An especially comprehensive study of Brazilian Amazonian Indian history, The Last Cannibals is the first attempt to understand, through indigenous discourse, the emergence of Upper Xingú society. Drawing on oral documents recorded directly from the native language, Ellen Basso transcribes and analyzes nine traditional Kalapalo stories to offer important insights into Kalapalo historical knowledge and the performance of historical narratives within their nonliterate society.
This engaging book challenges the familiar view of biography as a strictly Western literary form. Of special interest are biographies of powerful warriors whose actions led to the emergence of a more recent social order based on restrained behaviors from an earlier time when people were said to be fierce and violent.
From these stories, Basso explores how the Kalapalo remember and understand their past and what specific linguistic, psychological, and ideological materials they employ to construct their historical consciousness. Her book will be important reading in anthropology, folklore, linguistics, and South American studies.
Ellen B. Basso is Professor Emerita of Anthropology at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
"Basso artfully integrates consideration of discourse, psychology, and biography as she takes up the theme of historical memory, specifically how historical events and persons are represented through narrative and how meaning is given to choices made in the past. . . . Basso elegantly demonstrates how Kalapalo narrators represent these issues in ways that captivate their listeners."
“Basso is a major figure in [anthropology], working at the peak of her career. . . . The result is a view of Amerindian history that we seldom, if ever, get. The narratives fascinate by their strangeness and wonder as well as by their familiarity, by the peculiar turns of phrase we don’t expect, and by the humanness that we nevertheless recognize.”
—Greg Urban, University of Texas at Austin, author of A Discourse-Centered Approach to Culture: Native South American Myths and Rituals
“. . . unique and pathbreaking . . . The author’s command of Kalapalo language and depth of fieldwork over many years raises the standards for ethnohistorical inquiry to unprecedented heights. . . . The scholarship is not just sound but superb, highly sensitive to the major concerns of current anthropology.”
—Jonathan D. Hill, associate professor of anthropology, Southern Illinois University