Dr Steve Rubenstein, Reader in Latin-American Anthropology and Director of Liverpool’s Research Institute of Latin-American Studies, has just had a new article published in the journal Current Anthropology: On the Importance of Visions among the Amazonian Shuar. Here, Dr Rubenstein explains his principal argument:

Why do Shuar parents often give their children powerful hallucinogens?  This practice is well documented by anthropologists who worked among these native Amazonians prior to the founding of the Shuar Federation in 1964. The Federation does little to promote pre-Federation rituals, and during my field work it seemed that Shuar parents had abandoned this practice.  Yet, when I recently conducted life history interviews with Shuar women, I learned that this practice remains very important to them. Through plant-granted visions, Shuar children encounter and receive essential powers from their gods.  Shuar lose their divine powers if they speak of them.  Thus, although these encounters are perhaps the most important events in a person’s life, the contents of these encounters are kept secret.

This may seem controversial to some readers, but  Shuar children grow into responsible, thoughtful, intelligent adults. By putting Shuar childrearing into its cultural context and following changes from the anarchy of pre-federation times to the present, I hope to provoke readers to question their beliefs about what they consider “natural,” and consider how their beliefs about children are not universal but culturally specific.

Steven Lee Rubenstein: “On the Importance of Visions among the Amazonian Shuar,” Current Anthropology, Vol. 53, No. 1 (2012), pp. 39-79