Glenn H. Shepard Jr. is an ethnology curator at the Goeldi Museum in Belém do Pará, Brazil. He is working on a book about shamanism, ecology, and sensory experience, with the title Sorcery and the Senses. He blogs at Notes from the Ethnoground. (October 2014)
Martin Gusinde’s haunting photographs of the Selk’nam, Yamana and Kawésqar peoples—now collected and published in The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego—present a way of life that was already on the brink of extinction when he visited the region in 1918–1924 and that has since ceased to exist. “The word ‘Selk’nam’ can mean ‘We are equal,’… though it can also mean ‘we are separate.’” Gusinde’s camera captures the essence of this fundamental enigma of the ethnographic encounter.
The Falling Sky is several things. It is the autobiography of Davi Kopenawa, one of Brazil’s most prominent and eloquent indigenous leaders. It is the most vivid and authentic account of shamanistic philosophy I have ever read. It is also a passionate appeal for the rights of indigenous people and a scathing condemnation of the damage wrought by missionaries, gold miners, and white people’s greed.