.'r not to the order of nature. but to that of culture:
mythic:!l founders of civilization, inventors of agrkulture. cultuf,ll hrroes
who i n fact som('{irncs be('Ol1lr (,'elc�tial bodies or a n i m a l s on (,'c their terre-s­
trial task has bCt'n completN] - the Twins. the Tupi-Guar;l n i tribes' mythical
heroes. a b a n d o n Earth to t r a n sform them�elve-s i n to S u n a n d M o o n .
Although Sun, the older brother. plays a very important rol e i n the rcligious
thought of the contemporary Guarani, he is not the ohje('( of a particular
cult. [ n oth er words. a l l these "gods" are mOSt oflen nothing but n ames.
namcs morc common than pNsonal. ;Jnd as such. indiGltions a n d designa­
tions of th e socit'ty's "beyond." of t h e cultun:'s Other: I he cosmic alterity of
the heavens and ('elestial bodies. the earthly alterity of the nature a t hand.
AlterilY that origi nates abov(' all from the cul ture its('lf: t h e order Df L<lw as
an i n"Iitution of the social (or the eultumll is contemporClneous n o t to n1('n,
bUI to a time before m e n ; it originates i n mythical. prehuman time. Th(' soci­
ety finds its foundations outside its('lf i ll the t'nsembk of rules a n d instruc­
tions brque;1th('d by thr grei11 ancestors or cultural heroes. both often signi­
fied by the n<1me or Father, Gr<ll1{lfalher o r Our l"rut." Father. Thr name of this
distant Clnd abslran god ind ifferent 10 men's destiny, this god without a cult.
that is, deprived of the get1('fal relationship that u n i tes h u m an s w i t h the
divine, is tlw name o f law which, inscribed at t h e hl:art of lilt' social. guar-

5 a
I H f A H li f O L O G Y O F � I O L [ N ( [

antl'es the maintt'nann: uf its order and asks nlt'n only to respect (r"dition.
1 l1is is indred what we lrarn from the tri b es of Tierra del Fuego, among
,.,.hom scholars of the American continents havr sometimes becn leOlllted to
locate the most advanced forms of "savage" monotheism: the Temaukel of
tilt" Dna o r the W;Jtauinew<l of the Y<lhgan comprise under their names the
intangible norms of the SOCiClI life left to nwn by thrse "gods" Clnd taught 10
<1dolescents durinR i n itiatory rites. One may nOte, by the- way. that unlike th('
Andean socirtics, othcr South Am('rican peoples never depict the "gods," The
only not<lble excepti o n : t h (' zrmi. o r idols of t h e Tano-Arawak of the
Anlilles. and the divine Images that certain (olomlJi;1I1 and Venezu{'lan Iribes
house in their temples. I n both cases. hi�torian<; of religion invoke innuenl'es
rrom Central Amf'ric<l for the fonner. from the Andes for the latler. that is,
from wh<lt we call high culture,
A slrange religion w i thout gods, that of the Soulh Amt'rirtln lndil'lns: tin
absence- so irritating that more than one missionary h;ls proclaimed the-se peo­
ple truc atheists. l'eoplC' of rX\TC'mr religiosity nonetl1eless: a socii11 and colkc­
liv(' T('l igio<;ity more than individual and privatf'. in til<ll it con(erns the rda­
tion of soci ety, as a world of the living. to this Other, the world of its dt· ; td.

IH£ RIIU!ll Of D£!IH

We must first of <111 avoid confusion betwe(,n worship of HtKestors and

worship of the dead. I n digrnous thought. in fact. clearly distinguishes the
old dead from the r{'('t nl dead, and each of these categoriC's of the non-liv­
ing require different treat mrnL What is established between the community
of the living anrl Ih<11 of the a ncestors is a diachronic rtl<ltionship. marked
by t h e rupture of tempor;ll c o n t i n uity, a n d a synchronic relationship,
marked by the w i l l for cultural contin uity. I n o t h e r words. I nd i a n thought
situates the a ncestors in a lime before time, in a time where the events that
occur are whllt myths recount: a primordial time of various moments i n the
foundation of culture a n d thc institution of o;ocit'ty, a veritable t i m r of thr
a ncestors w i t h w h o m the souls of the old dead, anonymous and separ<1 1ed
from thr living by a great genealogical depth, merge. [n addition. society.
instituted as such i n the mythici1l <l nc('stors' fo unding act. constantly reaf­
firms its w i l l . through the voices of l eaders a n d sh<lm<lns or through the
mcans of ritual prilctices. to persevere i n its cultural being, that is, to con­
form to the norms a n d rules bequeathed them by the a ncestors and trans­
mitted t h rough mythS. To this end. the anccstors l'Ire orten honored with rit­
uals whose const'ljuences we shall examine. I t becomcs ci('i1r thilt the illlces­
tors and their mythical gestures. far from uring <lo;"i m i l illed with Ihe dead.
arc considered the very l i fe of society.

5 9
1 H E � R C H f O L O G Y O f V I O L E N ( E

Rrlation with the dead is so meth i n� else entirely. F irs t, t hey are the con�
temporaries of Iht' living, those whom age or sickness tear:-. fro m the Com�
m u n ity, the relatives find kin of the s u rv ivo rs. If death aoolishes the oody, it
also brings into being, into autonomous existen<.:e, that which Wl' call the
soul, for lack of a ben e r tt:rm. A<.:corc:ling to the particular be-litis o f eac h cul­
lUre, the number of souls a person bas can vary: sometimes just one. some�
tim es twO, sometimes more. BUI even if there arc more than one, one of t ll em
heconws the ghost of the dc-ct'ased. a so rt of living dead . In fa<.:t. the aClual
fum'raI rites. insofa r 'IS thl'y conCl'rn the dt:ad body, ,Ire (' ssen t ia l l y in{('nded
to wiHcI olT defl n i t ivrly the souls of lhe dead flO1l1 1 h e l iving: death I('IS loose
a nood of evil, aggressive powers against which t h e living must protect
t hrmselves. Since the souls do not want to l ea ve the surroundi ngs of tilt: vii·
Jage or encampmelll. t hey wa n der. esp C"C"i<llly at nigh t . nC"ar their relatives
and fri e nds for whom they arc a sou rce of danger, i l l ness, death . .Just a� the
anet'stors, as the mythi('al fou n ders o f soci ety. arc marked w it h iI p ositive
sign a n d are therefore close to the community of th ei r '"descendants," so the
dead, as potential destroyers of this samt;' soci ety, arc markt;'d with a n ega t ive
sign to such an extent that Ihe l iv in g ask: how can we get TId of them?
[t fo l l ow s ronsequently t h at o n e cannot speak of a (' u l t of the dt'ad
among the South American peoples: far from entenaining thoughts of celr­
brating them. th ey are much morr concerned with ('rasing them fro m their
memory, Thi:-. is why ceremonies such as the Shipaya's " feast of dead souls,"
or even the rites at which the Bororo summon the dead (aroeJ, seem to stt'm
morE' from the will to win Ihe b enev o lence of t he ancient dead th;"1n from a
desire to celebrate the reccnt dead: with the ancestors. the communi ry of the
livi n g s('('k to conclude (l ild strengthen the (l i l i ance th,H gu a r<l ll te t.'s its sur­
vival; agai nst the dead. de fenst' m('chanisms art' put into t'ffeCl to prottct
s.o (' icty from t h ei r attacks.
What do they do w i t h th{' d ead ? Gcnt'rally, they art' buried. A l mo s t
everyWhere, in the area be i n g considered, the tomb is a (,ylinc1ric hole so me­
times covered with a l illie roof of palm leaves. The body is most often p l aced
there in the feta l pOSition. the face t urned in the dircction of th{' sours sup­
posed resting place. The al m os t total abscnce of cemt:teries is due n ot to the
peri od ic uphravals of vill agt's wil en tile ga rd e ns bccom(> unprodu("liv(>. but
ra th er to the rela tion of exclusion that separates the living fro m the dead. A
cemett'ry is i n fact an cstablished spac(' reserved for the dcad whom one can
l a ter visit and who are m ai llt(l ined, i n thiS mannt:r, i n permanence <lnd p rox ­
i m i ty to the sl.);1('C or t h e living. Thc Indians' major concern is to a boli s h
ev('rything including the memory of the dead: how. then. can a p rivikged
spacr be re�l'rv�d for them? This will to rupture thus leads m a ny of t hese
societies quite s imply to icilY{' the v i l l �ge whcn a dt'<lth O('rUTS in order to

6 0
l H E A R C H t: O L O G Y O f V I O t E N C f

put the most distance possible hetween the dead p e rs on 's grave and Ihe
�pacc of the living. All lilt' dc {'rascd 's goods arc burned or dt'stroyed, a taboo
i" (ast upon h is name which from now on is no longe r spoken. In short. the
cIr<ld person is compl et('ly annihil<lted.
That 111(' de ad (tin h;lunt the l i vin g to the point of anguish in no W<ly
implies a la(,k of emotion in the latter: the manifestations of mou rn ing ( a
"IH1Vcd head for the women. for exampit:. black pain!. s('xu<ll or alimentary
restri ctions. etc.) are not mt"rt'ly so('ial, for the sorrow e x p ressed is not
fdgned. Tht d('(l(] person·s burial funhermore is not ·· sl a pda sh . " it is not dOl1c
hast ily, but according to rules. Thus, in ccrt ai n socicti('s Ihr funeral ri tu a l
lakes place in [wo stagcs. Among t h e Bororo. a vt'ry complex ceremonial
cydc rol l ows th(> burial of the deceilsed : il ri tu al hunt, dan('es ( a mo ng which.
the so�called dance of th e maritltlo, which the men pcrform with huge rolls of
kaves o n thtir heads), .1IHI ch a nts go o n for about tWO weeks. Thc skeleron,
rid of its fl es h, is then exhumed. painlrd with IIf/1('1I a n d decorated with
feathers. Pla('ed in a h aske t, it is flll al l y taken i n a p ro cession to a nearby
river where it will be thrown. The ancie nt Tupi-Guarani gtner:111y in h u nwd
thcir dead in gn.::at funerary urns burit'd in the earth. like the 130roro. in the
case o f fa mo us chiefs or shamans. they proceeded to exhume the skeleton.
which among the Guarani became the obje('t of a cult if t h e shaman w as
great. The Guarani in PCl raguay still maintain the custom of sometimes p re­
serving a child 's skclClon: invo ked under certain circumstances, it assures
mediation w ith the gods (lnd thu'\ allows communication h('t\vct'll humans
a nd the diviniti('s.


Some societies, however, do nol b ury tht'ir d�'(l d : they e(lt them. TlLis type
o f anthropophagy must he distinguished from the Illuch more wides.prcad
t re a tme nt reselVcd by several tribes for their pris.on('TS of war. such (lS t h e
Tu pi -G uarani or the Carib. who ritually executed and consumed their cap�
tives. We call the- act of eati ng the body of onc 's own dead (and not Ih3t of
the e nemy ) endocannibalism. It can take many forms. Til" Ya noma m i of the
Venezuela n Amazon burn thc (,:1d ave r on a pyre; they ('011('('( tht fr'lg m ems
of bon e that hClve eS(,3ped combustion and grind tl1em to a powder. This is
lelter to blended into b a n a n a purtt and consumed by a rel a t iv e of t h e
de('crlsed. lnv(· rsl'ly. the GUilya k i o f P(l ra gu;'ly grill t h e c u t u p (,;'ld;wcr on a
woode n grill. Th(' nt'sh. accompanied by t ile pith of the pil/do palm trtt', is
ronsumed by the whole tribe. with Ih(' excq>tion of the ckcc-;tst'd's fam ily.
The bones aTe brokrn a n d burned or abandoned. The apparent effect of
encio('annihalism is the t o tal integration of the dead into the living. sin ct' one

6 I
.. . . n t U l U b T 0 1 Y l 0 L f tl ( f

absorbs the other. One could Lhus th i nk of th is funerary ritual as the absolute
o!JPosite of the customary auitudc of the Indians, to crea te as largt: a gap as
possible hetwet'n thC'mselves and thl' dead. But this is only an ;"lppearancc. I n
reality, tndocannibalism pushes t h e separ<ltion o f the l i v i n g: and the dead to
its exueme i n that the former, by eJ t i ng the laner, drprivcs them of this fLnal
anchora ge i n the space that the grave would constitute. Therc is n o longer
any possibility for contact b(:'lwcl'n thcm, and tndocannibalism accomplishes
the mission assigned to rUIl�r:l1 rite'S in the" most radical manner.
One can sec, thtl1, the extent to which th e confusion betw('ell the cult of
the ancestors Clnd the cult of the dead i s false. Not o n ly does the cult of the
d('ad not exi�t in South American tribes since the dead arc dt'sti lled to com�
plell: oblivion, but moreover, indigenous th o u gh tends to mark its relation�
ship to the world of myt h i c<l l ancestors as positively as it marks negatively
its relationship to the world of the real dead. Society secks conjunction,
alliance, inclusion w i th th{' anccslOrs�founders, wh i l e th{' community of the
living mainl<lins thell of the dead in disjunction. ru ptur e, exclusion. 11 follows
that all events c a pab l e of a l te ri n g a l i v i n g per!)on logically refer lO the
supreme alteration. deaLh ilS division of the person i n t o a cadaver 8nd a hos­
tile- phantom. Ill ness, as potential death, concerns not only the person's indi­
vidual dest i ny, but <llso tbe future of the community. lhal is why the Lhera�
peutic u n d erta ki n g aims, beyond curing the sick, at protecti n g the society,
and thiS is <1ls0 why the medical act, by the theory of ill ness t h at it imp1les
and puts into effect, is a n essemially religious ]Hactice.


I\s d o cto r, tllr sbaman occupies a central place i n the religious l ife of the
tribe which expects him to assure thr good health of its m r mbrrs. I low does
one f;)11 sick? What is i l lness? C<lust is not a tt ach ed to a n,!tuTal a ge n t
b u t to a sUj)rrnatural origin: the aggression of a certain spirit of n ature. or
th e soul of some o n e recently deceased, an atl<lck by a shaman from nn
ellemy t ribe. a (voluntary or inVOluntary) transgression of a n alimentary or
sexual taboo. etc. Indian etiol ogycl osel y assoC"iates i l l n ess. as bodily un rtst .
with the world of invisible powers: the mission ('ntru!)ted to the sh <l m a n is
determ i n i n g whirh of thest powers is rt'sponsibte. But whatever the cause of
tht !Jain, whattver thl' perceptible- symptoms, the form of the i l l ness i s
� t
a l n Os! a l ways the same: i t cons i s s of a provisionill a n t i c i p Clt i on o f that
whtch death producc.:; i n a dermitive m a n n!:'r, namC'ly the separation betwten
th e bouy and soul. Good ht'<llth is tllaintaintu 1Jy lh(' c otx i s te nce of the body
�nd the soul united i n tht' perso n ; iIl nt'ss is the loss of this unity by th e
the ilhH'ss, to restore good h eal t h , is 10 Teconstil UH'
soul ,s departure. To cu rt

6 )
I H f 6 H H ! O L O G Y O f V t O l { N { {

{h t' person .s b 0d y�soul unilY'. As doctor' the sh<lman must

. discover the pl .. H:e
. . . .
\.,.here the soul is held prisoner, l iberate Lt trom captlvlty, and finalIy I t'.\
' d .1\
hack into the p<ltient's body.


We must elimin:lte the widt'�pread conviC"tion - sp ead. r u�rortun.ale�y

t to
cntain ethnol ogists _ h at the shaman, thiS pl'rsonag e essential I 1 fe 1 0 all
primitive soc i e t i rs , is a son of l u nat icwhom
hiS soc
I t y w �1Uld ake � carc ,

(lnd t{,(lr a.way from illnesS and m arg i n :l ! ity by chargllig him With a� su n n ..,
communicatio n between ea n h a n d h e b eyo nd. hetw c � n lhe comrnunlty � nd
the supern<llUral . By transfo r m i n g the p s c o al � � � l.�
Lnto a d� :t or. society

would i n tegrate him while profiting from hiS �If s and In I h l s way would �
hloC"k t h l' probable development of h i s psychosLs: the slu l m an w oulel n o
longer b e his tribe's donor, but in sho rt. � .

madm n cared for by socle y. h � � :
absurdity o f such a discouTSr is d u e t o <l Single thing: those who utter II h.lYe
neve r seen a shnmnn.
The shaman, indced, is no di fferent from his patic-nl<; except that he pos�
sesses a knowledge put 10 tht' i r service. Obt<lining this knowledge do s ot � �
d epe nd o n the sh Cl m l n ·s personality but o n tiClrd work, o n a thorough In1l1a�
lion. [n other words, one is rarel y predisposed to b e omIng a �h i1man, so thM c .

u .
anybody, ("ssentially, co ld become a shaman should he so d slr(' . So e fec 1 � � .

this desire. olhers do not. Why might o n e wnnt to oe shaman. An lllc ldent l a
dream, a vi!)ion, a strange encounter. et ) might be i n erp ('tl:d <IS a sLgn that
c � �

such is the pnth to folloW, and the shaman·s vocatIon s u n e r way. The � �
desire for prrstige might also determine this ··profrsslonai dlOtC"e: the repu­
tation of a ··successful" sh<lman can r;"l<;i1y exte nd bty n 1 the boundaTles of � �
the tribe whert: he pr�ctiC"es his talent, Much more dtctst�C, �nwever,
sc{'m s
the w<lrlike component of shamanic activ ity, the shaman s Will for POW('T, iI

power that he wants to exen not over men l�ut over tIl{' enemics of men. Ihe
. .
i n n um('rable people of invisLble powers, SPIritS, souls. d mons. It IS s a. wnr­ � �
ri or that (hc shnman ron fronts them, ;lOd ns such, h{' Wishes to WlO .1 VICtory
over them as much as ht w nn t'> to restOTe htnlth to the sick.
Somr [Tibes (in tht Chaco, for eXflmple) rcnlllllcrate til{' sharnnn s tl1ed­
icnl ncts by gifts of food, fnbriCS, feathers, ornam nls, elc. If tht' shCl�lC1.n �
. .
enjoys considcrablt status i n all South Amencan SOCH'U(,s,
of hIS the �rilcuce
trade is nevl'rtheless not without risks. H e is a maste r of ltfc {hIS powers can .

r('store the si("k), bUI he is also a master of dt n th : these S<lntt powers a�e
though t to confer upon h i m the ability to b�ing dea t h upon others: h r IS
rep ut e d to bc nhlc o kill as well a� to cu re . It IS not a m:lt1er of m nl ('v ol c. n cc
or p erso n a l perversity. Th(' figure of the ('v i ! sorC"ern I S rart'" III SOlLth

6 )
America. l3ut if a shaman fails consecutively in his treatments, or if he pro­
duces i n comprthl'nsiule, tragic ('vents in society. the guilty party is soon dis­
covered: it is the shaman hi mself. Should he fa il to curl' his patients. it will
be- said that h e d id not want to cure them. Should an epidemic occur or a
strange death [ilke place: the shnman has without a doubt united with evil
spirits to harm the' community. He is thus a personage of uncrrtain destiny: a
holder of immense prt'Stigc, rcrtainly. but al the S<lmc lime, someone r('spon­
sil.M i n advanct for tht" tribe's sorrows. an appointed �capegoat. lest anyone
und(' r('�tirn,H(' the p e nil l ty the shaman incurs: it is mOSt often de;lth.
As a gcnrrai rul(', shamans art' men. We k n o w of some txceptions
however: in the nibrs of the Chaco. for example (Abipone. Mocovi. '[oba).
or a m o n g the Mapuche of C hil e or t h e Goajiro of Venezuela. this function
is often fulfilled by women who arc thrmst'lves no less dislinguisht'd than
the men in this regilrd. When assured of his shilmanic calling. the young
man u n dergo('s his professiolltli lraining. Of varying duration ffrom several
w r ek.. to several yriHsl. it is gcn('rally acquired under the direction of
anOlher shaman long s i nce confirmed. Somrti mes it is quitt .c; i m p l y the
soul of a c!rild shi:lman who is in charge of the novice' s instruction (as
a m o n g t h e C a m p a o f Peru). There are. a m o n g t h e C a r i b of Guy;u".a
(Surinam) veritable shaman schools. The apprrmice shaman ' s instruction
taKes the form of a n initiation: siner th e ill nesses they intend to trral ar('

the ('fferts of an action of supernatural powers on tht: body. it is a matter

of acquiring the m(,<1ns of acting upon these powers in order to control
t he m , manipulate lhtm, neutralize them. The shaman's preparauon thus
aimo; at gilrnt'ring the protection and collaboration of one or sl'vl'ral of the
guardian-spirits [0 assist him in his therapeutic tasks. To put the novice's
sou! in d i rect contan with the world of the spirits: lhis is the goal of the
apprl'nticeship. I t vcry often leads [Q what we call trance, thai io;, to the
momen t i n which the young man knows tht' invisible powers r('cognize
him as sh<1 m a n . learns the identity of his guardian-spirit. and obtains the
revelation of thl' chant. which, hencefonh. will accompany all his cures. To
permit thr soul 's initiatory access to tbe supernatural world, the body must
i n some wily be abol ished. This is why t h e shamiln's trilining entails an
asceticism of th(' body: through a process of prolongrd fasting. continual
deprivation of sl('ep. isolation i n the fort'st or bush. massive absorption of
smoke or tobacco juice (Tupi-GuilTani. tribes of the Chaco) or hallucino­
genic drugs (the Amazonian northwest). the apprentice arrives at such a
state of physical exhaustion and bodily d i l apidation t h a t it is almost a
death experit-nce. And it is lhen thaI the soul. liberatl'd from its earthly
heavin('ss. alleviated from the weight of the body. finally finds itself on an
equal foot i n g with the suptrnatural: the ultimate moment of the "tra nrc."

6 ,
I H ,

is i bl e . the young
man is
that 0rrere (
t he V ' s'I on
I h i m of the inv
' h i m a sI
t crl' . i n I e that hencer0
is laman .
rth makt's
� ,1ate'd to the knowledg
wi nll
(with the excluslOn
detemlincs iIIn('ss
though t. we h ave seen. ' the rupture of
IndigenouS . the Europeans) as
'., restoralion
lfl Amen ca by
o r all I\ath " 'IO(] recovery .,s
ucf>d of thIS unity. It
in !;ot:aTCI1. 0 f

r '. he must l e av e . .
. '1
r. IS i\ Iravtlc
ho d Y Uil
. nal soul· .
t h e 5I xl l 1ary spm .
,h ' pr(So
o;" io;t('c\ hy his au
:am a n . as
" docto
eVI sPIf ts·
held capu.... e by
follo WS that . .
� h � must. a
keepers of
world. combat the

the soul o a n i nvisihll'
. Each cure. a Te
ge of initiatory
begi n a voya . pet it ion of the
tht: body of the palle-nt s that h e
. powers .. demand
an d I'I ghtness of
tht.' soul and re hio;
sham an to acqui
!)erm'nedl the
voyage that tion of th(' spim
tr nce: of exalta
at IS. the prepar
i n a state of almost never
plac e himself � ation for a trip.
so. a cure, t or drunk as a
the body. And . tobacco (smoked
e" place withO
consumptLon of
l ak I
especi ally in the
, . ' 1 or of variOUS ively. F or
{ rug".' . cultiv ated
use- th rnl extenS
quan tll1CS
d'IV idua
JUIce in large
a principl e 0 r ·III
ere t h e Indian s
est w h •

, .ml. . IIIe soul. as

Amazonian west . e Gu,lr. e
I)Ody, merges
uch as n a
s with the prope r

certai n populatlOno;
tion that make
s it person illness ca I)e h�
of the " v mS (" g -
The e f re' a
� articularly seriO US
sick pe-rso n : the
the soul is
nosed as tht name'
the name.
s unsulta .
0 ��.
person does nOi
error III nanli n g
pMseso; a soul· n a m

him is the cause

of the illnes s. t e Sl
� discOVl'ry for Ihe
on a voyagt: of
that .suils him, A
shaman eav
n d so , t h e
havf>. comm icated
� � it to him, h
e- tells the s ick
he has In fact found
vrry proves that
what It IS. R e e o
(' n the
true name . Wh . •

relativ es
person a nd his
the p at i ent' s rtal .
the \ o st soul
name. faraw ay. as
(somctimt:S very
. . IS . m
. . , of t w I10 IS
Whilt his spml chants around the patien
cie-ties. tht' sham�
a n d
' ' \111 many s o
th(' shaman dan n marks
ca). but also with
far as the Sun).
<:.eated or stretched
groun d
wHh a mUSIC.l i
QUI on � t e
nst rumr nt (mara
the rhyth m conv erse . s . Oel)cnding
of dall(" t' on the nature
. . .
elTect mctamo
SplOts WIth ' whIch t-
Ihe v o ices of the rphosis for the trca
,I s ak .
the diagnosis.
men! to be a
S: and
an may need o
so.. he trans �� ms himself into a
s � lOVe�ll'nt 10 blow
n e

I .

uird . From time
time, he ,nterru fltS that afe
' ge hlm.Ito su
. of the body
kt'I. to massa
ck the parts
saliv are reputed

n s brcatll . ,
to con .
co smo
tobac . a
i nto the slrk bod I
toften and
Ilere. th . ).
ailing him. Everyw

e- s
I I's reintegratl'd
the . shama n
- over' Very Ofll'n
stray sou

gre,at streng th,
1ered a rorelgn sub
u• in treatm ent io;
the latter is conSI{
{he .
nt by exhihiting
� .
f tleI t eatme
. .
,f( u n g from
succeeded In extr.l
al the end hody:
proves h i s success the �icK ]l('Kon 's
stance that ht· has

6 \
, H , a R C H f O L 0 6 Y O f V I O l f H ( f

th orn . <l littl e peb ble, bi rd

's dow1/ n ;,.etl' -, .wh ich h l' hils
mou th. Ttl£' a bse nce of the ,brt' n k rep i ng
presence o f if (O H' lg
in his
soul '
fl" 1I ny.
, n b 0 dy are .
tw o different causes of ' · no{ , In
tl', ,' II nes s; ra th er' I t .
sec ms, In th (' pla ce
of th(' soul , tl," ... ('VI I SPi rit
vac ant by the cap ture . . left
pla ces a n 0 b'yerl h at by its �
pre sen ce attests
sou J TI . �o r . the
to the ab<; enc e of thr
soul is pub licly sign ifie ' H':�(, � r(' lns em on of the
d, a('cord in to the log iC, by ,
the- Object w h i ch , per Cep
his clire ::t n d J)roves

tihle and p ,pab lr' gu
. the doc,or .s c o m p et
� lh ext rac tio
ar,l Il1ees the IHlt lem
� n of
the realiry
c n ce.
I h e t h e rap eu tic' fun ctio
sha man flUS We have
n t h o ugh rsse n( l'
alre ady n dl' rl i n Cd the j

: ;�: Ir ,.
� n o 111(' , o n l y o n e
(l� y of Ira clll g a cle ar lille
of dem arc Jtio n in Ind
profane and thc sacrrd
ian cul turcs betwee
Ihe mUI l'd,inC
� t
Ihe soc ial il/H! the reli gio
us. the
' a n thc sup ern atu ral.
that the shfl man ' s m ,d
,' ,a' , ,' on I's co ns lil n tl y s
ThtH is to say
rC l' ted , for ('vents the
lt pun ctu ate
� l. rre 0 t � e t n. br . Thu s.
peo ple,> ' ind ivid ual live
s or thc soc ' ia � t
he l b(' cal l ed
' a
to int erpret a d rea m w il
or a vis ion to eCJ(j e wh ·t H"r II C('n aln

� sign
exa nl p l , .
or o m i n ous whe n for is filv oril ble
war exp edi tIOn is I 'eln . g prepared aga inst
a n ene my trib e. III this
last <'ircum"tJllce i n '
Sorcerer or a spe llwc � ht'' sha ma n may a ct
ast er: he is ci1p aul r . . as a
sen dmg dl.o;;e ses to
the ene mie s
n ki l l them I ��o
tha t wil l wea ken or eve �
I n' there .ls ,n o ritu al
i m p on a nce in wh ich act ivir y of any
the ShiJlll il n d c �� , .
p l ay a (l CC I S I Ve rol e.

RlTfi AND CfRfMDNlfi

Cle� rly. the religious

. l i fe of the SOcietirs c0
IISld(. re
� C,
. n no t be reduce
re l a ti onship t0 tI1< dt' l:d
a rltu a!Jz i1ti on of the ir d ro
o r to dlseasf'. O f equ
b" arin g is the cel ebr,
atio n of I I' fC, not on 1y .'
ally great
I n its n a lU ra I m a n l'f
est atlO ns (th e
h l rt h of a l'h i l d J but <1lso •

in its more ) o rJ
s al asp ec ts (rites of p assageJ .
I n COn fO nll a n C e with ( he grC "l ( re i ::
J)(" �. OCJ
l g SHy 0 t h ese peo
re l i gIO US sph erC' lak
e into ace o ' U n ! an d perv ade the
ple s, wr rhu s srI.' (he
. .
d('sllI1Y SO <IS 10 dep gr('at stages of md lvid
. ual
l eVents.
loy th"� m I. n SOC'IO-n tua


ext end s f,l r be ond Its ,

lh e b i rth of a chi ld .
Y ' bIO log ica l d ime ns i
1 (' f<It I
('("rns n O I on ly the
mo the r an d tl
on . It con w
. l t'r of t he new bo rn b
Illu nity, pre cis rly Ut 1 h e enl ire COmw
h at j ns a n d ff
b('cau' s(' of l'J s l'
h-v ('1. -nl('" arriv a l o f 'OI n add ition a , �lI P C O t t'cls on the religio us
L, nc{' o f the
. l fJ )e n1('ml ler inv olv
� � ;0:('('
cos mi c order: thi es" a d'Istu rva
s '\ur plu s of r r I
h Imb' ala nc� thai it eST abl
vokcs Ih(' aw ake
n i n g of ;tll sort ish es. pro­
:11('infan t, for they ilfe
f h� , f�o,m wh ich th r , tr
mu st pro trc t
stl � e 10 ;'I l l new l i fe
i b
, ThiS und ert ak-
mg of p rot c('( i o
powc rs o f d <llh
n tral1sl atc�. 111.
} '

t 0 m u I tlp re ntl' S o
f pur ific atio n, alim ent

6 6
I H { 6 R C H f O l O ' Y O f V I O L f N ( f

(;lboos, sexual restrictions, hunting rit ua ls. chants. dances. etc. (before a n d

<1ftl"r tl1 e bi nh j which find their justification i n the certainty that, i f they are
not completed, the child w i l l be threatened by death. The couvade. practiced
by a l l the T u p i - G u a r a n i tribes. has especially caught t h e a t t e n t i o n of
observers: as soon as childbirth begins, the father of the child lies in his
hammock and fasts there until the umbilical cord is cut. otherwise the m o th­
t'r and the child run serious risks, Among the Guayaki, a birth, t h ro ugh the
cosmic agit,lIion that it un leashes. thre,ltens the child but also the father:
under penalty of being devoured by j agu ar. the father must go into the for­
est and k ill a wild animal. The death of the child is of course ascrilwd to the

m , w 's defeat before evil powt'rs.

[t will not be surprising to discover a structural a n alogy between the
ritf's that surround a birth and those that sanction t he passagr of boys and
girls into adulthood. a passage i m m ediately read on twO levels: first it
marks social recognition of the biological maturity o f individuals who can
no [onger be considered children ; i t then translates the g ro up ' s acceptance
of the new adults and their entry into its bosom. the full and entire appur­
[cnance of the young people to society. The ru pture w i t h the world of
childhood is perceived in indigenous thought and expressed in the rite as
death a n d rebinh: to become adult is to die in childhood and to be born to
�o( ial l i fe, since from then on, girls and boys can freely allow their sexual­
ity to bloom. We thus understand that the rites of passage take place, as do
the riles of birth, i n an extremely dramatic atmosphere. The adult commu­
nity fei g n s the refusal to reco gniz e its new equals. the resista nce to accept
thrm as such; it pretends to see them as compct itors, as enemies. But it
also w a n ts to show the young peoplt', by means of ritual practice, that if
they feel pride i n acceding to adulthood. i t is at tile price of an irremedia­
ble loss. the loss of the carefree and happy world of childhood. And this is
ren<linly why. in many South Americ.w societies, the rites of passage comw
prise a component of very p a i n ful physical t r ials . a dimension of cruelty
and p a i n that makes the passage a n u n forgettablc event: tattooing, sCilTifiw
c a tio n , flagel lation. wasp stings or a n t bites. etc . , whirh the young i n itiates
must e n d u re in the greatest silenrc: they faint. but without moaning. And
in this pseudowdeath. i n this temporary death (a fainting deli beratcly prow
voked by th e masters of the rite), thc identity of the structurc which Indian
thought t'stabl isllCS b etween birth and pass<1gt' clearly a p pears : the passage
is a re b i rt h, a rep etit io n of the first birth which must thus be p r('c c d ed by a
symholic death.

6 7
I li f A I C li f O L O G Y O f V I O l f N { f


But we know, moreover, that the ritts of passage arc also identincd as
ritual s of i n i t iat i on Now, all i n i tiatory procedures aim at making the postu­

lant pass fro m a sUitt of ignorance to a state of know l cdgt" ; their goal is to
lead to the rtvdmion of a truth , to the communication of knowledge: what
knowledge do tht South Amtriciln l ndi<lns commun iC<lte to young people,
what truth do tl1ty reveal to them. to what co nsc i o usness do they i n itiate
them? The ped<1gogy in herent i n initiatory rites dots nOt, of course, c on cem
the interpersonal relationship that u n i tes the m<lster and d is cipl e ; it is not an
individual adventure. What is at st a ke hert is society itsel f, on the one h<lnd.
and on tilt other young peopl<' insofilr as they want to belong fully to this

sodery. I n other words, the rites of passage, as rites or i n it iatio n , havr as

th e i r mission to ('ommu n icate to yo ung peopl<' a k now lcdge of the sociely
prep<Hing to w l'lco mc them. Still I h i s says little: this k now l ed gr . a('qui red
through a n i n iti atory path. i s n o t, i n fact, knowing <luout society thus a .

know le dge exterior to it. It is, necessarily. th(" knowledge of SOCiNY itself, a
k nowledge that i s immanent to it. a n d thnt co nstit utes the very s ub st n n ce o f
�ociety. ils suustantial self. whitt i t is i n itself. I n the initiatory ritt', you ng:
people rcceive from society - represelllcd uy the organizers of the ritu<l l -
tilt" knowl edge of what society is in it::; being. what conStituH"S it. institutes
it: the univer-;e of its r ul es nnd its norms. the ethiralMpolilic<l1 u n ivcr-;e of ils
l aw. Tt-'iH : h i n g tilt law n n d t'onsequently prescr i b i n g fid el ity to t h i s l a w
assures the ('ontinuity and prrmanen('c of rhe being o f soci ety.

�Y1H !lID fllJlIDAIiDiI

What b the origin of lnw as the basis of society. who pro m ul gnted it.
who It'gis[ated i t ? I n d i genous thought. we h<lve already noted. envisi o ns the
re l a t i o nsh i p hetween society ilnd its foundation [that is, b e [\vcl'n society and
i!sclfl as a rel atio nsh i p of txteri o rity Or, i n other words. i r it reproduces

i tsel f. it docs not n ecessn rily found itself. Initi<llory rites. in pnrticul ar. hnve
the fun cti o n of assu ri ng the auto-rt'production of society. Ihe repr ti li o n of its
�clr. in conformanC'(' with traditionnl rules and norms. But tht found i n g aCI
o f the institut i on of society refcrs back to the prc-soci;l!. to thr tl1tt.:t-sorial:
i t is the work of thost;' w h o prC'cedcd men in a ti me p ri o r to human rime; it is
the wo rk of the 'lI1cestors. Myth, as namllivt' of thr foun di ng gesture of soci­
l·ty by the am·estors. constitutes the foundation of soc i e ty. the col l ect i on of

6 a
I li f a R { H f 0 1 0 ' Y O f V l 0 L f N C f

LtS tn"ax·,ms no rms nnd l;lws the very e nsemb

. •
l e of kn owkdge trnnsm itt('d to

)' oung people

in the ritual of inilinlion.
I n short, t he n the i n itiatory dimension of the ri tes of passage rerers back

the truth toward which the initiates arc led; this truth si gn al s the fou n d i n g
society. under the ausp i ces of its orga n ic law. nnd so('kIY's s('lf-knowledge
arfl rms its own origin in the founding a('t of the ancestors, whose myth con­
titutes the chronicle. This is why, on the level of the actual unrolding or the
�lOments of the ritual, the n n('C'Stors are, i mpl icitly and explicitly, n ecessaril y
i mpl icated and pr('sent. Are they not the on('s from whom tl1r � Olln g peoplC'
,\f('. i ll fnct. prepari ng to r('ce i ve instrUC'lioll? The ancestors , major l.igures 01

all rites of i n itiation , are i n truth tht real objeC'ls of w o rsh i p in the rites of
p<l�sage: the true cults of mythi('al ancestors or f cultllr l h e ro e5 are the
. ,
� � .
riu:s of i ni t i ation that have a central importance In th(' r('[ lglous I l l c o f 111('
Am er i n d ia n peoples.
Among the Yahgan of Tif'rrn del Fuego. the privileged mome nt in reli­
gious life was the rite of i n itintion of girls and b oys : it ('ss('ntially cons isl rd
or tt:'achin g the i n itiates tht t raditio n al rules of society instituted i n m y thi c a l
limes by Watauinewa, the cultural hero. the grent n n c(·stor. A m o n g t h ('
Bororo, the so uls o f the a ncestors (orad are i nv i ted by a specifiC g ro up o f
shamans (aroettall'are) to participntc i n certain ceremonies. including the i n i ­
tiation o f the young whose passage into adulth ood a n d cntr;lnCe into the

social world thus takes place undrT the aegis of the fou ndi ng ancestors. The
C'ulwo o f Brazil similarly articulate the initiation of boys with an i nvo(at i o n
of the an ('esto rs. represe n ted i n this cas{' by great trumpets, as they nrc else­
where by cal;lbash-mara('as. It is equ a lly very pro bable among the tribes of
the Amazonian Northwest rrucano, W i tOlO. Yagu;l, Tucuna) or of Ihr Upper
X i ngu [Kamnyura. Awet. Bnenri) or of the A raq u a i a (Karaja. Javac), which
rqJTesent their gods
" " in the ro rm of masks worn by m a le danccrs, then these
masks. like the musical i n stru ments symbolize not only spirits of the forcst

or the rivers, but also the ancestors.

The pri m itive societies of So u th America invest themse lves totally i n
their religious a n d ritu<ll life, which unfolds as a co nt in uo usly repealed afflr­
ma l i o n of t h e communal Self. Each cerem on y is a new opportunity t o
re mcmber that if society i s good livable, it i s d ue t o t h e respect of no rms

previously bcqueathed by Iht" an ('esta rs We can then see thaI the refere n ce

to the ancestors is logic<llly implicated in the initiatory ritrs: only the m)" hi­
cal discourse i1 n d the word of the nncestors guarantee the perm,lI1 ence of
society and i ts eternal rt'lll'tition.

b 9
I I -If A R { I H O I O G Y O f V r O l f H C [


I n penrtrating the Andean world, w e come upon a c u l t u ral horizon, a

religious space very d i fferent from that of the Savages. for t h e timer,
though the great mfljorilY are fa rmcrs, the imponan("c of natural alimenta­
ry resources re m a i n s considerable: hunting, fiS h i n g co l lect i n g. Nature as

su ch is n o t abolished by the gardens, and th(' forest tri be s r el y a5 mu c h o n

fau n a a n d wild plants as o n cuhivated plants. Not be-c:luse of a technical
- all they would have to do is in crease the su rfaCl' of p lan ta ti o n
d e fi c iency
- but because prcd<ltory exploitation i n a n e col og i cal ly l{cnerous environ­
ment [game, fi sh, roots. berries, and fruit) re q u i rcs i{'ss effon. The- tcchno­
ecological r{'lationship that the Andean people maintflin with their natural
e-nv iro n me n t follows a co mp l ete ly diffe-re-n t l i n e of re as o ni n g : they are alt,
of course. fa rm C'Ts and rdmost exclusively fCl rmcrs in the sense that w i l d
res o u rc es count very 1 [\[ l e for thc m . That is t o say t h e Indians o f t h e Andes
form an infinitely more intense rela t ionship with the eanh than the Indians
of the A m azo n s : i t is [ruly the nurturing mother for thrm :tnd this. natural­
ly. h:t>; p ro found i n fiuencc on religious l i fe and ritual practices. I n terms
of r('"al a n d sy mbo l i c occupation of space, the forest Indians are p eo pl e of
the territory, w h i l e those of thl' Andes afe people of the earth: they arc, i n
other words. peasa n t s .

Rootedness in the earth is ext rt m e ly old in t h e A n des. A gricul tu re started


with the third millennium before our nit <lnd und en'lcn t ex('('ption<11 dcv('[op­
ment as attcsted by the very adva nced specializalion of culturnl t rch n i q u es,
the vastness of th e irrigation system, and th e surprising v<1riety of plant
species obtained by selection a n d adapted to the difTerl'nt ecological levels
from sea level to the high crntral plateau. Andean soeietie!; stand OUI on the
South Am('ri('un horizon by a strmiftC'alion absent elsewhere: they ure hicrar­
ch i ca l i z ed. or divided a l o n g the vertical axis of pol i t i ca l power. Aristocracies
or religious and m i l itary r<lSfes reign over a mass of peasants who must pily
them tribute. This division of the social body into t he d o m i n at i ng and the
dominated is very ancirnt in t he AnciC's, as archeol og ic a l research has est<1b­
lishC'd. The- ci vi li7 <lti on of ( hav i n dating from the b eg i n n i n g of t h C' first m i l ­

l e n n i u m beforc o u r era. al ready shows that the habitat was becoming urban

and t at �oeial lifc was bring organ ized around the temples. places o f worship
iln( p llg n m a ge, under rill' a egis of priests. The history of thC' Andcs by this

p � nod '\ccms a succcssion of em ergi n g and crumbling cmpi res t ron gly
'> t i n ted
w1th th('ocrac�. the las �
and bcst known of which i s t hat of the Incas. Only
I n formatlon are aval/i'lble about pr(' - I n c an An de a n r(' l i g i o ns.
fra gm e ms of
t h ro ugh tlw fun (' ra ry furnllure of tl1(' tombs, the monuments that have sub-

7 0
l H f ! R { H ( O L O G Y O f V I O t f N { f

"isted. t h e fabrics. lhe rcramics, elt". The Incan period, which eXlends from lht'
[ Jth century to the arrival of the Span is h . is n at ura l ly better known t hro ugh
the great abundance of arrhc:ological documents, rh ron i c l e rs· descriptions,
a nd the in quests of the missionaries who systematically undertook to extir­
pate idolatries i n order to Christian ize the Indians.
The foundation :tnd ex p a n s i o n of the Incan empire changed the religious

fLl�·e of the Andes. as one might ('xpect, bUL without a l te r ing it p rofo u nd ly.
I n d eed. the lncil.s· po l iti <:a l imperialism was at o n rr cultural and religious
.;; i nce (he suhjected Iwoples not only had to recognize the emperor's :tuthori­
ty, but had to acce p t the religion of th e victors. On th e other hi'lnd, the lnras
had h ard ly attempted to s ubst i tut r their ow n collection of bel i efs for those of
the pOI)ulations i nrt'grated inro rhe cm p ire: th('y did not undenake any rXlir­
pati o n of the loral cults and rites. This is why wt.' filld twO grcat religious
systems in the Andes of this period: that of the Incas proper, w h ose diffusion
went hand i n hand with political e-xpansion, and t h at of th e loeill religions,
i n effect well beforr the appearance of the Incan state.


POpUIM religion clearly expresses [he Andean l n d i a n ·s relationship to

world: it i s esse n tia l l y a rel i g io n
of peas:t nts, an agrarian rt'tigion. for both
the coastal people and i nhabitants of the- pla teau . TIll' Ande a n Indian·s pri­
m a ry concern was to gain the favor of powers that p resided over tIl{' Sl'a<>on ­
al cycte and that assured the abundance of thl.' harvest a nd fecu nd i ty of t h c
l l a m a herds. This is no doubt why. beyond local particularities, wr can spea k
of p a n A n dea n cults and beHefs l'ncompas>;ing the coast and t h £' plateau. or

thr Ouechua and the Aymara a n d the Moehiea.

Tlte gods
The- n atural elements !hi'lt ordered the daily l ife of the-sr p e asanl peoples
were exal tl'cl to the status of d iv in e powers: S u n and Moon, often though! of
as b rot h e r and sister as well as h us ba n d and w i fe ; the evt.:ning a n d morn ing
stars; t}l e rainbow; the Pacha-Mama. M o th er Eanh, etc. All tllese d iv i n e fIg­
u r es were thf object of cultS and i m p rrssi ve ceremonies. as we shall "ee la1t'f.
The essential plant of Andea n agriculture. maize. was reprrsented by n umer­
o u s i magl's of ears of corn i n gold, s i l v e r or �ton('; thrse were the S(ffO-1II0ma,
mothers of co rn from whkh abundant Ilarvc<:,t was expected. These divinities
were h o nored with offerings. libations (d ri n ks made of fe rnwlltt'd corn), or
S<1crifl ces : Ham;] i m mo l a t i on in pani eular, the blood o f which Wi'lS sprinkled

over th" c o r n field" ;"Inri used to an oi nt thf' fac('s of partirip.1 n t >; in lil(' ritual.

7 I
r ll f d R C !l f O t O G Y O f V r O l f H ( E

The rull vJ ancestors (Inti oj Ille dead

These cults show the d i ffe r e n c e between tht: savage tribes a n d the
Andean peoples. Among the former. as we have sern. the ancestors art' not
dead contemporaries of the Jiving. but mythical founders of society. In the
Andes. on the contrary. the socio-religious l ife of the community depended
largely on t he cult of both the an cestors and the dead; the latter were the
des e d,l n !
c n s of I he former, i'lnd Anrlc;]n thought, in con t rClSI to Amazonian
th o u ght , made an effon to tmph;)size the co nt i n u i ty between the world of
tile l i vi n g and lhl' world of tht dt'ad: a ('o nt in u i ty of lht' pe as ;] III com mu n ity
thilt occupied tIl{' same soil undt'r Ihe prolection of its gods (tnd its dead. The
mythical founding ancestor was frequently representtd by a rock, lI1arkayok,
vfnt:rated no kss than the pl ace, pakarina. from which the ilncestor emerged
from the subterrane,w world. Ench co mmu n i ty. or ay/Ili. t hus hnd his an ces­
tor a nd rendered h i m a cul t : markayok and pakarilla, test ifI ed to the perma­
nence and identity throug h out lime of the ayllu il nd founded tht solidarity
o f familirs thm comprised the communiry.
While the funerary ritcs of the Indian<; of thc forest lend to a n n i hilate the
dead in order to C;ISt Ihem into o b l iv io n . the Andean Indians, on the con­
tra ry, placed them in ve rita b le crmcteries: tombs were grouped in th e shelter
of ('aves or in sons of crypts built in the shn pe of t Ow ers . or in h ol es bored
into c l i ffs. Th ey con t i n ued t o p a n i rillate in collective life. for rel<1tives came
1 0 visit and consult them; reguln r offerings maintained their henevolence.
and (hey were offen'd stlcriflcts. Far from fo rgetting their dead. (he Indians
o f the Andes did everything possible so that Ihe dead w oul d n ot fo rget the
l iv i n g .1 nd would look out for t h ei r p rosperi ty: CI relationship of al l i iln c e a n d
inclusion. and not on e of exclusion a n d hostility, as i n t h e forrst. This is
why, according to the Spanish priests in chinge of ex t i rpati ng the ido l a tr i es,
the real d ead - i n the form of skeletons or mummies (ma/qui) _ l i k e the
mythical dead. were objens of ('ult and veneration: in certain ceremo n i al c i r ­

eu mst ; 'l!1 ces . r h ry were decorated with fenlhel'S and precious m a te ri a l s.

The lIulIca
This was the name given by the In dian s 10 all bei n gs or natural objects
t o u gh
h t to contain a supernalur.11 power. S a c red stonts rep resenting the
a ncestors werr /llIncn. as were the mu m m i fi ed dead. 13 m IlIIoca also were
idols and the places t hey could be fo un d, a mountain or a plant. a spring or
a grono. a chi l d born w i t h a d e formi ty, a temple. a constel l at i on, or a tomb.
On a trip, privil egtd places such as a moun ta i n pass or a rest i ng place in il
pa t h were m a rk ed by il heap of stones, aparhira, which t h e travele rs also
consitit'red huoca: th ey ad(kd thei r own stone to th i s pile and offered up a

7 1
I ll f & R C H f O t ll ' Y O f V I O L f N ( f

" 0
(I UI( r coca ,
< l('nv('s Thr sp a ce lhu" - i nt e rse cted with the supernatural. and the

sort of s a cred en codi n g 0f t'1 e wQrId .

a c o nst i tuted a
system Of th e il1loc .
The ensemble of lhe huaca included not only the �onneclJons. , .
I)ctwnn "
spatiaI la, 11dscapes
. but also objects. figunnes. and
and the sacred sphere,
amulets that represented each family's p owe rs 0r tut e' age. Thcst" w ert" th t
cOl/opa., sometimes stones of u nus lJa I shape or color. sometimes s tatu ettes

"cu I pt rd O r mOlded into thr shape of <I llamn or ;In e<lr of corn, r'<lnlt' I 'la I
cOl/opa w e rt: ktpt in h om es to protect the Inl1alll /;tnt') from I l l nes s. or even
, " . ,

,lune ' d i n the fields to guamn!tt fe r t i l ity. C'ommunal ('ol1opa (those o f th e

ay/lu) wen' extracted at certain m om e nts 0r the year rrom t 1e , " 11 dI' n.g I) I aces
where thcy were concealed: they were given homage. offered sacnflCes of
l l amas or coca. a n d pmyed to.
There WClS il t least onr donor or s h a ma n in each commun ity. He was

often appointed by th e God of Thunder w ho who would strikc h i m w i t b

lightning. Outside o f h i s th e ra peut ic functions. Ih sh m a n al so sl'rved il S a
� �
fortun o rlJer. BUI un l ike tht forest tribes, shamalllsm I n the Andes was not
Ihe centt'T of rtligious l i fe. I t developed into <In ensemhle of rilunl practices,
all of which te n d ed to ask the gods, t h e a n('rst ors . the dead. all rhe powers
called Iwaca. 10 assure th e welt-being of t he OyJ/11 by gua ra mc !.' l n g Mother

Earth's prosperity. This distinctly a g ra ria n religion transltlU·s th(' pf' asant's
profoun d devotion to his soil ovcr which Ihe divint' must W;I\('h.


I n o rig in and substance. !!lcan religion does not d i ffer p ro fou nd ly fro m
so - cal l ed p pu la r
o rel i gi on . Townrd the I Jlh (' c n l U ry of our era. the lnC<1S
were a smn1t triht of tile C'uzco reg io n . The rel igious ilnd ritual lift' of thest'
farmers and shepherds was rootcd. like all praSil nt rommunifirs of thr roast
Or of the plateau, i n a desire ror the repetition of (he cosmic order. the elt'T­
nal return of the same. and ill the hope Ihin. through n:lebratory flies , and
sacrificial o ffe ri n gs . the divine powers. the ancestors. and t he dead would
guarantee the feni l i ry of t h e earth and the permtll1ence of so(' i rry. Fo� reil­
"ons still unknown. the tribe of t he Incas began a ma rch of co n q uest In the
! Jth century which ended only with tht' ilrrivnl of I ll(' Spanish . B t d uri g � �
this rC'lO'ltiV{'ly hrief period. the Incas pushed back tht: hordt' �f t 1 I. t' lr t'mplrt'
immeasurably (which co unt ed h{,lwten Iwelve and flflcen nulllon i n ha b i ta nts
in 1 530). a n d huilt up a n a sto n ish in g machine of power. a Stall' a p p aratus
which is still surprising in " mo dern ity " of its institutions
the .

I m p e r i a l s o c i ety, i n s c ri he d i n a rigorously h i e ra r h i .al p y r n m i d ,

c c
ex pressed t h e radicill division ht'1Wt'l'l1 I h (> Incas' t ri um p h a n . anstocracy �nd
the mass of peopJrs. ethnic groupo:;, and Irih{'<; i n tegrated mto the empm\

1 1
l � f � R ( H t 0 1 0 G Y O F V I O t f N ( f

whose power they recognizrd by paying it tribute. At t h t top of the h i rra r­

ehy feigned the monarch. the Inca, ,'It once- cilie-f of his ethnic group, master
of his empire, and eanhly representative of the principal divine power. I t
would be a mistake t o think thitt the Incas' political - mi lit a ry expansionism
wa.;; accompanied hy religious proselyt izing which imposed their Own system
on the subjected peoples by eliminating the traditional riles and bel ie fs of
the vanquished. It is it miMake. bel'iluse, in essence, the I ncas' religion hardly
differed rrom th a t or its deprndenls; secondly. brca usr til(> Inca.;;' domination
tended to gain only the obt:diencl' of the subjects and not, ::IS the Sp a n i sh
had <lonr. to ext i rp ,1;t e their idolatries. In rt:ality, they allowed the traditional
religious "el1('od ing:" to subsist. and imposed upon it a "supercoding" ('onsti­
tuted by t h e ir own religion: rreedorn or worsh ip was al lowed the l n c a n vas­
sals undt·r the ('o n ditio n that they rt"cogni7.e and honor the p;ods or the co n ­
querors as writ.
As t he ir powl'r gradually incrt'ast'd. the conquerors proce('ckd t o rework
their a ncient sy<;tem or be l i efs by exalting c{'rtain flgUrt·S in th('ir p a rnhton. by
m a k in g reasts and cC'r{'monil'S grandi ose. by giving considemb](' sociopolitical
weight to rel i g ion through the institution or a l a rgl'. extremely hierarchical
clergy. by constructing multipll' tl'mples ;lI1d pl a ('es or wo rship , by a l l oca t ing
to this clergy a l a rgt' part of the tribute paid to the Inca!. hy tlwir suhjects.

fire cull of rll(" )11II

rhe solar star, Imi, l'm l'rg l'd .t... iI major figure in thl' I m'an p a ntheon as
the resull or two thing:-.: tradition, which ror quitt son1<' time had made the
sun pan- Peruv i a n divinity: and sociopolitical i n n ovation. whirh through
the i n s t i t u t i o n or a n i m per i a l system, would t raverse prartically all th e

archak� d espo t is lll';; and lead to t he idemirlcation of tht' master of l h e empire

with tflr sun. This is why the lattcr llt'l',lme the p ri nci pa l Inean god. as the
great founding ancestor or royal l i neage : emperors were (' h i l d ren of tile Sun.
And so t he cult lhal was rendered took on a value both o f dynCls l i c a r H.:eStOr
cult worsh ip a n d of orflcial religion imposrd on all: it was th ro u gh sun-wor.
ship th<lt Inc<ln rc l i gi o n btcamr a rrligion of the State.
When the Incas obtai ned the submission of an ethni<: gruu p, they imme­
di ately took a certain n u m b er or ad m in i strati ve mt:'ilsures (il po p ul a tio n cel1-
su:-.. rt:source count, l'tc.) <Inn rel igi olls me<1SUfes: t h e vilnqui.;; hetl h:1d to inte­
grate t h e cult of I n l i into their rrligious system. This i nvolved Ihe impi emt'n­
tation or a cult-orirll!rd t n frastniclUre. th e ('TC'ction or temple.;. the l'stabl i sh­
llH"nl or <l ck rgy to offi('iale there. a n d of co urs e, I)rovi d i ng thi.;; cl t rgy with
ill1portallt resources which assured i t s su h s i s t e-Ilc e a nd all owed H to accom­
plbh the !.acrirlces necessary 10 rclehrate the Sun . We k no w that the Incas
initiateci a I ripa ni t io n of land ror all the subjel'{ed communities: one pan

7 •
l � f � R ( H f O l O G Y 0 1' V I O l f N ( f

rem a i ned at the disposition or the ayliu. another w as a l l o (' at rd 10 the State.

itnd the t h i rd devoted to th e SUIl. The construction or numrrous Sun temples

errcted in the provinces followl'd t h e mod!:'l of the most famous a m o n g
them, t h a t or the impe rial capititl. the Coricancha, I h e true religious a n d
political center of the empin:. a place o f worship a n d pi lgrim a ge where the

Olum mies or past emperors could also be found. Coricancha's surrounding

\.,.alls, rectangular in shape. m ea sured four hundrt:d meters in l e ng th . All
along the meticulously constructed masonry ran a hand of fln(' gol d. thirty
to forty centimeters wide. The CoriC<lncha housed various sanctuaries fIlled
w i l h offerings or go l d or sil ver as wel l as the numerous pt'rsonnel assigned
to serve i n the tem p l t . There was <1ls0 il gil rd cn where stalks of c o rn made or
gold were st u ck i n t h e ground. By working ritu a l l y in this ga rden , I n c a him­
<;elf opened the se aso n of sow ing in the e m p ire.
Outside or" the h ierilrcllical ensemble of priests , fortunc[cJlers, ,md ser­
vants. the p e rson nel or {'ach Sun ttm pl e incl udt'd a g rou p of wOJnrn chosen
from throughout tll(' empire by royal a d m i n istrators for their grace a n d
bl'ilury - virgins or the Sun, the Adla. They wne assembled a nd educated in
sorts of cloisters (aclla-ll11asi), wh e re they learned to m a nuracture luxurious
rabrks of vicuna and alpaca, whkh wt re offered i n e n o rmous quamities at
I h (' s a c r i fi ces . Thcy prepared chirlra, a d r i n k made or fe rmented corn,
requited a t every ceremony. Like [he vestals, they were vowed to absolute
rhastity. yet it was among these women that Inca chose his concubines as
weI! as the women he gave' as rewards to greilt men or Ihe empire, Some of
lhe aella we re silcriflced at cruciill moments: the accession of a new emperor,
the serious i l l ness or death or the Inca. earthquakes. eiC. Four thousand peo­
ple. it is said. composrd Corica ncila's personnel, of which fIfteen h u n d red
were virgins of the Sun. ( n ('ach I('mple. the virgins were subjrC\eci to tile
a u thori ty of a m a tron , Mama-CUI/a, c o n si de ren thr wire or the Sun: At the
r.;ummit of the h i erarchy was the high priest of the Sun. tht' Vilea-Oma. the
emperor's uncle or b rother, who l ivt'd ascrtically in the Coricanch<1 wh('fl' he
d irectrd the religious life of the l'm p i rc .

Tire cliit of Viracoclia

Vi ra co cha was <l d i v i n e rlllthropomorphic rl gure ilt o n ce very ancient a nd
pan -Peruvian, since hl' was k n o w n a n d honored as much by the Aymara as
by the Quechu<l. Throughout the often o bsc u re myths devoted to Vi ral'o('h('l.
we can St(' t h e image of an eternal god-creator of illl t h i ng s (sky a n d earth.
Sun and Moon, day and night) and il hrro-civili7Cr who. a fte r h ilv i n g ('(tilled
and dest royed several successive civilizations. e ngend e red the m e n or the
presem to w h o m he assign('d their respective territories. taught the art.;;
which would allow Iht'm 10 l ive , and prescribed tht' norms, which would

7 I
I H f U C H E O L O G Y O f V I O L E N C E

assure the proper �ocial and cosmic order. His task completed, Viracodla,
having reaclll'd the seaside, Lransformtd his cloak into a boat and dis<1p­
p eared forever {oward the West. I n the flTst e ncou nte rs with the Span ish, the
I nd I a ns called t he m viracocha,
The I ncas imposed tht cult of thtlr ethnir god, t h e Sun. o n tht rntire
e m p ire . In a reve rse process, they transformed Viraeorha, a pan-Andean fig­
ure, into a trihal gOd. It was undrr thr rri g n of the gn:at emperor Pachaeuli
(he mled from 1438 to 1 4 7 1 ) that this rework i n g oftbe lnran pantheon's hier­
arrhy took shape, after which I n t i cf..'dcd the n�nt T<L1 place to Vi racocha,
thou gh the e1l1pt'ror remained a descendant of the S u n . This pr('(' m i n e n c e
<'Ic corelt'd t o Viracocha may be the cumul<1tive effect of s ('ve rOlI things: the
purdy the olo gical work of priests s eek in !4" a mo re fund<'lMlcntal reI i g iou s pres­
cnce than that of th e visible. be it solar; th e pe rso n al belief of P a ca c h ut i him­
sl'lf t ll <l t. in a d rram . Vi racoch;'l he-Iped to w i n ;'I n l'ssl'nli<11 military victory
over the Clwnca: a n d finally the logi c inherem perh<lps in <111 despo t ic sys­
trtns thilt (h('ir tl\('o(,r<l t i t voc<1t i o n C<ln DC re<l l i 7.(;d in t h e affmnation a n d
institution o f monotheism.
It i s, in any case, along this path that Paeachuti continued. lie had a tem­
ple dedicated to Viracocha b uilt at Cuzco w here the god W<lS dep ic tt:d in t h e
form of a solid gold statue the size of a ten-year-old c h i l d. Sanctuaries 01
V i racoch a wen: also built in each provi n ci al capi tal . equi p p ed wilh clergy
d evotcd to his cxclusivc service and rcsources i nten{lt-d to assure the maintr­
nance of the tem ple <lnd the priests . The- cult of Viracocha - ancient Lord.
distant Lord, v('ry excelle nt Lord - never became a popular c ul t as did that of
the SUIl. Perh a ps the Incas did not care. since they wanted to instilUte a cul t
that was more ilbstract. more esote ri c. <lnd less rooted i n the sensu<ll worl d
than the po p ular cults. and then'hy mark t h ei r spcciflcity as dom in ;'l nt caste
even on thr religious level . This is why the cult of Viracocha, as OPI)Osed \0
the p opu l. : n cults. did lIO! sU lV i vc for an instant at the end of the em p ire.

The cult of T/WI/tin (l11t1 tlie h U {1("(1

I l l ilp(1, Thunder, was a lso <1 p <1 n -A n dea n flgun .' in the I n c- a n p;1ntheon.

M<1ste-r of storm, h,l i l . l i gh t n i ng and r<lin, h e produrcd tumull in llle skies by

sn;lpping- a s l i n g-shot. As ril r mers. the Ande<1n pe o p il' were V('ry aUt.:ntivl' to
lllapa's ac-tivitics. They i mplo re d h i m to send eno u g h rain and offe red h i m
grf..'<1t sacrifIces i n p e ri ods of dro u g ht . The Andean socit'ti(os' <lgrari<1n charac­
ttf ex pl ;l i n� thr supe rior pos i ti o n of lIlap<1, after V i racoc h a ilnd Inti, i n the
l n Cilll p 'l Il th ("on .
For thl' l'a�t(: of till' I n cas. <lS for the p{,<lsant mas"es. the IlIIaca co n stitut ­
ed a saned grid of s pace. The Incas add('d thtlr own systrm to the popul ar
Iwnw n etwo rk , definecl i n s a n c t i fied plac-es by a rl'al or i m a g i n a ry l i n k

I ll f & R C H f O l O ti Y O f V I O L f N ( f

between the person of the emperor and the places he went or d n'ilmt of.
Wha tever thei r form, the i1uoro were venerated and honored with silcrit'tces
(h('ers made of corn. coca, I l amils. c-hildrtn or women whose hea rts w ould be
offered to the d iv i n ity ). The town of (uzco alOll{' was said to havr rive h u n­
dred hU{Jca. The IIIUl ea of ( he e m p ire were p ositioned on i m ag i n ary axes.
zekes. w h ich started <'It Coricandlil and, like rays, reached the borders of the
empirr. The proliferation of i n feri or as well as superior divinities in [he Andrs
was a sign of the' infiltration of spac-c and timr hy thr sac red. The m a rk ing of
",P<1C(' by thr Illwca cchoed the punctuation of lime hy ritual p ral"tict.'s .

Feasrs alld ceremonies

Rare or unrorrs('etlble ev rnlS ofrrrcd an o pport unity for important l"ere­
m o n i a l m<'lnifestat i o n s : e c l i pses of the sun or moon, e a nh q u a kes, drough ts
gave rist.' to solemn s<lcriflCes w h i c h <ltlt.'mpttd to appease the an ger of I h r
dc-ilies. Evc-ry1hing, furthermore. th;'lt arrc-ctcd the person of the emprror h(ld
reperc us s i ons on the w ell- be i n g of rhe emp i rr : <lS t he son or the Sun. he
oc-cup ied the point of contact bttwten the world of the gods and lhe w o rld
of men, so that the rol1el"tivt' des t i ny of the peo ple n arro w ly depended on
t he personal destiny of lhe Inca. Inversely. to t ransgress the norms of SOCiil1
life was to offe nd the e mpe ror and t hus to incite the wrClth of the gods. This
is why the enthronement of a new Inca, the death of the cmperor. his iltn('ss­
es, his military defeats put into quest ion the Vf:'ry s;'llvmion of the empire <lnd
the survival of the people: numrTOUS hum<ln s<lC"riflrrs (children. prisoners of
W<lr, virgins of t h e Sun) were used to reestablish the a 1tt.'red socia -cosm ic
order in men 's favor.
These exceptional circu mstances in whkh tvil d i fferen<:e distoned rhe
" prose of thr world '" called ror <l somrwhat i mp rovis t'd ri1U<l1 resp o n se. Hut
there was al so an annU<11 cycle or religious ceremonies th<lt cl ose l y followed
the movement of social life, a move m C'nt <'Inieuliner! primarily in the <lgrari,1Il
c-yele: sow in g, h arvesting, s ol stices, p ayi n g tribute. Although the yC<lr W<lS
divided into twelve lunar months. it was the Sun's mo veme n t in tilr sky Ihat
preoccupied Ih(' Indi<1ns or t h e Andes. E;'lch month W<lS m<lrked by a particul<lT
fr<1st that determined the moment of pl a n ting. l1<lrvesting, distributing t h e
r\('lds. preparing them fo r sowing. etc. Thesc fcasts took place in th e temples.
and more often. in public squares rcs('rved ror th is purpose, notably. in the
great sqU<Jre in Cuzco where all thl' rlgures or the Incan p <1 n the on were dis­
played. including thr mummies of fo rmer C'mperors. In this regul a r ceremonial
cycl('. three fe<'lsts distinguished themselves by the i r size and import<l nct': two
co rre spo nd to the solstices, the third was origina l ly a f(,stival of th e Moon.
Austral winter solstice (June 2 1 st) was devoted to the I n ti R<'Iymi. the crl ­
cbration of the Sun, <Jnd at the S<lme time the glo riflc<ltion of his son 011

1 1
I Il [ A R C H t O l O G Y o r V I O l f N C E

earth. the I n ca h i mself. This is why all th e high·r<l n k i n g offl C'i<lls and local
chiefs of the country wen: called to Cuzeo for this occasion. The emperor,
surrounded by all his relatives and coun, waited i n the great square of his
capitol for the fi rst glow of the star to appear. Everyone then knelt and the
Inca offered the Sun a drink of clliclla in a silver vase. As with all g reat fes­
tivals, the inti Raymi was acrompanied by libations, sacrifices. chants a n d
dances. D u r i n g the period of s u m m e r solstice (DccembN 2 1 st) , t h e Capac
Raymi took pl<lce, a solar festival as weil. but dev oted besides to the comple­
tion o f tht rites of i n i t ia t i o n , marking the passa ge o f young nobles i n t o
adul tho o d . Whih: i n t h e peasa nt massrs this passage was n o t rit u ally markl'd,
in the dominant class it gav(' rist.' to great c�r('monies: entry into adulthood,
e n t r y i n lo t h e aristocracy of the lords. As i n a l l i n i tiatory rituals, the
hunrach icoy (th� /lUnrn is the loincloth given to th � young people at th(" e n d
o f t h e ritual) inciudt.'d, i n addition t o (he sa cr i tkt's 10 t h e gods, physic,1I trials
(nagell!ltioJ1S, wrestling, fasti n g , races), exhortations to Follow tht.' t.'xample
of the ancesror<;, ctc. Al on g with the loincloth, t lley wert givt.'n back their
we'lpons. a n d t h e i r ('ars w('rt.' p i nced and adorned with d i sks. In l h e
hU:lrachicoy, t Il l' em ph as i s w a s placed less on t he passagr il1lO a d u l t h ood
than on entry with full privil('grs into the aristocracy and on the need for
absolute loyalry in the servire oftht" Inca.
The third large I n c a n cerrmony took place in September. The sitoll'Q
was tht.' proeess of general purific.nion of tht.' capitol. from which a l l ("viis
would be expellt'd. AI the appearance of t h e new moon, the crowd, gath­
errd in Ihe �reat square, would shout: Disease, disast�r, mi�fonun{', Ir!lve
this country! Four groups of II hund red armed warrior� rushed forth o n t o
t h r four main roads - leading t o t h e four regions i n t o which thr rmpire
was divided - to driv{" away the evils. [ n the city. the i n h a b i tants shook
thrir clothes out upon entering t h e i r bomes. C h a n ls, d a nces nnd proces­
sions went on <III night. At d a w n , everyone to ok a purify i n g bath i n t h l'
r i ve rs. The gods and e mpe rors participated i n t h e siwwtl ror t hei r statues
and mummies w e re exhilJited in lhe square. White llamas were otTered to
t h e m in s a cri ficr , a n d .�ankll a paste of corn nour prep<lr('d for t hl' o ccas i o n
was dipped i n t o the a n i mals blood; t h t' gods a n d mummies we re anoi ntrd
with it, (Inc! a l l till' Cuz ro inhabitants ale a piece.

In lhis society so i n fust'o w i t h rel i gi os i ty, ev ('ry un d r rt<l kl n g, whl.'tht.'r

i n d i v i d u a l o r eoll ecrive, hum bl e or i m p r ri ; d , had to be prt.'ceded by lin
inqu iry with the s up ern at u ra l powers: hence the very i m p o rt <l n l role of the
fort u netellers. They observed the arrangement of coca leaves thrown onto
the ground , saliva trickling through fl llgrrs, i n n ll rds of saniflc('([ animllls,
lIam<1s' lungs blown up so Ihat the blood v essri s Could be i n tcrpreted. Any
disorder i n such a worlo could only stem from the (vo lunt ary o r i n vol u nta ry)

, 8
l H f A R ( H f O l O G Y O t V I O L f N C I:

tra nsgression of som e prohihition; uncovt"ring tll(' gu i l ty party and purifying

h i m also fell upon the furtuntl<::llers. When c i rcumstances d e m a n drci it, a
collective and pu bl ic session uf co n fessi o n took place. intended to reesl abl isll
th<- socio-c osm i c order upset hy the i n fractions committed. The templts of
Pachacamac and Lima, places of traditional pilgrimagt. sht'ltered oracles
famoUS throughout the rmpire; the emperors themselves did not hesitatr to
ronsult them. let us add in concl usion that despite the effons of the Church,
scv�ral indigenous rites, syn('f�ticilily blended into Christian worship, still
exist today among the Ay mara of Bolivia a n d the Quechua or Peru.

3 . l H E l U P I - G U!R!N I W O R l D

Though brief, the preced i n g account nt"verthelt'ss allows us ((j dra w a

raithrul ponrait of tht' religiou� beliers and practices of the South American
peoples by noting their es�en tial char(lct('risti('S. The religiosity of forest so d­
{'(irs appe,Hs at oncr ext rovrJ1rd and collective: it is chanted. danced, a n d
aett."e1. If the s<Jcrt."(1, as we have said, traverses t h e social through a n d
through, invtrsely, the social totally p e rnH'iltt"5 tilt' religious. To say t ha t rcli­
giou� "sentiment" ('xi<;t� primarily i n i ts public expression in n o way ques­
tions the intensity of in di v i d u al adherence. Like a l l p r i m itivr p{'oplr�, thr
Indians of South Amf'rica have shown. and still show, exemplary fi de l ity to
Ih('ir myths and rites. Nevenheles�, t he "j1f'r<;onal element of the religious
fact" is largely crasrd i n favo r o f ils coll ective component. which explilins
the eno rmous importance of ritual practice. The exceptions to this genrral
situation stand out all the mOTe. Various reseilrchrr.s in the second hair of lhr
1< )t h cen tury c ol le(,led an ('n�l'!l1 hl(' of te x ts among the popUlations (now
extinct) along the lower and middle sections of tl1<' Amazon that is very dif­
feTrnl from lhe class ic hody of myth s. The religious, indeed. mystic<11 un('i'lsi­
ness that i s m a n ifested Iherr suggrsts the existence in tllest" �()('il'tit."s n ot o f
na rrators of myth inn of p h i l osoph t' rs o r thi n k ers dl'votrd t o the work o f pe r­
sonal re n ecti o n , a s tri ki ng contrast to tht.' ri t u al rxubt."ra nct' or other fo res t
societies. This particul arity, rart in So uth America. was developed to tin
ext rem e among th� Tupi-Guar<llli.
The lerm T u p i - G u <l r a n i co m p ri se s a c o n s i d e r a b k n u m b e r o f t r i bes
w h i c h belong to rhe �anH' lingUistic ramily a n d which a re culturally h o m o ­
geneous. Thesr populations occupied a vast territory: i n [ h e South, t h e
G u a r a n i extended fro m th e Paraguay r iver i n t h e West to t h e Atlantic COllst
i n the East; the Tupi popu l a ted this samr coast as far as Ihe mouth of the
Amazon in t h e North and penetrated tht.' b ack <:ounlry t o a n u n k n o w n
depth. Thes(' Illdi;Jn� n u m hrrrd i n t h e m i l l i ons. lhe economic l i fe ;Jnd
social organization or the Tu pi -G u i'lTil n i conformrd ro the model i n forcl' i n

7 9
l il t � R C l! f 0 1 0 G Y O f V I O l f N ( f

the ('ntire fOTest area: slash-and-burn i'lgricuilure, hunting. fishing. vill ages
made up of s e v e ra ! large c o l l e c t ive houses. A n o t a b k far1 "hout t h e
I n di ans : their drnlographic density was clearly higher than that of neigh·
bo ri n g pop u l atio n s, Clnd the communities could assemble up to two th o u ­
s an d i n d ivi d u;l Is o r m o re. All hough all these tribes have l o n g since disap­
prared, with the ('x<.' tption of some fivc tho u s a n d Guarani who survive i n
P a ra g uay. they are I1rvcrt h e l c s s il m o n g t h t best k n o w n o f t h e S o u t h
Amerkan cont i ne n t . It i s in (<lct l h e T u p i o f th e coast who established the
first co n t act between Europeans ;"I n ri the I n di a n s a t lhe dawn of t h e 1 6t h
century. Tr<lvckrs <i n d m i s s i O I1 <lri rs of various Ilfltion(l l i tks hav(' Irft (lb u n ­
d(lnt l i ter<lture about these peoples, rich in observations o f n i l so rt s, partic­
ularly in those fegard i n g beliefs and customs.
As in all primitive sodetics oftbe conti nrllt. the Tupi-Guarani's religious
l i fr c('ntered ilround sham(ln islll. The paje. doct o r -sh il m 3 n s , fulfilled the
same tasks as el srwhere ; ritual life. whatever Ihe c i n:u m sta n crs (initiation,
execlltio n o f a p riso nrr of war. b u ri a l) was always accomplished in rertrence
to the norms that had a l ways assured social col]('sion. the norms and rules o f
life imposed on m e n by t he cultural heroes (M(lira. Monan, Slln. Moon, etc.)
or by the mythical a n cestors. In this. t h e Tu pi- G u ara n i did not differ in any
w a y from o t h e r forest s o c i e t i e s . A n d yet t h e c h r on it:l es of Fr e ll c h .
Portuguese. a n d S p an is h travelers \)e<1r wit ness to il differe n ce so consider­
allk th<l t it co n fe rs upon the Tu p i- Ci u ara ni a n <lbsolutely unique place on the
h o riw n of Soulh America. The newcomers found themselves confrontrd with
religious phenomen<l of such v ast n ess and of such a n<lture that they were
ri go rously incomprehensible to the Europeans.
What w a s this? Besides t h e c o n s t a n t W(lrs t h J I pitted various tribes
JgJinst each other. t h is society was deeply wrought by a powerful move­
ment. rcligious i n Qrigin and i n te nt i o n . The Europt'ans. o f course. could only
SCC' in t h is J pagan m a n i festation of the devil kd by the henchmen o f SMan.
rhis strange p h e no m e n o n was Tupi-Gu<Hi1ni prophecy. which has co nsta n tly
b e e n m i s i n t e r p ret ed . U n t il recently. it was c o n s idered messi a n i s m . t h e
response. current among n u merous primitive peoples. t o a serious crisis
resulting from contilCt with western civililation. Messi<lnism is thus a r(' ac­
t i o n to cu l t U fr shock. To red u c e the radically d i ffne nt n a t U fe of lupi·
Guarani prophecy to mrssian i s m would be to underrslim;ne it, fOf the simple
and irrevocahle reason that it C<1me into being among the I n d i a n s well iJefoce
the arrival of the whites. prrhaps IOwilrd the middle of th e 1 ')th ('"('nrury. I t is
a matter. then. of a native phenomenon which owes noth i n g 10 co nta ct with
the West. and which, for this very rrilson, was in no way dirt-(ted against the
whitcs; it is indeed a matter of n a t i ve prophecy. for which eth n ol ogy has not
found a si n gl e rquiv,llent anywhere rise.

8 0
l H f II R C H f O t O G Y O f V I O L f N ( f


fhough h(lrdly i n a p osi t ion to understand this phenomenon, the first

cilfoniclers d i d n o t confuse t h e Jwrai, e n i g m a t i c personages w h o h a d
e m e rged from society, with the shi1rn<lns. The karai w e re n o r i n <l n y way
C"oncerned with ther<l!H'utic practices, reserved only for the paje. nor did
they fu l fi l l a s p ec i Ol l i zed ri tu<l l fun c t i o n ; t h ey we ft" nrith('r m i nisttrs of a
t ra di t i o n al cult n o r the founders of a new cult. neither shamans n o r priests.
What then were the karai? These men were situated tot <l I l y allc! exclusively
i n the rtal m of the spoken word. speaking was their only a ct i vi lY : tl\('Y
wrre m e n of discourst" (rilt" content of which w i l l be eXilm ined later) which
lIH'Y were committed to voicing i n al l p I Ole('s. a n d not o n l y i n the h eMt o f
lh e i r own c o m m u n ity. Tht komi moved about consta ntly, going rrom vil­
lage to v i l l age to h ara ngue attentive I n d i a n s . These prophets' nomadic
vo c a tio n is evrn more surprising given that local tribes. sometimes gath­
rred in rederations of several villages, werc waging a tllrrC"ijess war. Yrt thr
karai ('ould travel fro m camp to camp with impunity: they ran no risk <lI
a l l , and in fact. were rr ((' ivrd fnvently everywhere: people went so far (lS
to strt'w tile parhs l e ad ing to their vi l l il ge with Iri1ves. to run 10 meet them
and lead them b(lck i n process i o n : no matter where they <:amt' from. the
kenai w e re n t'ver considered e n e m ies.
How was this possible? In primitive society. the i n dividu<ll is defll1ed fust
by his appunen<lnce to a ki n sh ip group a n d a local commun ity. 1\ person
thus flllds h i m sel f inscribed from the outsrt i n a grne<llogiC"al C"h<lin of rrl a ­
lives a n d i n a network of k i n . A m o n g the Tupi-Guarani. o n e ' s lineage
dt'pended on thr fa t hec. descent being patrilinear. And yet the kami said t h at
t h <'y did n o t have a father, but were the sons of a wotn(ln a nd (l d i v inity.
Ilrre WC" must look nOI at the megal o m a n iacal fan t (lsy which ('aused these
p roph e ts 10 auto-deify themselves. but at the denial and the refusal of the
father. To state. i n effect, the absence of the father affirmed their disj u n cture
from a l i neage of relatives, and consrquently. from society i ts el f. I n this type
of soci ety, such a discourse was invested witb an incomp<1r<1bly s u hvers ivr
(' h a rge : it denied. in effect. the very fra mework or primitive s oci e ty, thai
which h;'IS rt'(rnlly been termed blood tics.
We C<ln easily see that t h e nomadism of the karai w a s a result neithn of
their fa n tasy n o r an excess iv e taste for travr1 , but i n d rrd of rhrir d isjun C"lU rr
from any c om mu nity at all. They w e re literally from nowhtrr. and, by defin­
ition, could n o t establish reside n ce anYWhere, since they were n o t members
of any l i n e(lge. And it is fo r thi� wry reason thilt upon a rriv in g at any vil­
lage. they could not be considered representatives of an enemy trihe. To be

8 I
I H � .6. X l H I U l O ti Y O f V I D t � H ( f

a n enemy is to be inscribed in a social structurt, which was p recisely not IIle

case of the kami. And this is also why. not b e i n g from anywhere. Ihl'Y were
in a sense from everywhere. In other words. their semi-divinity, their partial
non-human ness forced them, by tcaring them from human sociNy. to live
according to their nature of "beings from the beyond," But it assured them,
at the same time. of tOlal security in the course of their travels from tribc to
tribe: the hostility shown toward all foreigners was not fclt toward tht: korai,
fo r the Indians considered them gods and not men: wh ich amounts to saying
thJt the Indians. far from thinking the karai mad, did not doubt the coher­
ence of their discourse tlnc! were (cady to welcome their word.


What did the komi SIlY? The n:lture of their dis('ourse was simil:lr to their
status i n relation 10 society. It w<)s discourse beyond discoursr, in the same
way th:\1 they Ihemselv("s were beyond the social. Or to put i t another way,
what they articulated utfore fasd nated and enchanted Indian crowds was a
discourse of rup[Ure w i t h traditionfll discourse, a discOllnie that developed
outsidr of the syslem of norms, rules and antique values bequeathed itnd
i m posed by the gods and mythical flnc.:estors, It is herr that the prophetic
phenomenon that shook Ihis sotiety impl icates us in an unsett l i n g way. Here.
in effect. is a primitive society which. as such, tends to prrsevere in its being
by the resolute. conservative m a i n tenance of norms in opemlion since the
dawn of human ti me, and from this society mysteriously emerge men who
proclaim the end of Ihese norms, and the rnd of the world (dependent on
these norms).
The- prophetic dis(ourse of the korai can be summed up i n an observa­
t i o n and a promise: on the onl' hflnd, they constantly affl rme-cI the funda­
men ta l ly evil character of lh(' world, on the other. they i n�istcd that <:onquest
of a good world WflS possible . ·' The worlrt is evil! The earth is ugly!·' they
said. '·Let us abandon it," they conduded. And their aiJsolutely pessimistic
description of the world was m{'t with the general acceptance of the Indians
who l istened to them. II follows lhflt, despite its total d i ffercllce from rvery
primitive society·s discourse - <t discourse of repetition and not of d i ffer·
enee, a d iscourse of fidelity to tradition and nOi of an opening to innovation
- it follows, thus. that the discourse of the karai did nOI stem unhealthy to
the Indians, a lunat ie-'S delirium, since it reverberated in them as the expres­
sion of a truth for which they were waiting, new prose descri b i n g the new
face - the evil face - of the world. [n short. it was nOt tht.' disc-ourse of the
prophels that was unileCllthy. but indeed, the world of which they spoke. the
society in which they l i ved. The misfol1une of living in this world had rooted

8 2
l H l A R C H f O t O ' Y O f V I O I E N ( E

L, t�el r I· n them
i n the evil that was destroyi n g soci ety, and the newness of

. r discourse was due exclusive-ly to the c h a n g e t h a t h a "u grauua
" IIy
d d'ISrIgure It.
th e i .
eTlle ged i n social l ife i n order to alter II an
� �
here d i d this change come from and how d i d it take p l a c ? We are
to to construct here a genealogy of difference I n thIS SOcIety.
. .
not a t te n 1ptin<J"
elucidate its principal effecl: the appcarance- 0 r t H ) ' prop h ets
but on Iy to
0 r )
all d t he ir d iscourse . .
that warned of the immanence '
('VI . 'I' )
le rad 'Ica) ness

o r l h e d iscours(' is measured by the depth of eVIl It unvt'l.) ed : '11 so h ap-

penee! thaI Tupi-Guarani society. u n de r the pre.ssure 0 r aTl' ous rorees, W;1S

. . . .
in the process of ceasing to be a pTlmltlve socIety, that IS, ,I society refus-
j n g dwnge, a society rrfus i n g d i fference, T h e discourse o f t h e
k a r� l
announced the death of society, What i l l n ess. then, had corrupted � he 1,Upl·
GU:lrani tribes to this extent? The combined effect of de-mographlc factors
(a strong increase i n population), sociological faoors (thc ten dency of tl c :
populmion to concentrate in large v i l lages,
rather than to dl"per e, a I S � �
the usual process). political factors (the emergence of powerful chleftams)
brought the deadliest of i n novations to light in this primitive- sodrl Y: th t �
of social division, that of inequality. Profound malatse, the sIgn of a sen·
. . .

ou� crisis, stirred these tribes, flnd il is this maln ist' thnt the karai be('ame
conscious of. They recognized and clecl;lTrd it as the presence of evil and
sorrow in SOcit'IY, as the world's ugli ness and deception. One might say the
prophets. more sensitive than others to the slow trflnsformations taking
place around them. were the first to bee-ome aware of and to articulate
what everyone was fee l i n g more or leSS confusedly but strongly enough so
that the discourse of the Junai
ha rd l y seemed the flherratiolls of madmen .
there was thus profound agreement between the Indians and the prophets
who told them: we- must find another world.


The emergence of the prophets and their discourse identifying the world
as a plac(' of evil and a space of sorrow resulted from histo ical circum­ �
Stances specifIC to this society: the reaction to a profound cri S I S, the symp­
tom of a serious illness in the soCi;]1 hody, the foreboding of the death of
SOciety. What remedy did the komi propose i n the face of this threat? They
urged the Indi:ln'> to abandon YIl'Y mba 'cmcgua, the evil earth. lO reach ylIIY
lIlara tY. Land without Evil. The latter was the resting place of the gods, the
place where arrows hunted by themselves. where corn grew w i t ll o u t being
. .
te-nded. territory of the divine-s where thert was no alienauon; t{'rTllory that,
hefore the d('struction of the ftrst humanity by the universal flood. was a
p l aee ("ommon to both hUl1lans and the divine. I t is Ihus the return to the

8 1
l � f � R ( W f O L O � Y O F V I O t E N ( f

mythical past th:lI furnished the prophets with th(' me-nns (0 escape t h e pre­
sent world. But the radic-alness of their desire for rupture with evil was nOt
limited to lhe promise of a carefrec world; their discourse was i n fused with.
the destructive charge of all norms and all rules, a charge of total subversion
of the ancient order. Their call (0 abandon the rules did nOt leave aside a
single one; il explicitly encompassed thr ultimate foundation of human soci­
e-ty. lhe rule of the exchange of women, the law prohibiting incest: hence­
forth. they said. give your women to whomever you want!
Where was the Land without Evi l ? liere, too, tht.' pr()plll·t�· J i m it l t" ss
myo;tiquc appt'areu in a l l it s s i g n i fi c ance . The myth of e�lTthly p<1r<1dise is
co m mo n 10 a l m ost all cultures. and it is only after d ea th thai men can gain
access to i t. For tht karai. t he Land without [vii was a real place, con crete,
a cc e s s i b l e here a n d now. t h a t i s . without goi n g t h roug h the orde<1i o f
death. I n conformance w i t h t he myths, i t w a s generally sit uated i n t h e
East, whrrr t h e s u n rises. T h e great Tu p i - G uaran i religious migrations a t
thr e n d of t h e 1 5th century were devoted to fi nding it again. Under the
leadership of the prophets, thousands of Indians ab a n do ne d villages and
gardens. fasted and d a n ccd without rcspite, he-gan the- march toward rhf'
East in se arc h of the l a n o of the gods. Jlaving come to the edge of the
o cea n , they discovered a major obstacle, the sea, bt'yond which surely the
Land without Evil was to be found. Cenain tribes. however. thought they
would find it in thr West. in the d i rection of the seuing sun. Thus, more
thew len thousand Indians migrated from the mouth of the Am a L o n ,II the
b e g i n n i n g o f the 1 6th century. Ten years latcr, about three h u n d red of
Ih('m reached Peru. already occupied by the Spanish : all the others had
died of privation. hunger. fatiguf'. Tht' prophrcy of thr IUJrai affirmed the
danger of death that society was running, but i t also translated in its prac­
tical effect - the religious migration - a will for subversion that went as
far as the desire for death, as far as collective suicide.
To all this we should add that p rop h e cy has n o l d is<1ppeared with the
Tupi of the cOilst,.1 region. [t has i n fact been maintained among the Guarani
of Paragu<lY whose l<lst migration in se arch of t h e land without Evil took
plat:e in 1947: it led a few dozen Mbya I ndi a ns into the Santos region o f
Brazil. If t h e migratory flow h a s r u n dry w it h the Inst G ua r<l n i, their mystical
vOC'<ltion, on the other hand, continues to i n sp ire their kami. Thr latt('r,
hen ceforth unable to guide people to th e Land without Evil, havt not ceased
the interior journeys t h a t start them on a path of the senrell for though t. tht
task of ren ect i on on t h e i r own myths, the path of properly metaphysical
spe('ulation, as the- Ie-xts a nd sacred cha n ts . which wr can slill hear from
their mouths, attest. like their ancestors fiv e centuries ago, they know that
the world is evil and they await its end. no longer through impossiblt access

8 4
l H f A R C H f O L O G Y O f � I O l f N ( f

to the Land without Evil. but through its destruction by fir(' and b� the" gr� at
eiest ial jagua r, which will let nothing of contemporary humanlly survive
�x cept t h e Guarani. Their immensr, pathetic pride maintains them in the cer­
tainty that they are the Chosen Ones and that. s �oner o r later, the gods will
caB them to unite with them. I n the cschawloglcal walt for the end of the
world. the Guarani Indians know that their kingdom will come, and the Land
without Evil will be t hei r true dwelling p lace.


1 . SOCI!1IH 0: lHI f()RHl

Biocra, E Ya /i oa m a , Paris: PIon. 1968 (French translation).

BUll, A., "Realite tt ideal dans [a pr�tiqL!c chnmalliqllc." 1'/lomJl1e, vul. II. No. 1 .

Paris. 1962.
('lasHe:>, P., CIIro/li(IJU� des Ilidielis GrJ(Iyaki. Paris: Pion, 1972
Colba<:ehini. A. and A lhis('u i. c.. Os Haroms oriell to is, Sao PallIa, \942.
Dobri7hoffer. M .. J/isroria de los Abipollt". Facllitad de Humanidades. U niversidad
Nariollal del Nordtste (Argentinnl. 1%7 - 1 970, Vol. 3 (Spanish translation from
the origi n al La ti n) .
Girard. R . Les btdiens dt' i 'Am azoll ie ptlTU rr!C'/I lie. Paris: Payol. 1963 (French transla-

t i on ) .
Gumilla, J., 1:."1 Orinoco illlstro(lo y drjrndido , ("Tacas, 1963.
Glisinde, M. . Die Feucriand-Indianer, Vol. 3. 193 1 - 1919. Vienna.
Handbook oj Souti, American /Ildialls, Smithsonian IIlStiwt(', Vol. I. 1 1 1 , 1\',
Wash ington . 1946.
Huxky, F., Aimables Saur'oges. Paris: Pion, 1960 (Freucl) translation).
!.evi-Suauss, c., Mytltolagiqucs. Vol. 4. Ploll. 1966·1972.
Lizot, J., Le (erc/e des!eux. Editions d LL SeLLil. 1976.
Lozano. P., Descripcidn corogrnfica (Jel Groll Clioco Gualambo, TUCllman (ArgeJl1ina).
1 94 1 .
/l,h.'traux. A., Religions CI Magies i/lriiell ll('s ri'AmeriqlH:' flu Sud. G<lllimard, 196'1
Perrin, M . . Le (hemin des illdklls 1I10rrs. P"yot, t97G.
Rcichel-Dolmatoff. G., Desalla, Gallimnrd, 1973 (French translation).
Sebago L., "Lt chamnnisme ayorco," I'llomme, vol. V. No. 1 and No. 2.

2. llif. AliuAN ��!D

gaudin. L .. I.·Empire socinliqr des irlka. Paris, lnsf itut d·ellllIologir. 1928.
Busc!mt'll. G.H.S., L e PerDU. Anllaud, 19�8 (Frr!lrh translation).
Engel. F.A., 1-e fdol1d(' prec% mbh'JJ des Andes. Hacliclte. 1972.
Garc-ilaSD de la Vega, ComelHarios reales de los ItICOS, Buenos Aires, 194).
Guaman Poma de Aya[a. Nurt'a (vroJJie-a y RUl' li Gobicrno. Paris. Instinn d'elhno[o­
gie, 1936.
Metraux. A.. /11('(15, Editions d1l S('uil. 1962.
Murra. J., Formaciollrs ('("onomie-as y politicos dc/ mUllrio alldilJo. Lilila. 19/5.

8 \
I H f t R C H f O L O G Y O f V I O L f N f f

Prase, F.o Demirrs I"cas rill (UUD, Ma me, 1974 (French translation).
Rowe, J.H., " lnca Cui ture at tIle Time of the Sp;lIlish Co n quest, " Handbook oj South
American hrdiOIlS, Vol. II, Was hi ngton, 1 9 46.
Wachtel, N., La Vj.�jol! des l'Oincus. G a lh rn ard. 197 1 .
Zuidema, R.T" The Ceque Systl:'l11 i ll the Social Oryanization oj CUZCQ, Leide, 1962.

3.1,* IUPI·GuulJ, WORlD

Abbeville, C., Historri' de- 1(1 Mission dE'S Peres Capucins en /'/5/(' de MoraY/lOll . . , .

Gr:u. 1 9 6 3 .
Cadogan. l . , AYI'II Ropyto, Texfos miricos de los Atbyn-Guarani dd Guoirn. S�O
Pau lo 1959.

CardiTn. F" Tmtados da rerrll e genre do Brasil, Rio de J(lllciro. 1 9 2 � .

Corras dDs primcrrosjesuifGs do Brasil. Vol. 3, ed. by S. Leite. Sao Paulo. 1 9 5 4 .
Clast res, H . . I.n Terre SOliS Mal, Edi'ions d u Selli!. 1 97 5.
Claslres, P., Le Grand Parler. A/yrhes l'r (honlS sacrfs drs Indi<'ns Guarani, E diti o ns
dll Selli ), 1 9 7 4 .
Evreux, Y. d·. VOYll91' d(JlI� II' Nord du BresiI. jair durallf les ollllCCS 1 6 / 1 1 6 1 -1 ,
Leipzig and Pa ris , 1 8 6 4 .

Lery, J. de, Histoirc (I'UII l'o,l"agejaicr ell la rerre du Bresi /, Vo l. 2, Paris, 1 8 8 0 .

1.01<1110, P . Hisrorio fie 1 0 confluiStlJ del Paraguay
. ...• Vol. 5. Buetlos Aires, 187).
Meuaux. A., La Rellgioll des Tllpinambo cr ses rapports a/'cc cc/lr des (Jurres Iribus
tnpi-gl/orani, Paris, 1 9 2 8 .
Montoya, R. de. (ollf/liisIO e�pirilllal. . . Bilbao, 1892.

NiIlHlCIHt<ljU. c., Lcyenda dc III (reado" y )uido final d('1 Mul/do. . . Siio Paulo. 1944

(Spanish translation).
Sepp, A . , Viagell! Il lllisst'sjesuilicos. . . , S�o Paulo, 1 9 7 2 .
Soarcs dc SOllza, G., rrorado descrifJril'o do Brasil t'1Il 1587. Siio Paulo. 197 1 .
Sladcn. II., Vera 1Ii�loria ...• Bucnos Aires. 1944 ( Spal l ish translation).
Till-vet, A., "La cosmographic universellt:. Histoire de deux voyages,"' in Irs FrfHl\'ois
CII Amrrif/uc, Vol. (J, PUF, 19�3.

8 6

lthnology has devtloped brilliantly in the past two decades, allowing

pri mitive societies to escapc, if not thcir destiny (disappearance) then at
l e a s t the e x i l e to w h i c h a n age old tradition of exoticism i n Western
Thought and imagination has condemned them. The na"ive conviction that
puropl'an civil ization is absolutrly superior to all other systems of society
bas gradually bf'cn substituted by lhe- recogn ition of a cultural relativism
whIch, in rrnouncing the imperialist afrlrmation of a hierarchy of values,
h('n l't�fon:h admits. and refra ins from judging, the coexistence of sociocul­
t u r,,1 differences, In other words. we no longer cas! upon primitive societies
the c u r i o u s or amused l o o k of the s o m e w h a t e n l ig h t e n e d , s o m e w h a t
hUnl<lnistic amateur; we take them seriously. The question i s how far cloes
!<lking them seriously go?
What ('xactly do wc mean hy primitive society? Thc answer is furnished
by thl" most classical anthropology when it aims to determine the specifIC
t w i n g of these societies. when it aims to ir,oitate what makes them irre­
rlucihte social fornl<ltions: primitive societies arc societies without a State;
tht"y ,Ire societies WllOSl' bodies do not possess stparall.' organs of political

fir�t published in Inlt'froga riolls. No. 7, June 1976, pp. ]-8.

8 7
I H f J H H f O L O G Y O f Y I O L f N [ [

power. Based on Ihe presence or absence of th e Stall" o n e can initially clas�

s ify these societies and divide: th e m into two g ro u ps ; societies without a
State and soc iet i es with a St atr, primitive societies and tht· others. This does
n o t mran, of course, that all soc i et ies with a Stat e an.. identic<ll to one <lnoth.
er: we could not reduce to <l single type the diverse his to ri cal confIguratio ns
of t h e State, and noth i n g allows us to confuse th e arch aic despot ic State, or
the l iberal bou rgeo is State. or the totalitarian fasci st or communist States.
Bring (·'Heful. then. to avoid this confusion which would pr('vent. i n panicu.
Jar. an und('rstanding of the radical novelty and sp('ciflcity of the totalitarian
State, we shall note that a common property makes societies with a State as
a whole different from primitive societies. The former all havr this dimrnsion
of d i v is i on unknown among the oth ers ; all societies with a Statr are divided
in their bring, into the dom i n at i n g and the d om i n at ed , while sodeties w ith �
OUt a State are i gn ora nt of t h is division: to rst a !) l is h primitive soc iet i C's as
socicties without a SI;]te i s to say lhat they <Ire. in their being. h o mo gen C'o us ,
bt':cause they arc not divided. Here agai n we fI n d the rlhnologicaJ defmition
of these societies: they do nOt h ave a separatr org<ln of power. power is not
separatl'd from s oc i ety.
Taking primitive societies seriously comes down to (his proposition,
which, in fact. dt-fmes Ih('m pnfectly : a distinct political sphere cannOt be
is o l a t ed from tht' so c ia l sphcn:. From its dawn in Greece. w e know that
Westt'rn political th o ug h t ha� been able to disc-rrn the essence of the hum<ln
<lnd social in the pol itiGtl (man is a political <l n i ma l ), wh i le al so se i z ing the
eSsence of t h e political in th e social division between the dominating and the
dominated, between t hose who kn ow and thus command and those wh o do
not know an d thus obey. The social is the pol itica l , th(' political is th e exrr.
cis(' of powC'r (It'gi t i mate or not. it m<luers lillIe ht'rej by o n e or sev e ral over
the rest of soc iety (for better or worse, it matters litlle here): for Hcmditus,
as �o r P �ato an ? Aristotle. thert' is no sodety exet'pt under tht' aC'gis of kings:
SOCiety IS unthinkable without its division between those who co m m an d and
th ose who obey, and there where the exercise of power is l acki n g. we fi nd
ourselves in the i n fra·so(·ial, in n on-socirly.
It is mo re or l ess i n Iht'st' t enTIS that <It the dawn of Ihl' 1 6 th ce n t ury the
first Europeans judgt-d the Indian� of South Americ<t . Noting thm t b e chi efs
held no pow(' r over tilt' ( ri b es. t h ill o n e nei(lwr commanded hae nor oheyed.
t h ey dedilred that (hest' PfOPll' were nol polin:d. thilt tlH'sl' were not v('rila.
ble: s oci et i es. Sav<lgt's without ra ilh. law, or king.
It is quite t rue that. mon° them once, ethnologists thernselv('s have fclt a
cen � i n perplexity nol so m uch ill u n derstand ing. but c;illlply i n des cri bing a
. .
p ar l ! c tl <l l rl y exotic cleulli of primitIve s oc i e t i es : thos(' ca[[('d le<ldrrs arC'
stripped of all pawn. ch iefut i!lship is l or atd o u ts i(/(' t he ('xercis(' of politicnl

8 8
I W f .A R ( W ! O I O G Y O f V I O L f N ( f

power. Functional ly, this Sl'C'nlS absurd: ho� c a n one think ?f

a chieftainship
anci power separately? W h itt use are chI. efs I f tlwy l ark p reCIse ly Ihe es sen t ia l

iltl ri but e that would make them chkfs, namely the a bi l i ty to exercise power
uver t he community? In re<llity. that t h (" savage chief docs not h ol d the
<l nd does not necessa ri ly me<ln that he is useless: on the con·
p ower to c o m m
trary. he is vested by society w ith a certain number of tasks, and in this
cap<lcity, can be seen as a son of unpaid civil servant of soc i ety. What does a
chief without POWN do? He is responsible. essentially, for assuming society 's
will t o a ppta r as a single total ity, that is, for the commun ity's concened,
ddi beratl' elTon to affmn its spec ifici ty. its autonomy. its independence i n
re l atio n t o other commun ities. I n othe r words, the primi li ve leader i s primar·
ilv t h e man who speaks in tile name of society when circumstances and
l:�CI1lS put i t in contact with others. These others, for primitive societies, are
always divided into two cl asses: friends and enemies. With friends. a l l iances
arc formt:d or reinforced: with enemies, war is w ;]gC'd whcn the case presentS
i t self. It follows that th(' co ncret e (' m pi ric al functions of th e It<lder arc exhib­
itrd in the field of international relations and as a result. de m a nd q ual i t i es
rel;'lting to Ihis type of a(·tivity: skill. diplom;'ltie talent in order to ("onsoli.
d ate the n(,tworks of allia nce which will insure the commun ity's seemity;
courage. a warlike disposition in order to assure an rffec L i ve dl'frn�t' against
('nrmy raids or, if possible, v icto ry in the case of an offensive expedition.
But arc these not. one might argue. the very tasks of a defense m i n i s ­
t r r ? C' e rt a inly. W i t h . however, a fund a m e nta l diffr r r ll c e : the primitive
lcadn never m<lkes a dedsion on his own authority (if we c a n call i t that)
and imposes it on his community. The strategy of alliance t h a t he develops.
the m i l i tary tactics that he envisions are never his own, but ones That
[('spo n d exactly to the dtsire o r to the explicit will of the tribe. Any deals
or negotiations are public. the intention to wage w ar is proel a i m ('d only if
society wanlS it to be so. And. nalUr<llly. it cannOt be any other way : were
a leader. i n fact. to (!('cide on his own whether to carry out a policy o f
with his neighbors. he would have no way of i m posi n g
tl l J i a n ce or hostility
his gO<lls o n society. since, as we know. h e is deprived of a l l p o w er. li e h as
o n ly one ri gh t. or rath('r, one duty as spokesperson: to tell Others of the
SOciety'S w i l l and desire.
What, on the oth er hand. about the chiefs functions, not as his group's
appointee to external for('ign rrliltions. out in his intt'rn<ll relations with Ihe
grou p itself? 11 goes without saying that i f the community recogni7cs him
as leader (as spokespr r<;on) when i t <lffl rms its unity in relation to othC'T uni·
tl(·... society endows h i m wi:h a cenain amount of con fI d ence guar<lnteed by
the qU<llities that he displays precisely in the service of h is sociely. This is
What we call prl'sti g'l', v ery g en era l ly c on fused. wro n gly. of course. w i t h

8 ,
l H f t H H f O t O G Y O f � I O l f N ( [

power. We understand quite well, then, that at the heilrt of his own society,
the leader's opinion. propped up by the prestige which he: enjoys, should, if
necessary, be listened to with more consideration than that of other individ_
uals. But the particular al1emian with which the chiefs word is honored
(and this is not always the case, hy Ihe way) neWT goes so far as allowing it
to be transformed into a word of command, into a discourse of power: the
leader's point of view will only be listened to as long as it expresses soci­
ety 's point of view as a single total iry. It follows that not only does the
chief not formulate orders, which he knows ahead of time no ont' will obey,
but he cannot cvrll arbitrate [that is, ht' dof's not hold tile powrr to) w ile n a
conflict arises, for eXllmple. belWCE"n two individuals or twO families. He
w i l l not attempt to settle the liligCltion in thr name of a nonexistent law of
which hl' would be the organ, but to apprase it by app r a l i n g to reason, to
the opposing parties' good intentions, by referring constantly to the tr;1di­
tion of good relations urrnrdly bequeathed by the ancestors. From the
chiefs mouth spring not the words t hat would sanction the rtlationship of
command-obedience. but tile discourse of society itself about itself, a dis­
course th ro ugh which it proclaims itself an i n di vis i bl e community and pro­
claims its will to persevere in this undivided being.

Primitive societies ar(' thus undivided societirs (and for this reason, each
considers itself a singl(' totality): classless societies - no rich exploiters of
the poor; soci('ties not divided into the dominaling and the dominated - no
separate organ of power. It is time we take this last sociological propeny of
primitiv(' societies complett'ly seriously. Does the separation betw('('n chid­
tainship and pown ml'an that the queStion of power is not an issue, that
these societies are npolitical? Evolutionist thought - and its apparently least
reductive variant, Marxism (especially Engelsian) - replies that this is indeed
the case. and that this has to do with the primitive, that is, primary, character
of thesl:' societies: they arc th e childhood of humanity, the fIrst stage of its
evolution, and as such, incomplrte. They are destined. consequently. to
grow, \0 become adult, \0 go from the apolitical to the political. The drstiny
of every society is to be divided. for power to be separated from society, for
the State to be an organ thaI knows and says what is in t:veryo!lc 's best
interest and puts itself i n charge of imposing it.
Such is the traditional, qU<ls i gcncral conception of primitive societies as

societies wilhout a Slate. The absence of a State marks tlH:ir ill('oml)I(,IC'nC's�,

the embryonic stage of their existence. their ahistoricity, B U I b this really the
case? We can easily see that such 11 judgment is in fact only ;'In ideological
pr{'j udicc. implying a view of hisTOry ;'IS humanity's lIt'cesstlr)' mov{'mrnt
aeros.. social configurations thm are mt'rhanically engrndered and ('onm'CI-

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1 H E A � C � I: O t O � Y O f V 1 0 l f N C f

ed. But this neo-theology of history and its fanatic continuism should be
f refused: primitive societies henceforth cease to occupy the degree zero of
history. swelling with all of history to come, inscriued in advance in their
bein g. Liberated from this scarcely innocent exoticism, anthropology Can
lhen seriously consider the true question of the political: why are primitive
soci eties Stateless? As complet(', adult societies and no longer as infra-politi­
�al embryos. primitive societies do not have a State because they refuse it.
hecaUse they refuse the division of the social body into the dominating and
the dominated. The politics of the Snv;'lg('s is, in fact, to constantly hinder
tht' appearan ce of a separate organ of power. to prevent the falal meeting
between the in sti tution of chieft;linship and the exercise of power. In primi­
tivl' soc iety. there is no separ<lte org;'l n of power, b('c<luse power is not sepa­
rated from society; socicty, as a singl(' tot;'!lity. tlOlrls power in order to main­
tain its undivided being, to wrtrd off the appe<lrance in its breast of the
inel'Juality between masters <lnd subjects. between chief and t ri be. To hold
f power is to exercise it; to ('xtrcise it is !O domin;'!!!' thos(' ovrr whom it is
being exercised: this is precisely what primitive societies do nor want (did
not w a n t ) : thiS is why \he chiefs h('rC' are pow('rl('ss, why power is not
detached from the single body of society. The refusal of inequality and the
r('fusal of separate power are the same. constant concern of primitive soci­
eti('s. They know very well that to renounce this struggl('. to c('ase damming
f thtse subterranean forces called desire for power and desire for submission
(without liutration from which the truplion of dominntion nnd servitude ('an
not be undl'rslood) they would lose their freedom.

Chieftainship in primitive society is only the supposed. apparent place of

power. Where is its real place? It is the social Lody itself that holds and exer­
cist's power as an undivided unilY. This power, unseparated from socicty, is
exercised in a singh:- way; it encourages a singl!' project: to maintain the
bei ng of society in non -division, to prevent inequality between men from
instilling civision in society. It follows thnt this power is exercised over any­
t h i n g capable of alienating society and introducing inequality: it is exer­
dsed. among other things, over the institution from which the insidiousness
of powrr could arise, chieft a i ns hip In th(' tribe, thr chief is u nd er surveil­

Jance; socirty watches to make sure Ihe tasle for prrstige docs not become
Ihe desire for power. If the chiefs desire for power becomes too oUvious. the
p rocedu re put into effect is simple: they tlhandon him, indeed, eve n kill him.
Primitive society may be haunted by the specter of division, but i t possesses
thl' means by which to exorcise il,
The example of primitive societies teaches us that division is not inher­
ent i n the social being. that in other words. the State is not eternal. that it

, 1
l H E A H W £ O L O G Y O f V I O L f N C E

has, here and there, a date of binh. Why has i t emerged ? The question of
the origin of the State muSt he shaped in this way: under what conditions
does a soci<.'ty cease to be pri m i t i ve? Why do the encodings that ward off
the State fail at such or such moment of h i sto ry? No doubt only a close
examination of the fu nctioning of pri m i t i ve societies will be ilble to shed
light o n the problem of origins. And perhaps the light cast upon the State's
moment of binh will also illuminate the conditions of the- possibiliry (real­
izable o r not) of its death.

9 2
One does not frequently entounter thought freer than thel! of Etienne de
La Boetie. There is a singular firmness of purpose in this still adolescent
young man (why not call him a Ri mbaud of thought?), an audacity and seri­
ousness in an apparently rlccide-ntal question : how ridiculous to ;ut('mpl to
l h i n k of it in terms of the century, to reduce the haughty - unbcambte -
grlzl' to the closed and a l ways retraced c ircle of even ts . There have been
no th i ng but misunderstandings since the COl1rr'UI1 of the Reformed! IT is cC'r­
tainly n O t the refe rence to some sort of historiCC11 detenni nism (the pol i tica l
ci rcumstances of the moment, appunenance to a social class) that will su('­
c('�d i n disarmin g the ever v irul e n t Discol/rs, tha t w i l l succeed in contradict­
i n g the essential <lfflrmation of freedom th<lt is its b<lsis. L.ocal and ephemeral
h isto ry is h a rd ly an oc cn si o n . a pretC'xI, for La BortiC': th('rf' is nothing C1bout
h i m of the pnmphl etc'C'T. the publicist. the: militant. His aggn:ssion explodes

Firstpublished as �la Bocti e t't 13 qllCSlioli du politi que ..· in La Boetie: Le DiSCOlirs
de 10 srrI'iwde l'o/lIl1wir(' (Paris:
Payol, 19"1fil . Jlp. 229-246. [I.a Rottie·s origi.
nal text is publishrd in English as Slal't's by ClIOict', trans. fI.·1akolm Smilh,
Surrey England, RUllllymede Books, 1988.1

9 J
l H ! A R C H f O l O G Y O f V I O l f N C f

to greater cnds: he asks a totally liberating question because i t is absolutely

free of all social or political territorial ity, and it is indeed because his ques­
tion is trans-historical thal we are in a position to understand it. lIow can it
be, La Doetie asks, that the majority obeys a single person, not only obeys
him, but serves him, not only serves him, but wants to serve him?
Right off the nature and sign ificance of such a qucstion excludes the
possibil ity of reducing it to this or that concrete h isto rical situation. Thl' very
possibility of formul ating such a destructive question renecls, simply but
haoically, a logic of opposites: if I can be surprised that voluntary servitude
i s a con�tilnt in all societies - in mine. but also in those read about in houks
(with the perhaps rhetorkal exception of Roman Antiquity) - it is. of course,
because I imagine the opposite of such II society, bet:.luse I imagine the logi­
cal possibility of a society that would not know voluntary servitude. La
Boetie's heroism and freedom: precisely this 5mootb transition fro m History
to logic, precisely this gap i n what is most natura l ly obvious. precisely this
breach of th e general conviction that we can not think of society without its
division between tIl{" dominating and the domin ated. The young La Aoetie
transcends all known history to say: something else is possible, Not al all. of
course. as a program to be implemented: La Boetie is not a partisan. As long
as they do not revolt. the destiny of the people is, in a sense, of little impor­
tance to him; this is why, the author of Oiscours de 10 st:rl'illldr Il% lltairt'
can at the same time be- a civil servanl of the monarchic State (hence, the
ridiculousness of making lhis work a ··classic of the people""). What he dis­
covers, by slipping outside of H istory, is precisely that the society in which
people want to serve the tyrant is historical, that i t is not eternal and has not
always existed, that it has a date of birth and that something must have hap­
pened. necessarily, for men to fall from freedom into servitudt: . . . what
·· mis­
fortune so dcnatured man, on ly uorn in truth to live freely, to make- him lose
thr memory of his first existence and the desire to retrieve it?""
Misfortune: tragic accident, bad luck, the effects of which grow to the
point of abolishing previous memory, to the point of substituting the love of
servitude for the desire for freedom. What docs La Boctie say? CI<lirvoY<lntly.
he flTSl affirms that this p<lssage from freedom into servitude was unnecessary;
he calls the division of society into those who command and those who obey
<lccidental - how difficult it has been ever since to think about the ullthink­
able misfortune. What is designated here is indeed this historical moment of
the birth of History. this fatal tupture which should neve-r have happened, this
irr<ltional event which we moderns call the birth of the State. I n sociecy·s fall
into the volunt;lIY submi<;sion of almost illl people to il singlt person, Lil Boctie
dCl·iphers th(' ilhject sign of a perhaps irreversible decline: the new man. a
product of incomprehl'nsible misfortune. is no longer a man, or even an ani-

9 ,
l H f A � ( H t O L O G Y O f V I O l f N C f

mat, since "animals... cannOI ad<lpt to serving. except with protest of a con­
trary desire.. ..'· This b('ing, which is difficult to name, is denatured. Losing free­
clam. man loses his human ity. To be human is to he free; man is a being-for­
freedom. What misfortune, indeed, was able to bring man to renounce his
bring and make him desire the perpetuation of this renouncement?
The enigmatic misfortune from which History originates has denatured
rnan by i nst it ut i ng a di v i s ion in sociC'lY: frl'-Nlom, (hough inseparable from
rnan·s first being:. is banished from it. The sign and proof of this lo�s of
fn'edom can be witnessed not only in the resignation to submission, but.
much morl' obviously, in the love of servitude. In other wo rds, La Boetie
t'stablisht's a radical distinction bttwten societies of freedom which conform
to lhe nature of man - ·'only born in truth 10 live free ly "' - and socitties
wilhout freedom in which one commands and others obey. One will note
tllat. for the momt;nt, t h i s distinction remains purely logical. We know
nothing. in effect. about th e hiStorical reality of societies of freedom. We
simply know that, by natural necessity. the first configuration of society
must h a ve been free. with no division between tht' tyrant oppressor and the
prople enamored of srrving him. Then the misfortune occurs: everything is
turned upside down. The result of this split berween free society and slave
socifty is that all divided societies are slave societies. That is to say, La
Boetle does not make distinctions within the ensemble constituted by divid­
ed societies: there is n o good prince with whom to contrast the evil ryrant.
La Boetie is scarcely concerned with studies in character. What does it really
matter whetht'r the princc is kind or cruel: whatever the case, is it not thc
prince whom the people serve? La Boctie does his research n o t as a psychol­
ogist b u t as a mech a n i c : he is i n terested i n the fu ncti o n i n g of social
machines. There is no progressive slide from freedom to servitude: no inter­
mediary, no conflguriltion of a social reality C{l uidistant fro m fft't'dom and
from s e rv i t ude , only the brutal misfortune which drowns the before of free­
dom i n the after of submission. What does this me:!n? It means that all rela­
t ion ships of power are oppressivr, that all divided 50cictirs arc inhabited by
absolute Evi l , that society, as anti�nature, is the negation of frt:edom.
The birth of History. the division between good and bad soci ety are a
rt:sult of misfortune: a good society is one i n which the natural absence of
division assures the reign of freedom. a bad sociecy is one whose divided
hC'ing allows the triumph of tyranny.
D i agno sin g the nature of evil that gangrenes the entire di v id ed social
body, La Boetie does not state the results of a comparative analysis of undi­
vided and divided societies. but expresses the effects of a pure logical oppo­
sitio n : his Dis(ours ecboes Ihe implicit but crucial asscrtion that division is
nllt an omologicill structure of �ociery, and that consequtntly, before the

, ,
I H f A R C H E O L O G Y O f V I O L E N ( E

unfortunilt{· appl',nance of social division, there was necessarily, in confor­

mance 10 man's nature, a soriety without oppression and without submis­
sion. Unlike Jean-Jacques Rousse au , La Boetie does not say that such a soci­
ely could never have existcd. Even if men have forgolten about it, even if
he. La Boetie. has no illusions <lbout lht possibility of its return, what he
knows is that before the misfortune, this w as socieTy's mode of existence.
This understanding. which CQuid only have been a priori for La Bortit', is
now inscribed i n t h e order of knowledge for those of us who repcill the
Discours' q uestion . Wt can now acquire an empirical knowlt:dge of what La
l30etie did not know. not from logical deduction. but from direct observation.
This is because l'thnology inscribes its project on the horizon of tlu.' division
already recogniL.ed by La Bottie; its aim is to gilther a body of knowledge that
concerns, first and foremost. societies prior to the misfonune. Savages prior
to c iv il iza t ion . people prior TO writing. societies prior TO History: they are cer­
tainly well-named, these primitivt.: societieo;, the flr�t soc i eties to unfold in the
i g n o r a n ce of d i v i s i o n . tht: first to ('xist lH'fore The fatal misfortune.
Ethnology 's privilegt.:d. if not exdusive, obj('cI: socil'ties without a State.
The absencc of the Stilte, anthropology's internal crit('rion for d ett'Ttlli n ing
thC' existence of primitive societies. implies the non-division of this existrllce.
Not i n the sense that divbion of society preexists the institution of the State,
but rath('r in the sense that the State itself introduces the division, th e State as
motor and foundation of this division. Primitive societies are egalitarian. i t is
�<1 id somewhat incorreClly. This suggests that the relations oc{ween p('ople

there are rclarions betwccn e(I U011s. These socielies are "egaliwrian," because
they are unaware of i nC(IUali ry : no onc is "wonh" more or less than an othe r,
no one is sU lwriof or inferior. In other words, no on e can do more th<ln anyone
dsc; no one is the holdt'r of power. The inequality unknown to primitiv{' soci ­
eties splits people into holders of power and those subjen 1O pow('r, dividing
the sodal body into Iht.: dominaTing and tht' rlominated. This is why the chief­
Tainship c;)nnot be ;10 indiratton of the rlivision of tIlt' tribe: the chief docs not
command, for he cannot do any mo re than each member of the community.
The SeMe, as a n instituted division of society into high and low. is the
actual impl ementation of power relations, To hold power i s to exercise it:
p o w r r that b not exercised is nOt power. it is only app e il ra n cC' . And per­
haps, ffom thie; point of view, c('rtain kingships, African and other, ] would
be classified as that of <lPI)('ilranc{', mort" misleading than OIlC might imilg­
i n c . W ha teve r tlw ("ase, power rcliltions prodUCt' the ca pil c i ty for div i s i o n in
society. [n this regard t h ty are the very essrnce of the s ta t e i n sti t ut i on , t h e

1 Cf. in p:micu!ar lhe \'CIY beautiful anicJl' by J a cques Dounlcs. SOliS cow'err
des lIIoirres. in "Archives Furop(.\'ncs (Ic Sociologie," vol. XI\', 19"13, No. 2.

9 6
I H f 6 R C H E O L O ' Y O f V I O L f H ( f

configuration of the State. Reciprocally, the S[<ltl.' i s but an extension of

p()wrr rdations, the ever more tn(1rked deepening of the inequality between
those who command and those who obey. All social machines that func­
tion w i t h o ut power rel a t i o n s w i l l be considered p r i m i tive sockties.
Consequen tly, all socicties whose functioning impl ies, however m i n i mally
it may seem to us, the exerdse of power will be considered a so-called
Suite sodery. In Bodian terms, societies before or ilfter the misfortune. It
p;ors without saying that the un iversal essence of the Slate i s not reali7.ed
i n il u n i form manner in all state formations, the variety of whil'h history
..hows us. Only in contrast to primitive societies - societies without Ii STilte
_ iln' all the others revealrd to h(' t'quivalent. But onre the misfortune has
come to pass, once the freedom that naTurally governed the rC'l<ltions
beTween cQuals has been lost. absolute Evil is capilu!e of anything: there is
a hier<lfchy of the w o rst, and the totalitarian State i n i ts various contempo­

f:1ry configurati o n s is there to remind us that however profound the loss of

freedom, it is never lost cnough, we ncver SlOP lOSing it.
La Boetie cannOt call the destruction of the f] rst sociery, in which the
enj oym ent of freedom expressed men'S natural existence, anything but mi5-
fo nune. Misfortune. that is, an accidental event tll<lt had no reason to pro­
ducr itself bUT nevenheless d id, I.e Di$co/Jrs de 1(1 seTl1irude I'ololl/(lire ex p l i c ­
itly formulates two questions: why, first of all, did t h e denaturing of man
lake place. why did division foist itself upon society. why did the m isfortu n e
come to pass? Secondly, how did men pt.:rsevere in the den,uured being, how
did ine(I Uality l'onSlantly reproduce itself. how did the misfortune pe rpe t uale
u:;e ! f 10 the point of seeming eternal? La Roetie does not answer the first
question. It concerns. stated in modern terms. the origin of the Sta te . Where
docs the State come from? This is asking for reason from the irrational,
iluempTing to red uce chance to necessity, wanting, basically, to abolish the
misfortune, A legitimate question, but an impossible answcr? Indeed. noth­
ing: allows La Bottie to give the reason for the incomprehensible: why do
men ren o u n ce freedom? He attempts, however. to respond to the second
qUl'stion: how c(ln the renunciation of freedom endure? The p rin c ip a.l inten­
tion of the DiSCO/Irs is to a n i cul ate this (lnswer.
If, of (Ill beings, man is the "only [one] born in truth to live freely." if h e
1<;. hy natur{', a heing-for-freedom. the loss of freedom must have effe('ts on
human n acure itself: man is denatured. he dl(lng<'s his nature. lie probably
docs not assume an an ge l i c n,!lure, Denaturing occurs not toward the high
hut tOWilrd the low; it i:; a regression. But docs this imply a fall from humani­
ty into animality? This is not it either, for we observe that a n imills only sub­
mit to their masters when inspired by fear. Ne ith e r angl'l nor <lnimi11. n(' ithrr
prior to nor heyond the human. such is the denatured man, Literally, (he

9 7
l H f � H H f O l O G Y O f V I O L f N ( f

unnameable. Htnce, the necessity for a new idea of man, for a new <lnthro_
pology. La Boetie is in f<lct the unsung founder of the anthropology of the
modern m a n, of the man of divided societies. He anticipates N i etzsche's
undertaking - even more than Marx's - more than three centuries away to
po n de r decline and alienation. The denatured man exists i n decl ine because
he has lost freedom. He exists i n alienation becfluse he must obey. But is this
th e case? Must not a n i mals themselves obey? The impossibil ity of dete rmi n ­

ing th e denaturing of man as a regressive d i spla c ement toward animality

resides in this irreduC'ibJe problem: men obey. not through force or constraint,
not under the effect of terror. not because of fea r of derlth , but voluntarily.
They obey because they want to obey; they are in servitude because they
desire it. What does this mean? Would the denatured man still be a man
b!."cause he chose to no longer be a man, that is. a free being? Such is. never­
theless, the presentation of man: denatured, yet still free, since he chooses
alienation. Strange synthesis, unthinkable conjunction, u n n a meable reality.
The denaturing that results from the misfortune engenders a new man, so that
in him the will for fn:tdom yields irs pl<lce to the will fo r s(>rvitude. The dena­
turing causes man's will to change directions, toward an opposite goal. It is
n o t that the new man has lost his will, but that he directs it toward servitude:
the people. as though victims of fate. of il spell, want to serve the tyrant. And
though unintentional, this will suddenly reveals its true identity: it is desire.
How does this begin? La Boetie has no idea. How does this continue? It is
hC('eluse men desire that it be this way. answers la Bortie. We have hardly
advanced; objecting 10 this is easy. For the stakes, subtly but clearly fixed by
La Boetie. are anthropological. This is a matter of human nature that raises
the question: is the desire for submission innate or acquired? Did this desire
preexist the misfortune which would then have allowed it to come into
being? O r is its emergence due i n stead. ex nihilo, to the occasion of the mis­
fonune. like a lethal mUlation th;,!l defIes all explanation? These questions are
less academic than they seem. <lS the example of primitive socit,ties suggests.
There is a third question that the author of the Disrours could not ask. but
that contemporary ethnology is i n a position to formulate: how do primitive
societies function in order to prevent inequ<llity, division. power relations?
How do they come to ward off the misfortune? 1Iow do they prevent it from
beginning? For. let us repeat. i f primitive societies are societies without a State.
it is hardly because of a congenital inability to attain thc adulthood that the
presenct' of Ihe State would sign ify, but rather because of a refusal of this
institut i on They ilre unaware of the State because they do not W<lnt one; the

tribe maintains a disjunction between chieftanship <lnd power, because it does

not want the chief to become the holder of power; it refuses to allow the chief
to be a chief. Primitive societies afe socidies thelt refuse obedience. And here

9 8
l H E A R ( H f O l O G Y O f V I O L f tl ( f

let us also guard against all references to psychology: the refusal o f power
relations. the refusal to obey, is not in any way, as the missionaries and travel­
ers thought, a character trait of Selvages, but the effect of the functioning of
soci<ll machines on an individual level, the result of collective action and deci­
sio n. There is. moreover, no need to invoke prior knowledge of the State by
;J ri rn itive societies in order to become aware of this refusal of power relations:
tlH':y would Ililve experienced the division, lJet'Neen the dominating and t he
dominated, would have ft:lt the omi nousness and unacceptability of such a
division and would have then returnrd to the situation prior to the division, to
tIle ti m e before the misfortune, A similar hypothesis refers to the afftrmation
of thl' eternity of the State anc! of society's division according to <l relation of
comnwncl-obedience. n1is conception, scarcely innocent in that it tends to jus­
tify society's division by trying to locate in division a structure of society as
such, is ultimately invalidmed by the teachings of history and t'thnology.
Indet'd, there is no txample of a society with a State th<lt once ag<lin bec<lme a
society without a Stale. a primitive society. It seems. on the contrary, that there
is il point of no return as soon as it is crossed, and such a passage can only
lake place one way: from the non-State toward the State, never i n the other
direction. Space and time, a particular cultural area or a panicular period i n
our history propose the permanent spectacle of decadence and degradation in
which thl" great state apparatuses engage: the State may well collapse, splinter
into feudal lordships here, divide into local chieftainships elsewhere, power
relations are never abolished, the essential division of power is never reab­
sorbed, the return to the pre-State moment is never accomplished. Irresistible.
overthrown but n ot annihilated, the power of the State always ends up
reasserting itself, whether it be in the West after the fall of the Roman Empire,
or in the South American Andes, millennial site of appearances and disappear­
ances of States whose fmal expression was the empire of the Incas.
Why is the death of the State always incomplete. why does it not lead to
the reinstitution of the undivided being of society? Why, though reduced and
weakened, do power relations neverthel ess continue to be exercised? Could it
be that the new man. engendered i n the division of society and reproduced
with it, is a definitive, immortal man, irrevocably u n fn for any return to [Jre­
division? Desire for submission. refusal of obedience: sociery with a State,
society without a Stale. Primitive societies refuse power relations by prevent­
ing the desire Jar submission from comillg infO bei'lg. I n deed. (follOWing La
Goel ie] we cannot remind ourselves too often of what should only be a tru­
ism : the desire for power cannOI come into being unless it manages to evoke
ils necessary complement. the desire for submission. There is no realizable
desi re 10 command without the correlative desire to obey. We say that primi­
tive societies. as societies without division, deny all possibility of the realiza-

9 9
l H f A R C H f O t O G Y O F V I O L E N ( (

t i o n o f t h e d e s i r e for p o w e r a n d the desire for s u U m i s s i o n . As s o c i a l

machines inhabited by the will to persevere in thrir non-divided being. prim­
itive societies institute tl1tmselves as places IIliJ('rC ellil dcsire is repressed.
This desire has n o chanCt:': the Savages want nothing to do with it. They con_
sider this desirt evil. for to lei it (orne into being would immediat('\y lead to
allowing social i n novation through the acceptance of the division betwe en
the d omi n at i ng and the dominatrd. through the recogn ition of the inequality
between mCisters of power and subjects of power. So that r<'latlons between
men remain free and equlll. inequality must be prevented: the blossoming of
th(" evil, two-faced desire which perhaps haunts all societks and all individ­
uals of all societies must be prevented. To the immanf'nce of the desire for
power and the desire for submission - and not of power itself or sub 1 issi on �
1 el r La :
itself - primitive societies oppose the musts and the must nots of tl �
We must change nothing i n our undiv ided being, Wf: must not let the eVIl
dt:sire be r{'aiized. We Sl·e clearly now that it is not n{'Cf'SS,H y to have had the
experience of ihe St,lIC in order t o rduse it, to have known the m is fo rt u n e i n
order t o ward i t ofr, to have lost freedom i n order to insist o n it. To its chil­
dren, the tribe procl<lims: you are all equal, n O ont' among y o u is wonh more
than anoth{'r, no o n e worth less than another, inequality is forbidden, for it
is false. it is wrong. And so th<lt the memory of the primitive l a w is not lost,
it is inscribed painfully - br<lndcd - on the bodies of the young people initi­
<lIed into the knowledge of this law. I n Ihe initiatory <lct, the i n d ividual body,
as sun<lce of inscription o f th(' Law. is the object of <l collective invt:SIJnent
which the {'ntire society w ishes for in order to prevent individual desire from

transgressing the st<ltement of the L<lw and inftltr<lting thl.' so ial <lre� a. And
i f by chance one of the equals thM make up the communlly deCIded he
wanted to realize the desire for power and invest the body of society with it.
to this chirf desirous of commanding, the tribe, far from obeying. would
answer: you. our equal. have w<lnted to destroy the undivided bring of our
society by affnm i n g yourself superior to thr others. you. who are worth no
more than the oth{'Ts. You shall now bt: worth less than the others. This
imagin<lry discourse has an ethnographically real effect: when a chief wantS
to act the chief, he is excluded from society. abandoned. If he insists. the
others may kit! h i m : total exclusion, f<ldicai conjur;lI ion.
Misfortune: something is produced that prevenls sociny from m<l i n ­
{ a i n i n g desire for power and desire for submission i n i m m a n e n ce. They
emtrge i n the reality of the exercise. i n thl" divided b e i n g of a society
Iwnceforth composed of unequals. Just as primitive socicties <Ire conserv<l­
tive because they want to conserve th('ir b e i n g-for-freedo m , divided soci­
eties clo not allow thcmselves t o change; the desire for power and the w i l l
for sfOrvitude arc c o n t i nuously rea l i z ed.

I 0 0
l H E A R C H E O l O G Y O f V I O t f N [ f

Total freedom of La Bot:tie's thought, we were silying, trans-historicity of

hiS disco urse. The strangeness of the Question he poses hilrdJy d iss oi V('s in
ec([l l i n g the author's appurtenance to the jurist bourgeoIsie. n o r I n only
:�'anting to rl'cognize in it the indignant echo of royal repression which in
1 549 crushed the r{'volt of the GaDdles i n the south of France. La B o rti e s '

und ertaking {'scapes a l l attempts to imprison it i n the ,·entury; it is not

fami liar th o u gllt in th<lt it develops precisely against what is reassuring i n all
fam il ia r thought. The Discollrs is solitary and rigorous thought thM feeds
only on its own movement, on its o w n logic: if m<ln is born to be free,
hum an society's first mod� of existence must have necessarily unfolded in
non-di vision, in non-inequal ity. There is, with La Bo�tit, a 5011 of (1 priori
clt-duct ion of th{' Stnt{'less society. of primitive society. Now it is perhaps on
this point that one could, curiously. d{'t{'rt the century's innuence, La Boetie.
taking i n t o account wh<lt happened in the first half of lhe 1 Glh c e n t u ry.
We 5e{'m, indeed. to neglect too often that if the 16th cemury is that of
the R e n aissance. t h {' resurrection of the culture of Greek and R o m a n
Antiquiry. it i s also witness t o a n event whose si gn i ft<:a nce w i l l lri1nsform the
face of the West. namely the discovery and conquest of the New World. The
return to th{' Ancients of Athens and Rome, certainly. but also the irruption
of what up until then hi1rl not existed, Amerie<!. We can measure the fascina­
tion that the discovery of the unknow n continent held over westt'Tn Europe
by the extremely rapid d i ffusi o n of a l l news from b{'yond the seas. Let us
limit ourselves to reveal i n g a few chronological points,2 Staning in 1 493.
Christopher Columbus ' letters regardi n g h i s discovt:ry were p u b l i shed i n
Paris. One could read i n 1 503, again i n Pa ri s . the Li1tin translation o f the
story of the flfst voyage of Amerigo Vespucci. America, as the proper name
of the New World, appeared for the flTSt time i n 1 507 i n another edition of
Ihe voyages of Vespucci. From 1 5 1 5 on, the French translation of the voy­
agcs of the PortUgUf:S{' became best-sell{'TS. I n shon, one did not have to wait
very long i n the Europe of the- beginning of the century to know what was
happening in America. The abundance of news and the spe-e-d of its c i rcula­
tion - despite the diffIculties of transmission at the time - indicate among
the cultivated people of the tim(' as passionate an interest i n these new lands
and the people who lived there as in th{' ancient world revealed by books. A
d o u b l e d iscovery. the same d('sir(' to know w h i c h invested at o n c c I h ('
ancient history of Europe and its new geographical CXie-nsion.
We should note that this w{'(11th o f travel litemture is mostly of Sp<1nish
and Portuguese origin. Th(' explorers and the Iberian Conquistadors actually

cr. G. Chimard, L'exotismr americaill daliS la linfrarlire fm llr;lIiw· ali XVlr sie­
tlr, Paris. 1: l 1 1 .

I 0 I
I H f A R C H f O l O Ii Y O f V I O l f N ( f

left for adventure i n the name of. and with the fInancial support of, Madrid
and Lisbon. Their expeditions were. in fact. cnterprises of the State. and the
travelers were, consequcntly. rcsponsible for regularly informing the vcry
fussy royal bureaucracies. But it does not necessarily follow that the French
of the time only possessed documents furnished by neighboring countries to
satisfy tht'ir curiosity. For if the crown of France was hardly concerned at this
limt' with plans for colonization beyond the Atiantic and only peripherally
interested i n the efforts of the Spanish and the Portuguese, the private enter­
prises concerning the New World were, on the other hand, many and ambi­
tious. The shipowners and merchants of the pons of the English Channel and
of the ('nlire Atlantic front launched. at the very bcginning of the 1 6th crntu­
ry. perhaps be-rore. expedition upon expedition toward the Isles and IOward
what Andrr ' [ hevel would later call equinoC'tial France. The State 's silence and
inertia were answered uy the intt:: nse. buzzing activity of vessels and crews
from Honneur to Bordeaux. which vcry carly on established r('gular commer­
cial relations with the South AmeriCiln Savages. [t is thus that in 1 503, thrcc
years after the Portuguese Itxplorer Cabr<ll discoverltd Brazil. the Captain of
Gonneville lOuched lht:' Brazilian coast. After countless advent ures, he man­
ilgt:d to get b;1Ck to Honfleur in May 1 505, in the company of a young Indian,
Essomrrica, son of a chief of the Tupinnmba tribe. The chronicles or the peri­
od have only retained a few names. such as that of Gonneville, among the
hundreds of hardy sailors who crossed the oceiln.) But there is no doubt that
thl" quantity of information we havt' concerning these voyages gives only a
weak idea of tilt' regularity and intensity of the relations between lhe French
and the Savages. Nothing surprising i n this: these voyages were sponsored by
private shipowners who. because of the competition. were ct'rtainly concerned
about keeping their dealings as secret as possible. And tht' relative rarity of
written documents was probably largely made up for by inrormation supplied
fll'�th,1Ild by sailors returning from America. in all the ports of Brittany and
Nonnandy, as far <IS I.a Rochelle and Bordeaux. Esscntially this n1CilnS thilt
since the second deC<lde of the 1 6th century, a gentleman of F ri'lnce was in a
position. ir he wanlrci, to keep himself informed about the evelHS and pt:'ople
of the New World. This flow of information, based on the illlCllsiflcation of
comn1t:'rcial exchange, would continue to grow and become more detail cd at
the same tinw. In \ 544. the navigator Jean Alfonse, d('snibing the popula­
tions of the Brazilian COilst, was able to establish a properly f'thnographic dis­
tinction between three l<lrge tribes, subgroups of the very large Tupi elhn icily.
Eleven years later. Andre Thevet and Jean de Levy approached these same

'J Cf eh. A. Julien, Voyog('s iiI;' decoul'erte er It's Pr('mirrs Erab/issem
Paris. 1947.

1 0 2
I H f ! R ( II E O I 0 6 Y o r V I O t f N C f

shores to bring back their chronicles. irreplaceable testimonies on the Indians

of Brazil. But. with these two master chronicl ers. we already fl Od ourselves i n
the second half o f the 16th century.
Discours de 10 seflliflld(' /Iolo",oir(' was written. Montaigne tells us, when
La Bortie was 1 8 years old. that is, in 1 548. Thai Montaigne. in a subsequent
edition of the Essois. returns to this date to say that his friend was in ract
only 16. does not make much difference as far as the problem that concerns
u.... It would simply make his thought seem illl the more precious. That La
Bot-tie. furthermore. was able to revise the text of the Dis('ours fIve yems
laler while a student at Orleans secms to us both possible and without conse­
quence. Either t he Discours was indeed written i n 1 54B and its substanc(', its
internal logic could not und(' rgo <lny illteriltion, or else it was written later.
rlil ontiligne is explicit: it dates from La Borrie's eighteenth year. Thus, all
<;uIJsequent modifIcation can only be detail. superrlci<ll, destined to speciFy
and refIne the present<ltion. Nothing more. And there is also nothing more
equivocal thiln this erudite obstini'lcy 1 0 r('duce thought to thilt which is
bdng proclaimed around it, nothing more obscuT<lntist than this will to
destroy the autonomy of a thought by the sad recourse to innuences. And
the Discours is there, its rigorous movement developing firmly. frt�ely. as
though indifferent to all the century·s discourses.
It is probably for this rcason thac America. though not entirely absent
from the Discours, only appears there in the form of a (very clear) allusion to
th('<;e new people th<1t h<1ve JUSt been disl'overed: "But. i n this regard, if. by
chanct', a new breed of people w{'re born today. neither accustomed to sub­
jugation nor attract(,d to freedom, and th('y did not not know what om: o r
the other was, o r just bilTely the names. if they wf"re presented with the
choice to be serfs. or to live freely according to laws with which they did not
{lgr('e: there can be no doubt that they would much rather obey only reason.
than to servf" a man ...... We can. in short. rest assured that in 1 548. knowl­
edge in France concerning the New World was varied. already old. and con­
stantly upd{lted by the navigators. And it would be quite surprising that
someone like La Boetie would not have been very interest('d in what W{lS
being w ritten on Am('riri'l or in what WtlS being said auout it i n the ports of
Bordeaux, for eX{llllple. n("IT his hometown of 5arl'1I. Of course. such knowl­
edge was not necessary for this author to think of i'lncl write the Disco/us: he
could have articulatl.'d it without this. But how could this young man, inter­
rogating hims('lf with such seriousne..::s on voluntary servitude. who dreamt
of society before the misfortune, how could he not be struck by the image
[hat travelers traced, for many years alrc;ldy, of this "new breed or pl'ople."
American Savages living without faith, king or lilw. thes(' peoples without
law. without emperor. each his own lord?

1 0 1
l H f A R { H f O l O G Y O f V I O l f N ( f

I n a society divided along the vertical axis of power betw('C'n the domi­
n a t i n g and t h e d o m i n ated. the r e l a t io n s that unite men ca n n ot unfold
freely. Prince. despot or tyrant. the one who exercises powcr d('sires only
the unanimous obedit'nce of his subjects. The latter respond to his expecta­
tion. they bring into being his desire for power. not because of the terror
that he would inspire in them, but because. by obeying. they bring into
being their own desire for submission. The denaturing p rocess excludes the
m e m o ry of free do m . an d co n scqu e n t l y the desire to reconquer it. A l l

d i v i d e d societies a r e thus destined to endure. T h e denaturing process is

{'xp ressecl at on(e i n the disdain n e c{'ss a ri l y felt by the onc who c o m m a nds
for those \Nho obey. and in the subjeC'ts ' l o v e fo r t he pr i n ce. i n the cult that
the p eo ple devote to the person of the tyrant. Now this !low of l ove ri s i n g
c e ase l essly from the d e pths to ev{'f greater heights, this l ov e of the subjects
for tl1e master equally denatures the rel atio n s between subjects. ExC'luding
all freedom. these n:lations dictart: the new law that gov e r n s sodtry: o n e
must love the tyrant. Insuffi c i e n t love is a transgression of t h e law. A l l
watch out for the res p e ct o f the law. a l l hold their n e i g h b o r i n estt t m only
out of fidelity to the law. The love of the law - the fea r o f freed o m -
makes each subject an a c co m p l i ce of the Prince: obeditnct: t o the ryrant
excl udes friendship between subjects.
What. rrom now on. w i l l become of the non-divided socicties. or soci­
elies without a ty ra n t. of primitive societies? Displaying their being-for-free­
dom. they cannOt jU<;lly survive except in the free exercise of free relations
bt:tween equals. All rela t ions of another nature aTe ess e n t i al l y impossihle
because they are deadly for society. Equality engenders friendship. fri e ndsh ip
can only be experienced in equality. What the young La Boetie would not
have given to hear what t he Guarani Indians of today say in th e i r most
sacred chams, Indians w h o are the aged but intractable desce n d a n t s of t he
"new breed of ptople" o f yore ! Their great god N a m a n du emtrgcs from t h e
shadows and invents the world. He first crCiltCS the Word. the substance
common to the d iv i n e and the human. He ass i gn s to human ity the- dest i ny of
co l l ect i n g
the Word of existing in i t and protecti n g it. Hum<l tls. all equally

an: Prote cto rs of the Wo rd. and protectt:d by it. Society

chosen by th e de i ti C's .
is the e nj oy m e nt of t he common good that is thr Word. Instituted as equal
by divine dc:cision - by n at ure - society asscmoks as a w hol e, that i s . an
u n d iv i ded whole: then. only mbo rayu can rl'side thrrr. the l ire of the trioc
and its w i l l 10 l ive . the tribal solidarity of equals; Il!borayu: friendship. so
that the SOCiNy it fou nd s is one. so that the men of this society are all one.4

Cf. P. (lastn·s. 1.t' Gralld Parler. Myrhrs er ellaIlts sncr�s des I"d,ens Gunralli.
Ed. du $l'uil. t974.

I 0 ,
Th e age-o l d infatuation with primitive socirtif's assures the Fren('h read­
rr of a rrgular and abundant supply of erhnolog:cal works. They are n o t of
equal i nteres t . however. fa r from it. From time to time. a lJOok will si<lIld
out o n (he grayish horizon of these works: the oc('asion is too riJre to Ie-I i t
go u n noti(,ed. ]('onoC' lastl<' and rigorous. salutary as wrll as schola rly. is t h e
work o f Marshall S a h l ins, which many w i l l b e delighted to ser fmally pub­
lished in French.1
An American professor of great reputation. S a h l i n s is an expert o n
Melanesian societies. But his scientiflc project Ciln h a rd l y be red u c ed to thr
ethnog�aphy of a certain cultural area. Extending fa r bcyond monographk
pOlntllllsm. as the trans(,ontinental v a ri r ty of his reference!> attests. Sahlins
u �dertakes the systematic {'xploration o f the soc i al dimension long scrut i­
nIzed by et hn ologists ; he approaches the fIeld of tconomics in a radically
new way; h e archly asks the fundamental q u es ti o n : what of ('co n o m i cs in
primitive societie-s?2 A q u rst ion o f decisive weight. as we shal! see. Not thal

1 M . SahIins. Age til;' pit-nt'. Age d·nbolldol1te. L'collomie des sorirtfs primil il·(,s.
G a l l l. ":, ani. 1 9 7 6 . [StOI1t' Agt' E(,ollomic.�. Chicago. Aldiflc-Atllcnol1. 1972.J I f S ahh n s '

book IS full of knowledge, i t is also filII o f hU!llor. 1 ilia Jolas. who lranslated H i ll to
French. has r(,lldered it perfectly.
) �et c1�rify potential mi"llll(!trstillLdiflg right off. The stone-age economics
w hich $ahhns speaks COllct'fIIS not prehistoric l11ell bU!. of course, primiliV('<;
tiS iI

observed for several centuries by tnlVe][('r<;. l:Xplort.'fS. missi(l!l;)irt's and eth no l ogists.

I 0 \
O F V I O t f N ( £
l H f � IIC H f O L O !; Y
others have n ot asked it hefore /lim. Why come back, in that ca se, to a p ro h ­
l e m t h a t seemed settled l o n g ago? We quickly s e c, fo l l o w i n g S a h l l n s '
method. t h a t n o t o n l y h a s t h e question of the p r i m i t i v e economy n o t
received a res po ns e wonhy o f being: called one, but that n u merous authors
have treated it with incredible lightness wht.'n they did not simply surrender
it to a veri tab l e distortion of ethnographic facts. We flOd ou rs el ves confront­
ed here, no l o n g r r with t h e misi ntrrpretation possible i n all scientific
research. but. 1 0 a n d behold, with t h e enterprise of ad apti n g primitive social
rrality to a pre('xisting conception of society and of history, still vigorous, as
we sha l l t ry to de mon strale. In other words, certain representatives of what
WI:. ca l l economic anthropology h<lve not always known, to put it mildly.
how to separatE' the dUly of object ivity. which at Ihr very least ('quires a
respect fo r the facts, from the concern of preserving their philosophical or
po l i t i cal convictions. And once the <In<llysis is subordinated, whether deliher­
ately or u n co n sci ollsl y, to this or that di s co urse on s o cie ty when rigorous
science would dema nd prec isc:l y the oppositr, we very quickly fmd ou rselv es
carried off to tht frontiers of mystiflcation.
It is to denouncing this that the exemplary work of Marshall Sahlins is
devoted. And one would be mistaken to suppose his ethnographic i n forma­
tion much more abundant than that of his pred('crssors: although a field
rC'searchrT. he d oes nOI offn any earth-sh<luering facts whose n ove l ty
would force us to rethink traditional ideas of p ri m itive E'cono my. He con­
tents himself - but with what vigor! - to reestablishing the t rut h of givens
long si n ce collected and known; he has ("hosen to i nte rro g at e cii r('ctly the
avallablc material, p i t i l essly pushing aside received ideas rrgarding this
material. Which amoll nts to sayi n g that lhe task Sahlins assigns himself
could havr been u nden ah: n before h i m : the fIle, in short. was a l re a dy there,
accessible a n d completc. But Sahlins is the fim w have reop en e d i t ; we
m u s t sec him as a pio neer.
What does this concern? Economic ethnologists have con tin ued to i ns ist
that the economy of pri m i t ive- societies is su bs is tenc e econ omy. Clearly
such a st<llem (' n t cioes not m e a n to be a truism: namely. that the essential. i f

n O I exclusive, function of a g ive n society·s produclion system i s t o assure

the subsistence of Ihe i n div id U ills who make up the so("icty in question. To
cstablish archaic economy (IS a subsistence economy, we design ale less the
gen e ral function of all production systems than the manner in which the
primitive e co n o my fulfills this function. We say that a marhi n e fu nctions
well when it s <l tisf<lcto ri ly fulfLils the function for whic-h it W<1S conc('ived. I t
i s using il s i m i l ilr rriterion that w e shall eva l u a te- t h e functio n i n of the
ma r h i n e of production in primitive societit·s: dot'S this machin{' fu ngction in
conformity to fhe go als Ihilt s o e i ery <lssigns it? Does t h is Ol<l c h i n c adequillC'ly

, n ,
I � f A H U f O L O ' Y
1 O f V I O l f N f f

g u P 's a er. al needs

insu re lhe s a t isfa c t io n of the r
o n e must p ose when 1 00 k i n ? This is [he rea l q uestion
g < t pn. mm ve eco n omy. .
� m. � t
To this, "c I ass lc,. e co-
s with Ih ]·de 0 f,sub .

slsrence econo my : ) prim

nom ic ant hropology respond
live e co nomy is a sub sist enc
� . .
JUS t b a rely ma nag

assure society·s s u bs i s te n ce
e eco no 1Y i t lat It
. The ir ec nom ]c s<s
� . es to
th e pricft of i n cessa n t la bor,
t'conomy i s an economy
not to
of survival
�� ��
�em al l ows the pri mit ive
or. Stdrve t.o dea th. The
s, at

at I ts tec hni cal und

pri mit ive

prod uct '" o n 0 f sur Plu

Irre med iabl y forbids the erdevelopment
/{'r.SI gua ra n t ee thr trib , s and stock p i l i n g tha t wo
ul d, at
e's im m ed late rutu
re. This is the I. m ag
m .1 11 con vey ed by "scllolfl e 0r pn" m Jll ve
( rs '· .· ,I,e S ava ge crushed
mem, co n sta n t l y stalked by h IS ' eco I og r'c al en vl, ron -
by ram Ine ' , h au ntr d by the p
j., n d lJ1g so m eth i ng to erm a n ent anxI,ety of
. . .
keep his I ovec j o nes from per ish
(lve eco n omy is a suh . .
; n g. I n Sh on, the prim i-
ause It I <In eco nom
sist enc e eco nom be
To Ihis rOl1ception
� � y of pov erty.
� lY, Sah l r ns tontrasts not anoth er
con crp t]o . n,
of pri mit ive e o n
but (I uite S imp ly' 'th

oth er t h i n gs, a c l ose
nOg ra'l h IC facts. He
exa min a, ],on O r t j1e . .
proceeds wit h, am ong
most eaS Ily ima gin
' <
wo rk
ed as the m st d epr .
dev ote d t0 lh ose Prllll , ltlves
l �e� of a l l , fated as
they are 10 occupy
a n em in e n t ly ho sti
hun ter S-C Ollectors of

le enV iro "' en r w
th e A ust ra , I a n a n
it tec hno log ira ! i n effiCie
ncy : t h e
t Ilos e w h o i l J ustr,lle d So uth Af ric,a n d
eserts , p reC ise ly
! J crskoviIS, pri mit ive he C'.y es of t't h n oe c o n o
m i S IS suc h a s
per fer lly in t h .
poveny N'ow, at IS re l t h e rase?
I h e Australians o f rn Monogra phs O n
A hem L lld n dWt� �J y
"'vcJy, offer tht ncw t e Bo chlm a n s of the Ka
l a hari, resper-
d et<ti l or 5 a1ISII(
� h
. , ·s; the
Ill'S IS measurrd . An
. "
( 0
rim e devot ed to econ
see s 1
I .11 far from sp<0(j'Ing ,
d omIC act Ivi-
n r
a II the r" r lives rn
. hen t
.J nou nsh ment , the
th e feve ns h quesl .
fo r •ale <lto
on Iy flv (" hou rs a 'I ed wre tche s spen d
< d ay on I" ,
se !)o
hou rs. Thus. as a ofte n t)e{:",e en thrc(' and
at most and more
reSUlt, in a retaliv 1 . four
Y sh on p enoel of tim e,

.J su" " I'Iy Ins , ure t h ",. r subsi st enr
and Bo chi nm ns ver v the Aus tral ians
[ha t, fi rst. th is dai ly e. A nd we m ust also nOle
work is o n Iy rareI
. interspe rsed as it is w i t h
. , s- ec o n d , ' h"
frequent bre Clks· � sustain e d ,
. !tle wh ole tnb
o , Jt nev er Inv o! ves
e: besid es the
toIIll' P a ntc . IP<l
lac t tha t ch ile/r en and
!(, i
. .
Ie Cl ctiv i t ies no t eve n . g
yo un
<HlU lt s (PI evote Ih ell1selve
l tt l e or not a t (III i n tco nOIl1-
,•ood. A n d Sah lins

s a1l (
at on('e 10 the searc h for
• i Ih .oSl' q ua n
ti'r!cd givens ' reCCn
tIy gat le
notes tha
fIrm old er es tim o I re d, ("on -
. . t nie s of h-cen t Uly t ra vel ers
Th us III sp i e of ser
on all po int s.
iou s and we ll-k n Ow .
ain fou nd i n g
f<l the rs of eco nom ic
am hro pol og h ave � n I n fOr ma tIOn , ("en
, ou� of wh o l e clo
. th, inv ent ed the
to a (IU aSI -am ma J con
myth of a savage ma
n conde �l nC(
the n ,a w ra e nvl. ro n
ina bil ity to exp loi t diti on
me lll effi Cie ntly Thi
through his
. s is wid e of the
1 Cf. Cllap!('r
I o f Sah lins ' boo k f;or
V iew . of � l!Ihors wh o
express Ihis poi nt of nU Il1('rou� (!l!otations

I 0 7
M " , . . • • • • • • . , . , . " .. .

have rehabilitatt'd the primi tive. hunte r by

mark a n d it is to Sahlin s' credit to
eoret .lcaJ (th eo rel

. J'I t ra vcSty.
J Jl·shin g factual truths ag<"lin st the th .
reest a l
Indeed. it follows from his analy sis
that not only is �e pnml l1 e economy �
not an econo my of povrny. but that
p rim itive society IS the ong nal affl uent �
h troub les the dog.mallc to p r o f ��
socie ty. A provocative state ment . whic
pse do schol ars of anth ropol ogy, b

u t a n ac urat o n e : I f t h e pnn: !llve

s of lo� Intensny, assures t he saus ac­ �
mach ine of produ ction. i n short period
It functtons
lion of peopl e's material nccds, it is,
Sahll n.s writes, . b:cause
bec;'lus(' It could, If It wanted to. fu�c­
beyon d its objective possibilities. it is
r o d u c e s u r p l u s , fO.r m a st o k p.t l � � .

l i o n l o n ge r a n d m o r e q u ic k ly , p
able. does n.othl ng about It. It IS
Consr quently. if primi tive society, th oug�
;'l l1ans and Boch l mans: once they feel
because it does not want to. The Austr
th ey have collected suffic ient al i menta
ry re50 rc:s stop huntl Og and collect­ ,

harvesting mort than thcy. can con­

ing. Why should they fatigue themselves
elves, sel.t'ssly tra nspor ti ng h a y ��
sume ? Why would nomads rxhaust thems
when , as Sahlm s says. the surplu s I� In
provisions from one point to another.
as mad as the formalistic e �on om l:ts
n ature itself? But the Savages are not
man the psychology of an Ind USlrlal
who. for lack of discovering in primit ive . . .
with ceaselessly InrrCa s�ng h IS .p :o­
or comm ercial company head. concerned
fit doltishly infer from thiS. pn m l{l e

ducti on in ord('r to increase his pro
under taking . as a result . IS salub n­
econo my's intrin sic i n feriority. Sah!in s'
ophy" which mllk('s Ih(' co n l ('mpo .­

ous, i n th:lI il calml y u n masks this philos "

all I i ngs. And yet what effo�t .I�
m(ln IS not an en � re�H� n e� r, n IS
rary cllpi Hll is{ the idelll and me;'lsure of
l(lkes to uemo nstr(l l(, that if primi tive , .
if he docs not "opllffilze hiS activ­
because profit does not interest h i m ; that
se he does not know how to, but
ity, as the pedants like 10 say. il is not becau
because he does nOI ft'cl like it!

Sahlin s docs nOt l imit hims(' lf 10 the case

of hunters. Using somet hing

ca!\ed the Domestic Mode of Produ ction (DMP

). he exam ines til e eco no llly of . .

can be observed today In Afnca

"neol ith ic societies , of prim itive farmers. as

or Melan esia, in Vietna m or o t h Ameri S u

ca. There is nothin g in comm on,
s and seden taries who hunt, fish
apparently. between desen or forest nom(ld
and col lect. but arc cssc nt i ;'l Uy depen dent on what they grow.
One coul d .

consid nabl e cl�ang:e that constI ­

expect. on the contra ry, as a functi on of the
into ;'I n agrari an econo my. the
tutes the conve rsion of a huntin g: econo my
attitud es, not to menti on. of coursr,
blosso ming of <1bsol ut{'ly new ('cono mic
itse l f.
transformations in the organ ization of society
s condu ned I n va r � o us
. '

R e l y i n g on a consid erable n mber of studit u

detail the local confi gurations
region s of the world. Sahlin s exami nes in .
recurr ent
(Ml'IClill'si,m, Africa n . South Anll'r i can elc ) of tht' D M P whose .

J a 8
l H f H C H [ O l O G Y O f V 1 0 L f h' C f

charactcristics he b rin gs to light: (he predominance of sexual division of

labor; segmentary production in view of consumption; autonomous access
t o tbe mcans of produl't i o n : a cenrrifugal relationship between units of pro­
du('ti on. Taking into account an economic reality (the DMP). Sahlins creates
('atcgo ries that arc properly political i n th<"lt they touch the heart of primi­
tiv{' social organization : segmentatio n. autonomy, centrifugal relations. I t is
essentially impossible to think of primitive econ omics outsi<k of th politi­ e
cal. What me-rits attention for now i s that the penin('nl Haits se towe u
dl'scribc the mode of production of sl ash-a nd burn agriculturist s also allow

us to dtflne the social organiz;'Itio n of hunting pe-oples. From this p o i nt of

view, a band of nomads, just like a sedentary t ribe is composed o f units of

produ tion and o f consumptio n - the "homes" or the " households " in _

whicll t b e scxual division o f labor, i ndeed prevails. Each unit functions as a


segment autonomou s from Ihe wh o l e. and even i f the rule of exchangr

solidly structures the nomad band, the play of centrifugal forct is nevenhe­
less presen t Beyond differences in living styles, religious repr('sentati ons,
ritual aCl i v i ty, I h e framework of society does not vary from the nomad
commun ity to th(' sedentary vi ll age Thill mal h i n s of prod uct i on so differ­
. ' e
ent as nomadic hunti ng and slash-and-b urn agriculture could be compatibie
with identical social formarions is a poinl whose sign i ficance it would be
;1I>propriale to measure.
All p ri mitive communitics aspire, i n terms of their consumer produc­
tion. to complete autonomy; they aspire to exclude all relations of dep( n ­ '

dence on neighboring ri bes. It is. i n short, primitive society ' S autarkic
idtal: they produce just e nough [0 satisfy a!1 ne(·ds. but th ey ma na ge t o
u .
p rod ce ;'111 of it themselves If the D M P is a system fundame ntal ly hostile
to the formation of surpl s it is no less hostile to allowing producti o n slip

below the threshold that would guarantee Ihe satisfactio n of needs. The­
ideal of economic a ta rky is, i n fan, a n ideal of political independen ce,
which is assurcd ;'IS long as one does not nced others. Naturally, this id('al
is n ot realized everywher e a l l the ti m c Ecological d ifferences, c l i m a t i c

variations, contacts o r loans can leave a society unable [0 satisfy t h e need

for this commodity or that material or an object others know how to man­
ufacture. This is why. as Sahlins shows. neighborin g tribes. or cven distant
ones, find themselvrs e n gaged i n rather intense trade relations. But. he
points out i n his tireless analysis of M elanesia n "commerce ". Melanesian
societics do no! have "markets" a n d "tht same no douht goes for archaiC"
societics." Thc DMP t hus tends. by virtue of each comm u n ity's desire for
i n dependence . to reduce the risk incurred in exchange determined by need
as much as possible: " reciprocity between commercial partners is not only
a privilege. but a duty. SpeCifical ly. it obl ig{'s each person to r{'eeive as

J 0 9
I H f A , H H f O L O G Y O f V I O L f H ( f

well as to give." Commerce brtween tribC's is not i m port-export.

Now the will for inclependcnn' - the aut <l rk ic ideal - i n h(.'fcnt i n the
DM!' since it con cerns the co mm u n ity i n its relationship to other communi­
ties, is also <It work within the commun ity, where centrifugal tendencies push
each u n i t of production. each "household" to proclaim: every man fo r him­
st.'ir! Naturi1lly, such a principle. ferocious in irs <.'goism. i s exercised only
rarely: there have to be ex('eptional circumstances, like the fam i n e whose
(·ffects Firth observed on the Tikopi<l society, victim in 1 9 53-54 t o devasti1t­
ing hurricanes. This crisis, writes Sahlins, revealed the fragility of Ihe famous
we - We, tht' Tikopi:l - while at the same time cleCHly demonstrating the
str<.' ngth of the domesti( group. The household seemed to be the fonress of
private i nterest. that of the domestic group, a fonress which. in times of cri­
sis, isolated itself from the outside world and raised its so('ial drawbridges -
when n ot p i l l a g i n g its relatives' gmdens. As long as nothing serious al ters
the n orm a l course of d<lily l i fe. the: comm u n i ty does not allow ('('rllri fu gal
forces to threalen the un ity of its Self, the o b l ig: lt i o ns or kinship ('onlinue to
bt' respected. This is why. at the end o f a n extremely technical ilnalysis of
the case of Mazulu, a villi1ge of Tonga Vallry, Sahlins thinks it possible to
explain thr undC'rproduction of certain households hy their certainlY that
their solidarity with those best stocked will play in their ravor: "for i f some
of them fa i l . is it not precisely because they know at the outset thM they (an
count on the oth ers ?'" But should an unforeseeable event occur (a natur:11
disaster or external aggression, for example) 10 upset the order of things,
then Ihe ('entrifugal tendency of each unit of produ('tion asserts itself. th('
household tends to withdraw into itself, the community "atomiz(.'s, '· while
waiti n g for the bad moment to pass.
This does not mean. howev('r, that under normal ronditions, kinship
obligations are always wi l l i n gly respected. I n Maori society. Il1l' household i s
"constantly conrronted with a dile mm:1, constantly forael t o maneuver :1nd
compromise between the satisfaction of its own needs and its more general
obligations toward distant relatives which it must satisfy withol![ compro­
mising its own we ll - b eing. " And Sahlins also quotes several savory Maori
proverbs wh i ch clearly show the i rrit at io n felt tow<1rd overly dem<1nd i n g rt:l ­
atives (when these reci p i e n ts have only a wetlk degree of k in shi p ), and gen­
erous acts are then grudgingly accomplishcd.
The DMP thus assures primitive sodety of abundance mrasured by th"
ratio of produclion to need; it funclions in view of the {Oral sal isfa('tion of
need. refusing to go beyond il. The Savages produce to Jive, they do not live
to produC'c: 'The DM!' is a consumer product i on which tends to slow down
output and 10 ma i nta i n il at a rel ati v e ly low level." Such a " s tra tegy " obvi­
ously i mp l ies a sort of wager on thl' future: n a mely, Ihm it w i l l be made of

1 1 0
I H f A R { H f O I O G Y O f V I O L I H ( f

rep t'tition and not of differenct, thai the earth, the sky and the gods will
ov('rsee a n d maintain I h e etern<ll retum of t h e S<lmc. And this, in general. is
indeed what happens: ch a n ges thnt distort th e lin('s of str('ngth in SOCiety,
such as the natural catastrophe of which the Tikopia were vktims. are excep­
tio nal. But it is also the rarity of th('sc circumstances that strips naked a soci­
el/s we<lkness: "The obligation of generosity inscribed in the Structure does
not withstand the test of bad luck." Is this the S avnges ' incurable sh ortsi ght­
edness, as the travelers' ("hroniclcs sny? Rather, in this insouciance one ran
read th(' grratt'r concern for their freed om.
Through analysis of the DMP. Sahlins offers us a general the ory of primi­
tiv(' economy. From production adapted exactly to the i m mediate nf-cds of
[he family. he extracts. with great clarity. the law that underlies the system:
.....the OMP conceals an <lnti-surplus principle: adapted to the production or
... ubsistence goods, it tends to i mmo b i l ize when it reaches this po i n t. " The
C'thnographkally founded cI<lim that. o n the one hancl, primitive economies
a re underproductive (only a segment of society works for short pC'riods of
lime at Jow intenSity), that o n thC' other, they always satisfy the nreds of
society ( n eeds defIned by the sociery itself and nOt by a n exterior example),
such a riaim then imposes. in its paradoxic<ll truth, t he idea that primitive
society is, indeed. <l sod ety of abundan("e ( cC'rta inly the fIrst, perhaps also the
last). since all needs arc satisfled. But it also summons the logic at th(' heart
of this social syste m : srrlictru(Jl/y, writes Sahlins, "eco nomy" docs 1I0t exist.
That is to say that the economic, as a s('('tor unfolding autonomou�ly man­
ner in the social artn:1, is abst'nt from the DMP; the laller funC'tions as con­
sumer production (to assure lhe satisfaction of n('tds) and not as production
of exchange (10 <l("quire profit by coml1l('rci!ll i7ing surplus goods). What is
clear, fInally (what Sahli ns' grl' at work asserts), is lh(' dis("overy th:11 primi­
tive societies arc soci('ties that rtfu5e economy.4
The formalist economists arc surpris('d thilt the p rimi t iv e miln is nOt, like
the cilpital ist, motivated by profit: this is indeed the issue. Primitive society
strirtly l i mits its production lest the l'('onomic C's('<lPC the social and turn
against sodety by opening a g:1 p between rich and poor. <llienating some. A
society without e('onomy. l'ertainly, but. better yel, a society a gai nst ('cono­
my: this is the b ril l iant truth toward which $;1l1Iins' rrn ecti o n s on primitive

4 We cannot overlook til l' equally exemplary res('arch that Jaques Lizot h<ls

been doing for s(!'v('Tal years among the last great Arnazoniau ethnic group. the
Yanomami Inditllls. Me<lsu ring the tilllt $Iash-and-bunl farmers spend working, Lizol
has come to the same conclusions as S::lhlins in his analysis of the DMP. cr. in par­
ticlliar Jacques Lizot, "Economie all socict�? Quelques \hernes a propos de l'ctude
(i'une commullaule (i·Amtrindiens." Jormwl de 1(1 SoC'irrr dc� A merjr(lll istt's, IX,
1973. P l'. 1 )-' - 1 75.

1 1 I
l H £ A H H £ O L O G Y O F Y I O L f N ( [

SOCltty kad us. Reflections th<.tt art rigorous and tell us more about the
Savages than any other work of the same genre. But it is also an enterprise
of true: thought, for, free of all dogmatism. it poses the most essential ques­
tions: under what conditions is a society primitive? Under what conditions
can p rimit iv e society persevc-re in its undivided being?

Society w i lhout a State. cla!:islt �ss society: this is how anthropology

speaks of the factors th,U Olllow a society to ht' called primitive. A society,
thl'n, w i t hout a se pnra tC' organ of political power. a society that de-liberately
pre-vents the division of the social body into unequal and op posing g rou ps :
"Primitive sociC'ty allows poveny for everyone, but not an' umulation by
some." This is the crux of the problem thOlt tht' institution of the chieftain­
ship p ost's in an undivided society: what happens to the ('gOllitOlri<1n will
inscrihed <1t the heart of the DMP in the fac� of the c-st<1hlishmenr of hierar­
chical relations? Would t he refusal of division that regulates the economic
order cease to operate in the political arena? How is the chiefs supposedly
superior status articulated to society 's undivided being? How ar(' pow{'r rela­
ti on s woven b etw ee n tht' trihe a nd its lcadt:r? This themc runs rhroughoul
Sahlins ' work, which appronclles the question most directly in its detailed
analysis of Melanesian big·man systems in which the p o l it ica l and the eco­
nomic are joined togeth{'r in the person of the chirf.
In most primitive societies, tvw esse n tia l qualities are demanded of th{'
chief: oratorical talent and generosity. A man unskilled at speaking or avari­
cious would n eve r be recognized as leader. This is not a matter, of course, of
personal psychological traits but of formal characteristics of Ih{' institution:
a leadt::r mUSt not retain goods. S,lhlins thoroughly examines the origin and
effecl.; of this veritable obl i gati o n of generosity. At the start of a b i g-m<ln
career wt.' find unhridled ambition: a st rat t' gk taste for prestige, a tactical
sense for rhe means to ;Jcquirf' il. It is qu ite clear that, to Llvish goods. t he
chief must first POSSe-55 tht'm. How does he prOCUTl' Ih{'m? If we eliminate the
case, not peninent here, of manufactured objects which tile- I rad e-r receives
from missionaries or ethnologists to l a ter redistribute to members of the
community, if we co n side r that the freedom to earn ar th e expense of others
is not i ns cri bed i n the relations and mo<inlities of exchange in these socei­
eties. it remains that. to fulfill his obligation of generosity. the big-man mUSt
product' Iht· goods he needs by himself: he cannOt rely o n others. The only
ones to aid and assist him ilrt' {hOSt' who for various reasons consider it use·
ful to work for h i m : pe op le of h is kinship who from then on maintain a
client relationship with him. The contradiction bttween tht chitfs solitude
and the nt'cessity to be generous is also resolved through the bias of polygy­
n y : if, i n the grt'iu numbt'r of p ri m i tiv t' societies. the rule of monogamy

1 1 1
I H f A H H f O t O ' Y O f V I O l f N ( [

largely prevails. the plurality of wives, o n tht other hand, is almost al ways a
privilege of important men, that is. the leaders. But. much more than a privi­
lege. the chiefs polygyny is a necessity in that it provides the principle
nwans of acting like a IcadC'r: th e work force of supplementary wives is used
by the husband to produce a surplus of consumer goods that he will distrib­
ute to the community. One point is thus solidly established for now: in the
primitive society, the economy, insof\lr as it is no longt'f i ns rri bed in the
movement of the DMP, is only a political 1001; production is subordinated to
power relations; it is only al the institutional level of the clllcftai nship that
both the necessity ilnd the possibility of surplus production appears.
Sahl ins rightly uncovers here the antinomy between the centrifugal force
inherent to the DMP and the opposite force that animates the chieftainship: a
[t'ndl'ncy toward dispersion in terms of modes of production. a tendrncy
towa�d unification in terms of thl' institution. The supposed place of power
would t h us be the center around which society, constOlntly wrought by t he
powers of diSSOlution. inStitutes itself as a unity and a community - the
chieftainship's fo[('(' of integration against Ihe DMP's force of disintegration:
"The hig-man :lnd his consuming amhition arC' means whe re by a se-gmcntary
society, 'acephJlous' and fr,lgme n t ed into slll,lIl autonomous communities
overcomes these cle<lvages". to f<lshion larg{'r fields of rdation and higher
levels of cooper<ltion." The big-man thus offers. according 10 Sahlins. the
illustration of a son of minimum d{'grt'e in till' continuous curve of political
power which would grildually Ie-Old to Poly nesia n royalty, for example: " [ n
py ramid societit's. the intq;mtion of small communities is perfected, w hil e in
Melanesian hig-man systems, it has hardly bl'gun. and is virtually unimagin­
able in the cont('xt of hunting peoples." The big-man would thus be a mini­
mOll figure of the PolynesiOln king. while the king would lH' the maximal
extension of the big-man's pow('r. A gel1cal()!;w of powl'r, from i ts mOSI dif­
fuse forms to its m ost concent rated realizations: could Ihis be I h l' foundation
of the socinl division between maSI('rs .a nd subj{'cts and the most di<;r;mt ori­
gin of the st<lte machine?
Let us cons i(k r this mor(, closely. As Sahlins says, the big-man nccedes
to power by the sweilt of his brow. Unable to exploit the othrrs in order to
produce su rp l us , he exploits himself, his wivt's. and his clienls-relatives: self­
exploitation of the big-man and non-exploil<1tion of society by the big-man
who obviously does not have at his disposal the power to force tile others to
w o r k for h i m , since it is p rec is {' ly this pown he is trying 1 0 conq utr. I t could
n o t be a qUl'stioll. then, in such socil'ties. of the soci:!! body's division along
the vertical axis of political power: there is no division between il dominant
m i nority (the chief and his clients) which would command <1nd a domi nated
majority (1Iw rest of thE' t omm u n i t y) which would obey. II is rat h e r the oppo-

1 1 1
L H t l K l H t U I U b Y U I Y I U l � N ( t

site spectacle that Mel(1nr:sian sorieti{'S offer us. As far JS division. Wt' sr:r:
th a t i f thr:re is, in fact, division, it is only that which sepamtes a mi nority of
rich workers from a majority of t h e lazy poor: but. and it is here that we
touch upon the very foundation of primitive society. the rich are only rich
because of their own work. the fruits of which are appropriated and ('on­
sumr:d by the idle massC's of the poor. In other words, socir:ty as a whole
exploits the work of the mi nority that surrounds the big-man. How then can
we speak of power in rela ti on 10 th e chief. if he is exploited by socicty? A
paradoxical disjunction of forccs that all divided societies maintain: could
the ch ief. on the one han(!, exercise power over society. <lncl so('i("ly on the
other, subject this same chief to intensive exploitation? But what. then. is the
nature of this strange power whose potency we seek in v<lin? What is i t
about this power. finally. what cause primitive society to shun it? Can one.
quite simply. still speak of powtr? This is i ncleed the whole prohkm: why
does S<lhlins CClIl power that which obviously is not?
We dctect here the r;'lther widespretld confusion in ethnologi<.:al literilture
hetween prestige and power. What mClkes the big-man run? What is h e
sweating for? Not. o f course. for a power t o whit'h the p('ople o f tht: tribe
would refuse to submit were he even 10 dream of ('xercising it. but for pres­
tige. for the positive image that the mirror of society would reflcct back onto
him cclebrating a prodigious and hard-working chief. It is this inabil iry to
think of prestige without power that burdens so milny antllyses of political
anthropology and that is particularly misleading in the CClse of primitive
societies. Dy confusing prestige and power, we fIrst underestimate the politi­
cal ('ss ence of power and tht> social rC'ltllions it institutes: wt' then i ntroduce
into primitive society tl conlTCldiction which GlnnOl appear there. How call
society's will for equality adapt to the desire for power which would precise­
ly found inequCllity betwcen those who command and thos{' who olll'Y? To
raise the quC'stion of political power i n p ri m i tive societies fo rc(,5 one to think
of chieftainship outside of power, to ponder this immediate given of primi­
tive sociology: the lead('r is pow (' rl ess. In exchange for his gcntrosity. what
does the big-man get? Not the ful fillment of his desire for power. but the
frClgile satisfaction of his honor, not the ability to command. but the inno­
ctnt enjoym('nt of a glory he exhausts himself to maintain. l I e works. literal­
ly, for glory: society gives it to him willingly. busy as it is s<1voring the fruits
of its ch ie fs labor. Flattercrs live at the expense of those who listen to them.
Since the big-man's prestige does not wi n him Clny authority, it follows
thClt he is not the fITSt rung of the l<ldder of political pOWCT and th<lt we were
quite mistaken to see him as Cl real locus of power. l I ow, then, do we place
the big-man and other figures of chieft<1inship on a continuum? l iere, a nrc­
essClry con'>eQuenc{' of the i n i l iO'lI confusion berwren prestige a n d power

1 1 4
l H f 6 R C H f O L 0 6 Y O f V I O L f N ( f

appears. Powerful Polyn{'sitln royalty docs not result from a progressive

development of MelanesiCln big-nlCln sy�tems. becCluse there is nothing in
these systems to develop: society does not allow the chief to transform his
prestige into power. We must, therefore, utterly renounce this continuist con�
ception of social formiltions, and accept and recognize that primitive soci­
eties where the chiefs Me powerless arc radical departures from societies
where power relations unfold: the essential discontinuity i n societies without
a State and societies with Cl State.
Now, there is a conceptual instrument generally unknown to ethnologists
that Clllows us to resolve many difficulties: i l is the c"tegory of debt. let us
return for a moment to the primitive chiefs obligation of generosity. Why
does the institution of the ch ieftainsh ip involve thiS obligation? It cellainly
expresses a SOil of contr<lct between the chief and his trihe. the terms of
whirh ofTer him the gratification of his narcissism i n exchange for il nood of
goods h e will pour ovcr so(..' iety. The obligation of generosity dearly contains
an egalitarian principle that pl<1ces trade pallners in a position of equ<llity:
society offers prestige which the chief acquires i n exchange for goods.
Prestige is not recognized unless goods are provided. But this would be to
misinterpret the true nature of the obligtltion of generosity, to sec i n it only a
contrClct guamnreeing the equal iry of the panies concerned. Hiding beneath
this appearance is the profound inequal ity of society and the chief in that his
obligation of grnerosiry is. in fact, a duty, that is to say, a debt. The leadrr is
i n debt to society precisely hecause hr is the leader. And he can n{'ver get rid
of this debt. at least not as long as he WClnts to continue being the leader:
once he stopS being the leader, the debt is abolisht'd. for it exclusivrly marks
the relationship thClt unites the chieflainship and society. At the heart of
power rel<ltions is indebt ness.
We d iscover, then, this essential f:'lC't: if primitive societies arc societies
without a sepa rate organ of power. this docs not necessarily mean thClI they
arc powerless soei('ties. societies where political questions are nOt rtlised. It
is. on the contra ry. to refuse the separation of power from society thClt the
tribe mClintains its chiers indebtC'dness; il is society that remJins tile holder
of power and that exercises it over the chief. Power relations cenainly exist:
they take the form of a debt that the leader must forev('r pay. The chiefs
eternal i ndebtedness guarantees society that he will remain ext('rior to
power, that he will not become Cl separate organ. Prisoner of his desire for
prestige. the Savage chief agrees to submit to society's power by settling tht'
debt that every exercise of power institutes. In trapping the chief in his
desire, the tribe insures itself tlgainst the mortal risk of seeing political
pow('r become separate from it and lurn ClgClinst it: primi(ivt society is a
society against the State.

1 1 5
l H E � R ( H f O t O b Y O f ¥ I O L f N C E

Since dcbt rclations belong to the exercise of power. one must be pre·
pa red to fi n d it everywherc that power is exefri sed. This is indeed wh at fOy·
a l ty t t"a ch es us. Poly n esi a n Of ot h erw is e. Who pays the debt here? Who arc
the indebted? Th ey <If{', as we well know, those whom ki n gs. high priests o r
d{'sp o ts name the common p eo p l e. whose debt ta kes on the name of tri bute
that th{'y owe to the rulers. Hence it foll ow s that. in effect. pow e r does not
come without debt and that i n v{, fse ly. lhe prese n ce of debt s i g:n if1t :s that of
power. Those who hold power in any soc iety prove it by forcing their sub­
je ct s to pay tribute. To hold power. to i mpose triilute. is on{' and the same,
and the desp ot's fIrst act is to p roc l a i m th e o b liga ti o n of payment. The sign
and t ruth of power, debt traverses the politiral a re n a t h roug h ,mel t h rough ; it
is i nh e rent in 1/1(' soc ia l as such.
This is to say t h a t, as a po l iti ca l category, debt o ffers the s u rest criterion
on which to evalu<lte the being of societies. The nature of soc i ety ch a ngE'S
with the direction of the clC'ht. If debt goes from the chie fta i n s h i p toward
sori{'ty. society remains undivided. power remains located in Ihe h o mo ge­
neous soci<11 b o dy. If. on th e contrary, debt goes from society toward the
C h i eft a in s h ip , power hCls !Jeen separ;:!ted from soci('ty and i s concentrated in
the hands of the chief, the resulting heterogeneous society is d i v i ded into the
dominating and the dominated. What docs the rupture between undivided
so ci et ies and divided societies consist of? [t is produced when the di re ctio n
of the debt is reversed, wilen the institution turns power relations to its profIt
against society. thus Cre<lling a base and a summit toward which t h e eternal
rerognition of debl climbs ceaselessly in the name of tributc. The rupture i n
the direction o f debt's move me nt separates societies i n su{'h a way that c o n ·
tinuity is unthinkable: no progressive development. no intermediarv social
fIgure between the u n d ivi d ed society and the divided soc i ety. Th e ('o �ceptio n
of H istory as a c o n t i n u u m of social formations engendering themselves
mecha n i call y one after tht' other fails here, in its blindness to t ht' glaring fact
of rup t u re and discontinuity, to articulate tht' true problems: w hy docs p ri m i .
tive society ccase at a certain moment to code the flow of power? Why docs
it <111ow inequality and divi s i o n to anchor death in the social body which it
h a d . u n t i l then. w;]rded off'? Wh y do t h e Savages i m p l e m e n t the chiefs
des ire for powrr? Where i s the acceptance of servitude born?
A close reClding of Sahlins' book constantly r<1iscs s i m i l a r questions. It
d o es nOI t'x pl ic i tly formulate them itself, for the r o m i n u is! prejudice acts
as a veritable e pi st e m olog ic a l o!Jstaclc to t h t logic of t h i s an<llysis. But Wt
do see that its rigor brings it i n fi n i te ly closer to such a concepru<11 e l ab o ra ­
tion. It m<lkcs no mistake about the opposition between society's desire for
equality and the chiefs desire for power, an opposition which can go as fa r
as the m urde r of the leadn. This was the cast' a m o n g t h e people of tlie

I I 6
l W f A R ( H f O t O � Y O F ¥ I O L f N C E

Paniai who, before killing their big-man, explained to h i m : .....You s ho u l d

not be the on ly rich one among us, we sh o ul d all be the same, so you have
to b e e q u al to us." A d iscourse of so ci e ty a ga i ns t power which i s echoed by
the reverse discourse of power agai n st society, clearly stated by ano t h er
chief: "I a m a chief not because the people love me, but because they owe
mc m o n ey and they are scared." The first and only among the experts i n
e co n om i c a n t hro p ol ogy, Sahlins paves the wfly for fl new the o ry of prim i .
live society by al l ow i ng us to m eas u re the i m me nse heuristic value of the
economical-political c at egOl Y of debt.

We. must fm a l ly po i n t out that Sflhlins' work fu rni shes an essential p i ec e

in the dossier of a debate that. until quite recently. was not inscrihed in the
order or the day: wh<1! o f Milrxism in ethnology. and of et h nol o gy i n
Milrxism? The stakes i n such an interrog,'ltion are vast, extending far beyo n d
university walls. Let us s i m ply call 10 m in d here t h e terms of a p ro b l e m
which will be brought up soo ne r or l at er. Marxism is no! o n ly the description
of a p art icul ar social system ( i n dustrial capitalism), it is a l so a general theory
of history and of social change. This t!leory presents i ts el f as the sc i en ce of
society and of hislOI)', it unfolds in th e m a te ria l i st co n cep t i on of societal
movement and di scovers the law of this movement. There is thus a rationali�
ty of h i story, the being and the \lrcomillg of the so c i o h i sto ri c al real brings
up, o n e last time. the economic det ermi n a ti o n s of society: ultimately, these
arc the p l ay and the devC'lopment of productive forces which determine the
being of society, and it is the contradiction between the development of pro­
ductive forces and the rapports of production which. interlocking social
change and i n n ovat i o n , constitute the very substance and l<1w of h istory.
Marxist theory o f society and h i st o !)' is a n economic determinism which
affirms the prevalenC'e of th{' material infrastructure. History is thinkable
hr ca use i t is ralionnl, it is rati o n a l because i t is, s o to speak. nntural, ns M arx
says in Dos Kapital: "The development of society's eco n o m i C' formntion is
a s s i m i l a b l e to the p rogress of n atu re and its h i s t ory. . . . . . [t follows that
Marxism, as a science of human society i n general, can be used to consider
a l l social formations histol)' offers us. [t can be used, cenClinly, but even
m o re , it is o b l i ged to consider all societies to be a valid theol)'. Marxists,
thUS, cannot ign o re primitive society; t h e historical continuism afflTmed by
the the.ory they claim as their own does not allow them to.

When ethnol ogists <1re Marxists. t h ey obviously subjecI primilive soci­

ety t o the analysis that calls for and allows the inSlrument that I hey pos­
sess: Marxist th e o ry a n d its economic determinism. They must, conse­
quently, affirm that even i n societies <1nterior to rapi!al islll, economics

I I 7
l H f A R ( H f O I O G Y 0 1" V I O l f H ( f

occupieu a central, decisive place. There is, i n efftct, no reason for p ri m i ­

tive societies, for example, to be an exception to the general law that
encompasses all societies: p rod u ct i ve forces tend to de vel op. We find our­
selves asking two very simple quest i ons as a result : Are economics ce nt ral
i n p ri m i ti ve societies? Do productive forces develop? It i s precisely the
answers to these questions that Sahlins' book formulates. It i n fo rms us or
reminds us that in primitive societies, the economy is not a ma ch i n e that
fu nctions autonomously: i t is impossible to separate it from social l ife, reli­
gious life. ritual life, etc. Not only docs the economic field nOl determine
the being of primitive soci ety, but it is rather society that determines the
place and limits of the economic field. Not only do lhe productive forces
not trnd toward development. bur th e wi]! for u n derproduction is i n h erent
in the OMP. Primitive society is not rhe passive toy i n lhe blind g,lIne of
produ(·tive forces; it is, on the con trary, society tilat ceaselessly exercises
rigorous and deliberate control over production. It is the social that orders
the economic game; it is. u l ti m atel y, the political that dctermines the eco­
nomic. Primitive societies are ma ch i n es of a n t i -production. What. then, i s
the motor of history? How does a n t deduce the social classes o f a classless
society, the division of a n undivided society, the alienated work of a soci­
ety tlwt o n l y a l i enates the work of the ch ief. the St<lte of a society without
a S t at e ? Mysteries. [ t follows that Marxism C<ln no t b e used to consider
p ri m i t ive society. because primitive society is no! think<lble i n this theoreti­
cal framework. Marxist analysis is val ua bl e, perhaps, for divided socielles
or for systems where, apparrntly, the sphere of economy is ct:ntr<11 (capital­
is m ) . Such an analysis, wh e n a pp l i e d to undivided societies, to societies
that posit themselves i n the refusal of economy, is more th<ln absurd, it is
obs c ur ant i st . We do n o t know whether or n o t i t is possihle to b e Marxist in
ph i l oso phy: we see c !ea rl y, however, that it i s impossible in ethno logy.

Iconoclastic and salutary, we W e re say i n g of the great work o f Marshall

Sahlins. who exposes the mystifICations and deceptions with which the so­
called hUman sciences too often content themselves. More concerned with
establishing theory starting fro m facts than fluing facts to t h eo ry. Sahlins
shows us that research must be <llive and free, for great thought c a n perish if
reduced to theology. Formillist economists and Marxist anthropologists have
this i n common - they are incapable of re n ecti n g on man in prim itive soci­
eties without including h i m i n the ethical and conceptual frameworks issued
from capitalism o r from thE" critique of capitalism. Their pathetic undenak­
ings are born in the same place and produce the same results: an tthnology
of poverty. Sahlins has helped demonstrate the poverty of their ethnology.

I I 8

1 will explain myself: but this will b(' (0 take the Illost use­
less, mOSt supect1uolls precaution: for everything that I will
('II you could only be understood by (hose who do not
need to be told.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau

shal l be the last to

Pierre Birnb<l um does me an honor i n deed, and 1
compla in about the comp<l ny in which he- places

m e . Out his is not the
worthy of mterest 1 n that
p ri nc i pa l merit of h i s essay. This docum ent seems
i t is, in a sense, anonym ous (like an ethnog
raphic do cu me n t) : I mean that a
very w i d e s p read w a y of
w o r k s u c h as t h i s a b s o l utely i l l ustrate s the
polilics . that is, the ques­
approa ching (or not approa ching) the questio n of
the social science s. Rather than extrac t the
tion of society, i n what we call
much time on the appare ntly, for
co m i c aspects and w i thout spendi ng too
vir able conJ' u n ction betwee n confid ent tone and b l urrr-d ldeas, I
some. i n i'

First published i n Rel'ue froll(oi.H' de science polirique. no. t, P�ris. Presses

de la Fondation nalionale des sciences politiques, Febmary. 1977,

I I 9
1 11 £ A H Il E O L O G Y o r V I O L f N ( £

w i l l attempt to lcro i n on little by littl(' the " th e o re t i c;] I " locus from which
Birnbaum has produced his lex!.

But first. let's correct certain �rrors and fill in some gaps. [t se�m s,
according to the author. that [ invite my contemporaries "'0 envy the fat� of
Savages." N;five or cunning? No more than the astronomer who invites oth­
ers t o envy the fate of sta rs do I mil itate i n favor of the Savage world,
Birnbaum confuses mt" with promoters of an t"nterprise in which [ do not
ho l d stock (R. Jaulin and his acolytes). Is B i rnb au m unable, then. to locate
the difference's? As analyst of a certain type of society, I attempt to unveil
the modes o f functioning and not to construct programs: [ content myself
with describing th� S avages, but p e rha ps it is he who fmds them nOble? So
leI's skip ovrr this fulile and hardly innocent chatter on thr return of the
Noble Sewage-. Besides, l3irnbaum's COnstant references to my book on the­
Guayaki leave me a bit perplexed: does h e imagine by cha n ce that this tri be
constitutes my only ethnological basis of support? I f this is the eas�, h e
shows an unsettling g<tp in h is inform<t t i o n . My presentation of e th n o grap h ic
facts co n cer n i n g tile I n dian c h i l' fta i n sh i l) is not at <t i l ne-w: it has be-en
aroun d. to the point of m on oto n y. in tile written documents of all the travel ­
ers. missionaries, ch ron i(' le rs , et h n ographers who since til(' begi n n i n g of the
16th ('('ntury h,lVe succeeded each other in thc N�w World. It is nOt [ who.
from this point of view, discovered America. I will :ldd th<"lt my work is Ill u ('h
mOft" ambitious tha n l3irnhaum would believe: it is nOt only American primi­
tive socicties o n which I attempt to reflect. hut o n primitive society in gener­
a l . which e n co m p asses all particular primitive societies. Having brought
these various clarifications t o the fore. let us turn now to serious matters.

With rare l'iairvoyan('(', H i r nba u m inaugu r:ltes his text with a n rrror that
augurs badly for the H'st : "We hav� always." he wrJtes. hqu{'stioned the ori ­
gins of political d o m i n <t t i o n ..... I t i s exactly the oppositc: we havc n('ver
i n terrogated the question of origin, for, beginning with Greek antiqu ity,
western though I has always assumC'd the social division of th e dominating
and dominated as i n lw re n! to socit"ty as such, U nders tood as an o nto lo g i cal
strUC'fure of society. as the natural stale of the social being. the division into
Mastt'rs and Subjects h<ts consta nt ly be en tho ugh ! o f <"IS th e essence of ;) 1 1
rtal or possible sol'ieties, There co ul d n o t be, th�n. i n this social vision. ally
origin of political domination since i t is i nsepa ra ll i e from human society.
since it is an immediate given of society. Hence the great stupe-faction of the
fIrst observ�rs of primitive societit's: societies without division. chiefs with­
out power. people without f;lidI, w i thout l<tw. without king. What di s cou rs e
could the EllrOpt'ans use to d es cri b e the Savages? Ei1 her question th('ir own

1 1 0
l � f ..I R C I1 f 0 1 0 G Y O f V I O L f N ( f

conviction that society could not be thought of without division and admit
that primitivt" peoples constituted societies in the full sense of tht" term; or
l'lse decide th<tt a non-divided grouping, where chiefs do not command and
,.... hcrt: no one obeys, could not be a society: the Savages are really savages.
3nd o n e must civilize them, "pol icc" L1tcm, a theoretical and practIcal jl,Hh
which the Westerners of the 1 6th century unanimously took. WIth t h e excep-

tion , however, of Montaigne and of La BOelie. the former perhaps under tile
influence of the latter. They, and they alone, thought against the curren t.
'\' l1icl1, of co u rse, h as esca ped Birnbaum. l it is certainly neIther the fIrst nor
(he last to pedal i n the wrong direction; but since La Roetie does n o t Ileed
m� to def�nd him, I would like to return to Birnbaum's p roposa ls.
What is he getting at? Ilis goal (if not his approach) is p�rfectly (lear.
To him. it is a matter of establishi n g that "the society against the State pre­
s('nts itself I . . . ] CIS a sorifty of to t a l r o n str:lint." In oth ('r words. if p r i m i t ivr
society is u n aWilre of social division, it is at the price of <t much m � re
frightful alienation, th<tt which subjects the community t � an oppres� l� e
system of norms that no one can change. "Sorial control" IS ab s o l ute : II IS
. , .
no longer society against tht' State, it is the society ag<tinst the mdlvtd ua l .
I n genuously, Birnbaum explains to us why hr kllo� s so m u c h about pflllll­ . .

tive society: he has read Durkheim. He is a trusting reader: not a d o ubt

enters h i s m i n d : Durkheim's opinion of primitive socicty is really the truth
a b o ut primitive society. Let us move 011. It follows, thUS, that the Savag�
society distinguishes itself not by the individual free do,m of me n , but by
" the preeminence o f myst i cal and religious thought which sy m b o l .iz es the
adoration of everything." l3 i rn ba u m has missed the chance here at a �atchy
phrase: 1 w i l l supply it for h i m . H e t h i n ks, b u t w i t h o � t m a n a g i n g to
express it, that myth is the opiate of the Savages. HumaOlst and progres­
:-.ive, Bir nbaum naturally wishes the liberation of the Savage� : we m u�t
detoxify them (we must civilize them). All this is rather silly. BIrnbaum. l n
f<tct , is totally unaw<tre that h is suburban atheism, solidly root�d I n a S('l­
e-ntism al ready outmoded at the end of the 19th century, meets head on,
justifies, t h e missionary ente rp rise ' s dens�st discourse and colonialism's

most brutal practice. T here is nothing to be proud o f here.
Contemplating the relationship between society a n d cl� l e ft a J. n s h l � ,

Birnb<tum c<tlis to the resrue- another �rninent s peci al i s t of p n m .ltlve . SOCI-

tties. J.W. Lapierre, whose opinion he mak�s his ow n : "... the chief [.. . J has
the m o n opoly o n us a g e of legitimate sp ee ch and [ . . . 1 � o one can t ak e
speech i n o rd er to oppose it to the chi et�s without co mmltl l, n? a sacnlege .

condemned by u n a n imous public o p i n i o n . " This at least IS cle�r. B u t

Prof�ssor La pi e rre i s ce rt ai n ly peremptory. And how is he s o l e a rnrd! What
bo ok did he read tllilt i n ? Does he consider the soci o l o gi cil l concept of

I , I
I H f A R ( H f O L O G Y O f V I O L f N C f

l eg it i m acy ? Thus. the chiefs of whic h he speaks possess the monopoly o n

leg it i m ate speech? And what docs this l egi ti m ate speech say? We would be
very curious to know. Th us. no one can oppose this speech without com­
mitting a sacrilege? But then these are absolute monarchs, Attilas or
Pharaohs! We arc wasting our t i m e then renecting on t he Ie"gitimacy of
their speech: for th ey arc the only ones to speak. it is they who command;
ir {hey command. it is they who possess political power; if they possess
political power, i t is b ecause socicry is divided into Masters and Subjects.
Off th e subject: I a m i n terested in primitive soci e ties a nd no t i n a rc h ai c
despo t ism . La ll i erre/ B i r nbau m , in order to avoid a slight co ntradi ct i on ,
shou ld choose : d th e r p rimi t ive soc.: itty i s subjected to the "[Otal constraint"
of i ts norms. or else it is dominated hy the ! c gi ti m att speech o f the ch i ef.
Let us allow tht professor to talk (lbout this and go hack to the pupil who
needs some additional explan<ltion, as brief as lhis might be.
What is a primitive society? It is a non-divided, homogeneous society,
such that. if it is unaware of lhe diffe rence between the rich and the poor. a
fortiori, it is becaust the opposition between the expl oi tcrs and the exploited
is absent. But this is not the tssential matter. What is notably absent is the
political division into the domi n at ing and the dominated: the ch iefs are not
there to command, n o one is destined to obey. power is not separate from
society wh ich. as a s ingle totality, is the exclusive holder of power. I have
writt en countless times before {and it seems t h is is s til l n ot enou gh I) t hat
power only exists when exercised: a power (hat is not exercised is. in effect.
nothing. What, then, docs primitive society do with the power that it pos­
sl'sses? It exe rcises it. of course, and fl TSt of all. o n the chief, precisely to pre­
vent him rrom rulfllling an eventual desire for power, t o prevent h i m from
acting the chief. More gen eral ly, society exercises its power i n o rder to con­
serve it . in order to prevent the separat io n of this powcr, i n order to ward orf
the i rruption of d ivi sion into the social body, the division into Masters and
Subjects. In other words, society's use of power to assure the conservation of
its u ndivided being: crtatts a relatio n sh ip betwel' n thl' so c ial being and itself.
What third term establishes this relationship? It is prec isely that which caus­
es so much worry for BirnbaumJOurkheim, it is the world of myth and rites,
it is the religious dimension. The pri m itive social being meditated by rel i ­
gion. Is Birnbaum u n aware that there is no society except under the sign of
the Law? This is probable. Religion thus assures society' s relationship to its

Cf.. for example. -La question du pouvoir dans Jes societes primitives,"
llltt'rrogariolls, International Journal of Anarchist R ese''lTeh . 7, 1976 [C hap ler Six in

this presenl bookI. Cf. also my preface to M. Sah lins' book. Gal1imard. 1976 !Chapter
Five ill ttlis prescllI book).

1 1 1
l H f & H I H O I O li Y O f V 1 0 l f N C f

Law, that is, t o the ensemble of norms th at organize social relations. Where
does Law come from? Where is Law as legitimate foundation of society
horn? In a time prior to society, mythic time; its binhplaee is at once imme­
diate a nd in f in it ely faraway, the space: of the Ancestors, of cultural heroes, of
gods. It is the re that society institutes itself as an undivided body; it is they
who decree the law as a system of norms, this Law that religion has a mis­
sion to transmit and to make sure is eternally respectcd. What does thi s
mean? It m eans that society's foundation is exterior to itself, society is not
(he founder of itself: (he fou ndati on of primitive soci ety does not stem from
hu m a n decision, b ut from divine action. At this. an idea developed i n a n
absolutely origi n al way by Marcel Gaucher. Bi rnbaum declares himself sur­
prised: how surprising, indeed, that religion is not the an opiate. but that the
religious component. far from ac t in g as a suptrstructure over socie ty, sllould
bl', on the contrary, inherent in the primitive social being; how surprising
thtl! this so ci ety should be read as a total social fact!
Does Birnb<lu'11!LapieTTe. a late apostle of the Agt of Enlightenment, now
sec more cl tarly what is legitimate i n the Savage ehiers speech? This is
doubtful so I will clarify it for hi m . The chiefs discourse is one of t raditio n
(and. i n this capacity. he does not, of course, have the monopoly) - let us
respect the norms taught by the Ancestors! Let us not change anything in
the Law! It is a d is co u rse of the Law that forever establishes society as an
undivided body, the law that exorcises the specter of division, the Law guar­
antees the freedom of men against domination. As the spokesperson of
ancestral Law, the chief cannOt say more; he cannot. without running serious
risks, position himself as legislator of his own sociery, substit ute the Law of
the community with the Jaw of his d esi re. In an undivided society. what
could change and i n n ovation lead to? To nothing else but social division. to
the domination of a few over the rest of sociecy. Birnbaum can ccna i nly,
after this, hold forth on the oppressive nature of p ri mitive society; or even
on my orga n icist conception of society. Could it be that he docs n o t under­
stand what h e reads? The metaphor of the beehive (metaphor, a n d not
model) is not mine, but t he Guayaki I ndians': these irrational ists. when they
celebrate the festival of honey, compare themselves, indeed, against al l logic,
to a beehive! This would nOt happen to B i r nbaum ; he is not a poet. but a
scholar of cool Reason. May he keep it.2

On p age ten of his essay, Birnhaum dec la res me incapable of giving a

sociol ogi cal explanation of the birth of the State. But on page t 9 , i t s eems
If Bimbaum is interested in organicist concep tions of society, he should read
t.eroi-Gomhan (Le Geste et /0 ParD/e) : he will be gratifIed. Now for a riddle: In South

America, the Whites calt thelllseives raciollales: in retation to who m ?

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Ihat this birth "may now be explained by rigorous demographic determin­

ism .... It is, in shan, the reader's choice. A few clarifications may guidc this

ch oicc . Actually, up umil now, I havc nt:ver said a ny th i n g regarding the ori­
gin of lhe State, that is, regarding the origin of social division, the origin of
domination. Why? Because this is a matter of a (fundamental) q u estio n of
so ci o lo gy and not of theology or philosophy of history. In o t her words, to

p ose the question of origin depends on an analysis of the social: under what
conditions can social division surge forth from tbe undivided sociery? What
is t h t: nature of tbr social force'S that would lead Savages to acc<'pt the divi­
sion into Masters and Subjects? Under what conditions does pri mitive soci­
ety as undivided society die? A geneology of misfortune, a se a rch for the
social dillomclI that can only be developed, of course, oy questioning the
primitive social bei n g : the problem of origi n is strictly sociological, and nei­
ther Con do rce! nor Hegd, ntiOler Comte n or E n g-els, neither Durkheim nor
I:Hrnhaum are of any help i n this. In ord r r to u nderst<l nd social division, we
must btgin with the society that txisted to prevent it. As for k n o w i n g
whether I r a n or ca n not articulate a n answer to t h e q ues t io n o f the origin of
the State, I still do not know, and Birr'lbaum knows even less. Let us wait. let
us work, th('re is n o hurry.
Two words now regarding my theory on the origin of the State: ·· rigor­
ous demographic determinism explains its appearance, ,. Birnbaum has me
say, with a consummate sense of the comic. It would be a great relief if we
could go from demographic growt h to the institution of the State i n a si n gl e
b o u n d ; w e w o u l d have time t o occupy ourselves with o t h e r mattns.
Unfortunately, things are not so simple. To substitute a demographic materi­
alism for an economic materialism? Tht pyramid would still he poised on i ts
tip. What is cenain, on the other hand, is that eth nologists, historians and
demographers have shartd a false cenai nty for a very lo n g time: namely,
thai the population of primitive societies was n e c{'ssarily weak, stable, inen.
Recent restarch shows t he opp osi te : the primitive dem ograp hy cvolv('s, and
most oftc-n, in the direction of growth. I have, for my part, attempted to
show that in certain conditions, t h e demographic eventually has a n effect on
Ihe sociological. that this ptlrameter must be taken into account as much as
others (not more. but not less) if one wants to determi n e the p ossib il ity of
changr in primitive society. From this to a deduction of the Stat(' . .
like everyone, Birnbaum passively welcomed what ethnology taught:
primitive socicties arc societies without a Sta te - without a separate organ
of power. Very good. Taking primitive societies s eriously, on t h e o n e hand,
and ethn olog i cal discourse on these societies, on the other, I wo n der why
they are without a State, why power is not separated fro m the social body.
And it appears to me l ittl e by little that this n o n s e p;l rat io n of power, this

I 1 4
l H f ! R C H f 0 1 0 G Y O f Y I O l f N ( f

non-division of the social be i n g is due n ot to primitive societies· fetal or

('/llhryonic statt.·, nOt to an incompk\ {:I1l'ss or a noncompletion, but is relat­
rd to a sociological act, to an institution of sociality as rC'fusal of d i viS i on
a .. fefusal of domination: if primitivr societies afe Statrl ess, it is b('caus �
they art: against the St<1te, Birnbaum, al! of a su dde n, and many others
,liang with him. no longer he ar out of this ear. Ttlis disturbs them. They
don ' t m i n d rhe Stateless, but against the State, hold it! This is an outragc.
What about Marx then? And Durkheim? And us? Can we no longer tell our
liltle stories? No! This cannot h appen ! Wc have hcre a n illlcres t i n g case of
what psychoanalysis calls rcsistence; we Set' w h a t a l l thrsc dOClors are
res ist i ng, and th!'rapy will be it deep hreath.

Birnbaum's readers may t ire of havi n g to choose cons t an tly. Indeed,

ttle author speaks on pag!' n i n e of my "voluntilrism t h a t casts asick all
structural explanation of the State" only to state on page 20 that I a\)an ­
don ··the voluntarist dimension w h i c h a n i mates La Boetie's LJi.�COIIfS . . .
Appare nt ly u n accustomed t o logic, Birnbaum confuses two distinct out­
lines of reflection: a theorC'l i e al outline and a practical outline. The first is
articulated around a historical and sodological question: what is the origin
of domination? The second refers to a political question: w h at should we
do to abolish domination? This is n ot the place to address the latter point.
Let us return, then, to the former. It seems to me that Birnbaum quite sim­
ply has not read my brirf essay on La Roeti<' : nothing, o f course, obliges
him to, but why the devil p i ck up his pen to w ri t e on things he knows
no t h in g about? I will t hu s quote myself as to the voluntary character of
servitudc and to the properly anthropological stakes of La Botie's Distollrs:
·'And though unintcntional. t h is w i ll sudde nly reveals its true identity: it is
desire." (Sec Chapter 7 of this book). A high school student a l ready knows
a l l this: that desire refers to the unconscious, that social desire refers to the
social unconscious, and that sociopolitical life does not unfold only in the
accountability of consciously expressed wills. For Birnbaum, psychological
conceptions must date from the middle of the 19th century, the category of
desire is no doubt po rn ography, w h i l e will is Reason. As for me, I attempt
to zero i n on [he arenn of desire as a political space, to est a bl is h that the
desire for power Cilnnot be realized itsrlf without thf" i n verse and symmf"l­
rical desire for submission, to show that primilive society is the locus of
repression o f this two-fold evil desire, and to ask: Under w hat conditions is
this desire more powerful than its repression? Why docs the commun ity of
Equals divide itself into Masters and Subj<'cts? How can respcC"{ for tht L aw
yield to t h e love of One?

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Are we not approaching the truth? It seems so. Would not the ulti m ate
ilnalyzer of al! this be what we call Marxism? It is true that, to describe the
anth ropology that c l a i m s filiation w i t h Marxism. J used the expression
(which seems to trou ble Birnbaum) "Marxist swamp." This was in a moment
of excessive benevolC'nce. The study and analysis of Karl Marx's thought is
one thing. the examination of all that calls itself "Marxist" is another, As for
anthropological "Marxism" - Marxist anth ropology - an obviousness begins
(slowly) to emerge: this "anthropology" is mnde up of a two- fold deception,
On the one hrmci, it dt"( rpt ively and shamelessly affi rms its relationship with

the letter and spirit of M a rx ian thought; on the other hand, it deceptively,
and fanatically, attempts to express the social being of prim iti ve society sci­
enti fi cally, M a rxist anthropologists could care less about primitive societies!
They don't even exist for these obs cu rantist theologians who can only speak
of pre-capitalist soci e t i es , Nothing but the holy Dog ma ! Doctrine above
everyth ing! Especia lly above the reality of the social being,
The social sciences (and nOl<lbly, ethno logy) nre currently, as we know.
the ( h ecHe r of a powe rful attempt at i deological invrstment. Marxiflcation!
yelps t h e right. which has lo n g s i n c e lost the capacity for comp rehensio n ,

But Marx. it seems to me, does not have a lot to do with this cuisine, As for
him, he saw a little further than Engles' nose; he saw them coming, the
M a rx i sts in reinforced concrete, ahead of time. Their somber, elemental)',
d o m i natrix ideology of c o m b a t ( d o e s n ' t d o m i n a t i o n say anythi n g to
Birnbaum?) can b e recognized beneath the interchangeable masks called
Leninism, Stalinism. Maoism (its partisans have gotten subtle lately) : it is
this i deol ogy of conquest of total power (doesn 't power say anything to
Birnbaum?!, i t is this ide ol ogy of gra n ite hard to destroy, which Claude

Lefort has begun to chisel) Wouldn 't this. fmally. be the pla cE' from which
Birnbaum attempts to speak (the swamp where he seems to want to wallow)?
Would this not be the undenaking to which he wants to bring his modest
contrihution? And he does not fear, af(rr this, to speak to me of freedom, of
thought, of thought of freed o m lie h as no shame,

As for his pranks regarding my pessimism. texts such as his are surely
not the kind to make me optimistic, But I ('an assurE' Birnbaum of one thing:
1 a m not a drfratist.

Cf. UII homme en trap. R�f1e.riolls sur l'Archipel rill Goulog. Edilions du Seuil,

I 1 6
Though it is not vel)' entertaining, we must renect a bi t on Marxist
anthropol ogy, on its causes and effects, its advantages and i n con veniences .

For if, ethnomarxism, on the one hand, is still a powerful current i n the
h u m a n sciences, the ethnology of Marxists is, o n the ot he r h a n d , of a n
absolute, o r rather, radical nullity: it i s null at its root. And this is why it is
not n('(' ("SSill)' to enter jlllo the works in det ai l : one can quite easily consider
ethnomarxists' abundant production as a whole, as a homogeneous whole
equal TO z ero Let us ruminate then, on this nothingness, on lhis conjunction

between Marxist discourse and p ri mitive soc i ety,

A few historical p o i nts fust. French a n t h rop o lo gy has developed for the

past twenty years. thanks to the i n sti tut i onal promotion of the social sci­
ences (the creation of numerous ('ourses in l'thnology in the Un i ve rsi t ies and

first published i n I.ivre, 110. 3 , Paris, Payot, pp, 1 3 5- 1 49, w i th the fo ll owi ng
note: "These pages were written by Pierre Clasues a few days before his d(';!th, He
was not able to oversee the tr ansc rip t i o n and revision. Helice, there were some prob­
lems in deciphering Ihe manllsc-ripl. Questionable words were placed in bracket�,
lllrgible words or rxprr�5ions were It:ft bl,mk,"

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l H f A R C H f O I O ' Y o r V I O l f N C f

at the Centre National de la Recht'rche ScientifHlue), but also i n the wake of

Levi-Strauss' considerahly original undertaking. And so, until rtcenlly, eth­
nology unfolded principally under the sign of structuralism. But, around tt'n
yeilrs ago, tilt: tendency was reversed: Marxism (what is caU('d Marxism) has
gradually ('merged as an important l i n e of anthropological rescarch. recog­
nized by numerous non-Marxist researchers as a legitimatt: and respectable
discourse on the societies that ethnologists study. Structuralist discoursc has
thus yielded to Marxist discourse as the dominant discourse of anthropology.
For whiH reasons? To invoke a taltnt superior to tlUll of Levi-Strauss i n
this o r that Marxist, for example, is laughable. I f the Marxists shine, it is not
due to their talent, for they sorely lack talent. by defmition, one could say:
the M a rxist machint.' would not function if its mechanics had Ihe least tilient,
as we shall see. On the othrr hand. to attribute, as is often done, the regrt.'s­
sion of strucluralism to the fkklenC'ss of fash ion stems absolutely superfIcial.
I nsofar as structuralist discourse conveys a strong thought (a Ihought), it is
transconjunctural and i n differt.'nt to fashion: an empty and quickly forgotten
discourse. Wt.' shall soon see what is left of it. Of course. wt.' cannot attach
the progression of Marxism in ethnology 10 fClshion either. Tht lam-r was
ready, ah('ad of time. to flll an enormous gap in the stru('turalist discoursr (in
reality, Marxism docs nOt fill anything at ;111. as r w i l l aurmpi to show).
What is this gap where the failure of structuralism takes root? ] { is that this
major discourse of social anthropology does not speak of society. What is
missing, eras('d from the structuralist discourse (essential ly. thm of Lrvi­
Striluss: for, outside of a few father clever disciples, cap<1ble <11 best of doing
sub-Levi-Strauss, who arc the struclumlists?), whnt this discourse cannot
sp{'ak of, ut.'<:(luse it is nor drsigned for it, is concrete primitive society. its
mode of functioning, its internal dynamic, its e('onomy and its politics.
But all the same. it will ue said. the kinsllip, thr myths, don 't these
count? lC'nai nly. With the exception of cenain M n rxists. eve!),one agrees to
rccogni7.t.' the decisive i m p o r t a n c e o f Levi-Strauss' work Elem elltary
Stru('tures oj Kinship. This book, moreover, has inspired among ethnologistS
a formidable outpouring of studieS of kinship: there are countl ess studies on
the mother's brother or the sister's daughter. Are they able to speak of any­
thing else? But lC't us pose the real question oner and for a l l : is the discourse
on kinshi l) a discourst· nn society? DoC's the knowlt'dgc of the kinship system
of such and such tribe i n form us about lts SOci,ll life? Not at all: when one
has skinned a kinship system, onc s('arcely knows any morc ilbout the soci­
ety. onC' is still at the threshold. Tile primitive soci,,1 body (",m no! be reduced
to its blood {ies and alliances; it is not only a ma('hine for fabricating kin­
ship relations. Kinship is not sociery: is this to say that kinship r('i;Hions arC'
st.'condary in Ihr primitive sorial fabric? Much to the contrary: they <1r(' fun-

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dame ntal. I n other words, primitivC' so('iety, less than any other, cannot be
thou ght o f without kinship n:i;lIions. ,md yet the study of kinship (such as it
bas been ('ond ucled up until now, in Hny CilSl') docs not leach us anything
about the primitive social bcing. What use art.' kinship relations i n primitivt.'
<;ocil.' lies? Structur;llism can only furnish a single answer, a massive olle: to
COdify the prohibition of incest. This function of kinship explain<; [ha[ men
art not a nimals. and nothin g more: it does not explain how primitive: miln is
a pal1icular man. difft:reot from others. And yCt kinship tit's fulfill a deter-
1l1 ined fu nction. inherent in primitive society as such. that is, an undivi(kd
,ociety mad(' up of equals: kinship. society. equ.:ll ity. even comb.:l!' I}ut this is
allother Story, of which we shall speak another time.
Levi- Strauss' Other great success is silUatt.'U in tht' fIeld of mythology.
rhe analysis of myths has provoked fewer voc.:ltions than that of kinship:
among other thi ngs, because it is more d iffi cult and because no one. no
doubt, could ever manage to do it as well as tht.' masttr. On what condition
can his a n a lysis be deployed? On the condition tbat myths constitute a
homogeneous system, on the condition that "myths reflect upon each other,"
as Levi-S trauss says himself. The myths thus have a rapport with e.:lch other.
they can In.' rcOl'ctcd upon. Wry good. But docs the myth (a particular myth)
limit itself to reflecting upon its neighbors so that the mythologist might
reOect upon them togetlwr? Surely not. Here again, structuralist thought
abolishes. in a pal1icularly clear manner, the rappon with tile social: it is the
relation of the myths among themselves Illat is privileged at Ihe oUlset, by
elision of the place of the production a n d inv�ntion of the myth. the society.
That the myths think themselves among each other, that their struCI ure can
be analye-d. is cenain: Levi-Slrauss hrilliantly providts the proof: but it is i n
a secondary sense: for thC'y fIrst consider the soriety which considers itself in
them, and thert:in lit:s their function. Myths make up primitive society's dis­
course on itself; they have a sociopolitical dimension that structural analysis
naturally avoids taking into l'onsideration lest it break down. Structuralism
is only operative on the condition of cutting the mythS from society, of seiz­
ing them. ethereal, floating a good distance from the space of origin. And
this is indeed why i t is almost never a question of primitive social life:
namely, the rile. What is th('re that is more collenive. indt.'ed, mort' social,
than a ritual? Tile ril(' is the religious m{'diation b{'lwC'l'n myth and society:
but. for structuralist analysis. the difflculty siems from the fact that rites do
nOt renect upon each other. 11 is impossible to [enect upon them. Thus. exit
tllC' rite, and with it, society.
Whether o n e appruacht·s StTUcluf.alism from its summit (the work or
Levi-Strauss), whrlher one considers this summit according to its tWO major
components (analysis of kinship. ilnalysis of myths), an observation emerges,

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the observation of an absence: this elegant discourse, often very rich, does
nOI speak about the society. It is <l structu r<ll isl11 like a godless theology: it is
a so c iol ogy without society.
Combined with the increase in strength of the human sciences, a strong
- a n d legitimate - demand has thus emerged among researchers and stu­
dents: we want to talk about the society, tell us about the society! This is
when the scene cha n ges The graceful mi nu et of the structuralists, politely

dismissed, is replaced by a new ballet, that of the Marx ists (as they call
themselves) : they do a robust folk dance i n their big, studded clogs, stomp­
i n g clumsily o n the ground of reseiHch. For various reasons (pol itical and
not scientific), the public applauds. It is, i n effecl, because Marxism, as a
social and historical theory, is en t itl ed by nature to extend its discourse to
the field of primitive society. Berter: the logic of M arxist doctrine forces it
not to neglect any typ(' of society, it is in its nature to speak the truth
regarding: all social formalions that mark history. And this is why there is,
inht'rent i n the glo bal Milrxist discourse, a discourse prepared i n advance
on primitive society.
M a rxist ethnologistS make up :l n obscure but n u merous p h al a nx . We
search i n vain for a marked individuality, an origin a l m i n d i n this disci­
p l i n e d body: all devout followrrs of the same doctrine, they profess the
same bel ief. intone the same credo. each surveyi n g the other to make sure
the letter of the canticl('s sung by this scarcely angelic choi r arc respected
in orthodoxy. Tendcncies. howev� r, are confrontr(j aggressively. one might
argue. Indeed: each of tbem spends his t ime calling the other a pseudo­
Marxist impostor, each claims the correct interpretation of t h e Dogma as
his own. It is not up to tn!;', n at urally, to hand out diplomas for Marxist
auth enticity to whoever deserves them (IlT Th('m deal with that themselves).
But I can, how ever, (it is not a p l easure, it is a duty) attempt to show Ihat
thei r sectarian quarrels stir the s ame parish, a n d that the Marxism of one is
not worth morc than that of an other.
Take for example Meillassoux. H e wou ld be, they say, om' of the thinking
(thinking!) heads of Marxist anthropology. [n this p articular case, pai n stak­
ing efforts have been spared me, thanks to thl' detai!rd analysis Ih;1I A. Adler
hilS devoted to this author'S recent work. 1 Let the reade t refer, the n, to this
work :lnd to i ts criticism: Adlrr's \vork is serious. rigorous, mOTe than atten­
tive (Adler, like M('illassoux - or rather, unlike h i m - is, in f�1C't, a specialist
o n Africa). The M arx i st thinker should be proud 10 have as co n s c i e nti o us II

I C'. M('illa��otlx, Femmes, Gr/.'lli('rS eT CapiTal/_r. Paris, Maspero. 1976; A.

Adkr, "L'rlhnologir m a rx is te : veTS un nO\lvel obscur, lllt isme?" ['Homme. XVI (4),
pp. l i S - I i'S.

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reader and show appreciation : and yet, this is not at all the case. To Adl e r s '

v('1)' reasonablt:: objections (who destroys, as we might expcct, the author's

llndertaking), Meillassoux rcsponds2 in a way that can be summed up easily:
those who do not agree with Marxist a n thropology are partisans of P i nochet.
Cekom<;a. This is short but to the point. Why bother with nuances when one
is the supercilious prolector of the doctrine? He is a sort of il/legris/c, there is
so meth i n g of a Monseigncur Lefebvre in this m a n : the same stubborn fanati­
cism, the same incurable <lliergy to doubt. From this wood, harmless puppets
are made. But when the puppet is in power, he becomes unscttling and is
named, fpr exa mpl e, Vichinsky: To the gulag, nonbelievers! We'll teach you
to doubt the dominant relations of product ion in primi 1 ive social l i fe.
Meillitssoux, however, is not alone, and it would be unjust to the others 10
give the i mpression that he has the monopoly on anthropologiral Marxism.
We must, for equity's sake, make room for his deserving colleagues.
Take, for example, Godelier. lie has acquired quite CI reputati o n (at the
bollom of rue de Tou rnon) as a Marxist thi nker. His Marxism attracts atten­
tion, for it seems less rugged, more ecumenical than Meil lassoux·s. There is
something of a radical-socialist in this m a n (red on the outside, white on the
inside). Could this be an opportunist? Come now. This is an ath l ete of
thought: he has undertaken to establish the syn thesis between structural ism
and Marxism. We see him hop from Marx to Levi-Strauss. (J lo p ! As though it
were a q ue stion of a little bird! These an� the l urches of an elt'ph ant.)
Let us fl ip through his l;lst work,J notably the preface of the second edi­
tion: a task, which, l('t it be s<lid i n passing, offers little pleasure. Style,
indeed, makes the man, and this one is not exactly Proustian (this boy does
not have his eye on the French Academy). [n short the conclusion to this
preface is a bit tangled. Godelier explains that Lefort and I pose the question
of the State 's origin (in our work on La Boetie) (this is not what it is about at
all), that Deleuze and Guattari have al ready addressed this in Anti-Oedipus,
but that their remarks were probably inspired by C1astres (p. 25, n . 3). Go
figure. Godelier is, in any ('<1St. hon est : he admits that he does n o t under�
stand anything he reads (he quotes things and then peppe rs them with excla­
mation points and question marks). God{'lier does not lik(' the- category of
desire, which suits hi m well, by the way. It would be a waste of ti me to try to
explain, because he wou ldn t understand. that what Lefort
' a nd I id('ntify
under this term h as very little' to do with how Deleuze and Gu attari use it.

C. Me-illassollx, "Sur deux critiques de Femllles, Gr(' lIiers ('I Capilol/x Ol!
Pahrenheit 450.5.� I 'Homme, XVII 1 2 3 - 1 2S.

( I ). pp.
) M. Goddirr. HoriZOIl. {rajas IllIIuis{es ell all/ilrop% gie, 2nd edition, Paris,
Maspero, 1977.

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Lrt us move on. [ n any case, thesr ideas ilre suspect to him, for the bour­
geoisie applauds them, and tH' is doing everything necessary to insure that
the bourgeoisie remain the only on<,s to applaud.
Godelicr. on the other hand. is applauded by the proletariat. To his proud

rem rks, what ovations in Billancourt! There is. let us admit, something
moving {and unexpected) in Ihis ascetic rupture: h e renounces the U n ivcrsity
of the bourgeoisie, its pomp and careers. its work and promorions. This is the
Saint Paul of the hUman sciences. Amen. Bur all the same, the reader loses
patience; ran Iilis oaf Uller anything but silli ness? l i e must havt' an idea
from lime to time! Godelier's ideas are very d i ffKult to find i n this over­
whelming M a rxist rhetoric. If we put aside the quotations of Marx, and the
hanalities of which everyone is guilty in moments of laziness, there isn't
much left. let us admit however, that in the foreword of the first edition.
and the preface of the second. our pachydl'rm has made a considerahle effort
(good intentions are not lacking). Embarking on a veritalJle journey, as h e
says himself, this hardy navigator has crossed oceans of concepts. Wh;H has
he discoven:d? Th'lt the represent(1tions. for example, of primitive soci{'ties
(religions, myths, etc.) hdong to the field of ideol ogy. Now, it is appropriate
herr to be Marxi .. t (unlike Godelier), that is, faithful to the text of Marx:

wllat, i n l' fect. is ideology to Marx? It is the discourse that a dividrd society
holds on ItSelf. structured around a social conflict. This discou rse has the
mission to mask thl' division ;1Od the conOke to giv{' the appearance of

so ial homogeneity. In a word, ideol ogy is the lie. Por the ideological to
eXist, there at least has to be soria! division. GodC'Jier is unaware of this;

hO\...., hen. could he know thaI ideology, in the sense in which Mi"\rx speaks
of 11. IS a lodern phenomenon, appearing in the 16th century, contempora­


neous, as It happens. to tIl{' birth of the modern, democratic State? II is n o t

historical knowledge t h a t weighs upon Gocielier's head: and so, religion,
my h are Ideology for him. He no doubt thinks that idcils are i deology. He
� .

�)el .leves that rveryone i s like him. [t is not i n primitive soci('ty that religion
IS I(I �o l � gy, b u t in Godelier's h e a d : 10 h i m, h i s religion i s ccrtainly his
� <lrxlSt .ld � Ology. � hat does it mean to speak of ideology i n regard to primi­
\!ve socJetll's, that IS. undivided soC'iC'"tics, classless societies, since by n<lture
they f'xtlude the possibility of such a discourse? It means, first of all, that
Godelier does what he wants with M<lTX, second ly. that he does not know
anything about what a primitivt'" society is. Nc-ither M<lrxist. nor ethnologist!
A mnst{'T stroke!
Quite logical ly, his "ideological" conception of primitive religion would
lead h I m to determine myth as the opi<lte of the Savages. let us nOt prod h i m
. .
along, .he IS dOing what h e can, h e will say i l another lim{'. HIli, i f h i s logic is
null, hiS vocabulary is poor. '1 his vigorous mountaineer in rffect goes Irudg-

I 1 ,
I U t A R C U f O t O G Y O f V I O l f N { f

i n g: through the Andes (pp. 21-22). And what docs he discover there? That
the relation hrtween the dominant caste of the Incas a n d the dominatetl
peasantry constituted an ulIrqual exchange (his emphasis. on top of it).
Where did he go to fIsh this up? So, between the Master and the Subject.
there is a n u n equal cxchange? And no doubt also betwern the capital ist and
the worker? Doesn't that spell corporatism? GodeJ ier/Salazar. same fight?
Who would have thought! Lei us thus enrich Goddier's vocabulary: unequal
exch;1I1g:e is simply called theft, or in Marxist ttrms, exploitation. This is thl'
price for wanting to be both a structura l ist (exchange and reciprocity) and a
Marxist (inequality); o n e is left with nothing. Godelier attempts here to pias­
ter the category of exchangr (which i� only valuable for primilivt' societies,
that is, for societies of equals) onto societies divided into classes, that is,
structured on inequality: (he mixes everythi n g and writcs - reactiollnry, o f
course - n onsense). sometimes cramming religion into ideology, sometimes
exchange into i n equality.
Every t h i n g i s t h e s a m c to h i m . Is h e i n t e rcsttd. for c x n m p l('. i n
Australian societies? He notices, with h i s usual finesse. thm there " Ilir re/a­
liollS of kinship lI'err also frialiolls of productioll, and constitutcd the ec O­
nomic structure"(p. 9, Ihis is still his emphasis), Halt! Production is present!
This proposition severely lncks content. Or else. it signifIes thelt rhe said rela­
tions of production arc established between k i n : w h o m else would they hr
e�tnblished with? With the enemies perhaps? Outside o f war, all socinl rela­
lions are esraulisiled betwC'"en relatives, o f course. Any b{'ginning ethnologist
knows this; this is banal ity without intNest as a result. But this is not wh<lt
Godelier the Marxist wants to {('II us. l i e wants to i ntroduce, to drop-kirk,
Marxist caregorit's i m o primitive socitty (wheT(' they have no business) -
relations of production, productive forces, developm{'nt of productive forces
- this hard. wooden language th<11 they constantly have i n their mouths -
all while clinging \0 stru<:lur<1lism: primitive soeil"ly=kinship rC'"lntions=rt'la­
lions of production. Cekom,iI.
A few brier remarks on lhis, First. on the C<ltt'gory of production, More
competent and attentive to the facls than Godelier (this is not hard), special­
ists in primitive economy such as M a rsh;:!11 Sahlins in the United Statr<; o r
Jacques Lizot here, who are concerned with ethnology a n d not with (';lte­
chism. have t'st<1hlished thaI primitive society functions prt'cisely l ike a
machine of anti-production; that t h l' domestic mode of production still opl'r­
ates below its possibilities; til;)! there are no production reJ<ltions b(,cause
(here is no production. for this is the last conC{'Tn or primitive society (cL my
preface t o Ma.rshall Sahlins' Stolle Agf' Economics [Tr,ms,: Chapter Eight of
this book]), Narurally, Gode-lier (whose Marxism, as w e <;('e here. is exnctly
the same hrand as that of his riv<ll Meillassoux: they are thr Marx Brothers)

' " t 4 K l l1 t U l U � Y U i Y I O L f N C f

ClInnot renounce lIoly Production: othcJ'"\Nise, h e would go b an krupt, he

would be unemployed. That said, Godelier is not crazy: here is a good­
natured fe-liow who. with the good-naturedness of a bulldozer. crushes
ethnographic facts under the doctrine by which he makt's his living, and who
has the nerve to reproach otht:rs for total disdai n for all the facts that con­
tradict them (p. 24). He knows what he is talking about.
On kinship. fInally. Though a structuralist, a Marxist C:lnnot understand
k i no;h ip relations. What use is a ki n sh ip system? This. pupil GodeJier. is used
to fabricate rcliltives. But what ust' is a relative? Surely not to p roduce any­
thing. It is used precisdy to bear the name of the relative unt il the new
order. This is the principal sociological function of kinship in primitive soci­
ety (and Ilot to institute the prohibition of incest). [ could no doubt be more
dear. I will limit myself for now (for a little suspense always produces the
btst effects) to saying that the function of nomination. inscri bed i n kinship,
determines tht: entire sociopolitical being of primitive society. [t is there that
the ti C" hetween kinship and soci(-ty is located . Wr shall untie this k not
another lime. If Godelicr manages to ,>ay a little more about this. we·11 offer
h i m a free subscription to Lihft'.
Gode1ier"s l)fef,H:e is a bou([uct: the most exquisite nower,> compose j{. A
work of art. let us pick one last quote: '·For - and many are n ot aware of
th i s - then' hav(' existed and still exist n umerous sOrle- ties divided i n t o
orders or caSI('5 or cl asses, in t o exploiters and exploitrd, and w h o, neverthe­
less, do not know the State." Why doesn't he tell us fIrst, for prec ision is
important. to whilt societics he is. alluding? Coy of him. As for tht' rest, he
clearly wants to say that one Ci1nnot think of social division without the
State, that the division into the dominating and the dominated does not nec­
('ssarily im pl icille I�e State. What exactly is the State for Godelier? Surely.
the ministers, the [Iysee, tile White Iloust', the Kremlin. This i n n ocen ce of
the- bumlJkin in the capital is chamling. Godelicr forgets ont" thing. the pri n­
ciple (which the Marxists manage to r('member when they control the Stale
apparatus): namely, that the State is the exercise of political POW('T. We can­
not think power without the- State and the State without power. [n other
words: there wht're one locates an eff('clive exercise of power by a p<lrt of
sociny over lht' rest. we find ourselves confronu'd with a divided society,
lhilt is. a society with a Stall;'. Social division into tht dominating <lnd domi­
nflted is. through <lnc! through, political ; it divides men into Masters of power
and Su bjects of power. That th(> eco n omy. the tribull'. the dellt, the alienated
work appear as signs and effects of p olit ica l division along the axis of
power, [ have demonstrated sufficiently elsewht:re (and Godelier is not the
last to have profucd from it. p. 22. for example, but withoul ([uoling me, lhe
scoundrel. .. As Kant sair!. thcre :Ire (hose who do not like p<lying their dehts).

1 l 4
I H f � R ( H f O I O G Y O f V I O l f H C f

primitive society is not divided because it docs not comprise a separate

organ of political power. Social division fIrSt invol ves the separation between
society an d the organ of power. Thus, all non-primitive (that is. div ided)
soc ieties comprise a more or less developed figure of the Statc. Where there
are masters. where there <lre subjects who p ay their tribute. where there is a
debt. there is power, there is the State. Of course, between th e minimal fIgure
of the State as certain Polynesian, African. and other royalti es embody it,
and the more State-like forms of the St ate (linked, pel l - mell, to demography,
10 the urban phenom('non, to division of labor, to writi ng, etc.l. therc exist
considerable degrees in the intensity of the power exercised, in the intensity
of the op p ressi on undergone, the final degree being reached by the type of
power th <lt fascists and communists put into place: there the power of the
Slatc is total. the oppression, absolute. But it remains irreducible. the central
poin t: just as we cannot think of undivided society without the absence of
lhe State. we cannOt think of dIvided society Without the presence of the
State. And to reflect on the origin of inequal ity, social division, cl a sst"s. clom­
ination is to reflect on th(" political. on power, on the State, and not on the
economy. p ro du ct i on, etc. The economy O"lrises from the politici1l. tht' rela­
tions of production come from power n:lations, the State engend ers c1i1 ..s(·...

A n d now h a v i n g savored t h e sp e (" t <l cle of t h i s tomfoolery, kl us

approach the important question: whi11 of the Marxist discourse in anthro­
pology? , was spei1king, in the ueginning of this text. of the r<ldic<ll nullity of
Marxist ethnology (re MI. readers, the works o f Meillassoux, Godelier and
company: it is ed ify ing). Radical, that is, al fIrst. Why? Because such (l d is­
course is nOt a sc ientifiC discourse (thar is, concerned w ith truth). but a pure­
ly ideological discourse {that is, concerned with political efficacy). In order to
sec this cle<lrly, we must distinguish fITSI between the thought of Marx and
Marxism. Marx was. along w ith Bakunin, the first critic of M<lrxism. Marx's
thought is a grandiose attempt (sometimes successful, sometimes failed} to
reflect on the society of his time (western capitalism) ;"\nd the history whIch .
hrought i t into being. Contemporary Marxism is an ideology in thc service of
pol itics. The r('sult is that Marxists have nothing to do with Marx. And they
ilre the flrst to admit it. Do not Godelier and Mci1Iassoux call tht:msdvcs
pseudo-Marxist impostors? h is absolutely true, 1 <lgree with them, they art'
both right. Shamelessly, they take refuge i n Marx's beard in order to p� l m
off their mcrch;1Ildise mo re eITtcicntly. A heautiful case o f false adv ert l sl ng .
But it would take more than one to dishonor Marx.
Postmarxian Marxism, bcsides becoming the dominant ideology of the
workers' movement. has become Ihe p ri n cipal enemy of the workers' move·
ment. has constituted itself as the most arrogant form of the stupidest thing

1 l 5
I H f A R C H E O L O G Y O f V I O L E N C f

the 1 9 t h cen t ury has p roduce d : s c i e nl ism. I n o t h n w o nb, con t c-t11p orll ry
Ma rx is m i nstitu tes il sel l' Il<; the st'iciltifl(' disc ou rse on the h istory o f soc i ety.
as tht, d iscourse that enunciatcs the laws of h isto ricll l moVt'ment. the la ws of
societal transformations that <He e a c h en gl' nd c r ed by t he o t h e r. Thus,
M a rx is m C,HI s pl'a k of all types of sorLeties. s i nce it understands t h e p ri n c i pll'
of the i r workings in advance. But t he re is mor!': Marxism must speak of all
typrs of sorictit's. wheth('r p oss i ble or rral, for th e u n iversality of the laws
that it discovers cannot suffer a single excC'ption. Otherwise. the doctrine as
OJw hole crumbles. As a resul t. in ordn to m:lilllain not only coheren ce, but
thl' very e x i st en ce of th i s discourse. it is i m perat i vt' for thc Mflrxists to for­
mu lat e th(' M a rxist conerption of p ri m i ti ve sorL('ry. to constit ute a M <Hx ist
anthropology. In dl'fault of which there would be no M<lrxist lheory of histo­
ry, out only the nn alysis of a pnnicul,lT society (tbe capil<llism of the 19th
century) clabor:ltrd by someone naml'd Marx.
But lwre the M<lTxists get trapped in the i r Mflrxism. Indeed t hey do nOt
have a cllOin' : they must subject primitive social facts to the sa m e rules of
functi o n andof t ransform at io n that order other social formations. It c o uld
not be <l Q uest i o n herr of two we i ghts and two me;"tSUfes: if there- ;lfe lnws of
h i sto ry, they must be as l egi t im <1 tc itt the st art of hiStory (p ri mit iv e society)
as in the con ti n uilt i o ll of its course. rhus a singlt' w eight. n si n gl t' measure.
What is the Marxist measure of soci<'ll facts? It is the c("ollomy.4 Marxism is
an f'c o no m is m . it [('duct's the s oc i a l body TO eco n omi c i n frastrucwrr, the
sO('i<11 is the economical. And this is why the M arx is t anthropologists, per­
force . s l a p onlO the primitive social body th:lt which they t h i nk fu n cti o n s
e lscw hnc : the catcgor i es of product io n . rt'l<ltions of production, deve lop m e n t
of t h e product ive fOfces. exploiration, etc. To the foreccps, as Adler SilyS. And
i t is t/lus that the rldrrs tx pl oi t thc yo un g (Mrillas�oux), thnl k i ll s hi p rrln­
lions an' relations of prod uction (G od el i e r).

Let us n o t go back to [hi s colle('( i o n of nonsense. LC't us shed l i gh t .

rather, on the m i l i t a n t obscurimtism or M <lrx i st a n thropologists. Br<lzen ly,
they trnffic facts, trnmple <1nd crush the m to the point of It-tling nothing
remai n . For tht' reality o f soci"l facts they substitute the ideology of their
d i sco u rse. W ho ; m' M e i ll ass o ux, (iodelier ilnd lht:ir co nsorts "? They art: th e
Lyssenkos of rht' humnn srLencl's. JUSt how rar d o es their i dt'ol o gi cil l frrllzy.
t ht' i r w il l to pillnp;e e t hn ology. go? A ll tile way, thflt is, a� far as t h e eJimina�
tion. pure and :-; i mp l (', o f p ri tll it i vt: \ocicty as a spl' [ i fl c soci ety, as an inde-

And on this point. thtre cenai nly is roOI of �'I <lrxism. in t-.larx; iT would he
effC'cl, allow himself to
1 <I

derisivt" 10 lake this ;'t\\ ay from the Marxists. Did he not. ill
write, ill nos ha{Jira/ lllat: [Quot;l1ion mis<;ill� in CJa5trt'�' original m a lluscript).

1 1 6
J il l A R { H I O L O G Y o r V t O L f N C f

pe n d l' n t social bt'ing. I n the l o gic of M a rx ist d i scourse, primitive s oc i ety

quirt' si mply cannot exist. i t dors not have tht' right to auto nomo us l'xis­
tt'nce. its being is o n ly determined accord i n g to that which will come much
late r. its necessary future. For tht' Ma rx ists. primitive societirs arC' on ly. they
proclai m e rudi tely. pre-capitalist so ciet i es . Here, t h e n . is a sociNy'S mode of
orga n iza t i o n which was th<lt of a l l h u m a n i t y for m i ll e n n i a, but for the
Marxists. For them. primitive society only rxists insofar as it cnn be reduced
to the figu re of sociery that appeared at the cnd of the 18th ccntury. ca p ital ­
ism. Before t hilt, nothing counts: everything is precapita!isl. Thry clo not
complicate t h e i r l ives. thesr guys. I t must hI;.' relnxing to be a Marxist. All of
I h is can be e x pla i ned starting with ('a pitalism, for t h ey pOSSt<>s the good doc­
trine. the kty that opt'ns cap itnl is t society and thus. al l historical social for­
mntions. The resu l t: w h a t [meilsu res] soei(,IY for Marxism i n grn e f<l l is the
e co nomy, nnd for tIl(' ethnomarxists who go ('Vt'll furtllC'f, whnt measu res
p ri mi t iv e s oci ety i s C'apitalist soc i ety. Ct'konH;a. B u t those who do not recoil
hcforr a bit or fati gu e pose the question in the manner of M o n t ai g ne or La
Boclir or Rouss('nu nnd judge wha t has come after i n rel ..ltion to wh<lt hilS
come bt'forc; w hat or post-primitivt' soc i eti es? Why have inrq u al i ry. social
division, sepflratc power, tile Stilte appt'flrcd?
But. o n e w i l l w o n d e r, ho w can someth i n g so suspicious work? For,
th o ugh i n recessi o n for some lime, it <otill Ilt lracts customcrs. It is quite obvi·
ous that t hese (.:ustonl{'/"S (the listeners and rendrrs of these Marxism'i) are nOt
delTIiln d i ng about the quality of th e products they consume. to S;ly the Ie <1st.
Too had for them! !r they like t h :l ( s o up , thry c,ln swallow it. But to ! i t11i t
ours('lves to this would ht" at once very cruel ,mil t o o sim IJ1t': first. by
denouncing the en t crp rise of ethnom<lrxists, \\'e can prevent a ce rt a i n num­
her or the i ntoxic a ted from dying idiots (this Marxism is the opiate of the
dirn�wittedl. Out it would hr vcry rri vol ous , practkillly irn:spollsiblt. to limit
onesrlr t o (,ll1phasiLing (ir I may say sol the n ull i ty of a Meill assoux or of a
(j odel i e r. Their work is n ot worth ;l nail. th is is understood. but it would he it
great mist<lkC' to und e res tim fl t (' it: the nothi ngness of the d isCOUfSt: mn'iks in
effect the being on w h i c h i t feeds, n am e ly. i t s opnc i ty t o diffuse a n ideology
of the co nq ues t of powt:r. I n cOlltempornry French sot.:iety. the U n iversity
oc cup ies a consider<lble pln c e. And in t h t' U n iversity. notably in tile- field of
the human scienc('s (for it stems morc difficult to be Marxist i n mat ht'rn'llirs
or in biology). this politic<ll id('ology that is the Marxism of todflY a(({'m pfs
to gai n a foot ho l d as dominant i d eolob')'.
In t h i s glO])fll ilpPilratus. our ethno marxists occupy a plil('e t h a t is cer­
tainly modest bll{ n ot negligible. ThC're is a p o l i t i ca l division of l a h o r ilmi
they accomplish their part of t he genl'ral effort: 10 ass u re the triumph or
their co m mo n ide o l ogy. Sapri st i ! Would these not (Iuit(' simply be S tflliniS1S,

1 1 7
1 H E � R C H E O l O G Y O f V I O l f N ( E

good aspiring bureaucrats? One wonders ... This would explain, i n any case,
why they mock primitive societies, as we have seen: primitive societies are
only a pretext for them to spread their ideology of granite and their wooden
language. This is why it is less a matter of mOl'king their stupidity than of
nushing them out of the real place where they situate themselves: the politi­
cal confrontation in its ideological dimension. The Stalinists are not, i n
effect, just any conquerors of power: what they want i s total power, the State
of their dreams is the totalitarian Slate: enemies of intelligence and freedom,
like fascists, they claim to hold total knowledge to legitimate the exercise of
total power. There is every reason to be suspicious of people who applaud
the maSS<lcres in Cambodia or Ethiopia because the massacrers are Marxists.
Should Am i n Dada one day proclaim himself Marxist, we will hear them
yell: bravo Dada.
And now let us wait and kf"rp our ears to lhe ground: perhaps lhr bron­
tosauruses w i l l bray.

I ) 8
For the past few decades an abunda n ce of ethnographic l iterature has
i)een devoted to describing primitive societies. to understanding their mode
of operation: if violence is dealt with (rarely), it is primarily to show how
these societies work toward controlling it, codifyi ng it, ritual izing it, i n short,
tend to reduce, if n o t i1.bolish it. We evoke the violence, but mostly to
demonstrate the h D rro r that it inspires In primitive societies, to establish that
tht'y an\ final ly, satieties against violente. It would not be too surprising.
then, to observe i n the field of research In contempornry e t h n o l o gy the
quasi-absence of a general reflection on violence i n at once its most bnltal
and most collective, most pure and most SOCial form: war. Consequently to
l i m i t oneself to ethnol ogical discourse, or more speciflc<111y. to the nonrxis­
tence of such a discourse on primitive war, the curious reader o r researcher
in social sciences w i l l justifinbly deduce Ihnt (with the except ion of sec­
ondary al1ecdotes) violence does not at nll l o o m over the horizon of t h e
Sav<lges' social life, that t h e primitive soci<11 being unfolds outside of <1rmed

First published i n l.ibre, 110. 1 . P�ris. Payot. 1977, pp_ 1 3 7 - 1 7 3 .

I ) 9
l H f A R ( H f O l O G Y O f V I O L f N ( 1

conflict. that war does n ot b e lo n g 10 t h e n o r mal. habitual functioning of

pri m i t i ve societit·s. War
is thus excluded from eth � ologi�al .discou rse ; one
can think of pri m i tive society without at the same time thInking of war. The
questio n , d('arly, is to determine wheth('r this scientifIC d iscou rse is SIleilking
. .
the truth on the type of sodety it targets: In us stop l iste n i ng to II for a
moment a n d turn toward the reality of w h ich it spea ks.

The discovery of America. as w(' know. provided the West with its fIrst
en ro un ter with th o� e w(' would from then on call Savilg('s. For th(' flrst t i m e .
Europeilns found themselvl's confronted with a type of society radica lly dif­
ferent from all they hild known up until then; they had to th i n k of a 50ciil\
reality that could nOt exist in thrir trelditional representation of thl'" social
being: in otht'r w ords, the world of the Savages was lit('r<'llly unthink<ible for
Europe ;l n thought. This is n ot the place to analyze i n detail the reasons for
this veritable epistcmological impossibil ity: they have to do with the certain­
ty, coextensive to all h ist o ry of weste rn civilization, of w ha t hum;]n sor i C'ty
is and sh o u l d b e, it cert il i n ty e xp rcs srd sIaning with the Greek dawn of
Europe<ln p o l i t i c al thought, of t h e p o l iS. i n t h e fra g m e n t e d w o r k o f
I l erac l i luc; . Namely that the representation of society a s suth must h l' embod­
ied in thc figure of the One exterior to the society. in the hierarchical c o n fIg­
uration of politictll space, in rhe function of the command of the chief. k i ng.
or despot: there is n o society without th(" cha racte ristic division into Masters
and Subjects. A hum;]n grouping without the charactcristic division could
not he co nside rrd a society. Now. whom did the discoverers see arise from
the Atlantic shores? "People without faith. without law. without king:'
at'cording to the chroniclers of the 16th century. The cause was clear: these
men in a state of nature had not yet acceded to a state of soci ety. There was
q u as i - u n n i m i ty in lh i s j udgme nt on the Indians of
a B raz i l . UPSl't only by thl'
d i sco rda n c voices of Mo ma i g n e a n d La Boetit' .
�ut. on the other hand, there was not unrestrictl'd unanimity wlwn it
came t o desr ri h i n g Savages' customs. Explorers o r
t h t.' m i s s i o n a ries, mer­
chants or 1eilrned travelers, from the lGth century until the (recent) end of
w o r ld con quest. a l l agreed on one point: whether Americans (fro m Al;tsk<l to
Tierra tiel ruego) or Arri c a n s. Siberians from the steppes or Me1a ne<;i<lns fro m
the isl es , nomads from the Austr<l lian desens or sedentary farmers from the
jungles of Nrw Guint<l, primitive pe o pl es were always presented <IS passion­
<It ely devoted to w a r ; it was their p rti a cu l a rly bellicose �'h ;l rilct er that struck
Furopc<ln observl'rs without exception. From the enormous documentary
acrumulation gathered i n chroniclcs. t ravr-I literature, reports from priests
and pastors. sold i e rs or peddlers. one image continuously emer�ed from the
infinite d iversity of the cultUrt's dt"<;cri bed: that o f the w a rrior. An image

1 , 0
[ H f A R C H f O l O G Y O f V I O L f N ( 1 ,

dominant enough to indull:" a sociological observatio n : primilive societit's

arc viol e n t societies; th('ir social being is a be i ng- for-wa r.
This is the impression. in ;lny C<lSt·, of direct witnesses i n many climates
and throughout several centurirs. many of whom participated in th e life of
the indigenous tribes fo r years. It would be both easy and useless to make up
an anthology of these judgments roncern i ng the popul a ti o ns of very differ­
ent regions and periods. The aggreSSive d is pOSitions of �h� S �vag�s � re
al most ill ways severely judged: how. i n deed, could o ne Chnsl1anlze, clVlltz{'
or convince peo pl e of the v i rtu es of work and commerce, when they were
p r i ma ril y concernfd with warring aga i n st th fi r n e igh b o rs, ?v n g in g efe ns

� �
or celebrating victori('s? I n f(lct. the Prench or Portugu ese mlSS!Qnelnes opIn­
ion of the Tupi Indians of the Braz i l i a n coast i n the mid-16th century <'Intici­
patcs and condenses all t h e discourses ro come: were it not, th ey said. fo r the
inressant Welr thest' tribes wage agai nst e a c h other, the coun try would be
overpopulated. It is the a p p ;] rc n t p re v a le n ce of war in primitive l i f(' that
ret;lins the attention of social theoreticians in the fmt place. To the state of
Soriety. whirh, for h i m. is the s oc i ety of th e State. Thomas l Iobbes contrasts
no t the real but the l o gi cal FIgure of man in his l1atural conditio II. the statc
of men bcfore l iving in s oc i e ty, th<lt i s, under " a common Pow er to keep
th em all in ;]we . '" Now. by what me<l ns is the n atural condition o f men dis­
ti ngu ish ed? Through war of every man ag<linst every m<ln. But, one will say,
this war which opposes ahstract men against each other. invented for the
needs of the cause that the thinker of the civil State is defendi n g, this imagi­
nary war does nor i n a ny ?
way concern the empiric<ll. e(hn gra�hi c al �raliry
of war i n primitive society. Nevertheless, lIobbes himself thmks It pOSSIble to
ill ustr<'lt e the cogency of his dl'd uctio n from an explicit r(,ference to a con­
crete reality: rhe natur<'ll condition of Illan is n ot only the <'Ibstr<lct construc­
t i o n of a p h il osoph er. but. in effe ct. the a ctual , observable fat r of a n ewly
discovered human ity. " It Illay pe ra d ven tu re hl' th ou gh t , there WitS nt;::v er such
<'I t i m e . nor condition of w a rre as this; (lnd I be l i('ve it was n ever generally
so. over <1\1 th e world: hut t here are ma ny places, where they live so n ow.
For the savage people in many pl<lees o f Amcric<'l, except the government of
small f� m i l i es, the concord where of deprndeth o n naturall lust. h;]ve no
government <It <'I I I : a n d live at t h i s day i n that hrutish m il � n {' r. as I s i d
before.'" I O n e w i l l not be overly surprisl'd by I l o b b es ' quietly dlSd;]tnful p OI n t
. �
of view conrerning the Savages; th('se are the receiv ed ide<ls of his t i m e (but
i deas rejerted. l et us re p e ilt . by Montaign(' and La Bot-tic): a SOCil't� witho t
government, without St;1{(" is nOl a soc i et y ; thus. the Sav<l g t's remaIn extcfl-

I Hobbes. LCI'iathall, l'tiil('d by Richard Tuck, Cambridge, New York. (ambridge

Univc-rsity Prr-ss, p. 88.

1 4 I
l H £ A R C H E O L O G Y O f V I O L E N C E

or to the social, they live i n the natural condition of men where the war of
each against each reigns. l Iobbes was not unaware of the American Indians'
intense bellicosity; this is why he saw in their real wars the striking confir­
mat ion of his cenainty: the absence of the State permits the generalizatioll
of war a n d makes the institution of society impossible.
The equation: world of Savages=world of war, finding itself constantly
verified in the field, traverses all popular or scholarly representation of prim­
itive society. It is thus that another English philosopher, Spencer, w rites i n
his Prillciples oj Sociology: "In the life o f the savages a n d barbarians, the
dominant events are wars," as an echo to that which three ceneuries before
him the Jesuit Soarez de Souza said of the Tupinamba of Brazil: " Si n ce the
Tupinamba arc very b el l icose, they are preoccupied with how they wi l l make
war on their contraries." But did the i n habitants of the New World hold the
monopoly on the passion for war? H a rdly. In an already ancient work, 2
M a u ri ce R. Davie, refl ect ing on t he causes and fu n ctio n s of war in primitive
societies, undertook a systematic sampling of what th e eth nography of the
ti m e taught on thiS subject. Now, it follows from his meticulous prospecting
that with extremel y rare exceptions (the Central and Eastern Eskimos) n o
primitive society escapes vIolence; none among them, whatever their mode
of production, their techno-economic system or their ecological environ­
menl, is unaware of or refuses the warlike deployment of violence which
engages (he very being of each community implicated i n armed connict. It
thus seems well est ab l i shed that one cannOt think of primitive society with­
out also thinking of war which, as an i m mediate given of primi tive sociolo­
gy, takes on a dimension of ullill�rsafity.
This massive presen ce of th e fact of war is answered, so to speak, by
the silence of the most recent ethnology, according to which it would seem
v io l e nce and war exist only insofar as they are warded off. Where docs this
silence come:: from? r-irst, ce rt a i nly, from the conditions under which the
societies e t hnolog ists are i n te rested in are currently living. We know well
that th rou ghout the world there scarcely exist primitive societies that are
abso lutely free. autonomous, without contact with the white socioeconomic
environm('nt. In other words, ethnologists no l onge r have the opportunity
to obs e rve societies isolated enough so that the play of tradi t i onal forces
which define and support them can be given free course: primitive war is
invisible because tilC're are no more warriors to wage it. I n t h is regard, the
situat i o n o f the Ama7.0nian Yanomami is unique: their st'cular iso l at i on has
p e r mitted these Indians, n o doubt the last great primitive society ill the
world. to live:: up to the present as though America h ad n ot b e en disc ov -

, M.R. Davit', La GIICff(' dallS Irs sodbes primitil'l:'s, Payol, 19) 1

1 , I
l H f � R ( H f O t O ' Y O F V I O t f N ( [ I

ered. And so onc can observe there the omnipresence of war. Still, this is
not a reason to draw up, as others have done, a caricatured portrait, where
the taste for the sensational far ecl ips es the capacity to understand a pow·
erful sociological mechanism) In short. if ethnology does not speak of war.
it is because there is no reason to speak of it; it is because primitive soci­
eties, when they become th e object of study, have already started down t he
road of dislocation. destruction and death: how could they display the
spectacle of their free warlike vi t al ity?
l3ut perhaps this is not the only reason. One can indced suppose thal eth­
nologists. when starting their work. bring to the chosen society n o t only
t h e i r notebook and tape recorder, but also the co nc ep t i on . pr cv io usly
acq ui red of lhe social being of primitive societies and, co nseq uen t l y. of the

status of v iol ence there, the causes that unleash it and the effects that it has.
No general theory of pri mitive society C<ln economize a consideration of war.
Not only doC's the discourse on war belong to the discourse on society but it
assigns it its meaning: the idea of W a f measures the idea of society. This is
why the absence of renections on violence in cu rre n t eth n ol ogy could be
explained fi rst by th e actual disapprarance of war fo!lowing the loss of free­
dom that installs the Savages i n a forced paCifIsm, but also by the adhesion
to a typ e of sociological discourse which tends to exclude waf from the fIeld
of social relations in primitive society. The obvious qucstion is whcther such
a discourse is adequate to the primitive social reality. And so, before examin­
ing this reality, we should brieny outline the received discourse on primitive
society and war. Heterogeneous, the discourse on w a r develops in three
major directions: a naturalist discourse. an economist discourse. and a n
exchangist discourse.

ThC' naturalist discou rse is a rt icu l a ted with penticular stringency by /I..
Leroi-Gourhan i n his work Le Gesre et fa Parole a n d notably in the next-to­
last chapter of volume [I, w here the author develops, in a view or unques­
tionable (yet very q uest ionab le) vastness. his historical-ethnological concep­
tion of pri m i tive society and t he transfomlations that modify it. [n confo r­
mance' with the indissoluble conjunction between archaic society and the
phenomenon of war, leroi-Gourhan's general undertaking logically includes
a vis ion of primitive war, a v i sion whose meaning: is suffIciently indicated by
the spirit that runs th roughout the work and by the title of th e chapter i n
which i t appe ars : thc s o ci al organism. Cl early assenrd. the or ga n i c ist point
of view on socirry appeals to and encompasses, in an absolutely coh e rent

) Cf. N.A. Chagnon. YOllomomO. Tile- FineI:' PI:'Op/c. Holt. Rinellan ft Winston.

1 , J
I li f A H II ! O L O G Y O f V I O L f N C f

m a n n er, a (t'n'lin idea o f war. What auout vioknce, lhen. accord i n g to Lcroi­
Gourhan? IIis answer is clear: "i\ggn'ssive t)('havior has been part o f human
realiry at least since tht' Au�tr;llnnthropes. a nd thc acct'it'rated evolution of
the social <lpparmus has not changrd .1llyth i n g i n tilc slow de:velopmrnt of
phylctic maturation." (p, 237). Aggrt:ssion as behavior. that is. the usc: of vio­
lence:. is thus related to hunwnilY as ;! species; i t is co('xtensivt' with it. In
sum. as a zoological property of the human species. violence is identifIed
here as a n i rredurihJf fa ct, a sort of /lalural given rootf'd i n the biological
Iwing of man. This spccilk vio]cnrc. f(:alized in aggressive behavior. is not
without cause o r t'nd; i t is always o r i e n ted a n d d i rected toward <l goal:
'Throughout the course of {[me, aggresc;ion appears as a fundamental tech­
nique l i n ked to acqui�itioil, and i n the primitive. its i n itial role is hunting
where aggrf'c;sion <lnd al imenrary acquisition art' mt'rged" (p. 236). I n he re n t
i n man as a natur,,1 heing. violence is defined thus ,1S 11 means of subsis�
t('I1C(,. as a means of a'>s u r i n g: subsistenct', as a means to Cl natural end
i nsrriilt'd at tht' heart of the l i v i n g orga n i s m : to sUrvivt'. ] lc n c('. the idt'ntifl­
cation of primitive cconomy as prt'datory t'conomy. Thc primitive man, as
mil n , i� devoted to aggressive behavior; as primitive. hc is both apt ;lnd
dt'term i n e d to synthesize his naturalness a n d his humanity i n the technical
coding of an aggressivity hencefonh useful and profItable: ht' is a hUnJcr.
Let U!) admit this l i n k hrrwcen violence. which is h<lrneSSfd in the tcch­
niquc of arquiring food, and man's biologic<ll being, whose: i n t egrity vio­
knce must n1<l i nta i n . But where is this very particular nggrt'ssiO!1, m;miresled
in the viole-nee of war. situated? Lrroi-Gourhan expl<lins 10 us: "Between
�u n t i n g (lnd its double, war, a suutle- assimilation i � progressively est<lb­
Ilshed. as one and the Dlher art' concentrated i n class that is born of thc
new economy, that of men with weapons." (p. 237). Hrre then. i n a sentence,

the mystery of thr origin o f soria! division is solvrd: through "subtle assimi­
lation," hun ters gradually become warriors who, as hol<itrs of armed force.
possess th(" means to exercise po!irira] power over rht' rest of thc c o m m u nity
to thetr profIT. O n e may be surprised by the friVOlity of such a remark from
thc pen of a scholar whose work is exemplary in h i s field. prehistory. All this
would r('quire further exposition, but the lesson to draw is clear: in tht'
analysis of human fa cts, on� r<lnnot reduce the social 10 the' natural t h e
institutional to tht' biological. Human society sIems not from zoolugy but
from sociol ogy.
Lct u!) relurn then to the probh:m o f war. War would thus i n h e rit its
charge of aggrrss i o n from hunting - a trchnique of alimentary acqu i s i t i o n ;
war oulrl o n l y ue a rcprtition. a doublr. a redeployment of the h u n t : more

prosaIcally. war. for Lt'foi-Gourhan. is tile 11UII!illg oj mCI/. Is this true or
fals{'? It is not diffIcult to f1l1d OUI. since it suffIces to consult those of whom

1 • •
l li f A H W f 0 1 0 G Y o r V I O L f N ( f

believes he spt'aks. the contemporary primitives. What docs

l,eroi-Gourh a n
t' tea<:h us? II is qui U:�. ob� io us (hm If . the gOill o the
�thn ograp h i c rxprrienc

. .
the means of atta I n I n g It IS a�gresslo � : the a n I m a l
.,unt is to acquire food,
t o b e eaten. B u t tl1('n o n e must Include I n the an'(I o f
"/lus t b e killed i n order
1 eo
destroy another
h u n t a s a technique of (IC(l u i 5 i t i o n a l l behaviors that
I' \m of life so that it c;tn be eaten: nOt only a nimals, fIsh and carnivorous
i n g against the- fly it
�rd<;, but also i nsertivort's (th(' aggrl'ssion of tht' ofnedgl
n l i m entary a c q u i s i t i o n
.wallo ws. etc.). I n fart. nil violent techniques
behavior. Tlwre is
.....ould logic<llly have t o b e a nalYlrd i n tf'rms of <lggrrs5ivc
reason to privilege the human hunter over tht' <lnimal h u nter. I n rC<l lity.
vhnt principally motivatrs the primitive hunter is appetite. to the
If all othrr srntiments (the case o f non-alimt'ntary. that is. ritual. h u n t per­

:lins to another domain). What r"dically distinguishes war from the hunt is

h<1t the formrr relif's entirely o n a dimcnsion "bsent fro m the lauc-r: <1g:grt's­
iveness. And that the same arrow C;1n kill a man or a monkey is nOI enough
1 make war and hunting identical.
This is indeed why we can compare olle to the other: wnr is pu r(" aggres­
've hehavior nnd aggressiveness. If war is h u n t i n g an d Waf is tht h u n t i n g of
Ian. I h e n h u n t i n g would h;we to be waT o n t h e b u ffalo. fo r t'xample.
'utside of suppoc;ing that the goal of war is always aliment<lrY. "nd that the
,bjt'ct o f this type of aggrt'ssi o n is m<ln as game destinrd to being eaten,
eroi-Gourhan'S reduction of war 1 0 hunting has n o foundation. For if W;"lr is
!Idee(] the "'doublc" of Ihe hunt. then g:c:ncr<lli7l.'d <1nthropology is ils 11Ori�
o n . We know that I his is not the case: even among the c" n n i h ;) l tribes. (hr
,�,nl of war is never to kill the en emil's i n order 10 eat them. Rather, this
iliologizalion" of <In activity such as war i n evitably takes away its properly
social dimension, Leroi�Gourhan's problematic ronception leads to a dbsolu�
lion of the sociological i n the biological; society hecomes a social organism.
and all attempts 10 aniculatr a non-zoological discourse on society revpals
Itself as v a i n . The question on the ron tT<lry will he to establish that primitive
war owes nothing to the hunt. th<1t it is rooted not i n the rt'alily of In,tn as a
species but i n the social being of the primitive society. that through its u n i ·
versality it po in ts n o t tow<lrrl naturl.' b u t toward c u l ture.
The economist dis('oufse i s somewhat anonymous in 111<1t it is n o t tilt'
particular work of a <>pecific theoret ician. but r<1ll1er tht' expression of a
general conviction, a vague certainty of common sense. This disrourse was
formrd i n thl' 1 9 t h cenlury, whrn i n Europe the idea of savagery <lnd the
idea of h a p p i n esc; were bt'gi n n i n g to he thought of separ<ltely, when. right�
\y o r w r o ngly, the b e l i e f that p r i m i t i v e l i fe was a happy ! i fr fell ap;"lrt.
There was then a reversal of the old discoursl' i n t o its oppositt': the world
of the Savagrs from then on became. rightly or wrongly, the world or

1 • \
P O Vt' ny and
mi<;(' ry. M u c h mOrt' (tC"("
rccel ved !>ci('n nlly, t /l is po
firic !>t'( j ( US (ro ul <t r k � o
{he' :;o-Ci11!t
m wJed ge ha s
a 'ir/Jol c1rly
, d h u m � n s� . S
a drs(o u rs
disco u r
anthropology, e , of sCh olars: ( b ecome
WtlC:�;in rbe- fO�J�l�� r;.J
g the e rtaInty o
dl'Voted rh elllscl ,C f pri m i tive " c s of econ om i c
vc!> to �Xt ra c t P O V� 'tY as tru tl,
I",l S. conse l n g til t reas , IlilVe

qul' w�'es 11 ons for tIll"S

JUS frOIll pov(' rcy .;} n
sdt'n Ih I'S ('on v{'rge d Unve iling
. nfir di\C'o u,s (' resul nCt betw, en
. ' ts . a ,noe com mo n S{'ns(,
I i11l1« t/on '
gIsts : prim itlv
� e,' o n o my I�
cons r"'lltl y reltcnltcd
I '
5;lva g'l's 10 . su " b Y ethll% _
SUbsist , I h " I eco nomyI ' h 'only
re;, [0 Sur
JSJ'i enct
eann or go il , , vive. If (he s Ihe
W 11(, w
S( ('co O
b('('a LJ�(' () f �� t � �:� : ;
J I l f�� I h rcstlolrJ of s u
t> I o , O
g l c a l UIl(/t'r
rv i V tl J :
O f th e
<:'S SOd(,l ies
n o l (j (' a
/)cfo rl' the- n a
t u " . 1 .. n <I
th - It is �
n v / ro n m ent Its t'
. , • ...
� i l Wllldl dt'v ('lol) Oltn
i l has n O l
W rI essn ess
Pnm nive ('('on " 0 t'

ba ckgro u n d
<'OurSt· accou

� �
I�lt' � eco
DOlt n o n of
n o my
of jJ O V Nty,
lak es p /<l CC
( d�lll
r IS ag.l lns
i n a re.
l this
nts for r , 11 ' c
th e Scarcicy of a V '1 i � l I t I Ve Wi l r tty th (' wei'l K �s 1t e o�omist dis�
ne '
t �
group.., p ushe-d t' m a { r i i1 1 gOod s l d 1 0
� rO U C ( I Vt' fo rces;

jnl� f prop , ea s
Pt'IU l, o n betw
.;1) c o n
for life: ends i rratr ng these (,cn
n al:�:�d gOods b

���n :c t ; there
O n (' sh O ld is n o t t:'no
POVerty of the
. t lIS txpl anarion
ug/ r�;� 'e
of ri ' v
; �
;lIld this s(rug
ryone ,

fjues rion ed , In
his �:��y C!�e
(' � s a
en·p led a s il n
a r,l l er, Oavie
Ob i o
� :� : / ' \Va r, b .lsed on the
es w h i c
h a n n OI
eilc/} rib
c ,
View : " B u ( l
� be
O s l d ill ��
pe rfect ly
�� e of It� struggl e Cl ! , (hi S poin
mUS t m i1 i n t <l t of
I I J to (.' o n ra n ' ri
i n ;1 co � PU l t l on :lgil l nsl
v"" I ,,'t'S an d d ' 1 .
ag i n s
a l l oth er f
nal l ri1 Tt's
. e fo r tiS
exist ence,
" 5 H:�s 0f ' rrl')'"r W i l ll whi C'h
d egcn erate I. t C'Omes
into dis IU te by
ltJ (rrt's t are
Jrodu ' d,
force. we call and whtll
has been th at wa/' (p Iht'se
de"fin f'd., a d
�IS PUt{' by fo ' 2'8') . 'And
U 11d er tilt:' a [(e
' b orn bt'tw ,Wi1r
ni o n of '
('. r n P O l H l, ca
n .
vHa l cOmp
given tribe etili o n .. , fh u " l g ro u p i n gs
va fi'e" (eprnd I
' . h e rmporrance 0f
in g Oil I '
78). This a U l ho { J (, IIHt.' w a r In :I
nsily of ils

. '
r .1 - Wt.' I lav{- Vl . I
i t i v e SOC ie T
y b��:d
s(,t n . p roc la
i m s the univ � romp eti�io ll " (p.
Grt'e n l ;.lnd e
s cap e (hi � n (, lh,n,o grap
hic i n fo rma
tion :
e of w a r
�n pri m ­
l l on K l
i -l nel l , y i:S n l OS of
r X l rrlllt:'
ho s t il l o ,' ,t'
h (" n a l u ra l
f ;I n except ion, e"xplai
d e v ot i n g envi ron
ns Ddv! e.
dur to the
m(,nt w h ich
energy 10 n
Y h l ng U l O ev nts
o r eXis re nc /j l O K i ng fo r f
o o d ' ,��O ('
s t rllggle f U t �h{' m fr om
migh l O b ser S i ' ,' p erat n i n
, A u�tr�' I'an
il �oJU!t' ly imp e r (,
C',1Se (" 79)
ve t Il" ativ in t le . lo the
., s. S{'('m
(h (' F<;Kimo ·

s in' t l ' no beW'r B ont

S J O W. a nd yn off I·
less :�r�('i r h OI drs e rts th il n
, Ut.

k.�, We Sh � lIJd
p /11;;: ; Ih ey :I
re n o
t ha t ! h i s 5 cho/ ' I K (, th'l n o t
ic" U l t er:l h r r peo �
nc(' of Ih .'
( P OPU la r 011 s i mp/e. "scit"nt
,l rly dist'O ur5
exa ctly l'O/l'}l POStul at e p,r ' " " .t . ' e".
., S 1I0 Il'IIS Ive pOverty 'S
t o tlle
i f_
of sO(' i(,' ly mOS t rteen ! av I
, IlCim r]y M amr of h t M l . djusted
, , rXI St
ar,XIS! l' O ll ce
.....a r is con
� .
p( i on
c('rn red', 1/ As fa r JS th e
IS to Non h C1ueS l o n of
anthropol ogy.
/ prim itive
tl l ropoI n ghl
Amer ica" a n
. 5 11<11 We owe (5 0
I , ,
l H £ A H II E O L O � Y O f V I O t f N { [

s 1 0 speak) the Marxist interpretation, More quickly than their French coreli­
e )!iOnisls. who are nevertheless ready to speak the Marxist truth on African
c J!!e groups or American potlatch. or the rapports between men and women
:H1ywhere. researchers such as Harris or Gross explain the reason for W i lr
a m o n g the Amazonian Indians. notably the Yanom i1 mL4 Whoever expects
�lldt!en illumi nation from this Marxism will be quite disappointed: its sup­
porters say nothing more of it (and no do u bt think ('ven less of it) than all
their n o n - Marxist predecessors, If war is particularly intense a m o n g the
South American Indians. it is due. accord ing to Gross .. nd H;lrris, to a I<lrk
of protein in their food. to the resulting need for conquering new hunting
lerritories. and to the inevitable armed connict with the occupants of these
te rr ito ries , In sho rt. the very old th('sis formulatl'd by Davie, among others.
of the i n a bi l iTY of primitive economy to provide society w i t h adequate
nourishment.5 Let us simply make a point (hat cannot be developed here
further. If t h e Mi1rxist discourse (an economist discourse if there ever was
one1 so easily ass i m i l ates the most summary representations of common
sense. it is either thilt this common sense is sponwneously Marxist (0, spirits
of Mao!) or else that this Marxism only d isti nguishes itself from common
sense by the comic pretension of posing as scientifiC d iscou rs (' , BUl there is
something more . Marxism. as a general theory of society and also of histo­
ry, is obliged to postulate The poveny of the p ri m i t iv e economy. that is, the
very low yield of productive activity. Why? Oecause the Ma rxist theory of
history (and Ihis is a m :l / ter of the very theory of Karl Marx) un c ovcrs the
I:lw of historical motion and of social chilnge in the irrepressible tcndency
of productive forces to develop the mse l ves . But, so that history can gct
u nderway. so that the productive forces can take wing. these same produc�
l ive forces muSt fi rst exist at the stan of This process in the most extreme
weakness, in the most tot al underdevel opment: lacking: this, thcre would not
be the least reason for them to tend to d('vc!op themselves and ont' would
not he abl(' to :l rticulate SOCiill change and the development of productive
forces, This is why Marxism. as a theory of history founded on the tcndenry
of the development of productive forces, mUSt give itself, as a starting
point. a so rt of d('gree zero of productive fo rces: this is exactly Ihe primitivt'
economy. henceforth thought of :lS a n economy of poveny, as an economy

1 D,R, Gross, "Protdll Capture and Culm ral Develop mcnt in the Amazon .�.sin , "
s wTllc YanOlllamo and
AmericalJ Anth ropologist, 71, 1975. pp. 1)26-549 : M, H arri ,
the Causcs of Wa r in B alld and Vi l l age SO r1clieS,H
the Yanom ami. sh ows ow flawed the WO�kH f Gr
�ss and
'. J. li:l.Ot. an cxpen on h

is, Cf. "Populat ion. les In Llbr{", 2,

ResSOllTccs el Guc rre chez Y:\nomallll.
H a rris
I CJ77,

1 4 7
l H E A R ( H f O L O G Y O f V I O L E N ( f

whit:h, want i n g to wrest itself from poverty, will te n d 10 dcvrl o p its produc­
live forct's. II would ut' a g re at satisfaction for ma n y to know the Marxist
an lhropologists' vit'wpo int o n Ihis: though they go on ;"It len gth aboul forms
of I'XI)l oitat i o n in p ri m iti v l' socit't ies (e l dl' r/youth, man/woman, etc,), they
are less eloquent as to th e foundation of the doctrine they claim to suppon.
ror primitive socic'ly po ses a nucial q u('sl i on to Ma rx ist th eo ry : if t he eco­
n o m i c a l docs nOt con st i tute the i n frastructure t h rou gh w hi ch th e so c ial
b e in g beco mt.'s 1 ran s p a r(' n ( , if t h e p rod urt i ve forces, not t('nd i n g 10 develop
tl1(' msc l ves , do n ot function as ,I dl'ter m in a n t of s oc i a l rhange. wh il t , tllen,
is the mo tor that starts the mOV('nH,'nt of lIistory?
That si1 id, let us rrrurn to thc problem of the p rim iti ve economy. Is it o r
i s it n o t a n economy of poverty? Do its productive forces represent t h e most
m i n i m a l d e v e l o p m e n t o r not? The m ost rec en t , a n d m os t s c ru p u l ous.
resea rch i n econo m i c anth rop olo gy shows that the economy of the S av age s,
or t h e Domestic Mod(" of Production, in fan :J.llows for Iht' tota l s�llisfaction
o f soci e ty's miltl.:Tial n eeds , at t h e prict' of it l i m i ted p eri od o f productive
activity at a low intensity. In other words. fi1 r from constantly exhausting
th('mse]v{'s in tht anempt (Q survivc, primitive sociery. selcC'tive in tht' detcr­
mini1tion of i ts n('('ds, possesses a m a ch i n e of p roduct ion capable of s i1tis fy ­
ing them, and functions in fact i1 cconl i n g to the principle: to ea ch according
to 11is needs. T h i s is why Sah l i ns was able to speak of the primitive soCicty as
the I1rst affl uent society, Sahlins' and Lizot's an ;l lyses on the quantity of
food nl'cessary to a c o m m un ity ;lnd on the ti m e devot('d to procuri n g it imli­
('i1te that primitive soci('ties, whether it be a question of nomi1d hunters or
sedentary fi1rmer$, art'. in reali ty. i n l i gh t of th e small alllount of time devot­
ed to product i on , veritabJr It'iSllre societies. The work of Sah l in s a n d Lh at o f
Lizot thus mesh wilh <lnd confIrm t h e ethnogTi1phiC male rial furnished b y the
ancient t rav e lers a nd c hron i c 1 ers .G
The economist discourse. i n its pop ul ar, schol a rly or Marxist varimions.
explains war as tribrs competing to obtain scar("t' goods. It woul d al ready be
diffl c ul t to un d erst a nd where the Si1vagrs, e n gaged full timc i n the ex haust­
i n g qu t'st fOT food, would find t h e extra ti m e a n d e n e rgy to wilge WelT
n �a i ns t t h e i r n e i gl1bors. B u t cu rrcn t resean:h shows that the primitive ('('ono­
my is, on thc contr<lry, an economy of ab uncli1 n ('l;' ;tnd not of SCilrciry: V JQ ­
Il'nce. then. is nOI li nked to poverty, and the economist explaniltion of primi­
tivr w a r sets ils s up port i n g ar gu mC' n l s in k . Th e u n i v e r�a l i ty of primitive
a.bundance pr('(" i wl y p roh i bits l i n k i n g it to the un ivt: rsal ity of Wilr. Why i1rc
the tribes ;It war? I\t l rast we already know what th e mate ri a l ist a nsw e r is

f, Cf. M. S:J hl iJl �. Age' de pierre. Age 1/'(/VOllda/lcc. I.'(CUJlomir des socidtfs prulli­
tiJ"('�. P;uis. G<1L!illl:Jld, 1976

I 4 8
1 11 £ A R ( II E O L O G Y O f V I O l f N { [

,. )rtll . And s in ce economics has nothin� to do w ith war, Ihen pnl1ap" it is

gale toward the. p� �
I · l ·Ica I . '
' I. r('� al)' to turn our
war ::;� ppo rt s th(' SOCIological
. ,
,'he c.(cllallgiH discoll r.�e on pTJJnl!IVe

king of Cla ude Levi-Striluss. Such an asse mo n would 'Ippt'ar, flr:-ot of
. IHlTild ox ica l : i n Ihis author's considtri1ble work, wa � occup ies on 1 y a t h·I n

. u m e. Bul b e
yond the fact that Ihe i m !)ortan c(' of an lSS'-le IS not nec�ssi"ln­
measured by the space a l lotted to it, it so happens, the cl rcu m­
.1 nrcS. that the general tl1('ory of sO('iety rlaboratcd by L�VI-Strauss nilr-
w l y depe nds o n his conception o f violence: structurali'it cil'i(,OUT"t' itself is
<;l;tkc, I.t,t us, then, ex ami n e il.
levi-Strauss considers lh(" question of war in on ly one tcxt. a ni"llyzi n g
t' re l a t i o n sh i p betwccn Wi1r and comme-rn i1mong thc So � th A m C �ici1n
J d i a n <; . 8 Wa r, here, i s dearly situi"ltcd i n t h e fi el d of s o c l il l r e l a t i o n s :
\mong t il e Nnmbikwara, a s n o doubt a m o n g I h e n u ��
rous pop u l � t ion s f �
�t'-Columbian A m erica . war and c o m m crre .Ire i1CtlVltICS th at are I m po ss l ­

e to study in i sol at i on " [po 1 3 6). And i1 gi1i n : "... martial co nfl i ct:'> ;Ind e('o­
Jl1lic t'xchanges d o nOl mcrely eonstitute two types of ('oexistent re Jilti on s
South America. but rather two aS I)Ccts, opposed and indissolublt, of a
n gl e and id('nlici11 social process" (p. 1 38). Wc cannot. th�n ,. a c cordi n g 1 0

:vi-St rauss. th in k of war in and o f itself; i t does not possess ItS ow n sp eCl, ­
city, a n d this Iyp c of activi ty, far from r("quiring a p articul a r {'xaminiltion,
ln, in fact . only be undcrst ood i n "the con text of other el em ents mak m g
,p the soci al who](·... (p. 1 J8J. I n oth er words, violen('c, i n primitive so('it:ty,
;: not an aU ion om O lls sphere: it on ly takes on meaning i n relat i on [0 t h e
cncral network of tribi11 rc l a l i o n s; violence is on ly a p arti c ul ar case o f th i s
.�Iobal system. I f Levi- Strauss wantS to indicat(, by th is that primitiv{' war is
\n activ i ty of a st ri ctl y so ci ol ogira l order, no o ne, of course, would contest
L w i t h the excepti on , howevcr, of lero i - G o urh a n , who merges warlike
activity into the biologi cal order. Ce rta i nl y. ll'v i - Strauss does not l i m it h i m ­
self to these vague generalities: h{' furnishes, o n the c on tra ry, a precIse tdea
. .

on th e mode of operati o n of p ri m it i ve society, Amerinoian, in an y ('i1SC. Th e

., Natur:J1 rat:Jslrophes (droughts, noods, t'<lrthqll�k('s, the disapprar;llIce of an

a llim:J 1 spedes. Nc.l can p rovok e a local sC:Jrcity of rcsources. Still, this would haw
to l<1st a rath{'T long time- 10 lead to conflict. Anothtr type of sittl<ll1on could, it
seems, con fron t a socIety wit h rinilY, wilhout nature bring resPoHsiIJI.t': docs lhe
conjunction of a n ahsolutely dosed space and all :JbsoLutely opcn (tha t IS. groWlll gJ
demography co ncca l Ill(' risk of a social p'lthology horde-ring on war? ThiS is Hot
ob v ious . but it is IIJl \0 t he specinlisls of Polynesia or t... 1cI;lllesia (lsl:Jnds. Ihat IS.
dO�t'd sp(lces) to (lllsw('r,
Cf. Levi-Str:Juss. ··Guerre et commerce chez les lndiens de l'Amerique <lu Sud:·
Renaissance, vol . I. New York, 1')4).

I 4 ,
t H E A R C H f O I O ' Y O f V t O l f N C !

ioentl riration of this mode of operation assumes the highest importance

since it dr.t£'rmines the nature and significance of violence a n d of war. Wh a �
does Levi-Strauss find i n the rdationship between war and society? The
answer is cleM: " Commercial C'xchanges represent potential w a rs peacefully
resolv('d. and wars are the outcome of unfortunate transactions" (p. 1 3 6).
Thus, not only does war i nscribe itself in the field of the soriological. but it
receives its ultimate meaning from the particular fu n ct i o ni ng of primitive
sociery: the rtlations between communities (whether tribes. bands or local
groups) are first commercial. a n d depending on the sucees" or failure of
these cOlllmneial l' nteq.Jrises, thC'rc will be peace or war between the tribes.
Not only arC' war and comlllerce to be thought of in continu ity. but it is
commerce Ihat holds sociological priority over war, a somewhat o ntological
priority In that it takes place at the very heart of the social being. Lct us
add, fl l1 al ly. that far from being new, the idea of a conj unction hetween war
and com merce is i n fact an ethnological banality, on the same level as the
idea of scarcity i n the primitive economy. Thus the intrinsic relationship
b�twe('n war and commerce is assened. i n exactly the same terms as lev i ­
Strauss, by Davie, for example : " I n primitive r;"lses, com merc e i5 oft('n an
illternative to war, and the l1l<lnner in which it is conducted shows that it is
a modif1('iHion of war" (op. cit., p. 302),
But. one might ohject, the ltxt in question is minor and docs not in any
way compromise the grneral theory of the social be-ing such as Levi-Strauss
has dev('loped it i n more comprehensive works. Such is not the case. In fact.
the theoretir<ll conclusions of lhis supposedly m i n o r texI arc i n tegrally
repeated in Levi-Strauss's gn'at sociological work. [/('mell/aT), Slructurcs oj
Kimliip, at the end of one of tile m05t importar.t chapters. 'The Principle of
Reciprocity": " There is a link, a continuity, between hostile relations and the
provision of reciprocal p rest a tio ns : eXChanges are pC'acefully resolved wars,
and wars are the result of unsuccessful transaclions."'9 However, on the same
page, the id ea or commerce is explicitly (and wilhout explanation) e l i m i n at­
ed . Describing the exchange of gifts between foreign I n d i a n groups, Levi­
Strauss take" care (0 indicate his ;1handonment of the referrncr to COIll­
merce: ··It is a mattrr, thu", of reciprocal goods, and not of commercial oper­
ations.'" Let us examine this more closely.
Levi-Strauss' firm distinction between the reciprocal gift and the com­
mercial operation is :lhsolutely legitimate. Still, it would not bC' superfluous

<J Slfllc/lIl"eS [llIlell/aires rle la parcl1Tt, p. 66 of (ht firsl t."dilioll (PUF. (949) o r p.
18 of th(' secolld cdi t i o ll (�I()IItOJl, (967). Ifhe ElrlJ1cllt(lt\, Structures oj KlIlship.

Boston, 8e;ICOIl Press. 1969. [diled by Rodney Nt't'dham, trans. by James Harle Bell,
John Richart! \"On Srurll1er, and Rodney Needham.]

I 5 0
t H f & R C H f O I O G Y O f V l 0 l f N ( [

w Ity. i n a {Iuirk dt'IOUr through el"onomic :lnthropology. I f the

to ex p. l a l n ' .

maten aI nr
I or IHimilive societic<; develops ilgalOsl a backdrop 0 f ;J JUn< I I ance,
thc D o m � t '· c . . 01 .
Mode or ProductIon IS al<;o characterize. d )y
I all ·dcal
each l'I)OlI1lUnilY a�plres 10 produce all that IS n eces"", y Its
1I11/(/rk�, .. . or

nwmilt."rs, Sllbsi"tenc{', In othn words, Ihe primitive economy tends toward

withdr<lwal inlo itself. and the I'd CilI af economIc
. .
· aUlarky
the comm u nity'S
concea I anolht'f: the
ideal of polnkal independcllre. In . I·
decl( IIlg to depen d
. ' . . .
"If for its· consumer productIOn. the pnmltlve commull l ty 1VI· 1 1 il ge,
only on .ItS� . . . .
band. etc.) \l(l" no tH'C'd fur C'conomlc. relations �ltll � .
{' lghbofl ng g r� �s . 1 t IS u .
not rweeI t in' t rrivl'S
/;> to
Inlernallonal rl'l;1tlons III. the pnmltlvt." SO(\ely,
. .
rise . .

WI ·lICh ·IS IH'rfectly capitble of satisrying all its needs WIthout hilvlllg ' to so\ •ICll •
tI1e a-;sl'> "
. l ' ncr of other>'
. . we produce all that we need I ·
toO( I (I nd toO Is I , wt: arc
thl'refort, i n a position to do witho t others. I n o h r words, the allt rk I' C
� � � :
' I ·, .s '·;0 ,'lI1ti-comml'TCIal itlcil!' !.Ike (I l l Ideals, 1t IS nOt always. ,\c(
I·d {,,,
. om-
plish('ci ('verywhr:rC': but <;hould cin:umstam 'es demand 11 . the" Savages ran
huaSl of doing without others.
This is why the Domestic Mode of Production excluc es �omm('rC'\. � 1 !
rl'lation�: tht primitive socielY, i n its being, refuses the nsk, Inherrn � 1 n
commerce, of si1crificing its autonomy, of losing its frcC'dom. And s� . I t .IS
appropriate that the levi-Strauss or Elemellrary St"'C �:I :f:.'5 guarded h t m"e1r
fro m rept'at i n g what he wrot� in " Wilr and Commerce. fo u n derstilnfl any­
t h i n g about primitive wilr. one- must avoid articulating a commcrce {hat
docs not exist.
rhus, it is 110 longer rOll1mcrce that givt's meaning to W<1;1", it is excha � ge:
the intrrpretalion or war stems from tile e.rc/J(JIIgist COII('C'/HIO/! of SOClt' ?: :
Ih{'r� is a continuity between war ("'the result of un�uccC'ssrul tranS<1Cl lons )
and exchange ("peacefully resolved wars"). But, just as w a r i n the first v r­ �
sian o f the Levi-Straussi<"!n theory of violence w<"!s t n rgetcd n<; the potential
no n-success of comll1{"fce, i n thl' exchangist theo!)' w(' se-r nn equivaltnt pri­
orilY <HtribU1cd to exchange or which war is but the railurC'. In m ll e r w o ds. �
war dot's not possess any positivity by itself: it ('x presses not t IC s cl<ll b lI1g
� ? �
of primitive society, hut
the non-rf'alization of this being w lch 1" iI � b � \llg­
fo r-exrhangr: war is the n('giltive and the negation of primitive "oclety In 'iO
far as p r i m i t ive society is p r i m a r i l y a place o r exchange. 111 s o r<lr as

txchangt' is the- very e'>Sl'nce of primilive society. Accordi n g t o this eonr('p­

lion, war. a<; a skidding, a rupture of the ll10vement toward exchange, could
only rl..' p rcscl'lt the n o n e<;sence, the non-being of 111e society. 1 1 I S the ,HTl'S­
sury i n rrliltion to the principal. tile accident in relalion TO the subst;tnce.
What the primitive soci(,ty wants is exchangc: such is its sociolo�kal dCSIrl',
whkh lend" ronstantly lO\'I;trd reali7ing Itself. and i n rilct, almost alw ay,>
rea!iL('s it"rlf. l' xcC'pt in the rase of all <l("rident. Then Violence ;tnd war ari"t.

1 5 I
1 11 £ A A C H f O L 0 6 Y O f V I O L f H ( f

thus 10 a quasi -disso lution

The logic' of tht' excha ngisl conce ption leads
of Ihe pheno m('non of war. By giving priority to
excha nge and viewi ng war
as d(>voi d of positi v ity. war loses all institu
tional dimen sion: it does not
be l o n g to the being of primit ive society. it
is only a n accide ntal. uncer tain,
un('ss ential charactt'ristic of it ; primit ivt' society
is thinka ble witho ut war.
Th is exchan gist discou rse on p ri mit i ve war. a discou
rse inhere nt in the gen­
eral theory that Levi-Strauss drvl'lops on primit
ive society. docs not ta ke into
account the et h nogrilp h k given: the <Iuasi- univer
sality of the pheno menon
of war. whalevt'r the socieriC's under (onsid eratio
n. their natura l enviro nment
or their sO<.:ioe conom i(' mode of organ ization
; the intens ity. natura lly vari­
able. of wa!lik (' a(tivlly. Thus. in a w ay.
the ex('ha ngist conct 'ption and its
object fall outsid e of ont' <lOoth er; primit
ivr reality ext en ds h eyond Lcvi­
Straus s' discou rse. Not becau se of the <luth
or' s neglig ence or ignora nce. but
bt'c(l use taking wilr into a ccou n t is incom pillible
with h i s <lnalys is of society.
an an alysis lh<lt can only suPP O rt itself by
exclud ing tht' sociol ogical func­
tion of WilT in primit ive s ociety.
Is th is 10 say t h at one must. in order to respec
t primit ive reality i n all its
dimensions. aband on the idea of society 35
a pl ace of excha nge? Not at all. I t
is n o t . i n effecl, a n alrern <ltive : either
excha nge o r violen ce. I t i s n o t
excha nge i n a n d of itself that is contradictor
y to war, but t h e d i scourse that
�� � �
re �lu s the o c i l Il l' j n g of p r i m i t i v e sociC'
ty exclu sively to eXCha nge.
Pnml tlve sooery I S <l sp<lce of t'xchallge,
and it is also il plilce of violen ce:
war, o n the snme levl'1 as exchr lnge. bel ongs
OH I, .· c a n n ot . �n d t h i s is what must be establ ished,
to tht' p r im i t ive social being .
tllink of primit ive sockty
Witho ut th i. n ki ng. at the same timC', of war.
for Hobbes, primit ive society was
war of each again st each. Ltvi-S rrauss ·
point of view is symm etrica l a n d
inverse to that o f Hobh es: primi tive so('iet
y is the excha nge of each with
rach, l Iohbes left out exchange. Levi-Strauss
leav('s out war.
But. on the other hand, is it simpl y a matte
r of juxta posin g the disco urse
on exch<lnge and the discourse on war?
Does reest ablish ing Wilr as an essen­
tial dimen sion of primi tive socit'ty le<lve
intact tht' ideil of exchange as the
esst'nce of the socia l? It is obv i ous ly impos
sible: to be mista ken on w ar is to
be m i st ake n on society. To wh<lt is Levi-
Stra uss ' error due? To a confusion of
the socio logiC'al levels on which warll
ke activi ty and excha nge functi on

r<:sp�c t vely. By w ishi n g to situat e them
on the same level. one is fatally If'd
�o :lInli nate one o r the other. t o d{'form
n. EXCh ange and war arc obviously
primi tive socia l reality by mutil ilting
to be thought of. not in terms of a conti
nuilY that would altow gradually passi
ng from one to the Dlher. but i n terms
of a radica l disco ntinu i ty that a l o n e manif
ests the truth of primi tive society.
rhe {'xtre me sep;m entilt ion (hm chara
w h e n..' would be the causr. it h<ls often been
cte r i ze s primi tive socie ty every­
writte n. of t h e frequ ency of war

1 5 2
I H f A � ( H f (l L (l 6 Y O f V I O L f H { f


. SC'01rcity of resources would lead to vital competition.
type of society.
whIch would produce war. Now. I· r
, IhlS
, .
Id lead to isoliltion of groups,
. I ·Iclly
wh J("h wou .
deed il profound rel;ltionship betwel'n the mu 1 lip 0 f SOCIOPO
. -
there IS I. n .
:lnd v io len c r one can only undel"it:lnd .
tillS I ·
In k 1 )y reversing
en ll·t·e�
1 i t .lC':l1 I " , . .
the ha b·,
I u ,I order of their prese n tat io n : 11 IS not war th;]t ls t h. r effect of seg-
mc n tat .i O n . ·,t is 'se<1menta
to tion that is the effect of war. It IS not only tht'

effrct. but the goa!:

war is � � �
at once the C'au e o i"I n d t e mea ls to a sou ht-

. �
after ell ... " nd end. the '�(>gmentation of primitive soci ety.. In Its hl'lng. pnm-
. . dispersion; this wish for frag:mematlon belongs to the
love socitty wants
? � ��
primit ive social eing �hich institutes itself a s h .In an d by lIe 1 r('a I·Izatlon

of thiS sociologll:· al will. In other words, p n m l llve war .

IS the m e �
a ns o a

polit i c(l] end. To ask onestl f. CO Se{IUently. why the Silva ges wilge war IS to
probe the very being of thr l r socIety.
Each piHticular p ri m i t i ve socicty eq u al l y and w h ol l y expresses tht' (·ssen ­
t i a l prope rties of this type o f social fo rmati o n . which finds i t s concn:te real ­ �
Iy in the p rimi t i vc commun ity. The latter is made up of iln ('nsemble of I. nd ­ �
viduals. each of whom recognizes a n d c l a i m s h i s a p p u r t e n a n c(' to tIllS
ensemble. Togethrr the community gathers and goes bey o nd the divers(>
units that C'onstitute it. most often in�('Tibed along the axis of kinship. by
integrat i n g them into a whole: elctnentary and rxtended familirs. lineages.
clans. moieties. rtc., but illso. for eXi\mp\(', m i l itary societies. cere m o n i a l
brotherhoods, il ge groups. etc. The community i s thus more than t h e SU llI of
its gro ups. and this I.'st:lblishcs it ilS (I poli ticill unity. The pol it icl 1 unity of
the community is inc ri bed in the spatial unilY of the habitat: the people who
belong to the same community live together in the S<ltne- place . Accord i n g to
lhe nlles of postm<lrital residenc!'. a n individual can n at ural ly he hrought to
leave his community of origin i n order to join that of his spouse: but the
new residence does nor abolish the old appurtenance. and primitive socit'til's.
moreover. invent n u merous ways to overturn the rules of resiilt'nC'c i f they
are thou ght 10 be too p :l i nful.
The primitivl' commun ity is thus a 10Cill group. This determin<'ltioll t ran ­
sCt'nds t he economiC variety of mo dr s of production. si n c e it is i n di ffere nt
to t h e fixed o r mobile character of t h e hillJi till. A locill group ll1<ly be made
up of n{)madic h u n te rs ;IS well as st'denwry f<l TlllerS; a w<ln(\ni ng b<llld of
hUntl'rs <lnd collectors, <lS mu c h <lS a st;lblc village of gardtners, posses" the
sOciologic<l1 p ro p e rt ies of the primitive communilY. The l atter. <lS pOlilic-al
unity. not only inscribes itself in the homogeneous space of its habitat. but
ext('nds its cOlllro1. il coding. i ts Ie-rrilorial right. It is ohvious in the- cast' of
h u n ters; i t is also true of farmers who still maintain, beyond their pl;lnta­
lion s. il wild space where they Ciln hunt ilnd pick useful plants: simply. the
t e rrit o ry of a b,md of hunters is l ike ly to Ill' 1110r(;' vast tha n that of a vill:!!:!,"c

I 5 J
1 M ! ! i ( II ! D L 0 6 Y O f V I O L f N ( f

of fa r mers , 'llH' localilY of Iht: local group b

thu::. its tcrrllOry, as (I nat ural
reserve of materi, ll resources. cen a inly, but ('s peci,dl
y as all l'xclusi vl' space
for the eXerci'il' of comm unity nghb. The exd usivi
ry in the us� of the terri�
tory i m p l il's a mOvtll1 e ll ( of t' x c l u s i o l l , a n d
110rt' the proper ly politic al
dlrntn sion of pnmiti ve sodt't} iiS ,I commu nJly
Includ ing US c�setH iaJ reJa�
tlonsh lp to the territory de-,Irly apptaf).: the
cxi..ll'llCC of the Other is imme�
di<ltl'ly posited i n the act that txd utks him ; it
is a gain st the o t h e r commu �
t to a dctnm ined territory ;
n i t k s that edc h sockty asserts ils exdusiv e righ
the pojiuca l rt'lation ship w i t h n e ighbori ng: groups
is im rtl e d iatt:l y eSlab�
lhhed. A rel a tio n sh ip that I n s t i t u tes itsdf in thl'
polit icill ordtr a n d n o t i n
the cconom ical ornrr. let us m·,t 1 I ; th( domest ic
' mode of produc tion b e i n g
i n IJfin d p l e . i O e n c roach u p o n
Wh,H it i s . n o local group h a s ,Iny nee-d.
ncighbo rs ' lI:rritory fur provi ... i on ".
COl1tro l of the territo ry allows the comm unity
to realiLc its auta rkic ideal
by guarantl'dng it s(,] f�suff1cit'ncy in n·sour
(rs: thus. it does nol de pl' n d 011
anyOlll'; I I is i n depl'n dcnl. O n e would <lssum�
local groups. il genera l abscnc T of violtn ce:
·. a l l thing" being equal for all
i t could only arisr i n r<lre cases
of territorial violati on: it would only be defens
ive, and Illu� n ever produce
ibelf, eac h group relyi n g on its own tcrrito
l l:JV('. Now. <I ... we k n o w , w a r is wid<:�
ry which it hilS no (('ason to
qH (' a d a n d vny oft t Jl offensive.
01 war: t h e r('I;ltio nship hetw('('n
Territo rial tkfrnsr. thus, i... n o t thl' cause'
w , n and socicty has Yl'l to hc illumin ;ttl.'u.
What of the bring of primit ive sm:il'ty. ill�olit
r as it is f(·;lIizcd. i<ienttc <ll,
i n the i n flllire snies of comm unit ies, hands
, vill'lge s. or local groups? The
answe r IS pres{'nt in all ethno graph ic
literat ure s i n n' t h e West has (aken
in ten·... t in the Savtlg t' world . Prim itive
society has alway s been co n sid ered a
p l a ( e o f abSOlu te dirferencr in relatio
n to we... tern socielY. a strang e (llld
un(hinkabll' ,' pace of a.bsellcc <tlJ�t'ncc of ;tIl that const itutes the obsrrv
sOI'lOc uItUr,ll un ivl'r"e: a worl d without
hierarchy, IH!opk who ohey no one, a
�oci('ty i ndi lTl' ren t to th� po<;�e,>sioll of
v� e-allh. chitf!> who do nOt comm and.
cultures witho ut mor,lls for they ;'Irt' Ulltlw
are of si n , classless societies, soci�
c!irs Wi thout a Slale. ele. I n shon. what
the writings of (l n cie n t trave lers or
mode rn scholar� constantly ( ry Ollt
and yet l1e vl'( m a n age to <;<lY j<; that
pnmit ive society i�. in its being, undivided.
I'rimi tiVl' sotirlY is u naw , lTe of - becau
se it prevt'tIls the tlppCilrance- of
- fhe d ifferen c(' hetwl'en rich and poor,
lht' 0ppo� Hion belwe ("n explo iters
n of (he chief ovn sodety. The
and Ihc ex pl uited . the domi natio
Mode of Produ ction. which ;) S�ures !
h l: e('onU IllIC a utarky of til" l'omm unity
as such. ,11'>0 all(lw s for the aut onomy
of kinsh i p group s whirh comp ose thr
"'()clt ll l'nstll lhk, and even tht indep
e llde n ce of i n d ividua ls. OUbid t, of gl'n�
<!t'r-r elillrd dlVi"I OIl, then: i .... in dTnl
. no divi"i oll of la bor i n primi tivr soci�

I \ 4
'In divid u al is polyvalent in a way; men k n o w how to do . eVl'rything
try'. e(lCIl
ld know how to do. women k n o w how to do everything won1l'n
nH: n shou
how lO do. No individual is less knowledgahlc or less capable;
ShOll Id k n ow .
nn fall victim to the e nterpnses 01 anot h er more t<li rnled or
no illd'IV I'dual
better-o ff'. tilt'
• ,
. . '
< of lhe victim would soon dIscourage the vocallon of

' re exploiter. Vyi n g with ('<1ch othtr. ethnologists h<lve n ot{'d the
the appren t , ,, �
(f • indifference brfore t h e i r goods and possessIOns WblCh are easily
Sav <l ",(' S
, .

ra I)fl',"" t�"d on ((' worn o r broken. have notl'd t h e- abs('ncr among. tlwlll 0 r al.I
� �
S r
d r s i r e for a c c u m u l at i o n . Why. i n d l' l·d. woul 1 s u 1l a d t: l f {' a p p e a ?
Product ive <lctivi!y is exactly measurrd by tht: s;ltlsfacuo of� needs a n d �� ('s

n Ot t>
. .
ero hl'yond that: surplus production is perfectly pOSSIble III the pnnutlve

I I' t ?.
e c o n o my. but i t is also Totally useless: w h a t w o u l d 1)(' d o n e w i· l l
Moreovr·r. the ,Iclivity o f ;lccumulation ( produci ng a useless surplus) could
only be, in this type of society. a st rictly individual en 1t·TjJrise: the l'ntrcp re�
. . .
nt'ur could only count on h is own strengths, the explanation of otlwrs beIng
<;oriologk(llly impossible. Let us im ag i ne. nevertheless, that d espiu' the SOli4
tude of his effort, the S;lV<lgl.' entreprt>neur m;ln<'lges to constitute. by thr
sweat of his hrow, a stock of resources which , let us recall. he would not
know what to do w ith sincr it is alre;ldy a mattcr of a sUTj)lus. that is. goods
tl1,n arc unnecesstlry in that they no longer h<lve anything to do with the
satisf<lC'tion or needs. What will happen? Simply. the commun ity will hrlp
him consume these rree r('somees: the man who has become rich by t h r
strength of h i s own hand w i l l see h i s wealth disappear i n t h (' b l i n k o f a n eye
into his n eig hbors' hands or stom<lchs The real ization of the desi rt' of accu­

mulation would reduce [tStlf thus at o n c e to tI pure ]Jhenomenoll of s('lf�

l'xploit<llion of t h e individual by himsel f, and the ex p loi tation of lhr rich
m a n by t he community. The Savagrs <Ire wiSt enough not to ;]balldon them�
'>elves to this folly ; primitive society functions i n such a way that incquality,
exploitation. division are impossible there.
At its actual level of existt'nc(' - the local group - pnmitivt' sOC'i('ty pre4
SCIllS two essential sociologiral proptrties thar t ouch upon its very beIng, the
social being thtlt determines the reason for being (ll1d the p rin c i pl e of the
inll'lligibility of war. The pri m itive community is ilt on(e a totality :-I nd il
u n i t y. A tot;tl ily in that it is a compiC'I(,. autonomous, whoh: cnsemble. n';!sr�
Its">ly atttJltiv(' to prestrv i n g its autonomy, a socie-ry in (he full sen sl' of tile
word. A unity in that its homogeneous being continues 10 refuse sodal divi�
�i()n, to e-xclude in equality. lO forbid alienation, Primiltvc socicty is a singlt'
t otality in t hlt
.: tile pri nciple of its unity is not exterior to it: it dol'S not allow
dlly eon fIguration of One to dl'lach itstlf from thl' social body in ord('r to rtp�
rcsent it. in order to e mbody it as unity This is why the criterion of n0I1�diyi4

'>Ion IS fundamcllt<llly polilical: if lhe sav;lj:!;e chil'f i" powerle"", it is beca.u�t'

I \ \
l H f & R C H f O I O G Y o r V l O L f l H f

society does nOt accept power sl'p arat ed from irs bein�, division cstablished
between those who command an d those who ob<,y, And this is <llso why, in
pri m i tive society, it is the chief who is commissioned to s pe a k in the name of
sol'iecy: in his discourse, tile chief never expresses tht:' flights of his individual
desire or the statement of his priv;1te law, but only th(" sociological desire that
s(lci("ty r("m;J in undivided, ;Jod the [ext of lilw thaI no oni.,' hit!'> established, for
i t has n o t h i n g t o do w i t h hU Il1 ..1I1 decision, The l e g i s lat ors are also the
found("rs of soc i ety - till' mythic;11 ;] r.{'estors, t h e cultural hrroes, the gods, It
is of this Law thm the chief is spokrsprrso n : the substance of his discourse
always refers to t h e ancestral Law that no ont' can tra nsgress, for it is the
very bt'ing of society: to violate: tht: law would be to ;1lfer the social hody, to
imrodurc into if tilt.' in novation a n d ehange th'll it absolulely rejcCls,
Primitive sociC'ty is a commun ity theH Clssu rcS conlrol of it s terri tory i n
thC' n a nlt' of t h e gu aran tcc in g: its non-division. The territorbl dimC'nsion
<l l reaciy in c l u des the p o l i t ic al in that it excludes the Otht'r. [t is precisely the
Other as m i rror - the neighhoring groups - who reflect back ontO �he com­
munity tht' image of its uniry and lotal iry, Faced wilh neighboring commu­
nilies or bands. a panirular commu nity or band posits itself and thinks of
itsd f as absolute dim'rrncc, as irrt:duciblc frcedom, as ,) body possessing t he
will to ll1 <l i n l<1in its being as a s i n g l e totality, l I ef(' then is how p ri m i t iv e
�oc.:iety concretl'ly Olppt:.lrs: a m u l t i p l i ci t y of separ<ltc commun ities, each
watching over the i n tegrity of its ter rit o ry, a St'rit'S of nco - mo n a ds t'ach of
which, i n the face of oll1('rs, ilSSt'rts its differcnn. Earh commun ity. in that il
is undivided, can think of itself as a We. This We in turn I h i n ks of itstlf as a
totality in the t(I U<l1 relationship t h at it m<lincains with t h e ec[uivalt'nt Wc's
that con st i t u t e other villages, t ri b e- s, bands, etc, The p ri m i t i ve community can
poo;; i t itse lf \IS a lO ta l i ty becausC' i t institutes itself as a un i ty : it is a whole,
because it is a n undivided Wt'.
At this level of a nalysis, the gt'neral struclurr of primitive organization
can be thought of as purely Sliltir, as lot ally inert, as void of movement.
The glob'll syslt'm seems to h(' ablt to funelion only in v i ('w of its own
repetition, by making <Ill emergence of opposition or c o n n i e t impossible,
Now, et h n o � raph i c feality shows the opposite: far from being i n e rt, the
systtm is in p e rpetua l m o v e . n e n t : i t is not slatic but dynamic, and the
primitiv(' monad, far from r e m a i n l l1 g closed upon itself, aelu;!lly opens
it,,{'if [a olhers i n the t'xtreme i n tl..' nsilY of till' violence o f war. H o w then
do w e think of both t he systcm a n d war? Is war a s i m p l e diversion (hat
would transliltt' tht occasional failurr of the syste m , or would th(' system
be una bl e to function without war? Wouldn'! war simply be a prerrquisite
for tht' primitive <;ocial being? Wouldn't w:H be, nOI the threat of d ea t h ,
hut the condition of primitive society ' s life?

\ 6
l H f A R C H E O L O G Y O f V I O L f N C !

One po i n tis clear: the possi il ity of w,)r is i,n s c ri b ed i n h(' being of
b �
. . . society, l n dct'd, the will of e8ch community to assert Its <ilffrTence
{fh so that the , least inndent qUickly tTa nsfarms th e soug h t-
stro ng: cn o u o
I .

" 0f ternt0l)',
· .
th e assumed
. differen ce into <I real dispute, The Violation
' n o f the nt' ighb. o, rs ', shaman: this is all that is required for wa r to
breOlk out. to. fragilr equ!llb um, , as a resull." the POS II)1·1·ny a f ·IO 1l"nc a l d
� � � � �
one l agtnC ,
arll1l'd co nflict is illl i m med mtC' gIven, But could � , _
thIS posslbl11ty

never Ill'ing Tl'<lli7l'd and i nst

ead of war of ( " I C h a galrl s each, as � Hobb �S
rary, exch<lnge ot each W i t h (' a c h , :IS Lcvl-
tho ug ht , haVIng, on t h
e c o n t

Strauss' view poin t imp lks? " . .

Tilkf' for instance th(' hypothesis of generaltzt'd fnendshlp, We qutckly
discover that this i<; impossible for several reasons, First of all. be(· �tUse of
s pa t i il l d is p r rsio n , P r i m i t ive c o m m u n ities m a i n ta i n ;1 c e rta lll d I s t a n c e

between each other, both l i te ra l ly a n d fIguratively: betw een each h a n d o r

village th ere arc their respectivl' t£'rritories, allowing ea� h gr u p ,to keep ,its �
di ,t an re. Friend:-.hip dot'S not adapt well to dist n c e.a [t IS m,lIntalllcd eaSily
with nearby neighbors who can be
invited to partie�, from whom one can
aerept invitation�, whom ont C<ln visit. With dislant groups, these tyP('� ot

cannot be established, A p ri mit iv e community is loat h e to trav d

very far or stay away for long from its own, familiar tl'rrirory: as soon as
thcy are no longer "at home," the Savages experience, ri ghtly or wrongly b u t
most oft('n rightly, a strong feeling: of distrust a n d fear, Am iabl(' relations of
('xch<lng(' only develop belw('('n groups close to one anothtr; distant groups
are excluded: they are, <It best. Foreign ers.
Rut the h yp ot h es i s of frit'ndship of all w i t h all contradicts each ro m m u­
nicy's p ro foun d, ('�senti,ll desirt' to
mai n t a i n and deploy its being as singl('
tot;ll ity, th;-;t i�, ils irreducible d i fference i n relation to all other groups,
induding neighbors. friends and allies, Th(' l ogi c of primitive society, which
is a logic of difference, would contradict the logic of generalizeu exchange,
which is a logic of idt'ntity, because i t is a logic of idf'ntiflration, Now, it is
th is, " b ov," a ll . th at p ri m it i ve society re fus es: identifying w i t h others, losing
thilt which constitutes it <lS surh, losing its vel)' being and its di ffe n.: n C'e , los­
i n p; til{' abi l i ty to t h i n k of itself as a n autonomous We, I n the idelltit"!l' ation
of a ll with all. which gener,llizcd ('xchange and friendship of ,Ill with a l l
would ('Iltail. (';'Ieh communiry would lose i t s imlividualiry. The exch;'!nge o f
all with a l l would he the drsl ru('tion o f primitive society: idl.'ntifl('�!ion i s a
mOVement to w <l rd death, tile p rinm ivc social being is an afflfln at i on of l i re ,
"h(' l og i c of idtnticalness would g i v(' W<lY t o a son of equa\i7in� (iiscourse,
th e molto of friendship of all w i t h a l l be i n g : Wt' are <Ill the same! The un i fl ­
eallon of t h e multiplicity of p;1rtial We 's into a lllcta-Wt, th(' elimination of
tht' di fferenc e unique to t'<lrh :!utonomous co m mu n i ty would abolish thc dis-

I \ 7
I H ! A R C H ! O L (l G Y (l l Y I (l L f H ( !

tinction between the We and Ihe Other, and primitive society itself would
disappear. This is not a maHer of primitive psychology but of sociological
logic: there is, inherent in primitive soci ety, <l centrifugal logic of crumbling,
of dispersion, of schism such that each community, to consider itself as such
(as ii singlr totality), n et'ds the opposite f1gun' of the foreigner or enemy,
such thel! the possibility of violence is inscribed ahead of time i n the primi­
ti ve social bring; war is a structure of pri m i tive society and not the acciden­
tal failure of an unsuccessful ('xc-hange. This strtH:tural status of violence is
illustrated by the univers<llity of war in the Savage world.
Structurally. generali7ed friendship a n d exchange of all with a l l are
i mpossible. Consequently. should we say that Hobbes was right, and from Ihe
i mpossibility of frirndship of all with all conclude tht' n:ality of war of each
agClillst rach? Take for eXilmplr, now, the hypothesis of gl'neralized hostility.
Each community is i n a ccnfrontlltional situation wirh all the others. the W,lr
mile-hint is funct ioning at full speed, global socicty is composed only of rn e:­
mics Clspiring to [re-iprocal destruction. Now nil wars, as we k now, leave a
victur and a vanquis]wd. What i n this case, would h(' Ihc principal result of
wa r of ,111 against all? It would institUte- prt'cist'ly the political Trliltionship
that primitive socit'ty works constantly to prevt'nt: tht' waf of all ag(linst all
would lead lO thr rSli"lhlishment of domination :lnd power {h,a t tbe vinor
could forcibly exercise over lhe vanquished. /I. new social configuration
would then appear, introducing: a relationship of command obedience and
the political division of socicty into MClsters and Subj('C1s. I n other words, it
would be the death of primitive sori(·ty insofar as it is ilfld consider-; ilstlf an
undivided body. As a result. gt'llemlized Wi"lr would producc exactly lhe S;Hlle
rffcct as generalil.rd friendship: the neg.nion of the primitive social lJeing. I n
the cast' of friendship of Cll l w i th a l l , t h e c o m m u n ity w o u l d lose irs
ilutonomOllS total ity through till' dissolution of its difTtrence. I n the case of
w(lr of all ilg;"linst all. it would lose its homogeneous unity through Ihe irrup­
tion of social division: primit iv(' soriety is a single totality. It cannot consent
to u niversal peace whkh al il'nates its frredom; it rnnnot abandon itsrlf to
generCll war which ;"Ibolishes its equal ity. It is not possible. a m o n g the
S<lV3ges, to be either friend of ,I l l nr t'nemy of all.
And yet. war is pnrt of the essence of primitive sori(·ty; like exchilnge, it
is il structure of it. Is thb to say thai lIlt' primitive soda! being would br il
sort o f compound of two hrlrrogrnrous elements - a littlt exchange. a lillie
W;"ir - and that the primitive ideal consists of maintaining the equilibrium
betwcen these two {'omponellt'> i n Iht' quest for a sort of happy medium
1H'IWn-1l rontr;"lry. i f not rontr;"ldictory. elements? This would be to persist in
tl1(' l.tvi Straussian ide;"l 111;"11 w il r ,l!ld exchnnge Clre dev(']opl'd on the same
levrl and lhat one is alw;"Iys thl' l i mit ;"Ind the faiiurr of the other. rrom this

I 5 8
l l1 f A U li f O L O G Y o r V I O t f H { f

g('nerali.'N:1 ex {·hange t'limill �trs W;IT. hUl al thl" sa n�(' timc t'limi
sor1cty. ll ene ra l waT e l 1 m1l1a(('<; t'xl"h;"lnge.
. With same
nat e'i primit ive .
. Ill'lng,
I)rinliuve soc1al thus. Sl lllultilllCOlISly m'eels exchange and
resu It ' The . .
WilT, in order to lIble to comlHne at onc{' the autonomist point of hOllor
. nd the rl'fllS;l1 of division. It is to this twofold drmand that the status and
�un(' tiOn of t'xdwnp;e and war arf related, unfOlding on different levels.
1"11(' Impossibil ity of war of CllI against illl for a given community imme­
di<lH'ly clils<;ifH's the people surrounding it: Others arr i mmediately c1ilssifled
into friends a n d e n e m ies. With the formrr. 01H," w i l l attt' m p t to form
allianre<.;. with lh(' othl"r"S, one accepls - or one seeks - the risk of WilT. We
would be mistakt'n to g;"llher from this desrription only tht' h;"lna1ity of an
ab<;olutely g-cnera! situation i n primitive society. For it is nect'ss;"lry now to
pO<;(' lhe qut'siion of ;'Ill iCln("{' : why does a primitive society need ;'I1lks! Till"
answer is obvious: h('rause it has e n t' mies, It has to bt' assured of i t s
<;Ir{'n�th. ('enaif! of r('pcated victory ovt'r i t " adver:;ari('". in order to du with­
out rhr mil itary ,>uppon. in<i{'{·d. ev('n the nrutrality, of the lillie", This i'>
m"\'er the ca�t' In IHactin': a community Ilt'vt'r l;"Iunche<; into iI w;"Ir advrnture
without flTSI IHol('cunp; itself by m{'ans of diplomatic arts - panics, invita­
lions - <tfter whkh supposedly lasting al l i (l nces ilrr formed. but whirh IUU'>t
ronst,ln l l y bt' ren('wt·d. for bctrayal is Cllways possible, and oflrn rral. l Iele ;1
trilil ;"Ippe'lrs, dc"crined by traveler; o r ethnographers (IS thr Savagt':)' incoll­
stancy Clncl IClSte for betrayal. But. once agilin, it is not a matter of prinlltivt'
r sychology: the inn)ll'>tilncy here signifies simply that tht' alliance is not a
CQII\ran. lh;i\ its rupture is n('ver perc('ivet! by the $ava!l:t's as n s(,<lndal, .mti
that f1ntllly, ;! given rommunity does nut Cllw;"lYs hClve th(' samr allics or the
same en('mie<;. Thr te-nt1S of Cllli;lI1n' ilnd war (an ('hangr, and, following for­
tUIIOUS eV('/l!S, �roup B. allied with group /I. Clgains! group C. would lit' pt'r­
frctly crtpable of turning against A 10 side with C. Fxpericnn' i n Ihr field
ronsran ll .v offl'rs the spectacle of �urh turnabout", for whidl Ihe 1)t'Ople
responsible always hilve rrasons. What o n e should kcep In mind is til(' pC'r
ll1al1enc(, of the apP;lfatus as a whole - tht· diviSion of Olhers into allies and
enemits - and not the conjullrtural and vllri<lhle place occupied i n this
ilppaT<ltlis hy tht ("ommunities implitilted.
But this mutual. ;Inc! justif1ed, di<;trust tll;"lt allird g:roup<; floc! ind il':1tes
dearly that allianr('s ar!: often consented to unwillingly. thaI (llli;"ln\'C' IS not a
deSired gO<l1 but only a nleans: the llH'ans to attain at t he' lowest n",k and (It
the !east cost a goal that is the war entcrprise, Which amounts to saying that
one is resigned to ililiance because it would hr (00 dangerous to rllg:lge in
Illili tary oper;"ltion<; ;"IlollC'. and that. if onr could. o n e would gladly do with
OUt allies who art' nevrr absolutely reliable, Thert is. as il re:-.ult. iln css('nti;"ll
pro perty (If int("rnCllional life ill primitivC' society: w;lr rdat('s f1rst to <llliane!.':

I 5 9
I H t 6 R l H t U l U b Y U f Y I O L f t H f

war ,IS tin i nst it uti on determines tI!liilnce as a tacti c. Th(' strCHegy i s the s a me
for a l l communities: to prrseven.: in t h ei r ilU(Un0!l10US being. to co n serve
thtmst:lves as what they ilre, undivided We's .
We have a l ready observed that through the will faT political ind('pen�
denc(' and exclusive comrol of its territory manifested by each commun ity.
the possi h i l i ty of war is i mmed iately inscribed i n the fu m :tion i n g of these
socit:ties: primitive society is a 10(,U5 of a permanent SHItt: of war. We see
now that s eek i ng a n .1lliilnce d epe n ds on aetu<l 1 w<l r: there is a so cio lo gi cal
priority of w <l r over alliancc. Here, the true re l ati on s h i p between ('xchange
and war eme rgr<;. I ndeed. where arr relations of exchange rst;lblished. which
sociopolitical units assume a principle of re(.'iprocity? Thesc ilrc prtcisely the
groups impl iciltt:d in the networks o f alliance: rxehange panncrs art: a ll i es,
the sphere of e xch <l n gt" is t h at of a ll i<'ln c c. This docs not mean, of course,
that were it n o t for Cllli<ln c('. there would no lon ge r be exch;l!lg(': ex(' h ,lI l gc
would simply flrld i tsl' l f c i r(umscribed within the space of th e a uto no mo us
com mun ity ill t h e hean of w h ich it n eve r ceases to operiltc; it would be
\trictly i n t ra � co mm u n<ll .
Thus. o n l' exch an ges w i t h ,lilies: there is exchange. be(';luse there i s
al l i <l n ('e. It i � n o t only a question o f the exch<lngr of good behavior - a cy cl e
o f panies to w h ich peopJe take turns inviting tilch other - but the exchangt
of gifts (w i th o ut v t' ri ta b l e eco no m i c sign ifi ca n ce, Irt us repeat), and ('special­
Iy the exchange of women. As Lc:-vi�Strauss writes, "... the exchange of b ri des
is m e re ly ttlr conrlusion of an u n i n te rrupted proces:o; of rec iproca l g i fts..... (p.
79) . In S
s ho rt. the reality of alliance e Tabl ishes the possibility for complete
e xch ange. which affects not only goods Clnd scrvicts but m.: mi m <l ni a l rela�
lions. Wh;}t is th e exrllange of women? At the level of h u m a n soriCLY as
such. it <l s<;ureS this soricty's h umn n ity, that is, its non�<ln im<1lity; it s ign i fIes
that h um ;'l n society docs n ot belong to the order of n <l t ur(' but to that of (ul�
ttJrc: human sociely unfolds i n [he univnse of (he rule a n d nOI in that of
nt't"d, in tilr worlJ of the instit ution and nOI i n that or instinct. The exogam �
ie e xchan gr of women founJs sodery as such in the prohibition of in ct"sr.
But it is preci s r ly a matte r of cxchange insofar CiS i l institutrs h u m a n society
as n on � <l n i m <'l l society, a n d not exch.:lngr as i n stituted in ti1t framcwork of a
n r t w o r k of ili l i a n ces between d i ffc re n t (om m u n i t ies, w h i c h u n fo l d s o n
a n ot her level. I n t h e fr<1 n1t wo rk o f allianct', t h e exchange of womcn assumes
a clear politi('al signific<lnce: tht: e st a b l i5h mt' n t of matrimonial Telations
betwC'cn different groups is a way o f concluding ilnd re in fo r C in g politi(,<11
a l l i an n:" i n ord�r to co n rro nt intvitable cnemiC's under tilt" b('�l C'o n d i t ions .
From allies wl10 a re <llso rclativ�s, o n e may hopr for mure C'Onst8.ncy in war�
likr sol idariry. though the links of k i nsh i p art i n no way a d e fl n i tivr gu;lran�
ttl' of fidelity to the il i l i a net'. Accord i n g to U vi�S{ ra uss, Iht' txeh;tnge o f

I 6 0
I H ! 6 H H f O I 0 l1 Y O � V I O t f N ( !

mt n is the co nclu si o n of an " u n i n t e rrupt cd process of rcC'iprocal gift s ." I n

wO .
t . when two grou ps e n l n l I to re l il t i o ns . they do not at all seek to
rea l i y

me : w h< t t�l ey want 15
c h<1 o ge w o � a p o 1 i lico�mi!itary al l i a nc �. and t�{' bt:"st
,S o f reaching th IS IS to ex ch a n L1(' women. Th is is why If the hel d of
x �
nle..O . . . 0
n, .
a t ri m o n i a l exchange IS I n deed more restricted than the field of political
' l Iian cr, it ca n n ot In any case surP ass it: alliance at once permits exchange
;: t"
n d int rrupts
it, i t is its l i mi t . eXCha n ge n eve r goes beyond ilJli<lnre.

Lev i-Straus<; co n fuses th e e nd W i th t he me<lns. A confus i o n (f!used by his

v ry l'onrep t i on of exch il n gr. w h ic h SitU;l ltS o n t ht sanll' It:vel txdwnge as a

fo u n d i n g <In
of h u m a n s oc i e ty p ro h i b it i o n of i n c(,st. e x o g a m y ) a n d
c x ch a nge as a co nseq u�n cc a nd m ea ns o f political a l l i a n cc (the best all ies. or

th t:: l e<1st bad.

are rtl iH i ves) . In t h e end, the point of vic'W t h at SUI)ponS the
t heory of ex (h an ge is th at primitive society Wilnts ex ch an ge ,
l ,cvi� Str<lussian
that it is a \ociety- for�exch .:l nge. th at the more exch <lnge there is. the bet te r
it works. Now. we h<1v e se c n as much o n <lll economical level (the aut<lrkic
ideal ) CiS o n a p o l i t ical lev('1 ( will fo r i n d ep en dence) . that primitive society
constantly dev rlops a strategy deSt i n ed to rcduce the need for l'xchangc <15
mu<:h as posslblt:: t his is not at al l it sorielY for ('xC'hangC'. bUt ralhrr a c;oci�
try against ('xci1 ange . A nd this app ears wi th th e gre at est d<1rity preC'isely at
the junC'wre be tween the exchange of wo m en and violence. We know that
one of the gO<1 l s of war as sC'rted nl0st insistclll ly by <111 primit ive soei(·tirs is
t h t· caplUre of women: on c attacks enemies in order to s e i ze their women. I t
matters little w heth e r th e reason i n vo ked is a rt"a l cause or a simp\t pre te xt
ror hostility. liere. war clearly man i re sts primitivE' society's proround TCpUg�
n Cl nct" t ow a rd r(' (' n t r ri ng th e exch an g i st game: in tilt' exchange of wonwn. a
gro up gClins women but l os es JUSt ils m any. w h ile in the W il r for women, the
vi('toriotJs group wins women w i th ou t los m g Cl ny. the risk is consicle r<lble
(injury. d e 'l I hl . but so are tht benefi ts : they are total. the women ;He free.
Irnl'rest would thus al w ays commtlnd the p referen ce of war to exchange: but
th i s would be a si t u ; lI i on of war of a l l <lga i nst a l l , I hr i mpossi b il i ty of whi ch
we h av e seen. W<'lT, thus. in vo lves a ll ia nre ; il l l i ,ln re founds l'xchange. There
L'l rXclulIlge of womrn because on e cann ot do otherwise: si nr r o n l' has cn r�
mies. onc must procure .:l l \ies an d att emp t to t r<1 nsfo rm them into brothers�
i n � l aw. I n v e rsely. w hen for o n l' reaso n or a no th n (imlial<1 nrl' of th(' <;rx r<1tio
tn favo r of men, extension of POlygy ny. t"tc) til l' g roup d cs i n:s 10 proc u rc
'iupplemrnrary wives. it w i l l aHe mpt to obt <l i n them through v i o l e n ce,
T h rough war and not through rxchangt· i n w hich they w o uld win nothing:.
lrL us sum u p . Thr exchangist discoursr on p ri m itive sor iety. in reducing
this society wholly t o exch a n ge , is m istakcn on two d ist i nct but logir.:llly
co nneC'ted points. It is fIrst of all u nawa re _ o r refuses to ,Kk n ow h 'o ge -
that p r i m i t ive socielies. far fronl <1l w<1 s s r rk i ng t o e x t en d their field of

I 6 I
l H f � R { H f O L O G Y 0 1 Y I O t f N ( f

exchan ge, tend on the contrary t o r('duce its signifLC';'Ince constantly. This
discourse consequently underestimat("s the real importance of violence, for
the priority and exclusivity accorded to exchange leads i n fact to abolishing
war. To be mistaken about war, as we were saying. is to be mistaken about
society. Believing that the primitive social being is a bei ng-for-exchange.
Levi-Strauss is led to say that primitive society is society-against-war: war is
f<liled cxchange. Though his discourse is vcry coherent, it is false. The con­
tradictIOn is not internal to this discourse, it is the discourse that is contrary
to the ethnographically rcadahle sociological reality of primitive society. War
implies alliance. alliance entails exchange (understood nOt as the differrnce
between man and animal. as tht' passage from nature to culture, but. of
course. as the unfoldin g of the sociality of primitive society, as t h e free play
of its political being). [t is through war that one ('an understand exchange.
and not the reverse. War is not the accidental fa ilure of exchange, exchange
is a tactical effect of Wilr. [t is not. as Levi-Sn<luss hel ieves, thr f<l ct of
exchange that determines the non-existence of war, it is the fact of war that
d('ttrmin('s th(' existence of exchange. Th(' constant problem of th(' primitive
co m m un ity is not: whom will we trade with? buc how ciln we maintain our
independence? The Savages point of view on exchange is simple: it i s a nec·
essary evil: since w e n('ed all ies, they might as wt'll he brothers-in-law.
Hobbes believed. wron gly, Ihat the primitive world is nOt a social world,
because war there prevents exchangr. understood not o n l y ;'IS exchange of
goods and services, but especially as excha ng(> of women. in <lccordance
wit h tile exog<lmic rule i n the prohihition of incest. Doesn't he say til:ll the
American Savag{'� live in "that brutish manner" and thn1 tht.: absence of
sorial org<lni7.ation is rev('aled in their submission to "natural lust" (there is
no u n iverse of the rule among Ihem)? But l Iobbes' Nror cloe" not mtlke L�vi­
Strauss' !ruth. for tht' latter. primitive soc'iety is a world of exchange: but at
Ih(' price of a confusion betw('cn the founding exchange of human society in
general and {'xchange as a modr of relation between different group". And
so h e is forced to eliminate war, in thaI it is lhe negation of ('xchangt': if
there is war, lhert' is no exchange. and if there is n o mort' rxch<lngc, tht're is
no more society. Cerr<linly, excha.nge is inherent in the human social: h u m ;) n
society exists because the exch<lnge of women ex iSIS, bec<luse incest is pro·
hibited. But this exchange has nothing to do with the properly sociopolitical
activity that i s war. and this in n o way puts i n t o qu('stion exchange as
respect for the prohibition of incest. War puts into question exchange as an
ensemble of sociopolitic<ll relations between different communities, hut i l
puts il into question prC'C'isely in order t o found and establish i t through the
mediation of <lllianct'. Confusing these tw O Icvels of ex('hangr. levi-Strauss
inscribes w<lr on this same level. wherr it doesn ' t bt'long, a nd from which i t

I 6 1
! H f & R C H f O t O li Y O f V 1 0 t f N ( f

Ihus d isappear. For this author. the implenwn ltllion of Ihl' principle of
mu� '
. transl<lted i n tht" search for alliance;
is the laller pcrmlls the
� ,prO."',IY . . ,
womt'n, and thC' exchange ends ]n the negatIOn of war. ThiS
, 'han ge of
�;� rriPI ion of the primitive soci<ll
� � �
fa t wo ld be <lbsolutely atisf ing, pro­ �
vidiTlP; waf did .

not t'xist: we know of Its eX lst l' CC b ut also of Its u n l v c rs<llllY·
re<llilY thus holds the OPPOSltc dlscoursr: the state of war
rhe ethnog raphic
makrs the search for all i<lnce necessary. which provokes the
hetWeen groups
e)( cha n gr of
women. The successful analysis of kinship systems or of mytho­
co('xists with <I fa iled discourse on SOCIety.
lo�ical systt'ms thus

I'n e x a m i n a t i o n of elhnogral) h i c facts reveals the properly
dinH'nsio n o f warlik(' activity. It is related neither t o a zoological
nor, finally. to a
of humanity. nor to the vital competition of communities,
C'onSl<1ntm�v('nlel1t of ('xC'hange toware! the suppression of violence. W<lr is
linked to p ri mit iv t' society as su ch (and so it is universal tllcr{'); it is its modr
of opefation. It is the very nature of this sockty that determines the
tt"nce <lnd meaning of war, which, as W(' have seen, lH"cause of the t:xtrCnle

sp{'cifkilY displayed by each group, is present ahl"ad of time as a possibility

in the pnmitive social being. For all loc<l1 groups. all Others are Foreigners:
the figure of the Foreigner confirms. for evcry given group. thc conviC[ion of
its (dt'nlity as an autonomous Wt:. Th:lI is, the sta\{' of war is pt.:rm<'lncllI.
since with fort:i gntrs there can only he hostile r('latlons. whether <lclu<llly
implemcntcd in a re<ll war or no!. It is not the l i m itcd reality of armcd con­
tlin or comb:lt that is essential, but thl' permanence of its possibil ity, tht
permanent state o f war that m<l i n l <l i n s all commun ities in thl'ir respective
di ffl'r{' ncl'. What is permanent. structural. is the state of '1, ;)r with Forei gnt'rs
which sometimes culmi n;')!es. i n mtllt:r regular Intt'rvals. rather frequently
d r p e n d i n g on thc soci ety. in a c t u a l battle, in direct confron t :l l i o n : the
rorC'ignc-r is thus the Enemy. which engC'nders in turn the figure of lhl' Ally.
The ')tate of war is pcrmanem. hut tht' Stlvages do not neccsSilrily spcnd their
time w<1ging war.
W<lr, as external policy of primitiv{' society, rt: J at es 10 i t s Imernal Jloli­
l'y. to what on(' might call I l1 r inlT.ansigent consrrvatism o f t h i s society.
l'x press ('d i n the i n cessant Trfertlle.... to t h e traditional sY5tem of n o rms. to

tht> a n c estra l Law w h i c h must always be respected, w h i c h C C l n n o l be

:l l l C Te-d. What is primitive society s(,cking to conserve w i t h its conser­
vatism? It is s('cking to conserve its very being; it wants t o pt'rsevcr(' in its
h(·ing. BUI what is this being? It is an undivided being; the social body is
homogeneous; the community i s a We. Primitive conscrv:l l i s m Ihus seeks
t o prevent i n n ov;ltion in sot'iety: i t wants t h t r('spect of tilt' L;lW 10 assure
tht: m.1 i n te n a n cl' o f n o n - d i v i s i o n ; it serks to p reven t t h e appl'tlranc<" of

I 6 1
1 11 £ A R C li f O L O G Y O F V I O L I N ( f

division i n socirry. This is primitive sociery's i ntt'rnal pol icy. as much o n

the tconomic It:vrl (the impossibility o f aCl'umulating wealth) as o n the
levcl of powcr r!:'lations (thr chit'f is there not to command): t o conserve
itself as an undivided Wt:. as a singll' totality.
But we sec cienrly that the will to persevert: in its undivided being equal­
ly an imates all We·s. all communities: each position of th(' Self implies oppo­
sition and h ostil ity to others: the st at t: of war w i l l last as l o ng as rach primi­
tive c o m m u n ity can assert its autonomy in rt:lation 10 the otht:rs. If one:
provt"s itself intapOlble of this. i t will be destTOy{'d by the olhers. The capacity
to i m plrll1ent siructur<ll re l Ol ti o ns of hostility (di!>!>uasiun) :lnd the c<l p :l cilY to
resist erfectivl'1y tht' elltt:rprises of others (10 frn d off an alla<.:k), i n sho r the t.

warlikt' capOlciry of ea<.:h commun ity. is the condition of its autonomy. I n

other words: the permnnent state o f w <l r Olnd actual war periodically appear
as the principal means used by primitive society to prevent social <.:hange.
The pt'rmane n ce of primitive SOCiNY has to do with th t' prrmancnce of the
state of war: the Olpplkalion of i n ter nal policy (to maintain the undivided
and autonomous We intact) has to do with the implement:ltion of external
policy (to form alliances in order to wagt WM): war is i'lt the very h(:,;lrt of
Itle primitive social being. war {'on<;tit utes thc very mOtor of social life. In
order to t h i n k of themselvl's as a We. the communiry must bl' both undivided
(one) and independent (tot a l ity) : i n teTll:l1 non -division <lncl extt'rnal opposi­
tion an:- comiJinrd; e:lCll is a condit ion for th ... other. Should war ct'<lSt" the
ht'an of primitive society will cease to beat. War is it� foundation. th(' very
life of its bC'ing, it is its goal: primitive socitty is soci('ry Jar IMr. it is. by def­
i n it ion, warli k('. . . lo
The disptrsion of l ocal groups. which is primitive society's most immedi­
ately perceptible trait, is thus not the cause o f war, but its dfrct. its specific
goal. What is the fun<.:tioll of primitive war? To assure thl' permanence of the
dispt'fsion. the p a rcel i ng. th(' ntomiz3tion of the groups. Primitive Wilr is tht
work of a centrifugal logic. a logic of sepnration. which is exp ressed from
time to time i n Olrmed conOir!.11 War serves 10 milintain each community's
p o l i tic;]i independence. As l o n g as there is war, there is autonomy: this is

10 Here let us n.'call llo1 lhe d isco urse of Westcntrs on p ri m it i ve mall as warrior,
but Ihat. prrha ps kss expct:ll'd but which stems from the same logic, of the Incas.
The Inc;ts said or the tri bes th�t �tifl'ed at tht' sleps of tla: Elllp in: (lIaT tlLese were
�Ilvages in ronSfant state of I/'fJr: .... lIi"lI legitim ated all a tte mpts to illte),lra te tlLem
by means of conquest i n to tILe po.r in("(sira.

I I This logic cOllcerns 110t only intercommunal relations, bul also tilt' up era ti o
of the community itsdf. In So uth America. wilen the demographic size of a group
go t's beyond Ihe threshold cOllsidef('d opt im u m by ils socicty, s om e of llie people
will t's\ablish :trtOli1er village fun/wr away.

1 , ,
[ H E A R C H { O L O ' Y O f V I O L E N { {

cease. why it must not cease. why it is permanent. War is

whY war cannot
vileged mo de of existence of primitivt: society. mnde up of equal. free
the pri
;]nd ind e pe n dent sociopolitic;11 u n i ts : if enemies did not exist, thty would

h:lY e to Lte inv ent ed.

Thus. the logic of primitiv(' socirty is a rt'ntrifugal logic. a logic of the
ll1u[tipk. Th(' Savages want tht multiplication of rhe multiple. Now w h at is
the maj o r effe<.:t of t e d tvcl o p mcn t of centrifugal force? It faces an i n sur­
mountable harrier. the mOSt powerful sociological obstacle to th(' opposite
forcc. centripetal forn.. the logi<.: of u nifIcation. the logic of One: the mor('
dispers i o n tlH're is. the less un ification there is. Wt' see hencl'forth that the
'lame rigorous logic determi ne's both the internal policy and ('xternal policy
of primitive socirty. On tile one h;Jnd, th(' community W;Jnts to peTSeven: i n
ils undivided b e i n � a n d prevent a u n i fy i n g authoriry - the figure o f the
commanding chief - from st'parating itself from the sodal body and intro­
d ucing social division between
M (lst('f nnd Subjects. The commun ity. 011 the
other h n n d , wants to persev(' re i n its autonomou� heing. th:tt is. remain
under th(' sign of its own Law: it thus refuses all logic tllar would I('ad it to
�ubmil to an exterior law; il is opposed to the extcrioriry of t h e unifying N ow.
whOl\ is the legal power that embraces all differences in order to
supprrss them. that t'xiSlS pr('cisely to OlboliSh the logic of lil(' mult il)le a n d
10 substitute it with the opposite l o g i c of unification? What i s the other
nal1l(, of t h i s One that p r i mif iv {' society by definition n.:fusl·!>? I t is Ihe Stall'.
Let us go back. What is the- StOlte? It is the TOtal sign of division in soci­
ety. i n that it is a sepamtc organ o f political power: society is ht'ncefonh
divided into those who exercise power and those who submit 10 it. Society is
no longer ;'In undivided We. a single- totality. b ut a fragmen ttel Ltody. a het­
('rog{'neous social being. Social division and the ('mergen("(' of the State art'
till.' deat h of primitive society. So that the commun ity might asst'rt its ditTtr­
t'll<.:e, it h as to be u n d ivid ed ; its will 1 0 be a totality exclusive of others f(;sts
on t he refusal of social division: in order to think of themselves as We t'xc!u­
...,ive o f Othe-rs, the We must be a homogen('ous social body. Extern<ll segmen­
tation, i n ctrnal non-division Olre two fact'S of a single rCillity, twO aspects
tht, <;am(' sociologic<ll funct i on i n g a n d o f tht' Sill11 C SO C i il l logic. So that the

ro rnmunily might be able to confront tht t'nemy world, i t mu!>t bl' united.
homogeneous. division-less. Reciprocally. i n order to exist in non-division, it
nl'eds the flgUfl' of the Enemy in which it can rc ad tl1(' un i fied illlnge
of its
"'()tiill being. Sociopolitical autonomy ilnd sociolog:iral n o n -d i vi sio n ilrc co n ­
ditions for each otll('r, Olnd t he ccntrifugal logic of tht crumhling is a refusal
of the u n i fying logic of the One. Ihis concrett'ly signifIes that primi
tivt, com­
m u n i t ies ('an nt'ver ,lttain grcOlt sO(' iocirolOgr;]phi<.: di m{' nsions. for t he
Ilkntal tt'!Hkocy of pri mit iv (' society is \Oward cii<;persion nnd not toward

1 b \
I H £ A R C H f O I O ' Y O f V I O L f N C {

con centr;Hi o n , toward atomiz:ation a n d n o t toward :lssembly. Ir. i n a primi­

tive soc iety, onr observes lhe action of ce n tri pe[ <l l forn:. the lendency toward
reorganization visible in the co n s.titut i on of social macro-units, it is because
this soc i ety is los i n g Ihe pri m i ti ve logic of tltt' ct'ntrifuge. it is bcca u se this
socicly is losing i ts pro pe niC's of lotaliry and un ity, it is because this society
is in th e midst o f n o l on ger being: primitive. 12
Rrfusal of u n ifica t io n , refusal of the separate One. society ilg a i n s t the
State. Each primitive c o m m u n i t y wants to rC Il1<1 i n under the s i g n of its own
Law (auto-nomy, political i n de p e n de n ce) which excludes s ocial c!1il n g e
(soc i ety will n:ll1<l i n what i t i s : tin u n d ivided he-ing). T h e refusal o f t h e State
is th e r('fusal of l'xo-nomy, of exterior Law, it is q u i te s i m ply the rc:fusa l of
s u b m iss i o n. inscribed as s u c h i n the vt"ry Slructu rt' o f p r i rn itiv(' soci ety.
Only fools c a n Iwlieve that i n order t o refusC' alienation, o n e n'us.t have
first experienced it: the refusa.! of a l i en a t io n (economical o r p o l i t ic a l )
belongs t o tht.' very b e i n g o f this society, i t exp resses its conserv<1tism, its
deliberate will ro re m a i n an ulldivideo We. DelilH:,rate. i n deed a n d n ot on ly.

the ('ffen of the ru nctioning of a social milch i n e : tht" Sav a g es k n o w well

t h a t any alteration of their social lift' (any soc ial i n n ov at io n ) c o ul d only
transliltl' illto t he loss of freedom.
What is primitive society? I t is il mu l t i p l i (' ity of u n d ivided c o m m u n i t i e s
w h i c h fl l l ob ey t h e samt" c e n t r i fu g a l l o g i c . W h a t i n s t i tu t i o n a t o n c e
l'xpresses a n d guarantt'('s the p e rrnanrll('e o f this l ogic ? I t i s war, a s the
truth of relations between comll1 u n itits, as the ]lri ncipill sod o l og i ca l means
of prom oti n g t h e [ l' n t ri fu g al fOTcr of d ispC'rsi o n against the ('I:nttiprtal
forcr of un i fi cat io n. The war nw(' h i ne is the m oto r of the social machine;
the primil ive social being relieS entirely on w;n, primitive society cannot
survive without war. The more w a f there i s . t h e less unificntion there is,
and the best enemy of the State is war. Primitive society is society ilgainst
the S t at r i n thal i t is society-for-war.
Here we are o n ce again brought back t o the thought of lIobbt.'s. With a
lucidity that has since disappeared, the English th i n ker was a b l e to <I('t('('\ the
profound l l n k, the rlose rel<l!ionship bcrwt't.'n war and the Sl{ltc. He wa s able
to sc�' tll:!t w<lr and lil(' State ,Hl' cont radictory ! N IllS, that th('Y c:'lnnot exist
tog('thrt, that each i ll1 pl i e� thc negation of I h e other: war prevents tht.' StiltC',
tht.· Statr prev (' nts war. Tht' eno r mo us error. al most fatal a m o ngst a m a n of
this [imt', is to have believed that lhe society which persists i n wilr of each
ag;linsl each is nOI truly a so c i ety: that thl' S:!vage world is nOI a soc ial

t} S\l('l! i� tlie absolutely l'Xl'III I,lnIY case uf the' Tupi-Guar<llli of SO\lltl Amt.'ril;Ol,
whose society, fro m tile mOlllt'li1 of the d iscovery of lh(' New World. w�s wrought oy
(·(·mripctal forces. hy a logic of lUllflcallon.

I • •
I ll ! A R { H f O \ O � Y O f V t O \ f N C f

rid: that. as a T( s ul t, tht" i n�t i tut ion of society involv{'s the end of war, th e

W 01J"'lT<l
" nce of tht' State, ;}n anti-war machine par exccl enc('. Incapable of
ap .
of a
. .

thin king the pnmluv{' world as n o n - n a t ural world. liobbes nevertheless

to M'C that o n e cannot think o f WilT w i th ou t the State, that one
wa'> the first
must Ihink of lht'm in a relation of exclusion. For him, [he soc ia l l i n k insti­
tUU'S i tself between men due to "a com mon Power to keep ( h e m all in awe:··
tilt' State is ilgainst war. What does primitive soci ety as a soc iol ogi cal space
of permant.'nt war tt'll us in cou n te rpo i n t? It repeats Hobbes' d isco urse by
n'vt"rsing Jt; It proclaims Ih:ll the machlne of dispersion functions against tht.'
miK hi J1t: of u n i fication; i t tells us th a t W:!r is against th(" S!ate. l l

I I .-\ t thr end of til is attempt at illl archeology of violence, various ethnologi­

cal problems arise, this aile in pa ni c lil a r : What will be the destiny of primitivr
Jl'it.'ties that let the wa r machine run ram pant? By pe rmitti n g the autonomy of
tilt' group of warriors in rt.'l ali o n [0 tilt.' comJJlunity. woulrl not the dynamic of war
ralry within it t he risk of sodal divisioll? How do primitive societies reart when
Ihi� o ccurs? Es�cntial quest!olls, for bellind tht:m lurk.. the transcendental ques­
l : r J l I ' \lnder what COllditions call social divisioll appe�r ill an undivided society?
We shall all('mlll 10 answer lhese queslions and others in a serit's of studies which
It pres('nl I('XI lI1augurates.

I • I
One cannot think of primitive society. I rect:'ntly wrOCe,l without at th e
same timr thinking of war. Inhf'rent i n the primitive social being, �n immC'­
diate and univrrsai given of its mode of operation. warlike violence 1lpprafs
in the Savages' u n iverse as the principal m('ans of maintaining: this society's
non-division. of mainta i n i n g each commun ity's autonomy as single torality.
fn:(' and independent of olhers: war, a major obstacle erected by Stateless
societies against [he machine of unification that is the State, is piHt of the
c�sen("(." of primitive society. One might as wdl say. consequently. that ,, 1 1
primitive sociery is warlike": hence, the ethnographically est;,blishC'cI univer­
sality of war in the i n fmite varitty of known primitivt societies. If war is a
societal attribute. then warlike activity functions as a determ inin g factor o f
the m <l l e being-in-the-world: in primitive soeiC"ty. m a n is. h y definition, a
wa rrior. An eq u<lti o n that, as we sll;111 see, when brought to light, illuminates
the frc qu(,nlly a n d often fooli'ihly debateu question o f social r e l at i o n s
bl:lween men and wo nH 'n in primil ivt" ..,oriety.

I Cf. -Archt'olngil' dl' I.. violttlct." /illfe. 7 7 - 1 1C1lapter Ell'ven ofthb bookl

} 6 9
l H E U C H f () L O G Y 0 1" V I O L t N C f

Primitive ma n, as such, i s a warrior; each male adult is eq ua l to the

warlike function. which, though it allows - even Gills for - acknowledged
differences in individual talents. particular qual itit:�. pt:rsonill bravery and
know·how (in short, a h ierarchy of prestige), it excludes, on the other hand,
any unegalitarian d is pos i t io n of thr wa rriors on thr axis of po lit i cll l power.
Warlikc activity does not tolerate. any more than economic a c t i v i ty Or
soc ial life in times of peace. the division of the warrior community - a s i n
Cli l military organizations - into soldiers·performers an d chiefs·comman­
ders: discipline is not the prinrip;'! 1 force of primitive ;'!rmies : obedience is
not the fIrSt duty of the bask combatant; the rhirf doe-s not exercise any
commanding power, ror, c on tra ry to an opinion t h Cl t is as fal,>e a,> it is
widespread (tha t the chief h"" n o power, e.rcepT in rimes of lI'ar) , th e warrior
leader is at no moment of the c:x ped iti on ( prep,u.1 ti o n . h.1tt l(', rnfeiltl in a
pos i ti on - should such lJe his i ntt:: n t i o n - to i m p o s t:: his will, to give a n
order w h i ch he knows ahead of time will not be obeyed. I n o t h r r w o rd,>. war
dot'S not. any more than peace. allow the chief to act the chi("f. To de'> rribt::
the- true figure of tile- savage- cllief in his warrior d i n1l'ns i o n ( w hat usc is a
w ar chief!) requires s pe cia l treatment. I.�t us nott:: for now that war docs not
open a new fIeld i n the politirill relations between m en : the war chief and
the warriors remain Equals; war neve-r cre-ales. even temporari ly. division in
primitive society between those who command and those who obey; lhe
will for freedom is not ranreled by the- will for victory, even at the prke of
operation;l1 efflciellry. The w a r machine. by itselr. is incap.11l1e of {'ngender­
i n g i n equality in primitivr sodety. Travelers' and missionarirs' ;'!neient
chronicles and ethnologists' recent work concur on Ihis observation: w he n <l
chi ef seeks to impose his own d esi rr for war on t he commun ity. the latter
abandons h im. for it wa nts to exerc ise its free col l ective will and not submit
t o the law of a desire for power. At best, a chief w h o wanls to act the chief
is shunned; at worst. he is killed.
Such. t h t n , is tIl(' structural relationship p r i m i t i v C' SOCi ety generally
maintains with war. Now, a certain type of primitive- SOCiety e x ists (existe-d)
i n the world i n which the reliltionship to war wen I far bryonrl Wll;,!l was said
above. These wt:: fe societies i n which warlike activity was somehow subdivid·
cd o r overdetermined: on thr one hand, it assumed, as in all primitive soci·
eties. the properly sociopolitical function of m a i n t a i n i n g comm un itie� hy
cea sel es sly digging and red i ggi n g: the gap between the-m: on tht other hand.
it unfolded o n a completely d i ffe ren t level, no l on g er ;1'> a po l it ic a l means of
a soc i ol ogical st rategy - letting celHrifugal forces play thl'mselves ou t i n
order to w;ml off all forces o f u n ifIcation - but i n deed as a private go,t!. as
rhe IN1";0r 'S personal ('lid. W<lr at this levr-l is n o longer a qruelural e ffe ct of
a primitive society's mode of opt"riltion; it is an absolutt:ly fret· (lnr! in<1ivid·

J 7 0
l H ! � H H [ O L O G Y O f � I O l ! N ( !

ual e nt e
rpr ise i n thal it p ron eds only from the warrior's dl'cision: the war­

ri r
o obey!> only the law of his dr,>in' or will .
Woul d war, then. be the sale arfair of the warrior in this case? Despite
[he extrt'mdy pe rson a l i:le d aspect of w a rl i ke activily in this type of society.
it is rathe-r clt"a r that it dots have an ('ffect on the sociol og ical level. What
the twofold dimension that war assumes here assign to the
nl'W figure does
sod:!1 body? It is u pon this body thal a strange space - a fo re i gn space - is
outlined : an unforeseeahle- orga n is alt:!ched to it: rl/r particular social grollp
rOIl�ril U/('(1 by rile cllsclllblr of Il'arriors.
And not by the ensemble or men. For not ;lll me n i n these societies art
necessarily warriors; illl do not hear the call to ,"\rms wi th equal i ntrnsiry;
on ly some reali:le their warlike vocation. In other words, the w arri o r group is
made up of a mi nor i ty of men in thi s type of sodety: those who have delib­
erately chosen to devote t h emselvt.'s . full tillle, so to speak, to w a rli ke Clctivi·
\Y. th ose for whom war is the v('ry fou ndat io n of tlleir being. tht:: ul ti mate
J;o i nt of hon or, the exclusive meaning of their livt::s . The difference hetween
lht' p:en era l case of primitive societies and the panicular case of th e se soci­
etit '> appears i mmed i at el y. Primitivt' soc iety be i n g warlike by essence, a l l

men there art" warriors: potential wMrio rs. because the st<l te of war is perma·
ne llt ; actual warriors. when. from time to time. arml'd contlict erupts. And it
i'> pH'ciscly because all men af(' always ready for war that a special group.
more warlike than the othe rs, Cilnnot differentiat(" itself from the hean of lhe
masrul ine community: tht' rdation to w ar is e-quClI fo r all. In (he casc o f
"warrior ,>oc ie( ies. howe-ve-r, Wilr ;'!Iso ass u mes the character of a personal

vocation op('n to all males. sinct each is free 10 do what he W<lnts. hut which
only so me . in fact, reali:le. This sig ni fie s that. in the general case, all mt"n go
to wa r from time to t ime. Cl n d th at. in th e particular case, SOllie men go ro
I/'(I( cOl1srantly. Or, to say i t e-v('n more c l eilrly: in "warrior" soc;it'ties, ;;Ill men
go to w a r from time to t imt:: . when t h e community as ;;I w h o l e is co n cern ed
(,l11d we a rt:: brought once again to the general ea sel ; but. i n ildditi on, a cer·
i<i i n number among them are const ;) n t ly e n gaged in w <lT l i k(' expeditions,
('ven if t he tribe for thr t i m e' being finds itself i n r el a t iv e pt::a rc w ith neigh·

boring groups: tht::y go to war on t he ir own and not ill respollse to a collec�
t ive i m p erativr .
Whidl, of course. does not in any way s i gn i fy tl1<1{ so c i ety rem<lins inclif­
rtrtnt or inen before the activism of its warriors: war, o n the contrary. is
(,x<lltrd. the victorious warrior is aJebTtltc::(!, and his ex pl oi ts arr p r.tised by
;.11 in great festivals. A pO'>itive relat i o n thus ('xi'>ts between sociery <ll1{l the
Warri o r. This is indeed why thl'''e soc i e ti es are- distinctly w a rl ike . Still. it w i l l
h(' n e-cess ary to elucidate the very re al and unt:xpectedly profound relation­
"hip thar links a comm un i ty such as th is 10 t he slightly enigmatic group of

J 7 J
I H £ A H � f O I O G Y O f V I O l E N C E

Its warrio�. But where dot's one fmd such societies?

We should first not� that the wa rlike societies do not represent a spe ci fiC
irreducible. immutable essence of primitive soci ety : th ey are only a part icula ;
ease. this particulariry havin g to do with the- special place occ u pied by war_
like activity and warriors. In other words. all primitive societies could trans­
form themselvl's into warlike- societies. depending o n local circumstances
either external ( fo r example, neighboring groups' increased aggressiveness :
o r, o n the co nt rary, the ir weaken i n g. inciting a n i ncrcase of artac ks on them)
or internal (the exaltation of tht' warlike ethos i n the system of norms that
orders collective l'xi:'.tcnce). Furthermore, the path can be tr,wl'led i n the
op posi t e directi o n : a warlike society could very well cease to he one, i f a
change i n the tribal �thic or in Ihe sociopo l itica l cnvironml'n t alters the taste
for war or limits i l s field of application. A primitive society's becoming war­
like, or its �ventu.:ll return to the cI<lssic, previous situCltion. pertains to spe­
cific, 10C;l1 h iStory and C' l h n ography. which is sometimes possible to reconsti­
tutr. But this is ;lnothl:r problem.
Beco m i n g w a r l i ke is thus a p o s s i b i l i t y for a l l p r i m i t i v e so c i e t ies .
ASS uredly, then. ;ll] over the world. throughout the course of the m i l l e n n i a
t h a t this primordi;:l1 mode of h u m a n soei;ll org<lniz<ltion h;lS lasred. there
have been wa rrior societies here ;lnd there. em('rgi ng t hen disa ppeari n g. But
n a tu ral l y it would nOt be enough to refer only to the sociological pos si bi l i ty
of all primitive societies becoming warlike societies. and to th(' probabiliry of
such a n evolution. The ethnologist, fortunately. hilS ilccess 10 ra ther ancient
documents i n which warlike societies aTe described i n great detail. lie m ay
even be l ucky enough to conduct nrldwork among o n e of these soc i et i es. a
rare occurrence and all the morc pre('ious. The American cont i n en t, :lS m uch
i n the North as in the So u t h . offers a rat h e r large s;l mp l i n g of Societies
w h ich, beyond tiltir differences, have a remarkahle com mon ;llity: they h ,we .

10 varying drgrees, pushed their warlike vocation quite f;l r. i n stitutional i7Cd
brotherhoods of warriors. allowed war to occupy a cent ral place i n t h e politi­
cal and ritual l i fe of the social body. accorded social recogn ition to th i s orig­
inal, almost asocial form of w a r and to the men who w;)ge it. Explorers'
reports. <ldvc nturers' chroni cks, missionaries' accounts i n form us that such
was the C;)S(' with thl' Huron, th{' Algonkin :lnd the Iroquois; more r{'(' ent
n a rr<ltives h;lve been added to these old accounts. conFirmi ng t h e m : the nar­
ratives of lncii;ln cap t ives, official Amt.'riran documt.'nts kivil ;lnd military).
and the a u tob iogra p h i es of vanquished warriors, speak to us of rht Cheyen n e
and thr Sioux. tlH' BI;lckfoot and the Apache.
JUSt as bellicose hut less well-known. South Amtrica provides a nthropo­
logical rest'<lrch and r{'flection w ith ;\11 i ncom pa rcl bl r nehJ of study const i t ut­
ed by Ihl' Grand Chaco. Situ;lled at the hean of the South American conti-

I 7 1
l il t A R ( II ! O I O G Y O f V I O l f N ( f

and vast tropical region covers a good part of Paraguay.

rnt. th is austere
and Bolivia. The climat!' (vcry contrasting sl!asons) . the hydrogra­
� rgrnt in;l
few rivers). Ihr flora (abundant'e of tho rny vegetatio n adapted to
hv (very
water) combine to make the Chaco vrry homogeneous from
�1� scarcity of
of virw of nature. But it is even more so from the point of view of
th t' poi n t
out on the Soulh American ethnographic horizon with the.>
cult ure : it stands
{'ultural area. O f the numerous tribes thai oeeu­
sharpness of a determineu
perfectly. no doubt better
pird this te rrito ry, most of them. i n effect, i l l ustrate
than ;lny oth rr society, wh a t is h:lhitUillly understood by warlike cullurt': witr
is tilt' ;]ctivity most highly valorized hy society, it is the quasi-exclusive
occupat ion of <I select number of men. The first Spa n ish Conqu istadors. who,
having b<lrely reached the edge of the Chi'lco, had to confront lh e repeated
<lss;l ults or the c/IGl{!I !'110S I ndians, q uickly learned this at their own expense.
Now it so h<lp]lens that, thi'lnks to the luck of h ist ory and to the Jesuits'
tenacity. we h<lvC consider<lble documentation on !he p r i n c i pl es of these'
tribes. During the 1 8th century, until their expUlsion in 1 7 68. the Jesuits.
en(ourag{'d by thrir successes ;lmongst thr GU;lrani Indians, att rm pt cd 10
i ntl'gr<1te the Chaco into their missionary t.'nt e r p ris e The failure, s t art i ng

hefore the expUlsion, was almost total and. as the Jesuits themselves cmpha­
<;in', somew h a t inevit;lhle: against the evang('lk;l1 mission rose the insur­
mountable obstacle of t he I n d ia ns rti :l hol i ca l warl i k e passi o n
' . Unable to
a<;srss d1e positive rrsul!s of a successful spiritual conquest, the missionaries
r{'signed themselvrs to n:flel'ting on their f:l i l u n' and e xpla i n ing it by the
pa tli cul ar nature of the soci eties that fate had assi gn ed to thr m : hl'nCt, luck­
ily for us, the m iss io n:1 rit's superb descriptions. e n riched by years of daily

contact w i t h tht" I ndia ns. by the knowl edgr of their l a ngu<lges, by the Jtsuits'
genuine fondness tow;lrd (hese ferocious warriors. And thus. tht' n;lme of
/l.1il rtin Dobrizhoffer is henceforth associated with the Ahipone tribe. that of
Florian Paucke with the Mocovi, that of Jose Sanchez Labr<lc\or w i t h the
fa mous GUilicuru-Mbaya. as well as Ihe work of Pedro Lozi'l no, historian of
the Society of Jesus, devoted especially to the Chaco socil:ties).
These tribes have, for the most p:lrt. disappeared. The rxemplary testi­
monies kepping alive tlltir memory are thus douhly preciolls. But n o matter
how precise and detailed. these hooks C<1l1not take th(' plilCl: of direct obser­
vation of a l i v i n g soci ety. This poss i h il i ty was offered to me i n 1 9&6 in thr
Paraguayan p<lrt of lhl: Chaco, close to the P i l colll<1Yo river which separ<ltes
Argentina from Pa ragu ay This river's middle rurrrill borders the territory of

til" Chul u pi Indians !O thl' somh. bew·r known in ethnographic l iterature by

[hr ( i n accurale) n<lm(' of Ashluslay but whose self-designation is Nivakle. a

J cr. bibliogr;mhy.

I 7 J
l H f A H H f O I O G Y O f V I O I { N ( {

n'rm which, as one might e x pect, s im ply means ··Mrn." Estim attd at 20,000
at the heginning or th e century, th� Chulupi now se('m to have halted the
demographic decline which thr(,;l.tened them: today there ar� around 10,000.
I stayed with them ror s i x months (May-October 1966). a cco m pan i ed i n my
t r avels by two IndiCln in tcrpreters who. in add i tion 10 the i r own ICln g ua ge,
spoke Spanish a n d Guarani fl ue n tly. ·)
U n t i l the early 1 9 3 0s, the Paraguayan C ha co was an almost exclusive­
ly Indian territory. a lerra incognita which the ParaguClY.\nS had hardly
(laempted to penetrate. And so Ih� t ri bes there I('d their traditionfll, free,
a u t o n o mo us lives. where war. especially a m o n g the Chulupi-N ivakle,
occupied a preponderant place. Following attempts by the Bolivian State
10 flnnex this region. a murderous w a r e rup t �d in 1 932, the Chaco war,
which set the Bolivians agCl i n s t the Pa ra g uay a n s ulltil 1 9 3 5 . a n d which
saw the dereat of t h e Bolivian ;nmy. The Indians. extran�ous to this inter­
n a t i o n n l conflict. were neverlhcItss its first v i c t i m s : t h i s fierce w a r
(50.000 de at hs on r ach side) occurred on their t('Tritory, a n d notnhly o n
t ha t of t he Nivakk, forci n g the Indinns to flee the com b a t zones a n d irre­
mediably upheaving tr;Hl it i o n a l social l i fe. Wanting to consolidate th e i r
vil:tory, t h e Paraguayans erected a chain or rorts along the frontiers. and
the garrisons also prot ect ed colOnists a n d religious missions installrd on
thls virgin tt'rritory, against po t en ti al I nd i a n attacks. Tilt' tribe's age-Old
freedom was now over: fairly continuous cont:1ct with the whites and the
usual erfects (t-pidrmics. exploitation, :1lcoholism. etc.) d i d n o t take lo n g
to spre ad destruction a n d death.
The most warlike communities n evert heless reacted better than the oth­
ers: t h is is lhe case of the Chul ul)i4 who, rel ying o n a p owe rrul war eth os
Clnd tribal solidilrity. were abl(' to maintain relative auto n o my. That is to

1 All thes!' societies (AlJil)Onr. Mocovi, Toba. (Juaicuru, Chu l upi . ('(c.1 were
equestrian trib('s wh ic h h a d acquired horses well before the North American
ludians. l Iorses are seen among the Abipone from the beginning o f the 17th cen­
tury; the Chulupi b('came horsemC'n lowanl the beginnillg of the t9th cenlury. The
iH,:qllisition o f the horse had. of course, pro foun d effectS on thr life of these soci­
eti�s, but d i d not alter their rapport witll war: war was simply intensified by the
mobil ity that the horses assured t)l(' combat3ms, and their techniqlles were adapt­
ed t o this new " a T machine that is a Zllount (one doC's 110t fight in Ihe same way
011 foot and on horseback).
-[ Of the abllndalH ethnograp hic Illnu:rial gathrrrd amongst tll(' Chulupi-Nivaklc,
only a Wi)' small portio n of it hns been publislll'd to th is day. Cf. -De quai rient Ics
Indi('lls.- in In Solicle cvurre- /'rrnr. Ed iti o ns dr Milluil, 1974 I)-oeicly Against tire
5101(', New York. ZOIlt' I looks. 1987J. This warlike tribe will lit' tl1r sull en of a subse­
qucnt publiciltioll.

I 7 ,
I ll f A R C H f O t 0 6 Y O f Y I O l f N ( F

al t he time of Illy stay amongst these Ir1(iians, the war had been
s y Ihal

o er
ror them long ago. And yet, Jllany men, then fifty or sixty years Old.
" e�n fo rm e r WClrriors (former combatants) who, twenty or twenty-five

before ( i n the early '40s) still pitil essly ambushed their h e red i tary
� n e n1 i ts . t h e Toba I n d i a n s , w h o o c c u p i e d t h e o p p o s i t e b a n k of tile
Pi](o tl layo in Argentina. I had fre q ue nt conversations with s eve rn l of them.
Tht' fresh m(" mo ry of rather recent combats, Ih(' warriors' desire lo eXillt
tht iT war exploits. the passionate attention of the young m�n w ho l ist e n ed
to tht'ir fathers' stories: all or this made mc want to know more about the

"wnrrior" sot"iety, about the rit es and techniques of Indian wa rfare. about
t he- rdation hetween society and its wClrriors. A<:, much as 10 th e <:hronicle<:,
of a San c hez L<1brador or a Dobrizhoffrr. I am indebted to these men - for
darifying Illl' st atu S of the- wflrrior in their own community - for i1 110wing
me to gl i mpse the traits that makc up the proud rigure of the Warri or, to
l orate the ne("�ssilry lines of movem e n t that describe the w a rli kc l i ft:. to
understand (for t h ey told mC': th ey know) t he savage w a rrio r' s de stiny.
Let u<:, consider, for e x am p l (' , the case of t h ree tribes or the ChClCO.
becau<:,e they il l ustrate perfectly the s i n gul a r world of warrior societies and
hecause the documtnlatlon concerning Ihem is very rich: the Abipone, the
CiuClleuru. and the Chulupi. Institutionally accepted and recognized by soci­
t'ty ilS a detennined pl<"lce i n the sociological fI eld, or as a p<1rticul<lr organ of
t h e s o c i <l I body. t h e warrior groups arc called, respectivrly: H o c he ro ,
Niadagaguadi. Kailll okle. These terms denote not only these men's principnl
,lltiVlty ( w a r). but a l so their a pp urte n ;:t ncc to a n o rde r whosl' superiority is
socially admi tted (a " nobil ity," say the chroniclers), to a sort of chivalry
whose prestige reflects on the entire society: the tribe is proud of ils warriors.
To enrn the name of warrior is to w i n a tirle of nobility.
This superiority or the warrior group rests exclusively o n the prestige
that war ex p lo i ts procure: society functions here as a mirror that g ives the
Victorious warrior a rathe-r flattering image of h imsel r, not only so (hat h{'
w il l drl'nl l egiti m a te the effo rts depl oyed and the risks taken, hut al s o so
that he w i l l b� encouraged to pursue and carry out his brllicose vocation, to
[ll'fSeVcre, in sum, in his warrior bf' ing. Festivals, ce rem o n i �s , d an ces , chnnts
an(] d ri n k i n g parties coll('ctively celebratc or co m me mo ra te h is exploit s, ;'Inc!
Iht Abipone Hochero or C hu l u pi Kaanokle experiences, in the secrtt depths
of his bei n g, lhe truth of this re cog niti o n . meshing the ethical world of trib­
III va l u es and thr private warrior's individual pOInt of hOllor.
This is to say that this hierarchical arrangement - not only accepted hy
\Ociery but desired - which acknowledges the warrior's superior social sta­
lU<i, do es not go beyo n d thr sphere o f prestige: it is not a h i l'Ta rch y of
jl(lV/ cr whirh t h e warrior group poss('sscs anti e x erc i se s over society. N o

I 7 \
l H f A R ( H E O I O G Y o r V I O L f N { !

relation or dependence forces society to ohey thl' warlike m i nority. Warlike

c::oC"lety does nOt allow social division to rupture the homogeneity of the
social body any more than any Other primitive society; it does nOt let the
warriors institute themselves as an organ of political power separated from
society; it does not kt the Warrior incarnate lh(' new rlgure or Master. Still,
it would be Jlt'cessary [0 a n alyze in depth lhe procedures that socirty imple­
m e n ts in order to maintain the distanre between w a rriors and power. It is
this essential disjunction th,l{ Sanchez Labrador observes, having noted the
propl'nsity of thc Guaicuru noblemen-warriors to hoasting and braggi n g :

. . .thrrc is, in t ruth. little dirrert'ncc between a l l of them (I. p . 1 5 1 ).

Who arc the warriors? As one might well imagine, aggressiveness and
bellicosity generally diminishing with <lge. warriors are p ri m < H ily recruited
from a sel e c t (lge gro up : that of young men over 1 8 . The Guaicuru in par­
ticular developeo it compJrx ensemhle of cer(,monial activities arouno war,
ceirhrating a hoy 's reaching tile age to carry arms ( afte r 1 6) with a verita­
ble rile of pi'ls<;agr. I n the cour�(' of (he ritual. the adolescc'1ts underwent
p fl i n rul physical trials and had to distribute all t h e- i r goods (weapons,
clothing:, ornamenb) lO the people of (he tribe. This is a specifkal1y mili­
tary ritual, and n o t a n i n i t i a ti o n ritl': the latter is cele b ra t ed ei'lrlier. ror
boys 1 2 to 1 6 yrars o ld . But 111(' yo un g men who su cc ('ssfu l l y underwent
the w a r r i o r r i t u a l nevE'rth e l ("<;<; did n o t b e l o n g to the g r o u p of t h e
N iadagaguadi, t h e brotherhood o r warriors. t o which only ii particular type
of exploit g{1ve access. Beyond the riW<l1 diffrrences of these societies, a
mi l itary (,<lTeer WitS o p t n to all young mcn i n all the tribes of the Chaco. As
for t h e (' n n obl e m en t resu l t i n g from e n t raore i n t o th(' warrior group. i t
depended exclu�ively on the novicr's I)ersonal valor. A totally ol'tlJ group,
c onseq u e n tly. (which s h o uld prevent viewing th i s group as a closed caste
in gestation), buc a mil10riry group at the same time, for <'Ill young men did
not come La accomplish the exploit required. a n d among those who d id
succeed. /lot all desired (IS we shall sec) to be socii111y Terognized and
named warriors: t h at (I C' h ulup i or Abipone combatant refust' the covCled
title of Kaanokle or HbcheTo suffict's to show, through the imponance of
the renouncement. the- greatn t's" or what he hopes lO preserve i n exchange.
In this onc Ci1n read prrC'isely whi1t being a warrior signifies.
Th(' warrior has passion for Wilr. A singlilnrly intense p a "is io n in the
trihes of the Chaco. as their chroniclers explain. Of the Guaicuru. Sanchez
Lahrador wri [t's :

I 7 6
l l1 f A R ( II I D L O G Y o r V ( O t ! N C f

They art' totally indirreren t to evrl)'Lhing, but wk(' ran' of

their horses. their labrets, and their weapons with great Zl'a1.
(I. p. 238).

Dobrizho rfer confirms this disabused observation regarding the same

GuaicUTU :

Their principal and unique care and knowledge are of horses

a nct weapons (I. p. 190).

But t his (llso goes for the Abipone who. from this point of view, a re no
\)t'trfr I ha n the Guai(·uru. Dohrizhoffer, horrirled by the wounds i nflkred o n
children. note" that this is

iiprelude to war for which they arr trail1rd at a very young

age (II. p. 48).

The consequence or this pedagogy or viole-nce was a m aj or ol1r ro r i'I

mbsionary priest: hardly IHepured to p ra ctice Christian virtues. the Abipone
activt.'ly avoided the ethics of lOlling one allotller. Christianization. writes the
Jesuit, was destined to failure:

... the young Abipone are an obstacle to thr progrrss or reli­

gion. I n their ardent desire for military glory and spoils, they
are avidly cutting the heads of the Spanish and destroying
their carts and their fIelds... (11. p. 148).

Young men's tastc ror war is no less intense in otherv.;ise very dirferrllt
SOCieties. I t is thus that at t h e other end of the American c o n t i n e n t i n
Canada, Champl<lin ortcn rails i n his rfforts t o maint<lin pl'are <lll1ong t he
Iribrs w i th whom he woulo like to forge an alliance: always the same insti­
gators of war, the young men. His l o n g-term strategy. based on establishing
peaceful relations between t h e Algo n ki n and the Iroquois, would have suc­
ceeded. perhaps, were i t not for

...nine or ten scatterbrained young n1<'n [who] undertook t o

g o t o war, which they did without anyone being able to stop
them. ror thl' little obl'diencr they give to their chiefs... (p.

I 7 7
' n , � � l ll t U l U b Y O f V I O l f N ( f

The F r en c h Jesuits l' xperit'n ct'd t h e same disappointments in thcs'

' G ermiln and Spanish cou �terpans i n the Ch a co a century
regIOns as t h elr
later. Want .i n g to stop the war that t]H.'lr allies the J l u ron w ere waging on the
Iroquois, and at the very least save the p riso ncrs of war from Ihe te rri bl e tOr_
tures that the victors would i n fl i ct, they systematically attempted to buy
back the Iroquois cap ti ves from the HUron. To such an offer of ransom, here
is what an indignant Huron chit'f answered:

I am a man of war and not a merchant, I have come to fight

and not to barga i n ; my glory is not in b r i n ging back pre-­
scnts, u u t in bringing back prisoners, a n d l ea v i n g , I can
touch ncitlle-r your hatchets nor your cauldrons; if you w a nt
our pris on e rs so m uc h , take them. I stUl have en ough courage
to find othrrs; if the enemy takes my life, it wi!! be s a id in
Ihe country that since Ontonio� too k our prisoners, WI.' threw
o u rs el ves into death to get others (1[1. year 1 644, p. 48).

As fo r t he Chulupi Indians, their veterans told m e how. between 1926 and

1 935. i n preparation for a pa rt i cul arly decisive and dangerous raid against the
Bolivtan and Argentinean soldiers. thcn determined to extermin<lte them, they
had to turn aW;IY dozens of very young men whose i m pet u os ity and lark of
discipline tllfe<H(' ned to compromi"e the sucress of the expedition. indced, to
turn it into a disaster. We do not need you, said the Kaanokle, there are
enough of us, There wcre sometimes n o mort than twelve.
Warriors are thus young men . But why are y oun g men so enamored of
w a r? Where does their passion originate? What, in a word. makes the w arrio r
tirk? It is, as w e have seen, the desire for prrstige, which society alone can
bestow or refuse. Such is the link that unites the warrior to his society. the
. ttrm that con n ec ts the socia! body and the w a rri or group by establish­
ing a rel ation shi p of dependence at Ihe oulSt'1: the warriors scl f-reill ilation
invol ves soci al recognition; the w a rri o r can only think of himself as such if
so ci ery recognizes him as such. Carrying OUI an individual exploit b but a
necessary condition for a ('qu i ri n g the prestige that only sorial approval c<ln
co n fer. I n o th e r words, dep('nding on the circumstances, society could very
well to recog ni ze (he va l or of a warlike action judged i n op p on u ne .
provocative or p rem atu re : <I ga me is pl<lyed between sociNy and th c wilrrior
in which o �ly the t ri b e makes Ihe rutes. The {'hronidI.'rs mC'asure the potency
of the deSir(' for prestige by the passion for war, and w h <l t DobrLdlOffer
writes of the Abipone goes for all warlike societit,s:

" rndigt'llolis !lame of tfll' FrcII('h governor.

1 7 8
1 11 £ � R C H f O t O G Y O F V I O l ! N ( f

hy of I � on � r t o he n�l
They consider the nobi lity most wort
h IS like pa t fl­
th at whic h is i n hNi ted throu
gh blood �nd whlC'
s tI� rough one s own
mony. but rather that which one obtam
merit s [ .. . 1 For t h e m , nouiJ ity resides
not 1 0 th e worth ("lncl
(II. p. 454).
hono r of lineage. but in valor and rectitude

ce; he does not Jlro �lt from the sit­

fhe warri or acqui res nothin g in advan . .
and is not n{'co m!)(lllled by pnvllege.
uilti :)n ., glory is n ot transferaule
,nw of war is ;] secon dary p
ass io n . dtrived from a r rimary p<l ss ion: til(,'
' " e an m d1-
Ilwrl' rLI ndam ental desirc for
presti ge . War here is a mean s to achlt�v
)$ ' own goa 1 .
• •

, . the w'lrrio
the w ar n o r hlll1se l r ' h IS
VI'd Ud, I g'0,,1' , rs desirt for glory,
Will not 10 powl'r but to glory � . kest an.d
: for t he warrio r, war is by far th qUlc
But how docs the w arr.lor make SoCI�
1ll 0�t effic ient mean s to sillisfy his will.
r upon 11IIn t h e p �t'stl. �e
ety rerognize him? How docs he force socil'ly to cOllfe
, does h(' advancl' to establish h�s
that hl' {'xpects? What p roof, in other words
v ict o ry? There are, first of all, the
spoils. Their at once rl'al 'l n �1 symu ollc
imporrance i n the tri bes of the Chaco is all the more
re �larkable sln ce gen er­
fo r e co n om iC en ds . l'l �v ln g � oted
ally in primit ive society, war is not waged
augm ent tiwr territo ry,
that tht' Guaic uru do not wage war i n order to
for war:
Silnch ez Labrador deflnf:s the main re,'lsons

The pri nc ipa l reason that makes them b r i n g war to a fo rei g n

territory is solely the interest for spoils an d vengeanrl' for
w h a t they consider offenses (1, p. 310),

To Dobrizhoffer, the I\bipone explained that

war against the Christians procured for them mon' henefns

th a n did pe a ce (II, p. 1 JJI.

What do the sp oi l s of w ar consist of? Essentially. metallic insl� mems,

horses and p riso ne rs. men, w om en or children. Metal's purpose .IS ? bvlou : to

inc rease the ter hnica l efficiency of weapons (;urowheacis, lance tips,. knives,
("tc.), l I o rses arc m u c h less us('fu1. I ndeed. t h e A b i p o n e , MOCOVI, Toba,
Guairuru did nOt lack horses at all: on the contrary. they h ad th ousan ds :
some l n ditl n s htld up to 400 tlni mal s find only used a ftw (for Wilr, trave!.
('ar�o), Most Abipont' families h(ld at least fifty horses. They therefo re had no
nCl:d for others ' h o rsl'S, ye t ,II the same time felt they could nev�r have
enough: it w as (I sort of sport to capture th e e ne m ies' he rds ( Sp a n .is h ?r
I ndia n), A ris ky sport. naturally. sinct' t' ach tribe jealously watrht'd over ItS

1 7 9
I H £ H C H E O l O G Y O f V I O L E N ( (

most precious good. the i m rn(.' nse herd of horses. I t was (I p re c io us good, cer�
tainly. but one of pure prestige. specTacular in its weak use a n d exch angt
value . Possessi n g thous;J nds of horse's was al so quite a burd('n for each COrn�
mun ity because of the obligations it creal('d: constant vigililnce in order to
protect t he m from the neighbors. tht: con sta n t search for pasturt:s and abun�
dant sources of water. Nev('nhcless. th(' Indians of th(' Chaco riskrd thei r
lives to steal other people's horses, knowing well that i n cre as in g their live �
stock at t h e e n e m i es expens(' would
' clo;)k t h e m in t w i c e the glory.
Dohrizhoffer indicat('s how massive thfse [hefts w (' re :

Once. in a singl e aS�<lUIT, the young A b i pont: n1("n. w h o are

more ferocious than the <lduITS. stole 4.000 horses ( 1 1 1 , p. 16).

finally. t he most presli�ious spoils: prisoners. as SiJnchri' L<lIJT<ldor


Their desire for prisoncrs and children of any other nation.

even tll(, Sp a nish, is inex p ressiblr and frenzied (I, p, 3 1 0 ) .

Less marked than among the G ualcuru. [ h e d esi re to cCipLUre enemies is

nev erthel css strong among th(' Ab i pon e or the C h ul upi Whtn I stayed with .

thr Chul up i I met two ol d people in o nr of t h e i r vi ll ages. a m a n and a


womiJn who had sp(·nt long years i n ('Clptivity n nl o ng the loo a. A f{'w ye ars
earlier, thry had bt'en reTUrned i n ('xch nnge for some Tobn priso n ers hrld by
the Chulupi. Comparing whllt SCinchez Labrador and Dobrizhoffer write of
the status of cnptives among the Guairuru and the Ahipone, there is a con­
<;iderable diffe rence in the way they art tn.-ated. According to the Sanchez
LabrCldor. tht prisoners of the Guaicuru were srrfs or slav('s. D u e to their
prrsenct. adolescents were allowed to rUn free:

They do what they Wf'ln1. without even h el pi ng their puents.

This is the sf"rvants' occupation [I. p. 31 5),

Dohrizhofftr, on t he contrary. notes rtgarding the AbEpont':

They would nevrT consider the-ir prisoners of WClr. whether

S p a n ish. InliEan or Negro. CIS serfs or sl<lves (II, p. [ 39).

I n real i ty, the tasks demCinded of the prisoners by their Guaicuru miJsters
were hardly morC' th a n d a i l y chores: gathering firewood, fetc h in g water,
cooking, for the r('st, [he " s l aves" lived l i k e their masters, pankipClting with

I 8 0
I H { 6 H H E O I O G Y O � V I O l f H { 1

in ml'l't'\ry
l , e n terprises,
· COlllmon sense explains why the vi ctors could
" 01 transfor m tile Van (luished i n t o slaves whose lahor cou Id be exp l01ted '.
ns t h ,'In
\\,!1a1 [askS woul d they
perform: There are no doubt worse con d'ItJO
s ,I I
a .l've of the Guaicuru, as S nnc h e z Labrador llmseIf exp I alns.
· ·

While the m;lSH'rs sleep, they gel drunk or do other things [I.
p. 2 5 1 1 .

1 ht' Guaicuru. moreover. hardly look an i n tcr{ <;t in til(' suh t l (' t i es of

SOCiil1 distinctions:

Their self-gl orification m n k es them conside r The r('sl of t h e

n ;l t i o n s of which t h e y h a v e k n o w ledge. i n c l ud i n g t h e
Spanish. iJS sliJves [11. p . 52).

Though it ca n not be resolved hac. we sho uld at l�ast rn i e th is prob­ �

Itm: [ ll iJ t of The particular de m og rap hy of thest" warlike SoclClles. n the �
middle of the 18th cen t u ry The G ua i c u ru numbered 7.000. Ihe Ablpone.

1),000. ShOrtly nftrr th e arrival of Ihl' Sp ;l n i sh in these rl gi on s Ihe first war

' .

lOok pl;lce i n 1 542 between the Conquistadors led by A.N. ('abez de Vaca

jJnd the Guaicuru. who at that time n umbe red a rou n d 2 1).000. I n l Ittl e more
than twO centuries. their population thus fell by more than twO thirdS. The
Ahipone certainly underwent the SOlnle d('mograpl� ic dr? p, What .'Ift� the
causes for this? We mUSt ob v iously take into consldn:ltlOn the ep lde �
l lcs
introduced uy the Europeans. But. as the Jcsuits remClrk, th e � ha co tribes.
in contrast to the others (the G ua rani, for e xa m p le) . were hostde to ca n t<lCt
_ unless b ellic ose w i th lilt" Spa n is h . and th erfore wefe relati v ely s he�
_ ­

tered from Ihe deadly microbial impact. If the ep i demics are. al i easl III I h lS
casC'. b esid e the poin!. then 10 what can t h e depopulation of The tribes be
Cltt ribulcd? The missionaries' observations on this point are very speCific, .

S urprised by the small numb er of children a mo n g t h e G ua ic� ru. Sanch�z

Lahmdor nOH�S th <l l altogether he h01s only met fou r cou ples With t�O ch il ­
dren each. the others h n v i n g o n l y one o r n o n e (II, p. 1 1 J . O obn z h offer
makes the s a me observation: the Abiponc h a ve few ch i ldre n . A m o n g thcm.
murrover. thc n u m b e r of w o m e n far ex("reds that of m e n , Th e J e s u i t
rec ords the s urely exaggerCllrc\ proportion of 100 melt t o G O O w o m e n ;
henCt. t he greal rrequ,n,y o r polygyny I I I . p p . 1 0 2 - IOJI.
There is no doubt (hiJt the morta lity of young men wns vrry high and
tha t The (h<lcO t r i bes p a i d a h('(lvy price for t h e i r passion for war. This is
not however. what nC'counl S for Ihe low dt'mogr<lphiC: the polygynous mar­
, .

ring es wo ul d have hCl(\ lO co m pensate for the losseo;; in nwn. It seems eVident

1 8 1
l il t H l H I: O t O G Y O f Y I O L f N ( f

that the drop i n population was provoked not by the excess monality of
men, but by th(" lack of natal ity: there were not enough children, To bt
more specific: there were few b i rths because tile women did nor want to
l1a1lc chi/drC/!, And this is W ilY one of the goals of war was to capture rhe
rl1ildrnr of orlJrrs. An operation that was often successful, by the way: the
tribes' captive children and adoit'scents. particularly the Spanish. generally
refust'd to leave when they had the chance. Nevertheless, these societies
(rsprcia l1y the Abipone, Mocovi and Guaicuru). by the very fact of the war­
like dynami(. found thelmelves confronted with the question of their own
survival. For should not these twa distinct and conv('rgent desi res he l i n ked:
the rlesire of society to Lring war and death elsewhen.... the in(lividual desire
of women not to h<1ve children? The will to give death. on the one hand, the
refus<11 to give birth. on the other. [n satisfying i l s warlike passion. the
haughty chiv<1lry of the Charo pointed. tragically. toward the possibility of
ils OWIl death: sharing this passion. young women agre("d to b e the wivrs of
w a rriors. but not the mothers of their rhildren.
War's mid-term socioecono m i c effects in these societies remilin to be
outlined. Some o f these societies (Al)ipollr, Mocovi. Guaicuru) had long since
abandoned agriculture. because permanrnt war and pastoral needs (seeki n g
new pasturrs for the horses) were nOI suited 1 0 seden t<1ry l i fe. Thus. they
berame nomads on their terrilOry in groups of 100 to 400 people. living from
hunting. fishing ;"Ind collect i n g (wild pl<1nts. hOllcy). If Ihe rcpe;"lted raids
against the enemies at fIrSt aimed at conquering prestige goods (horses, pris­
o n e rs), they also assumed ;1 properly economic dimension: to procure not
only equipment goods (weapons), but also C"onsuntrr goods [edible cultivated
plants. cotton, (O\)acl"Q, beef. erc.). In othrr words. without exaggerating the
{'Xu�nt of these functional tendencies of w;"Ir, the r;"lids also Leconte enterpris­
es of pillaging: the Indians found it easier to procure the goods they needed
with weapons in hand. Such a practice could in the long-run create a two­
fold rC'lation of economic dependence: society·s extt'fnal dependl;'nce o n the
places producing tht desired goods ('sscntially the Spanish colonies); the
tribe·s intcrt\<ll dependence on 1he group [hat ,H least panially assuTl'd its
subsistence. namely the warrior group. And so. i t is not too surprising to
leam that thl.'" term the GU<ticuru used to designatt· not only h U nlcrs. but
warriors, was Niadagaguadi. thosl;' thanks to whom w(' eal.
Would not this cronomic ··perversion" of war i n societies tot<tlly devoted
to it. be. rather than a local <1('Cident. the effeC( of a logit" inherent to war
itself? Does not the warrior f<1t<1lly t ransform himsC'lf into a looter? This is
what we arc ltd 10 helit'vl' by primitivl' sm:ieties who followed an fl.nalogous
p<1th, Th l' Apache, for eX<'Imple (cf. b i b l iogmphy). having <1h<1ndoned agricul­
ture, gradually a l l owl'rl war to assume ;"ln ('l·onomic fun c t i o n : they systemati-

O f V I O L f l( C f
l H f 6 R ! H f O t O G Y

of �ht'
. und er the com ma nd
Me XIc an and A me ril"a n set tlem ents.
(<'Illy pil laged . d m i l itary action
" amo ng ot I1l'rs. w hos . e tribe onl y tolerate
eron l m 0
fa rll OU
S G but stro ngl y al·ded
' log ic of war. perhaps,

ugh spOIls were produ ced . Th(
o th
p o ss essio � � \�; 7:· d e m e nts that comprised the spoilS war
of the
an, s
l e
Th e delal a t h e W. H TlOr as
hed rt'cogn itio n of
uld S U ggtst tha ' t thry aI o n e es t , hlis' .
stig e. ·I'h'
co ' . sou ght -after pre IS
ess n t · a l sour ce of the
s urh , that spO Ils were t�e t: \ e n H 6 chero o r the K ;"I anokl c
pu r n a ce to the
cas e. an d t I;' ilp pris one rs
i� no t the .
num ber of hor ses or
't('rm rned by the . .
�rollP waS , no t 1'n ,any w;"ly d(
ry rile
capturer ! : r r
ed III
scalp oj a,r ('ltrmy .�!ll
tra diti on is as old i n
:l'lIS ::: �
bac k
Sou :h
l Y ��awar; tha t this
bril l

We ,lTe ge n d It.
. . . the Charo trib l's respecte
th Am eflr a. Al mos. t all .
AIlH'rt. Ca as 1I IS in Nor
com bat .
young vic tor s deS i re to
xp lici tl y sig n ified thl;'
To Sl' ClII> the fallen enemy e

. , l
ll s cerem onies celebratl' d t he
rW<1rT1or . I n re. .sive .
he a( I mlt ' ted I·ntO Ih(' du b 0 -
rec . o g n .l z i .n g h i s dcf init ive righ t to the title
me mb er.
ent ran ce of the new to pos i t this
. r, It is nec ess ary. thu s.
obl t'm l;'nt - 0 r WlI rrlo
for tl1l<; was �n cnn . mit of the soc ial hie rar
chy 0t'
ble equ atro n: tll� wa rno rs OC CUPY the sum lps
dou to kin his ene mie s. sta
ge ; a wa rn 'or IS ,CI tll ;"ln w I 10, not conl ent
pre stI ene my wit hou t 5c;"l lp-
mmediat e ronse n ce a m a w ho kill s the
them. I �p,l(� : . n but o n e
insign i ficant distin ction.
rrro r. A see m l n gl y
i ng. h i m is not (I ll'a .
' be of eXl rem t' I m p o rtan
tha t reve;"l I.s ltSe If. to not dis-
of sca I ps. anis h heads of h:1i r. tho ugh
Th ere IS a hIe rar chy
S for the
s . Thu s
as est el;'mp e{I as I hos e of I n d i a n
elaIn, e d . wer e no t by far 5. Ikf orc a nd
r ele rna l cIH'mic
equ al a To�)a SC,I1. p, t hei
l'hu lup i. not hin g cou ld

Bol ivia n
'tub bOr nly rl;'sisted the
the Chu lu[l l w a rnors
dun, ng the Ch aco war. . occ upa nts.
and I;'xt cTm inat e ils
seiz e th CIT tern't o
arm y wh ich wan led 10 . atta cked the
terr aln r the Ch�ry UP'i wat che d for and
Adm ir<lb le cxp erts of the e eom ­
\ Ind ians told me of thes
ade rs nca r the rare sources 0' walcr. I le
lIlV , ic-striCken by thir st
o w or" .. l)an
hats. SIle nt arro:-,s d,ecim ,ate d the troopS. w h
s per-
. ' s of Bol ivia n sold iers thu
lsrb le ene m Hun dTtd
and the terror o t .' : lI1 Inv r w Ind ian s gav e up
. e 0 arri ors ·s<li d. tha t the
Ished; so many. In any. case ' lock s. All the se
r S I a �l �gh t back only offrcers
a n e
arr<lnged in cases �
: ��ir :wn��. ca.refully � �l�a�� �h�:
:;at� �� ;ti� �e�t �I he S al s
b �[et: when tht'y die. thei r relativ es W il l burn
a � a n C l � ��a:��t' for the soul
l p. "
. th of eas ' y access to Ka, n k
the smoke- wrll mark a pa
. n tha t of a Tob" war rior
. oke mo re 110hi e tha
of (he deceased. There .IS no s or tied to war
< •

l e from the cei ling of hut

'Iral P,6 � '" ('my ��: �� � ��(��t ��� n"e ritual activ i ty (feSl ivnl s of celeh ra-

r O b e
<1nees. 1 h ey w
. buy sca lp'
vam : to (fade for or 10
f' l hav e a\lempted several timt.' d
thelf sOll l to tIIe
s, always
eviI .
the III\I ians , lih o;ellmg
Ihis wonld have bee n, ror

I a J
I n t a � l K I U l U � Y O F V I O l I: N ( f

tion or of com mem orat ion]: Ihis

illustrat{'s the dept h of the pers
onal l i n k th
. I t h e Wilm. or to h·IS trophy.
un lle{

' Iere. t�e� . essentially. is the t.'thnographic context in which the l i fe of

warr�.or SOCieties unfold s. and tht.' horizon upon which the most secret web of
relations between warnor and tribe is spun. Let us notc i mmediately that if
these rel ations were static. if the relations betwet'n a particular warrior group
and S�CI(,ry as a w hol e were stable. inert or sterile, thC' present enterprise of

ft'0 ect lon would have to end (1(>re", Wt' would have, in such a hypothesis. a
mmorny of young men - til(' warriors - waging a permanent war for their

own account - the" {juest for presligC' which socitty would 101e"rate b{'cause
of the �rimary �Ild secondary benefits that the warriors would proCUrt: for it:
coll crtlvc sccuTlty ilssure"d by the constant weakening of enemies. the cap­
turts and spoils of war resulting from the pillagC' of enemy selliemcnts. A
�i m i l a r �ituation could reproduce itst'lf and rt'pC'at itsC'lf indt'flnittly. with no
innovatIOn alteflng the bC'ing of the social body and the" tradit ional function­
i n g of SOciety We would have to observe, with Maretl Duchamp, that there
is no, solution bccaust thtre is no problem. The (' nt i re queslion is precisely
tillS: IS there a problem? l Iow should it be anirulatcd?
It i s a quesli ?1l of k n �w i n g whether primitive society i s ru n n i n g a risk
by 1cttmg a p;'lrt l cular soria! grouP. that of (he warriors. grow i n its breast,
There is some basis, then. to e x a m i n i n g them: the existence i n primitive
sociery of a grou,p of sjng� rs or d a n crrs, for eX;'l mple. c10es n ot in any way
affect the establishtd SOCial order. But it is a question here of wa rriors,
namely. the m e n , wllO hold a quasi-monopoly on socit'ly's m i l i t a ry rapaci­
ty. a m o nopoly, In a sense. on organ ized violence . They exercis(' this vio­
lence on their enemies, But could they eventually exercise i t as well o n
the�r own society? ,NOt physical violC'ncl' (a rivil war o f warriors against
socIety), but a (aklng of pOl/ler by the warrior group which would from
then on exercise i [ on, and if necessary. against society? Could the warrior
group. �s a specialized org.:1n of the social body. become (J separate organ
� �
oj political pOII ("r ,I n othe � words. lIoes war harbor within it the possibility
of w h a t all p n m,Hlve socletks, in C'Ssence. arc devoted to warding off:
, ,
n a m e l y. .the diVISIon of the social body into Masters (the warlike m i nority)
and S uhJC'cts (the rest of society)?
We havt' just seen. in the tribes of the Chaco and among the Apache,
. of war could transform the search for prtstigious spoils
�ow the �yn<lm!C
Into (he pillage of rC' sourct'S, If socielY allows the proportion of its provisions
att:lllled, from the sJloils of war to grow. il would thereby ts!abJish a relation
?f growl l � (kpencJel1ce on its providers. Ihat is. Ihl' warriors. who would br
In a poslltOn to guidC' the lTibe'� sodopoliticaJ l i fe as they pl l-ast'd, Though

I 8 4
l H E A R C H E O L O G Y 0 1' V I O L E tI { £

nUll or a nd
, temporary i n the specifiC cast's t"vok('d. the e-conomic effects of
� r nevcrthelcss show that socie-ty is in n o way shfltcred from such an evo­
But rather than look at local and conjunct ural SllUatlons.
. . .IS t h e
luliO n .
l o gl(. 1Il
. . hertnt i n the existence of a body o f warnors and the ct h·ICS I)tI onglng
. " Which

to this body that we should in�erroga[{ amounts, i n ract. posmg a

sin�le question: what IS a wamor?
It is a man who puts his warlike passion t o thC' servIce of hIS dC'slr(' for
" '

pre"' 1· ge " h is desire is realizC'd when a young comba!anl is authorized to

, . '

rlai m his integration into the warnor brotherhood (Ill the stnct s� nse) and
' l'Onflnnation as warrior (Kaanokle. I l ochcro. etc.): wilen he bnngs back
an C'nemy scalp. One could then suppose that such ,a, fact wo�ld gua,rantee
tht' nt'w warrior an irrevocable status and a drfinlllvt.' p�estlge w h lc h h,e .

roult! peaC'eruHy savor, This is not the case. Far from helll g f1ll1S�led. I llS

rar{'C' r has. in effect. only just hegun. The fu'St scalp IS not the crownlllg, but.

on thr rontrary, the point of departure. Just as in these sodetiC's. a son does
not inherit the glory acquired by his fatheT. IhC' young warrior is n ot frced by
his initial prowess: he must contin uously start over. for tach ,exploit,acco�­
plished ie; both a source of presti ge and a questiOn ing of tillS prest � gc . 1 hl'
warrior is in t'ssenct' condelllned /0 forging alit-ali. The glory won IS n('vrr
{'naugh in and of itself; it must be forever proven. :lIld every feat realized
immediately calls for anothn
, .
I he warrior is thuc; a man of permanent dissatisfaction The personallly
of this res t l ess figure results from a convergence of thc individual desire"
for prestige a n d the social r{'cog n i t i o n that a l o n e confers iL. For each
exploit accomplished. the warrior and society utter the same judgment: the
warrior says, Th<lt ' s good. but I can do more, 1 can i ncre<lse my glory.
Society says, That's good, but you should do mon', obtain our rt'cognition
ot" a superior prestige In other words, as much by his own personality
(glory before everything) as by his total dependence in H'l a t i o n to the tribe
(who else could confe r glory?) the w<lrrior finds h i msdf. I'o/ells HOIeI/S, a
prisoner of a logic that relentlessly makes h i m want to do a little more
Lacking this, society would quickly forget his past exploits ilnd the glory
they procurt'd for h i m The warrior only exists in w a r : h l' is devoted as
surh to action: the Story of his valorous acts, d{"rlaim('d al fl'::.tivals. IS only
it call for further valorous acts, The more the warrior got'<; to war. the mOTe
society will confer prestige upon h i m . .
I t follows that if society alone bestowc; refusl's glo ry. the warner 15
domin ated, alienated by society, BUl couldn't rhis relationship of subordina­
tion be reversed to the bl'l1cfn of the w a rrior. to the detriment of The tribe?
This possibility is. in efft't't, inscribed in the samC' logiC' of war which ali('l1-
all'S the warrior in the as('rnding spiral of the eveT more" glorious feat. I his

I 8 5
, n t a � l H t U 1 0 b Y O f V I O L f N C f

dyna mic of war, origi na l ly the purel

y indiv idual enterprist> of the warr
cot l C'cti ve enter prise or soci ety
could gradually transform it into \ht"
with i n the Witrn Or's reach to alien ate the
: it i �
tribe i n w a r. Thc organ (the warri
grou p) can dt've lop the fu n n i on (the or
warli kC' activ ity). I n what way?
must first consi der that the warri ors, thoug W e
h devoted hy natur e to the
vidua l fulftll nu:nt of their vo{·at ion.
rogethrr const itute a group deter mi
by �he ide t i ty. of their interests: ceasel essly
� ned
organiz i n g new rai ds to increa
the n pr('stlge. rhey wage war, moreover, se
not again st personal enem i es,
a g<l i nst enem ies of the cri be. Jt is. i n
other wo rds , i n the i r interest never
leav tl1(" en c mi(-s in pea c, always to
� � to
harass thcm, Ile-ver to give them
respite. As a res u lt the cXlstence in [il is or
that society of an organ ized group
of " p rofess ional " warri ors tends to trans
form the perm anent srOIC oj 1/I(Ir
gen era l situa tion of the primi tive societ
y) into ocilial perm anent /l'ar
partic ular situat ion of warri or societies).

Such a transforma tion. pushed (Q its

concl usion , would havc consider­
in affectin g the very structure of soci�
able socio logica l consequences since,

. The power to de-cide on matters

ely, it would alte r tl1(' undiv illed be-ing
w ar and peact (,in absol utrJy cssen
[inl power) woul d in ('ffect n o longe
belon g to soc iety as surh, hut indte d
to the brotherhood of w arr i ors, which
e the {'o]!rc tivt' in te rest of society and
would place- its private interest lJefor
woul d make its pa rt i cular point of
view thl" gener al pOint of view of the
ty in it cyclt' of wa rs it w<lntcd noth
i ng
tribe. Thr warri or would involv c socie
to do with. The tribe' s foreign polic
y woul d no longe r be dCler minrd by
itself, hut by a mi no rity thllt w o u l d
push it toward an impos sible situa tion:
g natio ns. F i rst a group seeking pres­
perm anent war again st all neigh horin
rigc, tht" warli ke comm unity woul
d then trans form itself i n to <l prcss
gro up , i n order to puo;h socirty into acn'p
ting the inten sifIcation of war, then
fmal ly inlO a power grou p, whic h iJlone
Ha v i ng traveled this traj ec tory, inscr
woul d decid e pellCl' <lnd wa r for all.

I h e warri or group woul d hold powe r

ibl"d ahead of time in the l ogic of war,
i1!ld exerc ise it over sOl'iety in orde
r to
bl' i nstitu ted as i1 sep<lTatl' organ of
force it to pursue its goal: it would thus
politi cal powt' r; the entire socil'ty
woul e! be mdical ly chang('d. divid ed
the do m i n at in g and the domi nated
War rarr]('s withi n it. th('n, t he dang
er of the divis ion of pri m itive soci­
ety's homogeneous socia l body. A rt'llla
rbblr paradox: o n the on( hand .
pe f'\ev (' r(' in it� undiv ided be i n g; on
' waf
perm its the primi tive comm unity to
otlll'r hand , It reve a l o; itself as the
l)Qs�ibJe basis fo r divi<; ion i!lto M<lst('rs
Subjects Primi tive society as such obeys

to subs titUle til is wilh a lo gic of divI..,

a logic of non- divis ion; war tends
ion. In a prim itivt' society that h
protected from dyna mic confl ict. from
soria ! Itlnov ;n i o n , or, quiLl' s i m ply.

1 a 6
I H f A R C H f O l O G Y O f V I O l f N ( [

I nlernal contradiction, there i s conniet "

bctw��n the group's social
tota l lty I a n (J t I
, , Ito m a i nta i n the social body as a Single 1e warnor s

, 'd l <
wI desire (to increase glory), c o ntradKtlOn , , between two opPosIte ' J og-
t 0 t I t I E'
i ndlVL
. '

ha t one must triumph t h ro u gh r<tdlcal exclUSIOn f 1e o 1Cr. It h er

iCSSUl 1 .

o b r ical logic carries it away order to abo I '
IS h l
1e wamar, ' or e Jse
th e 'jot' l
. . .

. rlike logic emerges in order to destroy socIety as an undiVIded body.
Ihe w tt
road. How do we pOSit the relat ionship b lween society
. .


TheTe is no nliddle
all( I tla' wa rri o rs from now o n ? It d epen ds on whether socIety can e rect
dt'fellse mcch,misms l i kely 10 protect It from Ih {' I t't h ai d'IVISlon J ' Ch
' , IOward w lI
l e m of s urvi v al :
h ' warrio r fata lly l eads society. It is, for society, a p rob
o'> tribe , or the warrior. Which of the twO will be the stronger? In the­
e-Itller th � . .
. . ,
con crt't e social reality of these SOCletlt'S, WhlCll solution fI nds the problem. .

To know, we must look once agai n to tht cthnology o f thcse tribes.

Let us first locatt" the limits assigned to the warrior group as an autono­
mous org<1nization. In fact. this group is only i nstitu ted and soc i a l ly rccog­
niled as such on the level of acquired prestige: wa rriors are men who have
won the ri ght to cert<lin privil eges (t itle, Mme, hairdo and special p ai n t i ngs,
etc) 110t count i ng the erotic repercuss ions of their prrslige among women.
The very naturc of their vital goal - prestige - prevents them from formi n g
an e n 'ie m ble that could elaborate a u n i fIed policy <lnd strategy, a part o f the
social body that could promote and attain its own collective objectives. It is,
i n fa n, the obligatoI)' individualism of each warrior th ilt prevents the war­
rior group from emerging as a homogeneous collect ivity. The warrior
desirous o f acq uiring prestige i s only able and only wantS to rely o n hIS own
forct's : he has no use for the p otent ial solidarity of his comp<lnions i n arms
with whom, i n Ihis rase, he would have to share the benefits of an t'xpedi­
tion. A b and of warriors docs not necessarily lead to a team sport mentality:
ul t ima t ely. the sava ge warrior's only possible motto is evel)' m a n for hi mself.
S<lvoring prestige is a purely personal affa i r : so is acqui ri n g it.
But we il1so see t h at by v i rtue of the same logic, the acquired presllge
(Ih(' acco mp l i s hed exploit) only assures thc warrior of tem po rary satisfacti n, ?
ep hemera l enjoyment. Each exploit welcomed and ct: ll' bra ted by the Inbe
ohligates him, i n filct, to aim h igher, to look beyond, to start <lgain at z�ro,
i n a s ense, by rt'newing the source of his prestige, by constantly ('xpamllng
the series o f his ('xploits. The warrior'S task, i n other words, is an illj i"itr
(ask, illways i ncompl ete. He never attains tht goal w h ich is alway"i oul of
reach : no rest for Ih(' warrior, except at the end of h is quest.
T h u s , his is an i nd i v i ci u <l l enterprise, a n d o n e t h a t is i n c r e asingly
unprofl lable: the warrior's life is pcrprtual combat. But th<ll still does not
�ay everyt h i n g . In order [ 0 respon d to this at oncl' personal <lnc! SOCial

I a 7
" " I t'l I IJ I U , 1 U f V I O l f N C E

dem and o f reco nqu rrin g pres

, tige thro ugh an e x p l o i t . i
e ,Jt the sam e exp loit, to s('u
en ough ror t h e warn or to rtp t i s i n deed

" le peactfulJ Y '
• titIOn I, vy b ring
' " ing an enem y s s ca lp back
to t h e cam p: neit her

� ��
t h e tribe wo ld be satis fied h
by �h is facil e (so to spea k) solm r
ion, Each i
t h e und ena ktng mus t be more
ed more ler
[ Il e rl.s k run � orc, con,s l�rr n'ble
(ilrflcult. the da n ger confront
WM ,
, rlor
ab!e , Wh( BcC'ause this i t h
to m a mt;l l n hiS Imllv ldua l ,
� e only way for
th �
ulfferenre I n rela tion to h i s
hecause there is c o mpet i t i o com pan io
n he[w een the wil rriors for pres
tige, t ach w
i t is rccognizrd ac; su rh. is a
ri o r s expl oit. prl'c isely bl'cfluse

the others: let them do betk r, The n o chal leng /;�

rorc i n g the I.ltte r to main tain thereb
v ic e tries to equa l the vete ran.
, the gap of prestige by dem o nst
bril � e!)' The cum ulati ve effrrt
of the indiv idua l poin t of hono
rati ng mo r �
r. the t ri be s
l com petit ion is 10 O i ng th('
c;ocH I pressu re and thr group ' s i n te rn a
into the t'sca latio n of teme rity. warrior

How does this escalcHion tran

slate conc retely i n the fu:ld?
n g alit max i ma l diffJcu!ry
riors i t is a matter of e;eek i
For the war­
whic h wou ld bestow
upon their victory even greater
valo r, Thus. for exam ple. they
will u n d e rta ke
l on �e r and l on ger expe ditio ns.

tCfmory. reno uncI ng the security

pene trati ng furth er and furth
er into enem y
offered by the prox imiry of the
i r own terri ­
tory, Or else they w i l l confront
11n e n emy grou p know n for its
cou ra ge or
fe ro ci ty and whose sC<llps are
lhrrrforr mort' esteemt'd tlliln
others, They will
also risk t h e i r l ives by lead
ing raid s at nigh t. wbir h I n
d i a n s neve r do,
hecause of the added dang er of
soul s. spiri ts and phan toms , S
an .. Uack is orga nize d, the
warr iors w i l l move ahead of
i m i l arl y whe n
the fron t lines to
laun rh the first assa ult the
msel v es, This is beca use ther
, e is mOTe glory i n
oeat lng the enem y o n his turf. i n his cam
p or i n his villa ge. dn shi n g
arrows or aU{I H'bu <;adt"s, [xp
th rou gh

dicrs' repons a l l cont ain a great

lorers' lesti mon i{'e;. m is.<.; io n ar
i es cllro niclr s 501-

at, the savage warriors. sOOlrtim �

nllm ber of stor ies that i l Jusl ra
es dC't
l e Ih{' l)f ve ry
med admirable. more ofte n . scns
The ir brav('ry is o f course und ('less.
enia ble , l3ut it stems ]{'ss from
a wa rri or'e; indi­
v i d,ual pers? nal ity than from ,
war 's own logic as war ror pres
p o m t of VI{'W o f the Euro
tige From the
pean s ( i n Nor th Am eric a as
well as i n So uth
America). who were bl i n d to
thie; logi c of glory the Indi
, an t eme ri ty c oul d
o,nly scelll sens elcss . a b n or
mal . But from th t' i n d i geno
us poiO l of view, it
Simp ly corresponded [0 th e norm
com mon to war riors ,
War for prestige. the logi C'
of glor y: to wha t uhim all'
degree of bravc!),
coul d thes e Il'nd tbe war rior?
Whn t is the natu rc of the exp
loit that procures
the most glory because it is tmsu
q)as sabl r? It is the indi vidu
a/O IIt" ,ma cks the adv{'rsaries'
;ll exp loit, it is
the act of th e war rior who
ram p, who i n this
major chal leng e. w here the
most abso lute incq ual ity is insc
riht'd . equ als him ­
selr to all the pow er of his
�'omp anio ne;, who clai ms and
asscrts his e; up e rio ri -

I 8 8
I H f A H H f O L O G Y O f n O L f N ( f

I"j OVf� �• • n , mYgro u p I\/ol/e ae

aillS I all: I h i s is the culminating p o i n t of

r ri r n ced warnor s sklll

n 111 the
. , .
. IS
exploit. l Iere, the exp hardly :,on I1
I' r
rSca l auO
anyt 1ling
115 u n n i ng is of litUt help to h i m ; h enceforth h r flOds h1l11self
[' n, scntch

· favor
in this confrontation where the only t h I n g 1' 0 IllS
lng: rO
sta rt
' . , '
rw hel m i ng surprise of hIS sol1tary presence. ,
is the ave I . [or txamlJle tells of t ry i n g to convInce a v<11lant J\lgonk!1l'
Cham p ::ll n. ,
r ot to h�C\vt· by h imsel f to attark tht' I roqUOIs an d he answered,
' .
, ,
w<!rrto n

' l11i1\ It would be im p oss i b le for h i m to live ir he did not kill

h is em'nlit:; and did nOt avenge h i mst:lf. and that his hean
told him that he had t o Jtavc as carty as possible: whirh he
waS i ndee d determined to do (p. J65),

rllb is <llso wh<lt the Iroquois do, as the French J('suits staying with the
lIuron wert' surprised to find:

,., and s o m eti m es nn enemy, totally nakcd and with only a

h.ntehet i n hand, will even havt the courage to enter the huts
of a town at ni�ht. by h imself, then, having murdertd some
of those he finds sleeping there. to take O i ght for all defense
against a hundred and IWO h un dred people w h o will fo H ow
h i m on(' and twO entire days (111. year 1642. p, 55),

We. k n ow that Geronimo. failing to lead tll{' Apach e into tilt' constant
war h(' dt:sired, did not h esi tate to att(l('k Mexican villages. a cco mpa n i ed by
only two or (hr('e olher warriors, I n his very beaut i :ul memo.irs (cL bibliogra­
phy). the Sioux Bl ac k Elk recalls how a Crow warnor was killed wt "' � , alone
du r i n g the night. he attempted to steal the Sioux's horses, I3lnck I also
(cpons t h a t in a famous battle against the American a r m y., n Ch eyen n e
horseman charged alone. ahead of his b ro t h ers. into the r<1pld fire or tht'
fusillade: he was k i l led, Among the Amazonian Yan o ma mi , morc than o n t
warrior died ina com bat t h a t h e l e d a l o n e against a n enemy tribe. such as
the famous Fusi w e (d, bi bl i o grap hy) , The Chulupi sti l l crlC'brate the end of
one of their peO I)I(', a Kaanokle of great renown, Hnving: reached lhe peak of
glory. he thus had no choice: mounting his beSI war horse. he p �n et r<1ted the
territo !), of the Toba, alone, ror s('veral days. attacked one o f t l l'lr ,cnmps and :
died i n combat. In \he memory of Ihe Chulupi remains th e vtvaClous figure
of Kalai'in. the famous Toba war rhief, Thl'Y told me how. at lhe beginning
of the century. he would come into the sleepy Chulupi camps at night. n l � ne.
slitting the throats and scalping on e or two m e n each visit, alway t'SC;\]lmg. �
Several Chulupi warriors res o lv ed to cnptur(' h i m ilnd managed tillS by trap-

I 8 9
g " l n t U I U b 1 U f ¥ I O L f H ( f

ping him. K a l a l r i n ' s exploits arl' evoked with hatred, his death, with itdmira.
lion: for he perished under tonun.' without uttering a sound.
What good is multiplying the examples? It is enough to read the texts:
sw;"trms of anecdotes a l l converge to show that a m o n g the wa rrior, the dis.
dilin for danger always accompanies the desire for glory. This conjunction
e x p l a i ns m o r e o v e r the b('hav i o r of the w a r r i o r s w h i c h c o n fused t h e
Europeans: n a me-Jy, t h a t a comba tflnt captun:d by h i s enemies neller tried to
escape. Now. i n numerous caS('S, the future of Ihe prisontr of war was all laid
out: a t btst he sUlVivl'd the terrible lOrtures that his masters [ n O icled on h i m
at worst (and this was the more frequent destiny) h e was killed. But J e t u�
listen to Champlain n a rrate tile conscqucnres of a battle which he won Over
the Iroquois in 1609. allied w i t h thr Algon k i ns, capturing a dozen of them:

Yet ours l i t a tirr. i1ntl a<; it was weI! aglow, fach took an
ember <lnd burnt the miscl'abl(' wretch l i t t l e by little to make
him suffer marl' torment. They l e ft h i m for some rime. throw.
i n g water on his back: t h e n they tore out his l1<1ils. a n d put
fm' on the tips of hb fingers and his melllbl'T. After scorching
the top of his 11'Slicil's, thcy m<1de him eat a certain very hot
gum: then they p ierced his ;"tmlS eto'>e 10 the fists, and with
sticks pulkd the newes and tore them with force: i1nd as thC'y
saw that they could not have them, they CUt them (p. 1 4,)).

MorC' t h a n t h i rty yl'ars later. n o t h i n g has rhl'lnged. as the Jesuits contest

in 1642:

one of the prisoners not showing any sign of p a i n at tht'

height of his lQrmelllS a n d agonies. the Iroquois. i n furli1ted to
see his cOllsram:y, which tlley took ;IS a b(ld Olll e n, for they
believe that lhe souls of w a rriors who disdain their rage will
make them pay for the dC<1th of [hl.'ir bodies. seeing, as I say,
this constancy. they <1sked why he was n o t screa m i n g : he
responded, I am doing wh,lt you would not do, if you were
t reated with the S<lme fury with which you trl'ilt Ill C : t h e iron
and the fire that you apply to my body would m a k e you
scream out loud ilnd cry lik t' children, and I do not fl i n ch. To
these words the tigers throw themselves on the ha lf-burnt'd
victim; they skin his testides. and throw sand th<1t is all red
a n d b u m i n g with fIT(' onto his bloody �kull; Ihey rush h i m to
the bottom of the scaffold. <1nd drag h i m :lround till' huts (III,
year 1 642. p, 42J.

1 9 0
I H I A R ( H I O l O fi Y O f V I O l E N C E

be safe
Tupi- Guar ani a priso ner of war could
We know that a m o n g the
ancI so u n d " . .
s: but soone r or later he
. evcn free i n the villag e of the victor
d I d nOt attem pl to
and eatcn . I l l' knew lhls a n d yet
" inevit ably execu ted
anywa y? Cenai nly not a m o n g his own
�:(' Where would he find r{'fugt'.
the captu red warrio r n o [ o n g er b e l o n gs t? the
p{'O;lk: I n d eed. for (hem.
� � . .
whIch only walts to
defi n i t ively l'xciudecl fro m t e com l U n ! ty
trib e, he is .
death i n order to aveng e tt I m m e d I ately.

Shoul d he a tempt to
ll'a rn of h i s .
the people of his villag e would refuse to welco

l1e h1l1 : he s a pns­
e"$l'ape. � �
of a prison er of
must thus be fulfille d, In fac"!' the flight
o n er, his destin y
in regard to Canad ian I n d i a n s , is "an unpar
war, liS the Jesuit s write
p. 42).
able crim e" (Ill, year,
Hoxim ity
[ l ere. then. on all sides, this irredu cible affi n ity. this tr<1gic I
es cle<1r. Victor ious. he IllUSt immed i­
Ill'tween the wllrrior and de<1tl1 becom
aIdv Icave a�(\in for wllr in order to
assure his glory with an even greater

fC::,l1� But in ceasekssly testin g the l i mits

of the risk confronted <lnd forg i n g

ilhe(ld fur prestige he i nvaria bly meets Ihis e n d : solitary death i n t h e fare of

erwmie s. Vanqu ished, th<lt is. captur ed, he

ccase's throug h this itself to exist
i1mbig uous nom<1d , he w i l l hen("e­
\ol'il'llly i n the eye's of his OWI1 people : an
even if the latter is not granted h i m
fnnh wand er bl·tv'I't: t'n l i fe and death.
when' prison ers wt:Te rart'ly exe­
(this is t h e case of th(' tribes o f the Chaco
l'utcdJ , There is no altern ative for the warrio r:
a single outco me for h i m ,
i n g : whilt i s prove n here. i n short,
death. H i s i s a n infmit e task. a s [ was say
is that rile lI'arrior is 1I('I'('r (l Il'llrrior except
at the end of his task. whell.
he wins death ,llong with absolu te glory,
accom plishin g: his supreme exploi t.
lilt' warrio r is, i n his being, II ht'i ng-for-death.
'1 his is why. on this p o i n t ilt least. OobriL lloffer is haJf-m istllke n when
he writes:

The Abipone seek glory. but never df'rllh (II. p. 360).

Warriors, Abipone or others, do n o t seek dt':lth in a n d of itself perh;'1p�,

hUl it i n evitably comes at thl' end of the p<lth they h(1ve decid('d 1 0 tr<1vel:
�eeking glory. they Illeet death. O n e cannot br surJlri�ed then by the very
h i g h rate of Illor t a l i ty a m o n g the w a rriors. The a n c i e n t chronicles havc
retained the names and figures of the best among the wllrriors, n<1mely the
war chiefs: al most all died sooner or later in combat. We must also r('memher
that these lo<;st'� decimated a specifiC age group: men between the ages of
twenty � n d forty-fLve. that is. in a sense, thc prime o f this savage chivalry.
So much perseverance in this bein g-far-death suggests that pcrl1i1ps the pas­
sion for glory acted in tht' M'rviee of a more profound p:lssion, that which we

I 9 I
1 " 1 a K l H � U I O G Y o r Y I O L i N { {

rail the denth instillct, a n instinct which nOt o n l y traversed the warrior
group. bUl more seriously c o n t a m i n ated sorielY as a whole: did not the
women, i n effect. refuse to have children, thereby condemning the tribes to
rapid disappearance? A collective d{·;lth wish of a society no longer aspiring
to reproduce itsel f . . .
O n e last point is illumi nated here. I indi cated above that o n l y a segment
of the men in the Chaco tribes aspired to be warriors. thin is. to be called
such aftrr having h ro ught back a n e n e my scalp. I n other words. the rest of
tile men went to war. but killed t h e enemies without scalping them, that is,
did not aspir(' to t he title of warrior. They renounc('d glory deliherately. All
that precedes would henceforth allow one to anticipate the rt'ason for this
somewhat unexpected choice. Nevertheless. l e t us a l l o w the I n d i<lns to
explain it themselves: o n e witt thrreby be <lble to observe in their disco urse
the <lbsolute frredom of their thought and of their action. as well as the cool
l ucidity of their politica[ <ltlalysis. The men of these- societies each do what
they want and know Why.
During my stay in thc Charo. [ had the opponun ity time and again to
convrrse with old Chu[upi combatants. A f('w among them were i nstitutiunal
warriors. the- Kaanoklt: they possessed the heads of h a i r of enemies they had
killed. As for the others, lh�y were n o t veritable warriors, for they had never
scalped the enemies. [n the group of old combatants, the Kaanokle were rare:
most of thtir companions had long since perishe-d i n battle. which is expect­
ed in the warrior world. Yet it was the non-warriors who explaincd to me the
truth of th e- warrior. For if they wert not Kaanokle. it was btcause they did
not w'lnt to br. Why would valorous combatants nOI desire 10 be Kaanokle?
TIlis was the rast' of Akl<lmalse. a shaman of high repute. and of Tanu·uh.
immensely k n o w lcclgeabl(' <1bout mythology. a m o n g others. Both around
<;ixty-flve yea rs old. they had led countless battles ag<linsl the Dolivians. the
Argen ti n ea ns. and the Toba. esp ecia l ly Tanu'ull; but neither of them were
Kaanokle. Tanu'uh's hody, studdrd with scars (from sttel bladcs. arrows and
bu[kts) indicated suflkiently that he had narrowly escaped death more lhan
once. Tanu'uh had n o doubt killed o n e or two dozen men. Why aren't you a
KaanokJC? Why haven't you cver scalped your en e mies? In his ambigUity,
the Clnswt'f was almost comir: Oecause it was too da n ge rous I didn't want to ,
die. In short. this man who had almost l)crished ten limes h<ld not wallltd to
becomr a warrior bt'cilUse he was afraid of deJth.
I t was thus ohvious for him: the Kaanokle, as such, is condemned to
being killed. To on the glory attached to the title of warrior
i nsist a m o unts to
accepting the more or less long-term price: deach. Tanu'uh and his friends
described l h e movement that propels the warrior. To be a KaanokJe. they
said. you must h ri n g back a scalp. B u t once IH' h as t(lken this first step, tht'

1 9 1
' H f & R C H f O L O G Y O F Y t O t f N { f

man n ' .
. '
lUst leave again for war. b r i n g back other scalps: i f not. he is no
!" ken seriously he is forgolten. ThiS IS why t h e KJano kl e' (l I(' qUlc
lon� r . , "
' kl y.

We could not have a clearer analysis of the relallons that 11Ilk society to
. riors The
W,lf ' ,
tribe accepts an autonomous group of men of war form i n g
. encouraging their vocation by a generous recogmu n 0 f pres-
lIS . . .
in itS breast

tige But doesn't this prestige group have a good chance of becoming a pres­
a power group? Now i t IS 100 late for th e warnor: ' her h,<
sure grQup '
then ' ell

rcno unce-s his status and sham fully [ o s s fare. or e ft n( s hImself meme l-
� � �
. .
� !
tr' l)ped in his own vocation, a prisoner of hiS deslTC' fo r glory w h i c h
"I ly
him st ra ight an excha nge b etween society t 1le
to . an d
Ieads death. There is
wa rrior : p rest ige fo r exploit. But in
. . . .
this con frOlll<1t lon. II IS sO('l ety.
f the rules of the game, that has the last word: for the ultimate exchange is
�hat of eternal glory for the eternity of death. Ahead of time. the warrior is
condemned to death by society: no joy for the savage w<trrior, only the cer­
lainl)' of sorrow. But why? Because the warrior could cause the sorrow of the
society by introducing the germ of division. by becom i n g a separate organ of
power. Such is the defense mechanism that primitiv � �ocicty e fccls to wa rd
olf nIl' risk t h a t the warrior. as such, bears: the und iVIded SOCIal body s l ife
. , .

for the warrior's de<tlh. Thr text of tribal l<lw becomes de<tr here: primitive
sotiety is, in its being. a sociery-!or-u1or; it is at the samc time, and for the
same reasons. a society against the 11'(}rrior.7

[n conclusion let us leave the specifIC c<lse of warrior societirs to ('omr

back to t h e general situation of primitive societies. The precedi n g reflections
provide some of the elements of a response 10 t h e (JToblem of rdations
between m('n and women in this type of society: o r rather the�' allow us to
cst;)hlish how this is CI false problem. The promoters of M;)rxist anthropology
_ m a n u fa ctu re rs of this indigent c<l\{'chism whieh has to do nei t h e r with the
th ought of Marx nor with the primitive social reality - ror l;)ck of being ;)ble
to find clilSS struggle in primitive society. discover in the end that the social
conflict is the b,lItlr of the sexes. a bailie where the losers are w o m e n : in lhis
society. the w o m <l n is alienatt'd. exploited. oppressed by man. This pio s �
credo is curiously echoed by a cert<lin feminist discourse: supportcrs of tIllS
discourse tenaciously want primitive society to be sexist. w a n t rhe wOlllan 10
be lhr victim of mascul i n e dominJtion. Thus, it would not ilt all be il tll;]tter
of n society of equ;l l i ty.

There existed among certain North Arnericau tribes (Crow. Hidatsa. Mandau.
sprcial club of warriors: tilt' Crazy Dog soci('ty, a

PawTlee. CheyeJlTlc, Sioux. ctc.l CI

brotherhood ofsuicid(,-warriors who ne\'t'r retreated i n combat (cf. bibliography) .

1 9 l
� " , ,, , u ' U Q I V I V I U L E H C f

The r{'(li and symbolic, conscious a n d uncoJlscious relations between

men ilnd women in primitive society constitute an absolutely faSCi nating
fIeld of renection for the ethnologist. Why? Because the internal social life
of the ('ommunity cssrntiaHy rests not so much on relations between men
and women - a truism of no interest - as on the v ery panicul.n m Ode
according to which these cultures understand and t h i n k of d i ffere nces
bftween [he sexes in their myths, and better yet, in their rites. To state it
more clearly: in primitive societies, often marked by masculinity in cenain
aspc-cts, indeed by <l cult or viril ity. men are nevl'rtheless ill a d{jclIsil'c posi­
rioll ill regards to women. because they rerognize the suprriority of women
- myths, rites and daily l i fe alles( to this sufficiently. To dc-Ierm i n e (he
nature of this superiority, to measure its significance, 10 locale the means
used by men to protect tllemselves from women, to t'xamine the effiCiency of
tllese means, all of this would require long and S('rious study.
I will limit myself for now to pointing out how the structural rdationship
that u n ites war and primitive socidy at least panially determinl's relations
betw('en th{· sexes. This soriely. in ils being. is warlike. That is to say all
men. in their beings. are warriors, the sexual division of tasks making war­
like activity a masculine function. Man must thus be l"onstantly available for
war; from time to time, he actually goes. We know well til at primitive war i n
general i s hardly deadly. exc('pr. o f rourse, i n thc vcry special C;lS(" of the
warrior societies. Nevenlwless, since the possibility of war is constantly pre­
sent, the possibility of risk, injury or denth is inscrilled in advance i n the
masculin(' destiny. Man in primitivC' society thus fmds himsdf. hy dC'fmition,
marked by his condition: with more or less i ntensity, hC' is a being-for-death.
O('ath only comes to a few i ndividu;)ls liuring combat, but be fore hattie, it is
equally thre;urning for all. Through the mediation of war, there is a n i n ti�
mate relationship, essential proximity between masculiniry alld death.
What. i n countrrpoint. of women? Let us evoke. JUSt to refresh Ou r

ory, thl:' idea. as summary as it is <lrcepted. of woman as a very precious
··good·' that men would spend their time ex<:hanging and circul ating; let us
also evoke the simpl istic idea of woman as the warriors recreation, which
would correspond moreover with thC' preceding c o n ception: w o m a n as a
good of exchange and as a good of consumption. At this point we must dis­
cuss the defects and effects of the s!rul"tur::Jlist discourse on women. Tht
esse n t i a l property of women, which i n tegrally d('fincs their bring. is to
assure the biological. and bryond that. soriaI reproduction of the communi­
ty: women bring children into the world. Far from existing CiS consumed
objeC'l. or as exploited suhjeC{, they are as producers of those whom socirty
cannot do without: n,lmt'ly, <:hildren. as the tribe"s immediate and distant
future. Obvious. no doubt. but ntcess<lry 10 remember The- warrior·s wives

I I ,
V 1 0 L f M ( {
I H i � H H E O l O ' Y
O f

bit more about .It, w ho , as .
we saw in the case of the
nity IS
l 9 to have childr
o little en .
krl0\'1 of the tn·bcs by refllslI gical com-
death sociolo

but cspcci"ll1y as
.ded tile

dC�:ncrn iIY. gi al I. childr e�

rust as a b i OI O C �� i�� ��'e idrerl : w'hether there are
produ hi
ed over the i s womtn s
TTl d ex crds this s what assure
(!la exclu sively o n women . And
not deperl(
over society. . revealed here ber�e
e n lift' 1 ld
��rl1 tlland I m m ediate proxi mity is
In other
an hie.
words, . , i s a b e I n g-far. - .
at t h e w o m a n . In h e r b e i n g IS
sueh th woman in primitivC soclcty
{'lIl i ll i ll i ry. betwe n meln and
" r c fo rth , the di ffrrenc e
i � ' -death; as mot h er,
1C lc m o" n is a being- for
nda�t 1 y c lear' as warno r, a n d I110
· I 0 g-
rTI(ldc abu ive relatio ns to social
\'f e. It I's their resptct
a betng -for-
en men and women . In
woma n is tllC' relatio ns betwe
death that deter .
�:�� unco nscious
ieal life an? mascul ine
. tribe (culture). the
ectlv e unconsc\O�s as the me­
the ("oll betwee the sexes
a n d recogn � ize the difference <lnd fear
unde rsta nds .
over mcn Sl aves
. , of death, men envy
versib1c supc .
nonty . o f womtn
. primo rdial truth th
at a
of life. Su ch is the primitive and
women . mis(Te '
ssl S ea l. Tht myths, by
al· n my ths I n· tes wo uld rev .me
SIS. 0f rer t
s destiny as mascul
an e
serio uS analy h·m ,Po. . of society· .
I order t
reve King the . rea
attemp · ',
· y out their VIctOry.
10 t
' W h Ich men p l
tI leatrinl . dl'S-

sellll1g 111
ntuals, a . that tillS
or tIlC '00 obviou
dest iny; the S truth
to Compcn5ate f f
, usrd to ward 0ff. .
I nfe r·
, ority of m e n i n the face 0
. . tlOn,
ea k n e 55, dercll<: . h at
. W world
liny is femll1 here i n tht
h s ,'nloSt everyw
· .IS 111 . derd wh at myt , as (I
wom en? ThiS an asexual w a rId
parad.1S t' to conque
r as
golden age O.r
Imagin e the lost
world w it ho u l Ii'omell.

. . . On cd war
enVISI and the warrior as
I ha ve. I n 1 h c pn:
ceding text
n o t i n any WilY Slgl1l
' . . .fy
not as represr ntatlo n Which does
. , an d . the wa rn·or.

and as polll1cS . ' ion of wa r and

• ages. repre
extraCtS from (l
amo n g the Sav
Ihat there IS not,

H e re are twO of them

essentially. i n myths. · st co nce rns the
d I n 196 6 · Tile fir
It is expres sed,
mytholo .
g1c<II cor pu.s wh ich I ga there r the
warno r.
Chulup i rtain reprrscntatio n
second Mvtlop s a ee
origin of war, the

single tribe Bllr young

The O r igin of War pco­
TObia JI,' a"de II a
1 0 1 , o�t'
Before. rhe Owlupi and Slro/lge r
l alu!oys !IIan·ls to be
pIe !lePEr Il,(wt /0 e cac
U! IIcn ,I, c I,os/ility
b cq1lal peo-
betwccn rti'O yo ung
Ii/all 01(.' o r lt' r. El'rry
/ J1('lr
I I'l1g bcgl/l!
aft' . fisil fOgctJl
er. II'Clli ro jl(lrl'cs r
J i l'cd rage/ll er,
pI t' II'OS bo'" · Tiley

1 9 \
" . • I U l t " l t

(ogerl1('(. alice. rhey wellt to baIlie ill tile Pi1comayo and lI'cre !Nt'sf/ing.8 One
hii tll(' other a b it liort/: the olle that receil'ed the blQII' orJt:'I1{lcd himself: he
h it l,is adllcrsary a ll tile lu:ad u'irh a I}ien: of 11'00(/, /llo l llld ing 'ii... forehead.
Tile Ollu�r did the same. This IIJGS the time II'hell rhe Olll/upi a llli tile Taba
/11('((' a s ingle tribe: flu,'y spoke the same lallguage: therr were Dilly small dif.
jerellces betu'ecn 111elll.
The b rothers and the companions of f:(lch of the tulo yOllllg IIIfn gathered
Ground them. ol,d each /llem to find his jaflln The 1obo declared that rile
other had starred i t firs!: and yel it /l'as ht, /1'110 had Starin} it! Bljore, IIH.'(('
Ilod 1 e l'er been r/'f {c(lSI discord betll'eell the Indialls. /11 this timc, rhe
Maraca lI'tre tllr only enemies rlre (hulupi. As Jor tile Toba. rlldr ollly

e nem ies u'cre the Parrot People. lilc Clloroli.9
Folloul;lIg rll(:,st' el'ellts, a parry 1I10S being prepared, a great drinkillg
110rty of fermcn ted Iiolley. Dllrillg tire parry, tile Tobo fa llier (Jot up alld
declared: NOli', I tllillk agaill oj my son 1l,1I0 u'as 1110 t H ulet/f 1 0 And he Ilad
h a rdly said lilis beJore lie starrrd p iercillg tile re/ariFt's alld fricnds of his
SOli 'S aell'ersary. A Ollllapi warrior got lip as ulcll a ll d riddlcel 11';lh arrows
sel'ual Toba, 11'/10 Iwd berll standing alld sll/gmg acco mpanying lhc:mst:fIICS
Illjth riltir h a rel/t(S, TIIrll combat begall be(III(,( 1I all men 1"'10 //Ierr dru ll k .
A n d th( cause of all of rllis lI'as tile 111'0 youl/g mCII, Tlte figh t spread to rhe
1I'0Illel/. /1'110 begall to jiglll at tl,cir Itusbollds' sidrs. Tile comb(l tallts lIad a
hard rime sepa rati llg tlle"r.�ell'es, for l ite fighr 11'05 fiem: 011 b o rll sides.
Tltey stopped, pa r/eyed , Gild dccided to mc('r again rite next day to hegil/ the
figlit ago ill.
The ncxt day (JI dall'' el'crYlhing /J'as rcady. TIH' horsemell p rol'oked eacli
other. D ressed ollly ill small loille/OtilS of caraguala fiber. Ihey Il'(,rc armed
lI'itil rlll'ir bOil'S fllld INn arrOIl'S Il'irll smootii rips rile 1/1'0 groups lI'ere /lay
large, Tllr ChI/flip; beqoll to (lolI/iJlau:, TJlere were a lor of dearl,s, bllt less 01/
iilc Cllulupi sick. 1I'lto 11'I're /lIUfe agile alld coulel dodge tlte arrolt'S, Tile Toba
rOI/ a I/ lay (Inti abandollrd a lot of rltei r people, ('lIildrell. IICIl,bOfl/S, TIle
Chulllpi l1'Ol)lcn lIursed them. jor tlte IIIotllers of //lOlly oj these illjants had
beell killed dining tilt' jight. Among thc priso n ers. r/lere lI'ere also womell.
Tlte mcn tlcl'ore(J lhe ('/Itire day to sea/pillg rl/(' dl'ad Toba warriors. These

Wrestling is one of tli(' Chull/pis' preferred spans, ! l is more a gal11(' of <1gility

(han of strength, conSisting of tlHllwing the adversary to the grouHd.

') The Maraco occupy the right b a n k of tht' upper (llment of til(: Pilcrllilayo; die
Choroti occupied its left hank . They constituted, witll tile Chulupi, a single lillgllistic
10 Drinking partics are often opportunities for br;lwls, Drunk, tbe mC11 let rcsrnt+
melltS, sometimes ruminilted ov('r for mOllllis, explode. This is why durillg a party
the womC'n kt'ep all we<1poll� 0111 of Ihe mens [(·aell.

I , 6

I " ,
O f V l O l l: tt C f
A H H f 0 1 0 G Y

of tlIe per�
j /Jig/If, Ar t ile tim e
' fer Ihe appearallee o
st aJ'
S 11(JP rl /rer, 1 /
(l'eI1l pi and roba Iil'ecJ rog

l ay, Ollllll

/fllt J
"Ial , .
gln of
sid('fS at once the on
This myt � h brie f rem ark s, It con
alls for a f� w
of Ihi ngs, cos mic and
the b,rth Before w a r the order
... 4\f a nd
of c
rnal day, not
\ human time of the ete
�I�IS �:�: it is the pre
is not yet estil
sI on. 0f day .
h ul11 an, night. Social order. as
u\! d T0 ba do
, and
pu net
tcd by the succes , Chu I UP] an
es has yet to be bor n:
o f di ff

, as plura�\� f trib

r re n ce
llatl" .thems e from C'�d�
other. In othl"r words. sav age thoug h ,

diff{ 'Tt'n ear anc (' and war s
not thi nkS of soc iety 's app
in its
g lcal expressIOn,
" nct IO n ; ]', thinks of wa
y Iholo " SOC ICty ., W ar
< r as consubstantial to

, , .
' 1 order. The indigenous
nce in ]
I'date s
"ppt'il ra discourst' here va
belon gs to the pnm,uv,e
ren('cl l on.
1hat aI the OUISl.'t
flnth ropol ogical the myth attributes rrs
po nsi bil+
erve. tnoreo ve-r,
We ohs not like
' g men Young men do
it)' for the lau nc hin
g o� the wa r �O h
tha t is
equ ill ity. they want a h I erarchy f
::��;m. ;
thC wan t glo ry, and
b'lIldo n lhems('\v ('S to th eir pas ·
they a
lent, ther u�c �r�:
why they are , vio t young men are made
to be war+
y tha
e myl l c eaT y
sian for prestige. Th affi nity bttwcen war like
s tha t wa r is ma de for yo un g me n. T�e
rkcd .
not be morc cle:uly ma
and �ge group could

TlIc Bli lld Wa rrio rs "

AI th(' (, lid oj sel'era d(JY
l s
llY Ka alio klC /I'e llt all Il '
Ollce, IIIa my 5011 $. lI'e sha ll
C? J I�;J ;���:. TOlligilt,
pped to sleep. ,;�Ie c'
oj lI'olki llg, tllcy sto
u u
rrOJII 11'(' s/Ia ll takr
\/eep /Iere alld tomo all rile II '( U+
VUOHI�o , ] t � ;:a���\o sill g J\nd
Dur ing //IC lIigllt, IIIC
t J

I'ery badly" '/'/,_ bird got

(lIIf'31ry to see
l. lig. b eca usc /1 sal lg
riors burst out / aug JI ;lI. alld tile
I-/e begall sillging ago
t bci llg de JU II oj III

S .' ail e ma ll lW/ O .

ll g t!Ie m
I '
' I .' Ha ll' 'b Y I, t SllI g
"(J d"/'oy.

g aga "
Illi {
/1101 beg oll I '
y gal lip, tlley lIoria:d

I1c.rt day, II'llell tln'

Olall tilt' ot lr ers, Tlit' d! So
. l t d less
l a ug/
I'en gea I " rile bird I am blin
,ee 0'J
. . II Ii'as r/I e
bl' 11/ d'
tilt H rhey liad a // galle II rllC Otll +


, tile Olle 1/1/10 lau g/u::

0111 l! All d so a lll /! d! rile

' l am nor complctely
�!Jey cnell. AS1jor
litt le alld p (lC alll d
us, lie cou ld see a
I am
de! A n d
you IIIll St be ollr gui
� ,
: SOIll('t I l lig. �JI t:/1
olll y aile lI,jl 0 call sel:

hec omc tile leadt'f.

: �e:\���:l l; 4; �: �
I I The w;\T be-tween the
Tona lan�1 ,Chll�'�e�ns( )��:�� ��i ��r le f g

Ie gTrlIlI1<1 .
ng the arlver�:lry to II
of the (hll UplS pre e
I!)S O' 8 Wrestling is one
i, ca1' //re ' n : gla uci clill
. '

l tlficd \)nrl. F0 II J�
lng o f thr
than of strength, consl,st
1 2 VIIOH'//ol : . r:ln
� r. II (in Glla
utH clel .
aTll<1 Crls taln .
(in Spa ni�h , chui'!a): rnn
hrasiliallUlll, 11111 11/11 11

I , ,
They all held cach
other's Iiolids and f .
o rm ed � 10l/g IlII c. They CGm
the woods; the aile who e to
could scc a little ca II
ed (l SllIOrm a/ bee . / (' re
YQIJ, res .' A s ' WI
b bee ans wered him :
l1('orby are
Here l am ! But I ltolle
I!('ry little hOlley! JuS t ellQugll for my . .
Theil that is 1101 cnough dllldrcn !
fiM us' . rr,
1M", U'I'II go niter
S! Yes! et's go furrher!
� LeI'S go further! Crie
d o;c others ill clloru
con tillu ed to walk and s.
('ome to 0110111 cr I
P (lce. There, .the
cal/ed once aga i": guide
Bee. /I'Iiere are you ?
1I('f(�! AI/d I h ne a lor oj hvll cyl
Well! If'S yours har I/'e
f lI'iII eat !
Yes! Yes! Th0 1 's it! W
e /llil/ cal it! We Il ill car
mell, ' it! ('fied rite chorus
a/ blind
The mall u'lio could sre
a fiale begall to clliarge .
the OpCfl /lIg of rile
hi/Ie il/ fhe tree (II/d bee-
to extract rhe }lOlley,.
all d ('/Icryo lle began
f}Irre /lIaS Stl"li all enormous TO Cat , B ut
am oull t of honey So rI
CY TIl bbrd It
. all Ol'er rheir
bodies, alld started bum '
pin g oud hitting each
Othe r..'
Why hOile you cOl1ered
lI1e lI'itl/ "olley?
What abollf you ?
Atl d rhey COlltinued to
fig ht 1he olle wI! 0
c: u Id SI.'C a "nit atil'isl.'d fhem
1I0f to figill, to cat Jlle/
/. There / '(lS Still a lot
; �
oj 101//:Y, but the me/
thir:r:': and so they beg J 1I'l.'re I!ery
an to look for /I'alcr.
the lT guille rlic/I cal/ed
a lagoon:
Lagooll, IIIherc orr YOIl
�7 C 1 am ! Bur I h lle Iler)'
� /illfr (!'ater! An d IIrry
fell' eels as lI'ell.l
1/ t lat case, /l'e /lJII/ go
fu rther.
Yt Yes ' WI.' /llill go fllrtha!
(0 1/10� again, :
reprolcd lite blil ld mel
l together TII()I beg
alld afler a lI'hile, the an
leader called our ollce "
Lagool/, IIlherc are you
OgOlll ,

Here I Oll/! allsu'ercd

a I'cry large lagooll. I
J101'1.' II 1M of /I'aIer alld
o.fce/s! a lot
Thel/ it 's YOllr /I'O/er 111fl
/ /lIe /Jlill drink!
Yes ! Yes! Thor's ir! .
Th a I 's it! We /JI;I! dri
, nk!. cn ed the oth ers
plunged IlItO the !llala a"d que " el,e . . 711(:y
d tl1t'lr tIIIrs' !,
nI I J
�� :,:,y('�;:o�� ��::��[;;, t' s� /
'it;, rheir IWlIlls, The
y /tad felt rhe ir
/ ' a l//a/l Itad ca gh l
ordered his sac k fO ope a" Itt'
When rhe sack lI'as jllll,
: �� �;:
ll: tltc sac:/.: O (,Il
elj alld '�e t'/fell� all
flltO it,
its OIl'II('r a r t:J('I( I' f to ell/pI) Itsc
lf.' tilt: 5OCk' emptl'cd

'.) , (llId rhe mall filled it lip all O ler .
galll. Wh
. fi"
sa ('ks (/Ilice. l o en rhey had l'lI/pt ied tfle
Tlit'y qOI out oj Ihe /1 '( re d ,
gn'oT fin:, They b; gan d a l itTlC lif a
' to grill The �e;/'1�/t'�:'�I'�/:I:' ";;,� � �;:
, � r. , ebITt
--./' , aUII't'd,

I 9 a
I H E 6 R C H f O l O ' Y O f V I O l f N ( [

I (In/ lI st'(1 him Fery lIIuCIt 10 St(" ali these blind men earillg ('ds. He flew
and sl/Ook i� abollc /lIe /nI.'II 'S heads, sprillklil/g them
{;O WI! {llId seized (I II �d
droplets oj bl.l "" 110 hot grease, l iley got allgry:
Id lli
Whv did you bl.lTII lIIe?
Why dill you?
They begall bumping each otllt�r alld fighril/g ago ill, FOil-fOil j1CIII back /0
the /Or of his (r('C, ffe almost bur�r out laughing but hdd it in, 50 Olat they
/I 'olllli ,, ! kl/oll! it II'as hc.
J/e J?ell' {/II'OY (lIld met tilc IUI/IIIali bird, to 111//011/ lie fOld rhe lI'hole story:
(//(;re are lIIell dow/I there! I bur/lf thelll, alld Ihey started to fighr ('ad,

Ofllt'r! It 's Ili/ariolls! I lIlamcd to lallgll so badly, bllt I Ildd it ill,

I walll to sec, too!
No! No! DOlI't go! We ml/SIII', lallgh, alld the littlesl IIlillg mako you
Bu! JUllUtah illsislCd:
No! No! I II'Gllt 10 go! Jf J start /ollgllillg uJicolltrollably, I lI'il/ lea/le rigllt
oll'oy alld only lallgll /rolll jar away,
I-oll -foll agreed filially. ami led him (0 (he platt' m/lere the u'arriors werc.
Tlrat', li e begall lIis little gamt' OIlCC agaill, bunlf tile lIIell ollce og(/ill I/Iho
s!tJ rteti fightillg ago ill, IUl/lllal! could IIOt rcsist allti fled jar c/lough all'ay so
rhal he could (a ugh ill peacc, But th(" blind mell SOOI1 realized rll(lt 50111('011(':
was laughing: Where is thaI lallg/lter comillg from? rlt<'y asked, 011(' oj them
qrabbcd hi.� itoicllO') and ]1l1l1g it ill tile directiOIl of (lic faug/Her, The prorie
grass Id/ert' IUI/utalt /lias hidillg caugltt 011 fire. Ill' Ilad hilldcll llimself ill a
1I01e, with Itis legs outsid(": alld 50, they were bUrl/t,
And rirat's IdlY tilt' Jeet oj the IUllu lali bird are mi.

A cl a
ssi ca l analysis of this myth o ul d no douhr mnclude thM this is a
myth about the origins of a bird's physical characteristic, It s eems to me.

however, thaI Ihis is nOI the ess e n t ial thing, and that this myth is mostly
about humor and derision. Whom docs t he myth ridicule? It is the warriors,
grotes que cripples, m o re vulnerable and stripped than an i n fnnt. It is precise­
ly the opposite of the p o rtr<l i t of the n'al wilfrior, ,1 man who is confIdent,
re ckl ess. powerful and respected by rhe tribe, Tha! is t o say thtll t il e myth
inverts reality, thilt i n digenous thought mythologically docs what no on('
would dream of actual ly doing: making fun of warriors. ridiculing them. This
myth's mocking hu m o r thcrcby exp resses t he gap lhal a warrior society
m ainta ins in rel,llion to its w a r r i o rs . Andwhat fi l ls the gap is p reCi se ly
laughter, lhis same laughter tiln! b ri n gs the warriors their sorrow in the

11 Troir/IO: 1001 for starting a fm'.

I 9 9
I H i A R C H f O ( O ' Y O f V I O ( f N ( f

myth. But society is not really laughing at the warrior (in realiry, it makes
him die), it only laughs at h i m in myth: who k n ows whether rtal l au ghter
would not be turned against it?
Another aspect of the myth: it constitutes a sort of d is c reet guard against
inequality, Does it not say, in effect, that in a kingdom of blind men. the
one-eyed are king? $0 that its moral could be: there i s no good society
except under the sign of equ a l ity and no n -d iv isi on . It is a matter of opening
one 's eyes! It is a ]Jolitical morality tal('. The class ic or strncturalisl rmalysis
of myths obseures the political d i mension of S;lvagt.' thought. Myths no
doubt r('ne('t upon each other, as Levi-Strauss writes. but t hey rencct upon
society fmc they are primitiv(' society's discourse on itself:

L KoRr� 1
Champlain, S., Les Voyogrs (Ir Samuel C/wJI1plaill . .. , Paris, PUF, 1 95 1 .
Elan Nair, Mblloirrs d'l/n Siol/.r, Paris, Stock, 197'1.
Geronimo, Memo;res de Geronimo, P a ris, Maspero. 1972.
Grinnell. G.B., Tile Cilr.n'lllle Indians, Ull iversity of Nebraska P ress , 19:12.
Lo\."i(. R.H. . The Crow bldians. Nrw York, Holt, Ri rl('ha!1 fI Will)IO!I, 1%6.
Relations d('�jrsllites, MO!ltreOlI, Edi t i o ns du Jour, 1972 (vol. 111,1642-1646: vol.
IV. I G47-16S!:i).

II. Ioorw MHO

BiOCCOl, E., YOllooma. Paris, Plan, 1968 [Ff('l1Ch translation).
D o b r i 1 h o ffer, M . . Historio de los Avipon(', F a c u l t a d ric l l u m anidades,
Univl:'rsidad Nacional de] N o rdeste (Argenti!ln). 1967 - 1 970. Vo l. 3 (SpOlTlish t ransla ­
tion of the La ti n o rigi n a l) .
L o z a n o , P . , De�criI'cioll coro!Jrofico riel GrOll Chaco Gua/all1bo. Tucuman
(Arge1l1inaJ, 1 9 4 1 .
Pauckc, F., Haria alld ,l" para ocd (u lla esrada ('11"e los Indios Mvcovirs), 1749-
1761, Tucuman-l3uenos Aires, 1942-1 9'14, Vol. 4 (Sp anish translation).
Sanchez Labrador, J., FI Paragu ay Calo/ico, Buenos Aires, 1 9 10, \·01. 2.

• This t('xt and tile preceding one (Uv re. 77-1) were t o inaugurate a larger work,
whicli will rem a i n incomplete. Pierre Cla sl rt.'s ]('ft a fl'w brief in cii cat ioHS in his notl'S
on the field he intended to explore. l1eTr are wll{li seemed to bC' the' other prillcipal
ani cu l a ti o n s of his book: the nature of the war chief s power; the war of con qu es t i n
p ri miti ve societies as the- possibll' beginn illg of a challge i n tile politic-a I structure
(the case of the Tupij: tht role of womtn in r{'lat io n to war; lht' war of Ihe Stal{' (tile
1I1c�s). [LII)r(" s note.1

2 0 0
JI� flf�ING & IYlvm lOiRINm, [OIiORl

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fOUCAUll llV[: COll[(l[O INl£RVIfWI Of MICHH fOUChUll





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fR"CO!! PmlOl. 10.

'lAO,"Y MAlIQAU' IIIWNf, Ii !I. . 101.

I[MIOl[Xl(f1 Ulh
)IA ftlOiNG & Pm, l.\IBo", WIIWN. 101.

I[MIOl[X[(O If
Rooy RUCKI!, ROBm ANION WlllOO, Pm, [Mao,N WIlION, 101.

HRMWl lwlIAil, £D.