Dividualism and individualism in indigenous Christianity

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Aparecida Vilaça. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau5.1.010


Dividualism and individualism in indigenous Christianity

A debate seen from Amazonia

Aparecida VILAÇA, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

The aim of the article is to intervene in one of the most interesting contemporary debates in the anthropology of Christianity, the issue of the relationship between dividualism and individualism, by exploring a specifically Amazonian configuration of this opposition through my own ethnographic research with the Wari’, an indigenous group of southwest Amazonia. My interest in this topic extends beyond the limits of the debate itself: I see it as a favorable environment for demonstrating the productivity of concepts originating from Amazonian ethnology—especially the Lévi-Straussian notions of “opening to the Other” and “dualism in perpetual disequilibrium,” as well as the perspectivism conceptualized by Viveiros de Castro – in more general discussions of cultural change, a topic on which I have been working over the last twenty years.

Keywords: Amazonia, Christianity, ontology, perspectivism, individualism, cultural change, alternation

For some decades, the Christianization of indigenous people was associated with global political and economic issues that, according to anthropologists, had forced these peoples to recognize the limitations to their own cosmological frameworks.1 [198]These limits had left them unable to respond to their new lived world, including the sudden expansion in their geographical and social horizons, and the advent of new diseases untreatable by traditional therapies. The presumption was that indigenous ethnic groups would discover the insufficiency of the worlds conceived by themselves, and would embrace Christianity as an effective tool in their adaptation to the new world now before them (see Weber [1905] 2003, [1920] 1956; Bellah 1964; Geertz 1973; Horton 1975; also see Hefner 1993 and Pollock 1993 for critical comments).

More recent anthropological works, based on ethnographic research with Christianized native peoples, particularly in the Pacific region and Africa, have transformed our ideas about both the reasons for and consequences of long-term Christian experience in people’s lives. As Robbins (2004: 86–88) has argued, if Christianity is indeed frequently adopted in the crisis situations arising from contact with the Western world, this occurs independent of its cosmological premises, given that the latter are largely unknown during these early moments. This means that the religion cannot be claimed to provide intellectual solutions to problems arising from the transformation of the lived world. And neither can the opposite be asserted: namely, a purely material interest in conversion, as suggested by those responsible for coining the expression “rice Christians”—for a handful of rice, or any other material item, entire populations could be converted.

As we know, the definition of what constitutes a convert has varied considerably within Christianity itself, ranging from participating in rituals and complying with norms to the notion of inner and true conversion, especially with the advent of the Protestant Reformation, and the Calvinist doctrine in particular. In any event, although in most cases the interest in Christianity is indissociable from transformations linked to globalization, especially since the missionaries would never have reached these remote places without the latter, the movement of conversion is determined, initially at least, by the social and cosmological premises of the natives, not by the Christian religion, since, as stated above, the premises of the latter could only be unknown at the time. In other words, Christianity is shaped by native culture, as occurs in the first phase of cultural encounters, which Sahlins (1981, 1985) associates with the assimilation of the new events by means of indigenous categories (see Robbins 2004: 10). It is only with the passing of time, which enables knowledge to be gained of the bases of Christianity through biblical translations, learning new rituals, and incorporating specific “technologies of the self ” (Foucault [1976] 1990: 26–29; Robbins 2004: 217), that Christian cosmology, values, and culture as a whole come to exert a direct influence on the reorganization of the sociocosmological bases of native culture.

While the existence of distinct phases of Christian experience now appears to be a consensus among scholars, the same cannot be said when it comes to determining the central characteristics of this second phase—in other words, the types of transformations that Christian doctrine in its full sense, even taking account its huge variations, imprints on native culture.

[199]The divergence among a group of authors, most of them dedicated to the study of Pacific societies, has generated one of the most intense—and I think most fascinating—debates in the anthropology of Christianity. This debate revolves around the notion of personhood. In very simple terms to be reworked in more detail later, some authors support Robbins’ (2004) conclusion that transformations in the notion of personhood, including the establishment of individualism as the dominant value, and the new morality arising from this shift, comprise the core changes introduced by Christianization, incidentally attesting to the productiveness of the theories developed by Mauss ([1938] 1985) and Dumont ([1971] 2006, [1983] 1986) on the phenomenon. Another set of ethnographers opposes the idea that individualism predominates, though most recognize that the notion is indeed a constitutive element of the native Christian world. For those authors, though, individualism is taken to combine with the traditional dividualism or relationalism— which suppose a notion of the person as multiple and indissociable from his/her relations—to produce a configuration distinct from the hierarchical encompassment proposed by Robbins. In sum, the disagreement between the authors in this debate concerns not the coexistence of these two notions of personhood among Christianized native groups, since the majority concur with this possibility, but the type of relation established between them.

The aim of the present article is to present a specifically Amazonian configuration of the relationship between dividualism and individualism, based on my own ethnographic research with the Wari’, an indigenous group living in southwest Amazonia. My text is stimulated in particular by Robbins’ article published in this issue of Hau. Here Robbins returns to the opposition between individualism and relationalism/dividualism that founds the moral conflict of the Christian Urapmin (Papua New Guinea), reaffirming its hierarchical organization: that is, the encompassment of relationalism, the primordial value of the traditional Urapmin world, by Christian individualism. In so doing, he introduces a new argument to explain the ethnographic evidence presented by other authors showing the persistence of dividualism as an alternative and nonencompassed value. Turning to Dumont once more for inspiration, Robbins defines the transcendent character of individualism, which, clashing with values central to the smooth flow of social life, is unlikely to ever become fully attained on this earthly plane.

I should immediately make clear that my interest in this topic extends beyond the limits of the debate itself: rather, I see it as a favorable environment for demonstrating the productivity of concepts originating from Amazonian ethnology— especially the Lévi-Straussian notions of “opening to the Other” and “dualism in perpetual disequilibrium” (Lévi-Strauss 1996), as well as the perspectivism conceptualized by Viveiros de Castro (1996, 1998, 2012a)—in more general discussions of cultural change, a topic on which I have been working over the last twenty years (Vilaça 1997, 1999, 2006, 2007, 2010).

As one type of change among others, Christianization presents various advantages as an analytic topic. Foremost among these is how it allows a symmetrical approach to the different parties involved in so-called cultural contact, since the Christian perspective, in all its nuances, is made explicit during the work of catechism. This enables us to identify a series of equivocations (Viveiros de Castro 2004) involved in the processes of intercultural translation informing these encounters, [200]especially the contrast between a conception of bodily translation, such as the consubstantialization and mimetism enacted by the Wari’, as we shall see below, and literal translation, as exemplified by the translations of the Bible made by the American fundamentalists who first encountered them.

The dialogue with Robbins’ model (this issue) of the distinct forms of personhood coexisting in Christianity has allowed me to fine-tune the model of cultural change I have been developing, based on the alternation of perspectives characteristic of Amazonian shamanism. I take the opportunity to draw from the author’s use of the works of Werbner (2011) and Daswani (2011), where the ideas of oscillation and alternation provide explanatory models for the Christian experience of the African peoples under study, in order to conceptualize the different ways of relating to alterity found in the Amazonian world, demonstrating the possibility for distinct types of “identity” to coexist, here related in particular to the various configurations of personhood that characterize the Christian life of many of the region’s indigenous peoples.

Following Robbins’ model, where the question of morality is central to Christianization, and through a dialogue with the theories of Roy Wagner (1975) on distinct modes of cultural invention, and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (2001) on the equivocities constitutive of perspectivist translations, I look to shift from the transformation of values to the domain of ontology, properly speaking. This move allows us to reimagine these changes as transformations of the innate world, based, in Amazonia, on a complex dialectic between humanity and animality.

Specifically in relation to Dumont, the author honored in this special section of HAU, and whose perception of the transformations arising from Christianity has inspired some of the most productive analyses in the anthropology of Christianity, I offer a reexamination of his model of hierarchical encompassment, fundamental to Robbins’ theory, from a somewhat unusual perspective. To this end I turn to Viveiros de Castro’s application (1993) of Dumont’s notion of hierarchy in order to conceptualize the relationship between affinity and consanguinity in Amazonian Dravidian systems, categories that in the latter context reveal an encompassment of values, in contrast to their equipollent disposition in the Indian Dravidian systems studied by Dumont. This analytic prodecure enables a properly Amazonian translation of Dumont’s theoretical framework, situating value not in the individualism/dividualism opposition, but in the consanguinity/affinity duality, associated with the notions of the constructed and the innate, respectively.

Locating the discussion

Two of the main protagonists of this debate are Robbins (2004, 2010) and Mosko (2010), who defend two divergent positions, drawing on the same ethnographic data but inspired by distinct anthropological theories. Combining the models of Sahlins (1981, 1985, [1992] 2005) and Dumont (1986) on the transformations that arise from the encounters between cultures, Robbins (2004) stresses the importance of the hierarchical relation between the key values of each culture within the new configuration. From an opposite perspective, Mosko (2010), setting out from the theoretical bases of the so-called New Melanesian Ethnography (NME), especially [201]the work of Marilyn Strathern (1988), emphasizes the essentially dividual quality of the Christian person, whether the latter is Melanesian or Euro-American, which, he argues, helps explain the considerable interest of native peoples in this religion. What is usually characterized as the Christian individual, Mosko suggests, is merely a relational moment of the dividual person (Strathern 1988: 14–15), one in which parts of the self are eclipsed as a means to incorporate others, thus making it completely different to the Euro-American individual (see also Hirsch 2008).

In his article, Mosko (2010) reviews the ethnographic data of other authors in order to prove the pertinence of his approach. These authors, who include Robbins, responded to Mosko’s criticisms with a range of arguments. Errington and Gewertz emphasize the association between “possessive individualism” and Christianity, though they also recognize the persistence of relational values in social life. Unlike Robbins, however, Errington and Gewertz explicitly admit the possibility of dividualism being a part of Christianity (as a global religion) itself, affirming that “Christianity can (perhaps) lend itself to dividualistic thinking, [though] it by no means always does” (Errington and Gewertz 2010: 251). Like Knauft (2010), Barker (2010) focuses his own countercritique on Mosko’s methodology, highlighting Mosko’s difficulties in perceiving the changes arising from Christianization.

Among the authors who joined this debate at a later stage, I shall mention only those cited by Robbins (this issue): namely, Werbner, Daswani, and myself, all of whom have looked to blur the two extreme poles of the debate by arguing for a nonhierarchical relationship between the two models of personhood in the Christian lives of the peoples under study. As remarked earlier, Werbner and Daswani replace the idea of dominance with that of oscillation, emphasizing the contradictory quality of the Christian message. In his analysis of the Christian experience of Apostolic Charismatics in Botswana, Werbner (2011: 196) comments on the “felt sense of Christianity’s paradoxical nature.” Evoking the Renaissance theological debate contained in the work of Cusanus, Werbner (ibid: 197) explores the concept of the coincidentia oppositorum: that is, the idea of the “implied tension at the heart of Christian theology” (ibid.). He thus concludes that not only is “Christianity … more than compatible with dividuality” (ibid.: 198), but also “in southern Africa there is an unstable yet enduring twining of individuality with dividuality” in the form of an “alternating personhood” (ibid.: 199). This approach echoes Daswani’s (2011) in his article on “(in)dividualism” among Pentecostals in Ghana. There he writes: “I describe Ghanaian Pentecostals as ethical subjects who work at resolving this tension between individual desires for rupture and dividual affective relations…. By understanding Christian identity as a living tension between states of individuality and dividuality” (ibid.: 257).

Commenting on the work of these two authors, Robbins (this issue) argues against the notion of oscillation and for the importance of the organization of values through hierarchical encompassment. As indicated above, he contends that the appearance of this kind of oscillation or alternation relates to the fact that individualism is a transcendent value, one sought but ultimately unachieved precisely because this value always conflicts with others. Along with the works of Werbner and Daswani, Robbins also mentions my own analyses of Wari’ Christianity, especially a more recent work where I sought to combine the Lévi-Straussian concept of “dualism in perpetual disequilibrium” (Lévi-Strauss 1996: 239), extensively used [202]in the Amazonian literature, with the Melanesian concept of the dividual, thereby contributing to the ongoing debates between anthropologists working in these two regions (Vilaça 2011). In this earlier article I looked to show, along the same lines as Werbner and Mosko, that Christianity is conducive to the incorporation of the Wari’ dividual, though I added that they are also absorbing the individualist aspects constitutive of the Christian message, seeking to elaborate them in their own way. As we shall see, this implies some limits to the forms of expression of alternation, though not its suppression.

Locating the Wari’ and the missionary encounter

The Wari’, speakers of a Txapakuran language, are an indigenous group of around three thousand people, distributed in eight main villages, as well as numerous smaller satellite villages, in the southwest of Brazilian Amazonia, close to the border with Bolivia.

Until the mid-1950s, the Wari’ had no peaceful contacts with any other people, including the Brazilians living in the region. The latter, whom I refer to here as whites, were named and treated like their other enemies or wijam: killed and whenever possible eaten. The fear generated by this practice among inhabitants of the nearby city of Guajará-Mirim, as well as the economic interest in rubber extraction, led to the massacre of the Wari’ by organized groups of rubber tappers, who, armed with machine guns, exterminated the entire population of villages, forcing the survivors to relocate to ever more isolated areas. To stem the violence, pacification expeditions were organized. The members initially included government agents and American Fundamentalist Protestant missionaries from the New Tribes Mission, which had recently begun work in Brazil and Latin America. After several years of failed attempts, they finally achieved the first peaceful contacts with the Wari’ around 1956. By 1962 most of the population had moved to live with the missionaries on a daily basis.

These expeditions, which included the participation of diverse other people, including manual laborers from the city hired at the last minute, caused serious epidemics. Combined with the earlier armed massacres, these led to the decimation of two-thirds of the Wari’ population. The missionaries spent their time nursing the population and distributing antibiotics and food, essential given the meager resources allocated to these expeditions by the Brazilian government. Once established in the villages, the missionaries refocused their efforts as soon as they could on learning the language, a task for which they had been trained by specialists from another faith mission, the Summer Institute of Linguists/Wycliffe Bible Translators (Stoll 1982; Johnston 1985). As fundamentalists, the main objective of their work was and remains the literal translation of the Bible, for them a book dictated verbatim by God.

Even before they could communicate with the Wari’, the missionaries were able to encourage an association between the effect of the antibiotics and the power of God by praying next to the sick while they received medication. This proved crucial to the Wari’ interest in these whites, combined with what they perceived as their surprising generosity: the missionaries would give food to everyone without [203]demanding anything in return. Over time, though, these generous attitudes were replaced by the introduction of an economic ideology that emphasized equitable exchange, meaning that the Wari’ had to pay for everything they received with local produce and work.

Conversion took place in a highly collective form, the first “wave” beginning at the end of the 1960s, around ten years after contact with the missionaries had been stabilized. At the start of the 1980s, however, a new “wave” occurred in the opposite direction, leading to their deconversion en masse. The reasons given by the Wari’ for the latter decision were the deaths caused by animal spirits, as well as the club fights and sorcery attacks associated with affines. They reconverted en bloc at the start of the 2000s, stimulated, they said, by the Taliban attack on the World Trade Center and the fear that the end of the world would catch them unprepared, taking them all to hell. I had visited the Wari’ for the first time in 1986, at which point they had already deconverted from Christianity and resumed their rituals and shamanism, so it was only from 2002 onward that I was able to see them as Christians. This was when I began to concentrate my field research on this topic.

Going back to the missionaries, it is worth noting that they based their work on the premises of a very particular strand of Christianity, originating from the revivalist churches of the southern United States. As far as I know, only one person from the first team of missionaries, a woman, had been to university, an institution specifically established to train missionaries (Biola University, situated on the outskirts of Los Angeles). All the others had been recruited in churches and trained in the mission’s boot camps, where they had learnt jungle survival techniques to be used later in their fight against the devil. These details are important since we know that Christianity’s considerable internal diversity is a determining factor in the outcome of catechism: in other words, it has a specific effect on the encounter with other cultures or religions (see Fienup-Riordan 1991 and Cannell 2006).

In the aforementioned article by Werbner (2011: 191), for example, the author stresses the influence of the American individualist ideology among the New England Charismatic Catholics studied by Csordas, for whom “the self as culturally constituted … is the discrete self rather than the relational self,” which, he argues, accounts for the difference between them and the Apostolic Charismatics of Botswana.

Turning to the Wari’ case, we can highlight the conflict between the life experience of the missionaries, educated in an environment in which individualism is unquestionably a key value, and the message contained in the various books making up the Bible, written and compiled into a single book around two thousand years ago, when, as we know, individualism was not a dominant ideology. Unlike the Urapmin, or the Christian Apostolic Charismatics of Botswana (Werbner 2011: 181) and Ghanaian Pentecostals cited here—who all received the Christian message directly from the Holy Spirit and have little direct contact with the Bible, even going as far as to reject it in the Ghanaian case, according to Daswani (2011)—the Wari’ conceive the Bible to be the only means of relating to God, its message mediated by lower-middle-class missionaries from the United States whose own belief requires them to translate the text literally. Conflicts are thus central to the Wari’ experience of Christianity. The outcome is, in Sahlins’ words (1985: xiv), a “structure of conjuncture,” a form of Christianity peculiar to diverse other Amazonian groups who [204]have experienced similar kinds of catechism. The conflict between the ideology in which the missionaries were trained and the biblical text is compounded, therefore, by the conflicts and contradictions inherent in the biblical message, its heterogenic aspect, emphasized by historians like Peter Brown (1988) and anthropologists like Mary Douglas (1995: 20–21) and Fenella Cannell (2006). In the words of the latter: “However unyieldingly orthodox the form of Christianity that may be visited on another culture, it can never contain only a single message with single possibilities of interpretation, because Christian doctrine is itself paradoxal” (ibid.: 43). Before we explore this point, I wish to quickly introduce the Wari’ relational world.

Perspectivism and transformability among the Wari’

In a discussion of Amazonian ethnology in an earlier work (Vilaça 2009), I raised a number of questions concerning the applicability of Robbins’ model to this ethnographic universe. I specifically queried the idea that the adoption of a new culture inevitably comprises any kind of radical change, given that this absorption of the outside is the traditional model of reproduction or relation to the Other throughout much of the Amazonian world, and ideally involves the possibility of reversion to the previous state. Moreover, this praxis applies not only to the actions of warriors and shamans, but also to indigenous encounters with white people, among them the missionaries, as described in ethnographic accounts of diverse Amazonian groups.

Indeed this is the theme of the “opening to the Other” explored by Lévi-Strauss (1996: xvii) in The story of Lynx, and later revived by Viveiros de Castro (2002, 2011) in his analysis of the relation between the seventeenth-century Tupinambá and Jesuit missionaries, where he concludes that the Other “was not there a mirror but a destiny,” given the essential ontological incompleteness that this people imagined for themselves (Viveiros de Castro 2002: 220,). Just as Taussig (1993) demonstrated in his analysis of mimetism among the Cuna of the Caribbean, the indigenous population of the Brazilian coast also wished to be like the whites, imitating their gestures, clothing, and words. This mimesis convinced the missionaries that the natives had a keen interest in the Christian faith, though they were soon disappointed with what they called the “inconstancy of the savage soul” (Viveiros de Castro 2002: 195; see also Clifford 1988: 344).

In the Amazonian case, turning into the Other as the means of relating to alterity makes taking the idea of adoption formulated by Robbins (2004: 11), inspired by Sahlins ([1992] 2005), as an explanatory model for transformations somewhat problematic, as well as requiring us to consider the question of oscillation as a crucial point in this relational dynamic. Although native culture is obviously present in defining how the Other is appropriated, we are dealing not with the coexistence of two cultures per se, but ideally, at least from the native viewpoint, with the alternation between them: they become white, then Indian, then white, and so on and so forth, in the same way as shamans are now human, now animal (see Vilaça 2007, 2010).

The question becomes further complicated when we observe that for various Amazonian peoples, culture—that is, the set of categories and values and their [205]relations, as defined by Robbins (2004: 6)—is not limited to humankind, properly speaking, but shared by various kinds of spirits and animals. As Viveiros de Castro (1998: 472–73, 2012a) makes clear in his formulation of Amazonian perspectivism, what varies between these different humans is not culture but what we call nature, that is, the material world we inhabit. Instead of multicultural relativism we have, in the author’s words, multinaturalism or somatic perspectivism.

Among the Wari’, diverse animals are considered human, wari’, sharing the same cultural practices and values. What varies between them is precisely their perspective, which defines the world in which they live. Hence both the jaguar and the Wari’ drink beer, called by the same name, tokwa, but while what the Wari’ call beer is a drink made from maize, the jaguar’s is blood. Translation here is a complex operation, therefore, which involves not the search for new words to designate the same things, a process undertaken by the missionaries, but different worlds designated by the same words. Life is based, then, on an awareness of the coexistence of different worlds and not, as among ourselves, different cultures with particular perspectives onto the same world (see Vilaça in press).

The possibility of interspecific transformation via bodily metamorphosis is a constituent part of the perspectivist universe, potentially occurring in controlled form through shamans, who provide an important source of knowledge, and in uncontrolled form through the diseases and abductions inflicted by animals on other persons. Among the Wari’, from the viewpoint of the agent or patient, turning into an animal simply involves exchanging one set of relations for another, since, whichever set is involved, the agent and companions perceive themselves as human. The change occurs in the perspective or the gaze of the person’s former compatriots or kin, who now perceive him or her to be transformed with an animal body. Hence in the place of an inner self we encounter an “outer self,” a self determined from the outside via the gaze of the other (Robbins, Schieffelin, and Vilaça 2014; see also Taylor 1996; Taylor and Viveiros de Castro 2007: 159). Shamanic cures, among the Wari’, involved negotiating with animals, convincing them to return the victim to his or her former kin.

The different perspectives are, for the Wari’, coexistent and equally true, although action is aimed toward the imposition of one perspective (that of the Wari’) over other perspectives, or, in the case of shamans and the collective transformation into the Other, the acquisition of an alien perspective. In other words, while a hierarchy of perspectives does exist, it is contextually determined and always oscillating (Vilaça 2005; see Lima 2002).

Dividualism in Amazonia

Adapting this description to the Melanesian model of the dividual, I have looked to show (Vilaça 2011) that the Wari’ person is a dividual constituted by two components: wari’ and karawa, which have the double sense of human and animal, predator and prey. The production of kinship via the flux of elements conceived as constituent parts of their bodies (kwerexi’), such as semen, sweat, speech, care, affection, and the sharing of food, is ultimately based on the relation between the Wari’ and animals, both internally constituted as wari’ and karawa (the “one-is-many [206]mode,” in Strathern’s formula: 1988: 14–15). The Wari’ are produced as humans by differentiating themselves from animals/prey, who in their confrontation with the Wari’ are produced as animals/prey and their human component is eclipsed. The wari’–karawa dividual pair ceases to be internal to one person and characterizes the Wari’–animal pair instead, in line with the moment of individuation identified in the NME model (the “dual mode”: ibid.: 14–15). The latter differs from individualization, since rather than producing self-contained persons, it produces one-half of a relational pair. It is important to add that the outcome of any confrontation may be precisely the opposite: the animal may prey on the Wari’, assuming the predator position, wari’, and turning its victim into a karawa.

A relational dynamic based on opposing pairs is an essential characteristic of this model. In Strathern’s words (1988: 14): “Relation is sustained to the extent that each party is irreducibly differentiated from the other” (Strathern 1988: 14). In my view, this oppositional dimension has been largely overlooked by authors using the notion of the dividual to consider Christian experience, who in general emphasize only its partible aspect (see Robbins in this issue for the same observation). It is precisely this oppositional aspect that enables the association between dividualism and the relational models developed for Amazonia. The words of Viveiros de Castro on Amazonia resonate with those of Strathern: “The parties to any relationship are related insofar as they are different from one another. They are related through their difference, and become different as they engage in their relationship” (Viveiros de Castro 2001: 25–26).

As I mentioned earlier, there are some clear affinities between this model and a concept elaborated by Lévi-Strauss (1996: 239) in the context of Americanist ethnology: namely, the idea of a dualism in perpetual disequilibrium, a logical principle that implies an ordering of the world into stable pairs that become successively differentiated.2 Lévi-Strauss (1996: 230) argues that Native American peoples ascribe a negative value to self-similarity, which has the power to paralyze the society’s system of reproduction. Thus each position or category demands its opposite, such that the notion of compatriot, for example, is unthinkable without that of the foreigner or enemy.

As Viveiros de Castro (2001: 19) has shown in a work exploring the Lévi-Straussian notion of dualism and relating it explicitly to the Melanesian model of the person, this dichotomy is reproduced at all levels of the system, from the collective to the individual, following a fractal model (see Kelly 2005). Thus compatriots are themselves differentiated into affines and consanguines, the latter into same-sex or cross-sex siblings (or between younger and older ones), until we arrive at the individual, who, as Viveiros de Castro (2001: 25) shows, is not so much an “individual” as a “dividual” (ibid.: 33), constituted by a body and a soul, the former comprising the compatriot or consanguine pole, and the latter the enemy or affine pole, owing to its association with the exterior, or more specifically with its capacity to produce transformations to the body, altering the person’s “identity.” In the kinship production process analyzed by Viveiros de Castro in his 2001 article, the “affine” pole is systematically eclipsed—but never eliminated—at the different [207]levels of the fractal model. It is the persistence of affinity that explains the instability of this dualism, producing new pairs in a continuous (and infinite) movement of extracting affinity.

In contrast to Melanesia, where gender categories constitute one of the main principles of differentiation, in Amazonia, as some authors have shown (see Descola 2001 and Strathern 1999 for specific comments on this difference), the pairs of opposites are constituted at different levels by configurations of the human/nonhuman opposition (which includes the compatriot/enemy and consanguine/affine oppositions).

Reapproaching Dumont: Discussing hierarchy and value in Amazonia

Viveiros de Castro’s appropriation of the Dumontian hierarchy is focused precisely on the point where, for Dumont (1983: 166–67), the opposing terms are equivalent, namely the relation between consanguines and affines in Dravidian kinship systems, common to India and Amazonia alike (albeit not to the Wari’). In contrast to the Indian universe, though, Viveiros de Castro (1993: 171–74) posits that in the Amazonian world affinity encompasses consanguinity as an unmarked value, just like individualism in the Christian world according to Dumont. In Viveiros de Castro’s hierarchical approach (1993: 174; also see Albert 1985), which applies to Amazonian kinship more broadly, not just to Dravidian systems, the coexistence of values produces no moral conflict, however, since these values are arranged in distinct spheres of the social universe. Hence affinity encompasses consanguinity in wider relational spheres, those involving relations with alterity, whether the latter is represented by foreigners or enemies.

Returning to the Wari’, generally speaking people from other subgroups are treated as prototypical affines and very often called by affinal terms.3 The opposite occurs at more restricted relational levels within the local group, where consanguinity emerges as the dominant value. It is at this level, then, that people look to extract or eclipse affinity and where real affines are frequently addressed by consanguine kinship terms (see Viveiros de Castro 1993: 174).

Affinity is never ultimately eliminated, since it forms an essential part of the system, given that without affinity the world would become paralyzed (Lévi-Strauss 1996: 62–64). Hence it comprises the encompassing value of the system as a whole, insofar as relations with the exterior determine internal relations. In other words, as I mentioned earlier apropos the Wari’ (Vilaça 2002), the production of consanguine [208]kinship prior to Christianity was determined by their relations with animals, since the Wari’ made themselves into kin in order to differentiate themselves from the former. We are faced with concentric spheres of values, therefore, the innermost sphere dominated by consanguinity and the outermost and encompassing sphere dominated by affinity—here the name of difference in the amplest sense.

In Viveiros de Castro’s model, the dominant value is not one which people aim to realize, as in the case of Christian individualism as formulated by Robbins and Dumont, but one taken to be constitutive of the innate world, and which people seek sometimes to eclipse and sometimes to emphasize. In Viveiros de Castro’s synthesis (2001: 28–32), Amazonian sociality is characterized by two indissociable movements pursued in opposite directions: the everyday movement of eclipsing affinity and producing kinship; and ritual movement, performed in collective ceremonies, warfare, and shamanic action, in which relations of alterity—whether with spirits, creator heroes, enemies, or affines—are objectified and recreated, and thereby reintroduced back into the system.4 The two movements are not equivalent, however, since affinity/alterity is the starting point, effectively constituting the innate world. For Viveiros de Castro, these two divergent movements explain not only what seems to be an ambiguity inherent in native systems, which sometimes emphasize consanguinity/identity and other times affinity/difference, but also a historical divergence—at least until recently—between Amazonist anthropologists, some of whom define Amazonian socialities through a focus on peaceful relations and the production of consanguinity (Overing and Passes 2002), while others emphasize the preeminence of relations with the exterior, pursued through warfare, ritual, and shamanism (Albert 1985; Fausto 2007, 2012; Vilaça 1992, 2000; Viveiros de Castro 2001).

A Wagnerian approach to change

A clear similarity exists between this model and Wagner’s in The invention of culture (1975).5 According to Wagner (ibid.: 41–50), each culture defines the universe of the innate in contraposition to what is conceived to be produced by human action. Although the innate is also culturally produced, people cannot be aware of this since it is essential that the innate is taken to be part of the world as such. In the normal course of life, this invention of the innate occurs through a process that Wagner calls “counter-invention,” since it is produced despite human actions. The return to the innate world is perceived by agents as the world’s resistance to human action. On special occasions, however, including rituals, the direction of the agentive movement is reversed and the innate is produced voluntarily (ibid.: 93–99). Given the symbolic risks inherent in this process, it normally occurs in a special space, controlled by people with special capacities, such as shamans and ritual specialists. This involves the movement in an opposite direction, as predicted in Viveiros de [209]Castro’s model (2001), without which the movement of differentiation cannot take place. After this period of inversion, action assumes its customary direction.

Wagner argues that in tribal societies culture and relations are conceived to be constitutive of the innate world, and people look to create differences, producing themselves as special, “individualized,” powerful persons. Such movement does not produce self-contained individuals, as I looked to show on another occasion where I adapted Wagner’s model to the Wari’ (Vilaça 2013), but involves precisely an eclipsing of alterity, or a “de-affinization,” in Viveiros de Castro’s terms: that is, the production of a specific humanity, differentiating the Wari’ as a group from the animals.

An important point of Wagner’s model concerns the unproblematic character of contradiction (Wagner 1975: 116)6 in these differentiating systems, since human intentional action does not aim to produce the kind of linear, coherent world found in our conventionalizing systems, where the innate is constituted precisely by individuals, idiosyncratic beings who must produce conventions capable of coordinating human action. In these systems, individuals exist and culture is produced. Differentiating systems look to differentiate themselves from the conventional, and the paths toward this aim may be multiple and coexistent, leading to the multiple perspectives that we have been commenting on.

For Wagner (1975: 124, 145–46), Christianization can lead to the inversion of the direction of the movement: that is, the transformation of differentiating systems into conventionalizing systems through the reconfiguration of the innate world and the problematization of contradiction.7 In this schema, the individual becomes part of the innate world, and relations are produced through the creation of conventions. Contradictions become experienced as moral dilemmas, diverging perspectives that must be resolved to ensure the system’s coherence.

It is interesting to compare this model of transformation with that of Robbins— a somewhat forced comparison, since the notions of value and hierarchy, central to Robbins’ account, are not made explicit in Wagner’s model, though in my view they can be found there. Using this hybrid language, we could say that, for Wagner, in differentiating traditions positive values are found in differentiation, while in conventionalizing traditions they are found in actions that look to produce conventions and through them relations. In the latter, therefore, individualism is not so much a positive value that people wish to live, but something to which they are [210]compelled owing to their own innate constitution. Cultural change involves the transition from one innate world to another, implying the inversion of the direction of action, something that can be conceived as a moral transformation.

For Robbins, there is no change in the Urapmin universe of the innate since the latter remains relational. The new value introduced with Christianization, namely individualism, has the effect of making relationalism conscious, meaning that people begin to make choices and consequently experience an intense moral conflict. This corresponds to what Wagner identifies as the great danger of the production of the innate becoming conscious. The impossibility felt by the Urapmin of making themselves plain individuals would arise from a movement analogous to Wagner’s idea of the counterinvention of the innate, explaining the “transcendence” of this value, which is never fully realized.

The idea of moral conflict is not part of Wagner’s model—nor of Viveiros de Castro’s model for the values of affinity and consanguinity in Amazonia—since there is no choice to be made, properly speaking, given that there is only one morally sanctioned direction of action (the quotidian). Conflict would occur with the inversion of action, which voluntarily produces the innate, were it not surrounded by ritual precautions and necessarily episodic. A collective and everyday inversion would imply the transformation of the native conception of the innate, precisely what, following Wagner, occurs in large social transformations. In the case of differentiating traditions, transformation would involve the invention of nature and the individual as part of the innate world, which converges with the analyses of other authors of the modernization of animist societies (Descola 2013: 66–67) or nonmodern societies in general (Dumont 1986: 40–43; Latour 1993: 139).

As explored later in this article, Christianity was initially appropriated by the Wari’ through the dividualist perspective of the person, also present in the Christian message, and, through this message, they looked to eclipse the constitutive alterity of their selves, as they did traditionally through intrahuman kinship. The individualist aspect of the Christian message was also comprehended by them, but instead of adopting it as a value for guiding life, they exiled it to the posthumous worlds of heaven and hell. This does not mean that Christianity has not led to transformations in the notion of personhood, especially when we consider the shift in generations, whose importance has been signaled by various authors (Durston 2007: 83; Keane 2007: 139; Maxwell 2007; Barker 2010: 248).

For the Wari’, conversion has primarily involved the introduction of the notion of an inner self, which has started to form part of their discourse. This arises from the introduction of new concepts through translations and above all the suppression of traditional rituals—collective festivals, warfare, and shamanism—where difference–affinity was voluntarily reinserted into the system, having been substituted by Christian rituals focused on the production of identity and the inner self, among them confession.

Dividuality in Wari’ Christian life

In the pre-Christian world, control of undesired interspecific metamorphosis— that is, the eclipsing of the karawa or animal pole of the person—was achieved [211]through the establishment of kinship ties between persons, defusing the possibility of kinship with animals by constituting stable human bodies. This stability was never permanent, though, since animals insisted on attacking the Wari’, or abducting them, associating them with their own kinship network. Insofar as animals appeared as humans, the Wari’ would become animalized, so that the innate world of the internalized dividual person (the “two-in-one” phase defined by Strathern 1988) was counterinvented as resistance and imposed itself on them. On the other hand, during moments of inversion of the movement of invention—that is, collective rituals, warfare, and shamanism—the innate world founded on difference was voluntarily produced.

Christianity was adopted by the Wari’ as an additional way of ensuring the success of this eclipsing. Hence they were especially interested in the Book of Genesis, where animals are desubjectivized by God. After creating heaven, earth, and all the animals, God, according to the Wari’ version of the Book of Genesis (1:26), said: “Let us make people who are similar to us. He will be the leader/chief (taramaxikon) of all the fish and birds and all the strange animals. He will be the leader of all of the earth too. He will be the leader of all the strange animals who crawl across the earth. This is what he said.” Another verse is also revealing: “Eat all the animals, all the birds, and all the strange animals that crawl across the earth as well” (1:30).

By determining that animals are prey only, divine creation desubjectivizes them, constituting the Wari’ as predators and therefore as the sole humans. To share God’s perspective, the Wari’ sought to turn themselves into kin with him, becoming his children through the physical approximation to missionaries or directly through prayers and reading the Bible, taken to be a divine food (Vilaça 2012). From positions to be adopted within a relation of mutual opposition, wari’ and karawa became categories at the moment when the Wari’ accepted—and identified with— the divine perspective (see Vilaça 2009: 154–55). Consequently, we could say that, through Christianity, the Wari’ aim to decomplexify the dividual person in just the same way as they once did through the production of kinship.

The return to the innate world of the “one is many mode” continued to occur and be perceived as resistance, although animal agency was subsumed by the devil, who, according to the missionaries, enters animals and makes them act as people, as predators, like the snake in the Book of Genesis. When a person became sick and this sickness was associated with the ingestion of some animal, or the activity of hunting itself, the Wari’ would say that the devil “entered” the animal and made it act in a vengeful way. As one man said: “It is the devil that joins with the animal spirit” or “Animal spirits don’t exist, it is the devil who enters them.”

The devil, then, corresponds to the wari’ side of animals, who thereby constitute the Wari’, their victims, as prey, karawa. They also say that the devil raises them like people raise chicks, feeding and caring for them, prior to eating them. The transformation of the Wari’ into prey by the devil emerges clearly in their conception of hell, the abode of the devil, a place where bodies remain in a process of eternal roasting, like prey never released from this state (see Vilaça 2009: 158–59).

The relation of the Wari’ to God is conceived in opposition to their relation with the devil, just as kinship within the local group was inconceivable without the dialogue with animal subjectivities. This is made explicit in various prayers and commentaries, as in this remark made by people during a church service:

[212]Wow! The devil really doesn’t want us to escape. He doesn’t like us to accompany God. He says: stay away from God!

He dislikes all God’s things. He really doesn’t like God’s things. That’s why God’s speech becomes incomprehensible to us [when we listen to what the devil says: in many of their prayers, the Wari’ ask God to make them deaf to the devil’s calls].8

In sum, the presence of the devil, by reconstituting the dividual nature of animals, also reconstitutes the dividuality of the Wari’, enabling relations with God to be modeled on the consubstantialization of children by parents and effected through an opposition. However, as I have tried to show in the article mentioned above (Vilaça 2011), the devil is associated with God in an even more direct way in the biblical episode of the conflict with Lucifer and his departure from heaven. In the Wari’ reading of the Bible, the devil is conceived as part of the divine person or, we could say, a member of his kin group, having been created by God and lived with him intensely in heaven before rebelling and moving away like a kinsman who becomes an enemy. As the Wari’ say: “kaxikon jam, Lucifer, was raised by God until he decided that he did not want God to be the taramaxikon (chief) and therefore came to earth and taught the Wari’ to disobey.”

This reading suggests that, following the Wari’ logic explored here, God was originally a dividual before detaching his animal component, karawa, the devil. The latter then reconstituted the human pole of animals, acting as a typical trickster figure by undoing the acts of the creator—that is, by giving back to animals the agency taken from them by God. It should also be noted that other Amerindian groups conceive the relation between God and the devil in similar fashion, as related opposed terms, like the Apapocuva (Guarani), according to Fausto (2007: 90), and the Yanesha, according to Santos-Granero (2007: 68 n. 2).9

Dividuality as part of the innate world is also intrinsic to the Christian message taken by the missionaries to the Wari’, evident not only in their discourse concerning the devil, but also in diverse biblical passages translated literally by them. As an example, we can take I Corinthians 6:19, which was used to illustrate one page of a calendar made by the missionaries in the Wari’ language. The Bible verse in English [213](New King James Bible) reads as follows: “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?” The translation into Wari’ in the calendar reads as follows: “You must all already know that your body is like the house of the Holy Spirit (Tamatarakon Iri’ Jam). He enters and remains in you. [The body] was given to you by God. You cannot say that ‘it is mine’ among you.”

This is a notion very similar to the one we named the Wari’ outer self, in opposition to the inner self: just as in the pre-Christian world the self was constituted relationally and determined from the outside, either by the perspective of kin or that of animal spirits, in the Christian world the self is determined by God or by the devil, who fight with each other for the perspective of the Wari’.

The ambivalence of the body is a central part of Christian paradoxes, either negatively valued as the seat of sin (God has no body and therefore never sins, the Wari’ say), or attributed a positive value in God’s incarnation in Jesus.10 While the missionaries wanted—like the missionary Leenhardt ([1947] 1971: 263–64) from the viewpoint of the Canaque Boesou—to give the Wari’ a stabilized and unified body, which would serve as the seat for their relation to God, the Christian conception of the body is essentially complex and oscillating. As a Wari’ elder observed: “God asks the person to give him all the parts of his body to leave nothing for the devil. If he gives [part] to the devil, he drinks and goes with women.”

The complex notion of personhood transmitted by the Bible undoubtedly comprises an ideal environment for the propagation of the dividualism of the Wari’ and other native groups. Furthermore, what appears contradictory to us and the missionaries, which they attempt to resolve through theological discussions or the notion of mystery, appears unproblematic to the Wari’. So, for instance, the Wari’ often assert that God has no body and soon after remark that “God’s body is like that,” given that personal characteristics, the person’s way of being, are for them located in the body.

Christian individualism

As well as enabling the Wari’ to resume the relational mechanism of the dividual person, the missionaries, paradoxically, transmitted a clearly individualist message. The works of Donald Pollock (1993: 189) and Anne-Christine Taylor (1981: 652) comparing the simultaneous activities of Catholic missionaries and Evangelical missionaries from the Summer Institute of Linguistics among the Amazonian Culina and Achuar, respectively, show that both kinds of missionaries base their work on clearly individualist conceptions, recognized by the Indians as such, whether adopting or rejecting them. The most important difference, according to the authors, resides in the fact that the individualizing premises are made explicit by the Evangelicals, while they remain implicit in Catholic practice. Among the Achuar, the Evangelicals laud routinized physical work and relate success in accumulating capital to divine assistance, while the Catholics created [214]a cooperative system ruled by a notion of property alien to the Indians (ibid.: 669).11 The cooperative created among the Culina is also the example chosen by Pollock (1993) to illustrate what seems to be an important equivocation made by the Catholics. The removal of goods for sale was related to a notion of individual productivity which, as for the Wari’ involved in the cooperative at the Catholic village of Sagarana that I saw operating in the 1990s, was not traditionally valued. According to Pollock (ibid.: 183), the system—based on the idea that social relations could be measured by individually owned goods—violated the Culina view of sociability, which led them at the time to reject the missionary projects and thus Christianity.

Among the Wari’, as among the Achuar, the Evangelical missionaries act out an explicit individualism in their everyday practices. They encourage individual exchanges within the market economy model, demanding that each item offered to them by the Wari’ is paid with an item of equivalent value. So, for example, a hook would be equal to one hen’s egg, while two hooks would have to be repaid with two eggs. They also encourage the execution of services, such as cleaning the house yards, very often paid directly in money. Here, though, the Wari’ tend to act similarly to the native peoples cited by Sahlins in his article on “sentimental pessimism” (Sahlins [1996] 2005, 1997a, 1997b), using the new resources to extend their network of kin, minimizing the individualizing character of these practices, a fact that has very often frustrated the missionaries. In 2005, for example, a man killed a tapir and, to my surprise, after distributing some of the meat to his close kin, sold the rest in his house, using some scales to weigh the cuts and charging a fixed price per kilo, which the buyer could pay in either money or produce. My reflections on the mercantile and individualizing character of this practice were cut short when I saw people’s elation at being able to obtain meat that previously would have been limited to close kin and thus unavailable to them. The possibility of buying meat had the effect of extending the ties of commensality and, therefore, kinship with the local group as a whole.

The missionaries were disappointed not only with the difficulties shown by the Wari’ in appropriating the ideology of the market, but also with what appeared to them to be a strange absence of an inner self capable of serving as a locus for a private relation with God, one which, from the viewpoint of the American missionaries, formed part of the innate world of each and every person.12 For the Wari’, as we have seen, by being determined from the outside, the self is rather an outer self, an always provisional identity that in no sense “belongs” to the person, or, in the words of Viveiros de Castro (2012b: 41), “a Self that is radically Other.” In a comment by the New Tribes missionary Royal Taylor on the abandonment of Christianity by the Wari’ in the 1980s and 1990s, the search for an inner self among the Wari’ is clear: “They were not converted through the spirit, only through mental persuasion. [215]Believing for them only meant changing their life, and believing is an intimate relation with God, which they had not known” (Royal Taylor, pers. comm. 1994).

Conclusion: New configurations

As I mentioned at the start of this article, over time this configuration has transformed. From 2002 to 2008, the period in which I carried out my research on the Christian life of the Wari’, I was able to observe important modifications. The first was the suppression of traditional rituals, including shamanism, which was still fully active at the start of the Christian revivalism in 2002. Although they were called the devil, the shamans remained active, keeping present the humanized animals, and consequently the animality of the Wari’, who continued to be victims of attacks by animal spirits. Over the years, worn down by the isolation to which they were condemned by others, the shamans began to refuse contacts with their animal partners, who thereafter abandoned them. They say they now follow Jesus, not the animals. The last shaman of the Negro River, Orowam, whom I called grandfather, converted in 2005. In parallel, the dietary taboos, which sought to regulate relations with animals and avoid predation, ceased to make sense following the Wari’ efforts to turn themselves into God’s children, thereby sharing his perspective of human– animal relations, as transmitted in Genesis.

In terms of the other rituals involving the controlled inversion of the movement of invention, or the insertion of difference–affinity into the system, funerary cannibalism, war, and warfare cannibalism were abandoned soon after pacification in the 1960s. The chicha festivals, however, remained central to the constitution of Wari’ sociality and personhood, making explicit the affinity eclipsed in everyday life.13 With the extension of Christian fraternity to everyone, these rites lost their meaning, since there was no longer any place for the objectification of the rivalry between affines or, consequently, for the traditional means of its domestication, like the war club fights, which resolved conflicts by enabling them to be made explicit. The suppression of these rites was accompanied by the introduction of new ones, such as the church services in which everyone can become a child of God by eating his words (Vilaça 2012), and the Bible conferences in which generalized consanguinity is produced through rituals of commensality that involve prototypical affines, the members of other Wari’ subgroups. The constitutive difference of social life has lost the ritual contexts of production, replaced by rituals aimed at the production of social and personal identity.

Confession occupies the central place in the production of this personal identity: that is, the person’s equation with himor herself, through the invention of an internalized self, separate from the others and visible to God. As a result, the Wari’ notion of the heart, traditionally the locus of thought and feeling, necessarily visible in the constitution of the body, has undergone a process of internalization, becoming equated with the Christian soul (see Robbins, Schieffelin, and Vilaça 2014 for a more wide-ranging analysis of this phenomenon). This constitutes another [216]invention brought by the missionaries, given that the Wari’ had no concept of an inner vital principle of the kind we usually equate with the soul. Everything for them amounted to the body, which changed form depending on the person’s relational context and perspective. The Wari’ call this other objectified body jamixi’ or tamataraxi’, the latter being the expression chosen by the missionaries to designate the Christian soul.

Although the devil initially acted through animals, over the years he has shifted to enter people directly, inciting them to act with greed and anger, just like affines usually do. Hence while affinity as the place of alterity, or as an expression of one of the poles of the dual constitution of persons, has proven resistant to the unification intended by Christian fraternity (insofar as it is once again counterinvented by the devil, unaware to people, as happened with animality), the disappearance of the animal pole has caused a narrowing of the person’s axis of expression, affecting its outcome. It is as though dividualism could not be expressed in the same way when humanity became reduced to the Wari’ per se, that is, a universe in which affinity is no longer one of the fractal configurations of this dualism, leaving the Wari’ as its only expression (see Vilaça 2013).

This process is analogous to what Anne-Christine Taylor (1996: 211) observed in the Christianization of the Jivaro Achuar: prevented from enacting any extreme relations, people became “just-so-persons,” apparently equal to what they had been, but in fact very different owing to the transformation of the world they inhabit.14 It is also analogous to the process experienced by the Canaque who, according to Leenhardt ([1947] 1971: 263–64), abandoned the relations of “participation” with nonhuman beings with the advent of Christianity, though maintaining intrahuman participations, that is, the mutual constitution of persons, which we could call relationalism. Leenhardt ([1947] 1971: 268–72) adds that this was an important path in the unification of the person, essential to the experience of Christianity, but distinct from the self-cenetred Western individual, undesired by the missionary (see also Clifford 1992: 78 and Vilaça 2013).

In the terms set by Wagner’s model, we could say that counterinventions of the innate world cannot be sustained partially, that is, with the suppression of one of the dimensions of this world (the animal pole of the person and the human pole of animals) and the absence of the episodic movements of voluntary inversion in the direction of action where the innate is fabricated. The result is indeed a movement toward the transformation of the innate world, constituted, as I remarked earlier, by an idea of nature and individuals to be domesticated through conventions and new rituals. This process is far from being completed among the Wari’, however, a fact certainly linked to the idea of individualism as a “transcendent” value, which is only realized with great difficulty in these cultures, as Robbins (this issue) has shown.

[217]One example of this transcendence is the Wari’ invention of heaven, a place peopled by caricatured individuals, living private lives in isolation from each other, each one occupying his or her own house. They hold no festivals, never marry, never exchange food and never live with each other. They spend all their time writing down God’s word, dictated to them, but without any visual or physical contact with God. Only there are they finally completely human, having entirely eliminated their animal component—even that represented by affinity—and thus the risks of metamorphosis and anger.

It is important to note that the Wari’ find nothing attractive about this heaven, which is only valued in contrast to hell: the latter is highly feared as a posthumous destiny, since unlike what happens in heaven, in hell it is the animal pole that becomes fixed, transforming the Wari’ into prey in a never-ending roasting process.

Heaven and hell are thus two opposed objectifications of the same notion of the individual, as elaborated by the Wari’, and are both negatively valued. The consanguine kinship extended to everyone in heaven has the strange outcome of complete isolation, as if the absence of affinity, though desired, makes relations as a whole meaningless. Likewise, consanguinity given a priori, rather than as an outcome of daily acts of caring that transform “dislike” into “like,” or enmity/affinity into consanguinity, is not considered a proper relation (see Vilaça in press).

The final passage to the individual is necessarily accompanied by the end of transformation. Individualism in its full Euro-American sense, as perceived by the Wari’, is not something they aim to achieve; rather, it is something that produces not just conflicting moral effects, but an ontological catastrophe, the same outcome predicted by Lévi-Strauss (1996), the paralysis of the world. In hell they are roasted on a fire that never completes their transformation of prey into food, which in the case of hunted animals allowed them to revive through the acquisition of new bodies. In heaven they do not speak, do not marry, do not have children, and do not hold festivals. The position of full humanity acquired in heaven, freed from attacks by animals and affines, equivalent to pure animals/prey in hell, leads to stagnation and the appearance of a dead world.15 The image of heaven offered by a Wari’ man in 2009 seems to me a clear caricature of what happens when difference is eliminated: “In heaven everyone has the same face, as though they were angels (jami pawin). And they use the same clothing, the same color. There is no difference between people, you don’t recognize them as different.” This seems to have been why the Wari’ have delegated the completion of the process of transforming into white people and Christianization to posthumous life. Experiencing this completion on earth would imply death in life.

The images of posthumous life show that the Wari’ recognize individualism to be part of the Christian message, but exploit the ambiguity of the missionary [218]message, which oscillates between the emphasis on the dividual and individual person, to take the transcendent character of this value to its extreme. At the same time, though, the transformation of ritual life and the new concepts introduced with the translations and readings have constrained the full realization of the dividual, which suggests the possibility that the individual might, in the future, come to “walk with its own feet on the earth” (Dumont 1986) of the Wari’.

In sum, the present article supports Robbins’ general arguments on the intrinsic relation between Christianity as a religion and individualism, although it looks to demonstrate that, as shown by Mosko (2010) and other authors like Cannell (2006) and Hirsch (2008), there are dividualist aspects evident in the different Christian doctrines that corroborate the conflict of values lived by Christianized native peoples.

I have also aimed to show that, for [219]the Wari’ at least, it is unproductive to think of the relationship between individualism and dividualism/relationalism in the form of a hierarchy, even if we consider that the dominant value is not materialized as such in social practice, as Robbins argues in the case of the individualism theorized by Dumont. In some ethnographic cases, the model of alternation between the different configurations of personhood seems to me the most adequate for conceiving this relation, as Werbner and Daswani have shown in relation to specific African contexts and I have done in relation to the Wari’. Robbins’ counterargument to this idea, which insists on identifying relational or dividualist contexts as of less importance in social life, fails to adequately explain the cases in question.

In order to sustain the notion of alternation in opposition to hierarchy, I took a long detour, proposing an Amazonian reading of Dumont’s theory of value, based primarily on Viveiros de Castro’s (1993) analyses of kinship and Wagner’s (1975) theory of cultural invention. By tracing continuities between very diverse theories, I have aimed to show that when we attempt to use the language of an encompassment of values to describe the sphere of Amazonian kinship, especially the relation between consanguinity and affinity as proposed by Viveiros de Castro, a series of differences emerge in relation to Dumont’s model, especially regarding the way in which it is applied by Robbins. Firstly, the idea of dominance emerges in the Amazonian context associated with the concept of the given or innate world, and not as a value to be pursued or sought. Expressed differently, people do not look to realize affinity, but find themselves compelled into these relations through counterinvention, without any intervention from their own agency. This explains the absence of the idea of moral conflict (not in general, of course, but specifically in the domain of kinship classification) which is central to Robbins’ model—an absence also related to the fact that each of these values is lived in distinct contexts of social life: consanguinity is the dominant value in the local group, while affinity encompasses the extragroup relations or the relations with the outside more widely.

Although cultural change is undoubtedly occurring among the Wari’ with their ever-increasing adherence to Christianity, this cannot be attributed to the transformation in the relation between values, as Robbins argues, with individualism taking over the most important aspects of social life. Rather, such change is driven by the transformation of the innate world and the privileged direction of human action in Wagnerian terms. Instead of thinking of life as a dialectic between differentiation and conventionalization, or between quotidian and ritual, which allowed the Wari’ to experience identity paradoxes in a nonproblematic way, assuring an alternation of perspectives and the coexistence of distinct configurations of personhood, they have begun to pursue a univocal movement of conventionalization in which paradoxes and differences are negatively valued.


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Dividualisme et individualisme dans le Christianisme indigène: Un débat vu d’Amazonie

Résumé : Le but de cet article est d’intervenir dans un des débats contemporains les plus intéressants en anthropologie du Christianisme, le problème de la relation entre le dividualisme et l’individualisme, en explorant une configuration spécifiquement amazonienne de cette opposition à travers ma recherche ethnographique parmi les Wari’, un groupe indigène du sud-ouest de l’Amazonie. Mon intérêt sur ce sujet va au-delà du débat lui-même : je le vois comme un environnement favorable pour démontrer la productivité des concepts issus de l’ethnologie Amazonienne— en particulier la notion Levi-strausssienne « d’ouverture à l’Autre » et de « dualisme en déséquilibre perpétuel », tout comme le perspectivisme conceptualisé par [225]Viveiros de Castro—dans des discussions plus générales du changement culturel, un sujet sur lequel j’ai travaillé durant les vingt dernières années.

Aparecida VILAÇA is Associate Professor for the Graduate Program in Social Anthropology at the Museu Nacional, UFRJ. She has undertaken extensive fieldwork among the Wari’ Indians of Amazonia, focusing on the themes of ritual, ethnohistory, cultural change, and Christianity. She is the author of the books Strange enemies (2010), Quem somos nós (2006), and Comendo como gente (1992), as well as coeditor of Native Christians: Modes and effects of Christianity among indigenous peoples of the Americas (2009), and the author of numerous other book chapters and articles.

Aparecida Vilaça
Programa de Pós-Graduação em Antropologia Social - Museu Nacional
Quinta da Boa Vista s/nº - São Cristóvão - Rio de Janeiro-RJ
CEP 20940-040


1. An early version of this text was presented at the Locating Religion Seminar of the Centre for Research in Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities (CRASSH) at the University of Cambridge, UK, where I worked as a visiting scholar in January and February 2014. My thanks to Joel Cabrita and David Maxwell for the invitation, and to the other people present for the lively debate, especially Joel Robbins, Geoffrey Lloyd, and Richard Werbner. I also thank Hau’s anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. Field research among the Wari’ was funded by the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development (CNPq), and Rio de Janeiro State Research Support Foundation (FAPERJ).

2. This concept is a development of the notion of concentric dualism, elaborated by the author in Lévi-Strauss (1963).

3. Wari’ society is constituted by eight subgroups of mytho-historical origin, who originally inhabited specific territories. People from another subgroup are called “foreigners” (tatirim) and are attributed differences in accent, in the details of some myths, as well as in food taboos. Though not valorized, marriages between persons from different subgroups were common in the past, and are frequent today when the subgroups find themselves partially mixed in the postcontact villages. The Wari’ have a Crow– Omaha-type kinship system without marked positions of affinity. Real or effective affines from another subgroup are called by terms of affinity especially in the context of the chicha festivals held between subgroups, which we shall discuss later on.

4. See Strathern (1988: 118 and 1999: 98) on the idea of distinct socialities in quotidian and ritual life.

5. See Leite (2013) on these parallels. See also Kelly (2011).

6. See also Lévy-Bruhl ([1926] 1985: 78, 361). It is important to note that the use of the term “contradiction” here refers to this somewhat vague perception of a coexistence of divergent behaviors or ideas, rather than being determined by the debates between Aristotle and Heraclitus on the Law of Contradiction. In the latter case, attributes said to be contradictory must be “predicated of the same subject at the same time, in the same respect and in the same relation” (Lloyd 1966: 87; see also 86–102). An interesting comparison can be made between this type of characteristic and the absence of our sense of whole among Melanesian peoples according to the analysis by Hirsch (2008). On the unsuitability of the Dumontian concept of “totality” in relation to Amazonia, see Viveiros de Castro (2001: 27).

7. See also Keane (2007) on the relation between Christianity (and modernity) and the process named by Latour (1993) as purification, specifically the clear differentiation between subjects and objects.

8. Mosko’s (2010: 230) observation concerning the devil among the North Mekeo suggests a point of comparison: “Villagers accordingly understand sin as adding to one’s person some bit or taint of Diabolo, which simultaneously closes oneself off from receiving Deo’s gifts.” See Kopenawa and Albert (2010: 261) on the Yanomami.

9. This brings us back to Lévi-Strauss’ analysis (1996: 49–50) of Amerindian twins, always conceived in the form of opposites. In a footnote, the author (ibid.: 50) draws a comparison between the fall of the mythic deceiver and the fall of the biblical Adam, which could be explored through an analysis of the role of the devil and the notion of sin. For a detailed discussion of the concept of the devil among the Amazonian Ese Ejja, see Lepri (2003: 239–59). See also Rivière (1981: 8) on the Trio. Evens (1997: 212) in an analysis of the biblical episode of Adam and Eve suggests the equivalence between the serpent and God: “The serpent is peculiarly identifiable with the absolute, with God.” Among the Yanomami the shaman Davi Kopenawa identifies God with the trickster Yoase, whose actions could be associated with those of the devil (Kopenawa and Albert 2010: 492).

10. See Cannell (2006: 41–43) and Schmitt (1998: 344) on Christianity in different historical moments and environments “attributing a strong ambiguity to the body.”

11. On the sanctification of work for Calvinists and Lutherans, achieved through the worship of God and self-discipline, see Troeltsch (1976).

12. On the relation between Christianity and interiority, see Foucault ([1976] 1990: 60–79); Charles Taylor (1989); Lambek (1998: 122 n. 20); Cannell (2006: 15); Keane (2007); Robbins, Schieffelin, and Vilaça (2014).

13. In those festivals, members of different subgroups, referred to by affinity kinship terms, were “killed” by an excess of fermented maize beer (chicha).

14. One of the article’s reviewers pointed to the interesting parallel between Taylor’s concept of “just-so persons” and the affirmation made by the Ilongot, according to personal information from Michelle Rosaldo, that with the abandonment of headhunting in the wake of evangelization, by the same New Tribes Mission, the world has become “greyer.”

15. On the relation between the absence of affinity and the static aspect of the posthumous Kraho world, in opposition to the dynamic aspect of the lived world, see Carneiro da Cunha (1978: 122 and 128). Also see Overing (1985: 157), where heaven among the Piaroa comprises a place without affines, “asocial safety.” “All immortal beings in the Piaroa cosmos live alone, have a solitary existence.” See also Viveiros de Castro (2002: 207) in his essay on the interest of the Tupinambá in the missionaries and Christianity: “an alterity without which the world would succumb to indifference and paralysis.”