Taussig, Michael

Taussig, Michael – Professor of anthropology at Columbia University. Taussig’s book Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild Man: A Study of Terror and Healing (1987) provides the foremost consideration of the work of Amazonian shamans confronted by and confronting the devastation of colonialism. It not only discusses healing, performance, and sorcery but also considers shamans’ political and cultural leadership (even when they may be marginal, ambiguous, and even feared members of their communities). Taussig also documents the widespread suspicion that European colonialism itself is a form of sorcery or “magia” that shamans, some using ayahuasca (yagé), can attempt to combat. Similar accusations against those who succeed or become rich are significant aspects of witchcraft discourse not only in Amazonia but also in Africa and elsewhere. All of this contributes to an understanding of the resilience of indigenous cultures, especially as they incorporate elements of originally discrete cultural practices and knowledge. Taussig’s work is an important challenge to romantic views of shamans as heroic and exceptional characters. His earthy, bawdy, and matter-of-fact confrontation with the devastating facts of colonial life roots his books in a more gritty reality, albeit sometimes in a trickster-like manner.

SOURCE:

Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007

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