Introduction
The term kanaimà refers both to a mode of ritual mutilation and
ing and to its practitioners. The term also can allude to a more diff
idea of active spiritual malignancy, in existence from the beginnin
time, that consumes the assassins. This book is about those killers
the reasons they give for their actions. It is also about their victim
Kanaimà as an ethnographic issue is complex to research bec
it is a discourse that operates at a number of levels, referring sim
taneously to the dynamics of the spirit world, physical aggression
individuals, the tensions and jealousies between villagers and fa
members, and the suspicions of distant enemies and outsiders.
means that any ethnography of kanaimà necessarily involves a br
appreciation of cultural life and social organization, not least bec
one of kanaimà’s key characteristics is that it is regional, not just lo
in its practice. It is therefore part of the cultural repertoire of a num
of Amerindian groups, and is known of and suffered by their clo
neighbors as well. As a result, one is simultaneously dealing with c
vincing case histories, wild rumors, considered attributions of bla
false accusations, ungrounded gossip, and justified suspicion.
This pervasive and profound discourse of kanaimà is a central eth
graphic fact of the lives of the people of the Guyana
Highlands.1
B
dramatizing the human condition and indicating its futility, kana
is a daily subject of conversation and closely influences the decis
that people make with its vision of a cosmos filled with predatory g
and spirits whose violent hungers are sated by humans. Decision
go to the farm, to make a journey with someone else or not, to c
a gun or not, to pass by the spirit abode of a famed killer, or to w
by a longer route are thus woven into the texture of everyday life
fluencing its practical aspects as much as the ideational. For those
participate in this discourse there is also the distant but steady dr
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