Healing translations: Moving between worlds in Achuar shamanism

Anne-Christine Taylor


This article analyzes a series of intra- and intercultural translations involved in the shamanic practices of the northern Jivaroan Achuar. First, it shows how certain states of suffering, experienced as an unwanted metamorphosis of selfhood, are reframed in the course of shamanic healing rituals as the symptoms of an insidious process of disempowerment and "whitening" unleashed by other, enemy Jivaroans. The curing session conflates the victim’s sickness and the history of interethnic relations, construed as a painful process of involuntary qualitative change. A further series of translations come into being when the cure fails and the patient abandons his Jivaroan identity and moves into a lowland Quichua identity. This involves mapping the implicit autobiography of a Jivaroan, moving from illness toward recovered health and social agency, onto Quichua narratives of their own history. However, owing to increasing closure of ethnic groups, Jivaroans nowadays have to deal directly with the spoken and written words of the Whites, and this involves new forms of translation evoked in the final part of the article. 

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau4.2.005