It's the Thoughts That Count

These aren't holiday books; these are books to give people during the holidays, as gifts

It's the Thoughts That Count

The Folklore of Love

Anthropologist Betty Mindlin reaches deep into the Brazilian jungle to find inspiration for stories about love in the 70 tales that make up this volume. They represent folklore from six different indigenous groups that occupy an area of western Brazil known as Rondônia, which today, according to Mindlin, is home to about 350 individuals. Barbecued Husbands and Other Stories From the Amazon (Verso, $21) is good old-fashioned ethnography designed for the nonspecialist. Mindlin's aim is to introduce a wider audience to the rich folklore of Brazil's indigenous peoples. The stories are told with a sense of urgency, capturing them before they disappear forever in the dark tangle of modern commercialism.

She has chosen a theme, love, which she hopes might resonate universally. But these stories are less about love than about sexual transgression and the social consequence of that transgressive behavior. In "The Komen Song, or the Women Who Barbecued and Devoured Their Husbands," the women of a Macurap village become enchanted by a water spirit who convinces them to forsake their husbands and sacrifice them to her so that she can roast and eat them. Once men start disappearing from the village, the remaining men become suspicious of their wives, who seem to have become completely indifferent to them. When they learn that their wives are killing the men in the village, they murder all of them except for two small girls who are hiding behind a tree. These two girls, who refused to take part in the murders, become the progenitors of future generations. The story evolves into an origin myth: From this tragic encounter with the water spirit, both men and women learn how to sing, and thus acquire the cultural memory that defines the Macurap people.

Despite Mindlin's general commentary following the narratives, average readers might still find themselves scratching their heads over just what constitutes love among the indigenous groups of Rondônia. While her introduction implores the reader to "learn how to fish in the deep waters of Brazilian origins and not to push the myths aside as incomprehensible," neither her introduction nor her ending summary offer the reader the tools to do so. Still, the folklore enthusiast will find this collection of tales fertile ground for the imagination. As Mindlin herself admits, many of the stories in this collection could form the framework for a rather compelling novel, or even a film.

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Barbecued Husbands and Other Stories From the Amazon, Verso, Betty Mindlin

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