Contemporary Shuar beliefs: The indigenous use of a vexed anthropological concept in post-conversion Amazonia

Christian Tym


The critique of belief as an analytical tool in anthropology has overshadowed belief as an ethnographic reality. This article short-circuits these debates over the politics of belief by elaborating ethnographically the indigenous use of the concept—literally the Spanish “creer” and “creencia”—in Shuar territory in post-conversion Amazonia. It shows that contemporary Shuar “belief” supersedes assumptions about belief as an epistemic commitment. The Shuar concept combines the Christian emphasis on conversion with a relatively stable ancestral notion about the meaning and social significance of knowledge, one that emphasizes its instrumentality, as opposed to the ideology of the truth-seeking cogito striving to make accurate representations of the world. These arguments are advanced by presenting ethnographic material from two distinct sites in Shuar territory in southeastern Ecuador: one in which most people claim to “believe” in shamanic healing and ancestral visionary practices, and one in which they do not.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/718962