Paradise Lost

Letting the Yanomamö speak for themselves

Mark Andrew Ritchie's Spirit of the Rainforest is the freakiest book I've read. If you can stomach the horrific violence, it's practically impossible to put down. So why is it that no national publisher dared touch it? Spirit is an autobiography of sorts, the story of Jungleman, a powerful shaman of the Amazonian Yanomamö people, the biggest hunter-gatherer tribe in the world and subject of anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon's renowned studies. Ritchie, a one-time Chicago commodities trader who spent part of his boyhood in Afghanistan, was found guilty of a few anthropological sins while gathering the stories of the aging Jungleman over a period of more than a dozen years and writing Spirit, originally published in 1996. For one, Ritchie isn't an anthropologist--though at least one area expert, anthropologist Thomas Headland of the University of Texas at Arlington and the Summer Institute of Linguistics International, highly recommends the book. Far from spinning Margaret Mead-like fantasies of a jungle paradise in Amazonia, Ritchie lets Jungleman tell it just like it is in Yanomamö-land: the merciless wars between villages; the gang rapes, murders and butchering of wives; the evil spirits that torment them. Some of the images will be seared in your brain: little children being skewered on an archer's bow, a wife hacked to shreds with a machete as sinew and bone fly. Rough material, but Ritchie hit a little closer to home when he wrote about the Yanomamö's contempt for a well-known anthropologist (he isn't named in the book) who forcibly sodomized their boys. Ritchie also tells the story entirely from Jungleman's point of view, complete with vivid encounters in the spirit world. The nerve!--thinking that the Yanomamö's views of themselves might bear some validity. Then there's the fact that Jungleman and a few of his fellow tribesmen eventually gave up their culture of vengeance and transferred their allegiance to Yai Pada, the "great spirit," or Christian God. Various nabas--their term for non-Yanomamö people--try to persuade them to return to their quaint jungle ways. As one Yanomamö tells a naba, "Am I a dog, that I should have my wife and children live in pain all the time because of what your people in your land say?" Ritchie will talk about Spirit of the Rainforest and his experiences with the Yanomamö people Sunday at 9 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. at Grace Bible Church, 11306 Inwood Road. He'll also appear at a free breakfast on Saturday at 8:30 a.m., where he'll talk about business ethics and his days as a commodities trader. Call 214-368-0779. --Julie Lyons

Tweedy's Bird
Wilco doc will, ya know, Break Your Heart

It's all about luck: Sam Jones set out to document the making of Wilco's bizarro-pop gem Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and wound up with a movie about the evils of Corporate Music when Reprise dropped the band whilst cameras rolled. On the rock-doc scale, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart plays more like the alt-dot-country Spinal Tap; members throw up, break up, shake up, and the music's solid even if the music biz ain't. The film screens at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. Sunday at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 3200 Darnell St. Tickets are $7.50. Call 817-738-9215. --Robert Wilonsky

Get With the Program
Ever have that dream where you're knocking on Larry Hagman's hotel room door, then suddenly he answers in his underwear? Well, that really happened to Texas talk-show pioneer Carolyn Jackson. It's one of many tales recounted in her autobiography We Interrupt This Program, a chronicle of her transformation from Central Texas high school cheerleader to host of Austin's The Carolyn Jackson Show. Jackson signs copies of We Interrupt This Program on Friday at 7 p.m. at the Cedar Hill Barnes & Noble, 362 E. FM 1382, 972-293-7397; Saturday, 11 a.m. at the Frisco Barnes & Noble, 2601 Preston Road, 972-668-2820, and 2 p.m. at the Las Colinas Barnes & Noble, 7615 MacArthur Blvd., 972-501-0430. --Cheryl Smith

A Yanomamö warrior
Mark Ritchie
A Yanomamö warrior

Look Out Below

Those of you who have long wished to see Mayor Laura Miller up a tree--including, no doubt, many city employees--this Saturday is your lucky day. As part of the annual Texas Tree Climbing Championship, Miller will don professional climbing gear and hoist herself up a tree in Reverchon Park, 3505 Maple Ave. The daylong competition will decide who will represent the group at the international championship to be held later in Montreal. The event begins at 8 a.m. and admission is free. Other contests include ax tossing and speed cutting--presumably not on the tree the mayor is climbing, unless, of course, Mary Poss also plans to attend. Call 972-442-1524. --Patrick Williams

Good Work
Miller tells the story of herself
We nearly burst our Dallas-proud buttons when we saw quirky, soulful fiction writer Sue Miller featured in a national magazine this month. Granted, it was the newish Real Simple, a smarmy, New-Ager-cum-housewife kind of rag. Still, we were pleased to see that high-profile sort of talent scheduled for the next Arts and Letters Live event at the Dallas Museum of Art's Horchow Auditorium on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Miller will take questions from the audience and read from her brand-new memoir, The Story of Her Father, which continues the author's family-dynamics-themed work such as The Good Mother. Truth is stranger than fiction, so Miller's ostensibly fictional work stems from her own experiences--odd jobs and impractical pairings. She grew up in Chicago, attended Harvard and Radcliffe. An early marriage, early baby, later divorce, a decade of single parenting and menial work, including day care and taking in boarders, contribute to the intensity of her storytelling. If you're lucky, you can get a released ticket ($18/$16 museum members) to Miller's sold-out lecture 45 minutes before show time. Call 214-922-1220. --Annabelle Massey Helber

Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help