Glenn H. Shepard Jr.

As the lights in the cinema went down and the opening scene of Ciro Guerra’s 2015 film, The Embrace of the Serpent, began to flicker on the screen, I was primed to be blown away. The film, based loosely on the field experiences of legendary Amazon explorers Theodor Koch-Grünberg and Richard Schultes, and shot on location in the Colombian Amazon with indigenous actors, was being hailed as visionary. Within the first few seconds, my already high expectations of ethnographic authenticity were already surpassed. In the opening sequence, the protagonist, Karamakate, whose youthful self is played by Cubeo indigenous actor Nibio Torres, brandishes a long, slender spear that buzzes like a rattlesnake when shaken. As a researcher and museum curator who has worked in adjacent regions of the northwest Brazilian Amazon, I have seen identical ceremonial rattle-spears in ethnographic collections and heard them deployed in rituals… continue reading.

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