Human Ecology

, Volume 40, Issue 6, pp 833–845 | Cite as

Church Affiliation and Meat Taboos in Indigenous Communities of Guyanese Amazonia

  • Jeffrey B. LuzarEmail author
  • Kirsten M. Silvius
  • Jose M. V. Fragoso


Using data from a three-year study of socioeconomic factors influencing hunting in 23 indigenous communities, we assess the influence of indigenous and Christian beliefs and practices on dietary taboos among Makushi and Wapishana peoples in the Guyanese Amazon. We found that members of Evangelical and established (Anglican and Catholic) churches do not differ significantly in terms of their adherence to dietary restrictions and members of Sabbatarian churches show a stronger tendency to adhere to dietary taboos than Evangelicals or members of established churches. Counter to expectations, we found no significant difference in avoidance of meat between households belonging to established and Evangelical churches. Furthermore, members of all church groups deviated in terms of dietary restrictions from indigenous norms as exemplified in dietary advice given by shamans. We conclude that, despite doctrinal opposition to shamanistic practices associated with indigenous taboos, there is continuity in terms of dietary practice among Makushi and Wapishana households that have converted to Evangelical and, to some degree, Sabbatarian forms of Christianity.


Dietary taboos Indigenous lands Amazonia Shamanism Christianity 



We would like to thank the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency, especially Indarjit Ramdass and Damian Fernandes and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs for authorizing the study and for their attentiveness to permit extensions. The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development and the North Rupununi District Development Board acted as in-country partners and provided important logistic support. We thank the Makushi and Wapishana technicians whose hard work and dedication made the research possible, as well as the leaders and members of all our partner communities for their innumerable contributions to the project. The National Science Foundation (BE/CNH 05 08094) provided funding for this project. We thank the program officers and division leaders at the NSF who understood the complexities of working with politically charged socio-ecological systems and multiple academic institutions and provided excellent guidance throughout the project. Oskar Burger contributed to the statistical analysis components of the paper. We thank the graduate students, post docs, data transcribers, and volunteers who are not authors on this paper but who contributed essential work and ideas to the project, as well as Lisa Curran, Peter Vitousek, Rodolfo Dirzo for their logistical support at Stanford University. Dominique (Nickie) Irvine, Oskar Burger and Sean Giery provided insightful comments. Finally, we thank three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on a draft of this paper.


  1. Alvard, M. S. (1993). Testing the "Ecologically Noble Savage" Hypothesis: Interspecific Prey Choice by Piro Hunters of Peru. Human Ecology 21: 355–387.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bacchiddu, G. (2009). ‘Before we were all Catholics’: Changing religion in Apiao, Southern Chile. In Vilaça, A., and Wright, R. M. (eds.), Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Ashgate, Burlington, VT, pp. 53–70.Google Scholar
  3. Balée, W. (1985). Ka’apor Ritual Hunting. Human Ecology 13(4): 485–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Begossi, A., Hanazaki, N., and Ramos, R. M. (2004). Food Chain and the Reasons for Fish Food Taboos among Amazonian and Atlantic Forest Fishers (Brazil). Ecological Applications 14(5): 1334–1343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Belaunde, L. E. (2000). Epidemics, Psycho-Actives and Evangelical Conversion among the Airo-Pai of Amazonian Peru. Journal of Contemporary Religion 15(3): 349–359.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Colding, J., and Folke, C. (2001). Social Taboos: “Invisible” Systems of Local Resource Management and Biological Conservation. Ecological Applications 11(2): 584–600.Google Scholar
  7. Crawley, M. J. (2007). The R Book. John Wiley and Sons Ltd, Chichester, UK.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dean, B. (2009). Urarina Society, Cosmology, and History in Peruvian Amazonia. University of Florida Press, Gainesville, Florida.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Farage, N. (1986). As Muralhas dos Sertões: Os Povos Indigenas do Rio Branco e a Colonização (Dissertation). Universidade Estadual de Campinas, São Paulo, Brazil.Google Scholar
  10. Farage, N. (2003). Rebellious memories: The Wapishana in the Rupununi uprising, Guyana, 1969. In Whitehead, N. (ed.), Histories and Historicities in Amazonia. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, pp. 107–122.Google Scholar
  11. Forte, J. (ed.) (1996). Makusipe Komanto Iseru: A Makushi Way of Life, North Rupununi District Development Board. Annai, Guyana.Google Scholar
  12. Fragoso, J.M.V. (1991). The effect of hunting on Tapirs in Belize. In Robinson, J., and Redford, K. (eds.), Neotropical Wildlife Use and Conservation. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp. 154–162.Google Scholar
  13. Fragoso, J. M. V., Silvius, K. M., Read, J. M., Gibbs, J. P., Martins, L. L., and Chave, J. (2005). Biodiversity Dynamics and Land-Use Changes in the Amazon: Multi-Scale Interactions between Ecological Systems and Resource-Use Decisions by Indigenous Peoples. Unpublished proposal, National Science Foundation, Arlington, VA.Google Scholar
  14. Godoy, R., Reyes-García, V., Vadez, V., Leonard, W. R., Tanner, S., Huanca, T., and Wilkie, D. (2009). The Relation between Forest Clearance and Household Income among Native Amazonians: Results from the Tsimane’ Amazonian Panel Study, Bolivia. Ecological Economics 68: 1864–1871.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Gray, C. L., Bilsborrow, R. E., Bremner, J. L., and Lu, F. (2008). Indigenous Land Use in the Ecuadorian Amazon: A Cross-cultural and Multilevel Analysis. Human Ecology 36: 97–109.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Grotti, V. E. (2009). Protestant evangelism and the transformability of indigenous bodies in Northeastern Amazonia. In Vilaça, A., and Wright, R. M. (eds.), Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Ashgate, Burlington, VT, pp. 109–126.Google Scholar
  17. Hames, R. (1979). A comparison of the efficiencies of the shotgun and bow in Neotropical forest hunting. Human Ecology 7: 219–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hames, R. (1991). Wildlife conservation in tribal societies. In Oldfield, M. L., and Alcorn, J. B. (eds.), Biodiversity, Culture, Conservation and Eco-development, Westview, Boulder, Colorado, and San Francisco, California, pp. 172–199.Google Scholar
  19. Hames, R., and Vickers, W. (1982). Optimal Diet Breadth Theory as a Model to Explain Variability in Amazonian Hunting. American Ethnologist 9(2): 358–378.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Hemming, J. (1978). Red Gold: The Conquest of the Brazilian Indians, 1500–1760. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.Google Scholar
  21. Henfrey, T. (2002). Ethnoecology, Resource Use, Conservation and Development in a Wapishana Community in the South Rupununi, Guyana (Dissertation). University of Kent at Canterbury, UK.Google Scholar
  22. Hill, K., and Hawkes, K. (1983). Neotropical hunting among the Aché of Eastern Paraguay. In Hames, R., and Vickers, W. (eds.), Adaptive Responses of Native Amazonians. Academic, New York, pp. 223–267.Google Scholar
  23. Hill, K., Padwe, J., Bejyvagi, C., Bepurangi, A., Jakugi, F., Tykuarangi, R., and Tykuarang, T. (1997). Impact of Hunting on Large Vertebrates in the Mbaracayu Reserve, Paraguay. Conservation Biology 11(6): 1339–1353.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hugh-Jones, S. (1994). Shamans, prophets, priests and pastors. In Thomas, N., and Humphrey, C. (eds.), Shamanism, History and the State. University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, pp. 32–75.Google Scholar
  25. Instituto Socio-Ambiental. (2012). [online] URL:
  26. Koster, J., Hodgen, J., Venegas, M., and Copeland, T. (2010). Is Meat Flavor a Factor in Hunters' Prey Choice Decisions? Human Nature 21: 219–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Laugrand, F. B., and Oosten, J. G. (2009). Shamans and missionaries: Transitions and transformations in the kivalliq coastal area. In Vilaça, A., and Wright, R. M. (eds.), Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Ashgate, Burlington, VT, pp. 167–186.Google Scholar
  28. Luzar, J. B., Silvius, K. M., Overman, H., Giery, S. T., Read, J. M., and Fragoso, J. M. V. (2011). Large-scale Environmental Monitoring by Indigenous Peoples. BioScience 61(10): 771–781.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Luzar, J. B., and Fragoso, J. M. V. (2012). Shamanism, Christianity and Culture Change in Amazonia. Human Ecology. doi: 10.1007/s10745-012-9515-2.
  30. McDonald, D. R. (1977). Food Taboos: A Primitive Environmental Protection Agency (South America). Anthropos 72: 734–748.Google Scholar
  31. Meyer-Rochow, V. B. (2009). Food Taboos: Their Origins and Purposes. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine 5: 18–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moran, E. F. (1974). The adaptive system of the Amazonian Caboclo. In Wagley, C. (ed.), Man in the Amazon, University of Florida Press. Gainesville, Florida.Google Scholar
  33. Novaro, A. J., Redford, K. H., and Bodmer, B. E. (2000). Effect of Hunting in Source-sink Systems in the Neo-Tropics. Conservation Biology 14(3): 713–721.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ohl-Schacherer, J., Shepard, G. H., Kaplan, H., Peres, C. A., Levi, T., and Yu, D. W. (2007). The Sustainability of Subsistence Hunting by Matsigenka Native Communities in Manu National Park, Peru. Conservation Biology 5(21): 1174–1185.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ostrom, E. (2009). A General Framework for Analyzing Sustainability of Social-ecological Systems. Science 325: 419–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Peres, C. A. (1990). Effects of Hunting on Western Amazonian Primate Communities. Biological Conservation 54(1): 47–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Peres, C. A., and Nascimento, H. S. (2006). Impact of Game Hunting by the Kayapó of South-eastern Amazonia: Implications for Wildlife Conservation in Tropical Forest Indigenous Reserves. Biodiversity and Conservation 15: 2627–2653.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Pezzuti, J. C. B., Lima, J. P., Da Silva, D. F., and Read, A. B. (2010). Uses and Taboos of Turtles and Tortoises along Rio Negro, Amazon Basin. Journal of Ethnobiology 30(1): 153–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Rappaport, R. A. (1968). Pigs for the Ancestors. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  40. Read, J. M., Fragoso, J. M. V., Silvius, K. M., Luzar, J. B., Overman, H., Cummings, A. R., Giery, S., and de Oliveira, L.F.B. (2010). Space, Place, and Hunting Patterns among Amerindians of the Guyanese Amazon. Journal of Latin American Geography 9(3): 213–243.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Read, J. M., Fragoso, J. M. V., Luzar, J. B., and Overman, H. (2011). Wowetta Village, Rupununi, Guyana. Unpublished Report, Geography Department, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, Project Fauna Community Atlas.Google Scholar
  42. Redford, K. H., and Robinson, J. G. (1987). The Game of Choice: Patterns of Indian and Colonist Hunting in the Neotropics. American Anthropologist 89(3): 650–667.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ricketts, T. H., Soares-Filho, B., da Fonseca, G. A. B., Nepstad, D., Pfaff, A., Petsonk, A., Anderson, A., Boucher, D., Cattaneo, A., Conte, M., Creighton, K., Linden, L., Maretti, C., Moutinho, P., Ullman, R., and Victurine, R. (2010). Indigenous Lands, Protected Areas, and Slowing Climate Change. PLoS Biology 8(3).Google Scholar
  44. Santos-Granero, F. (2009). Hybrid Bodyscapes: A Visual History of Yanesha Patterns of Cultural Change. Current Anthropology 40(50): 477–512.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Smith, N. J. H. (1981). Man, Fishes, and the Amazon. Columbia University Press, NY.Google Scholar
  46. Ulloa, A., Rubio-Torgler, H., and Campos-Rozo, C. (2004). Conceptual basis for the selection of wildlife management strategies by the Embera People in Utria National Park, Choco, Colombia. In Silvius, K. M., Bodmer, R. E., and Fragoso, J. M. V. (eds.), People in Nature: Wildlife Conservation in South and Central America. Columbia University Press, NY, pp. 11–36.Google Scholar
  47. Vilaça, A. (1997). Christians without Faith: Some Aspects of the Conversion of the Wari’ (Pakaa Nova). Ethnos 62(1): 91–115.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Vilaça, A. (2009). Conversion, predation and perspective. In Vilaça, A., and Wright, R. M. (eds.), Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Ashgate, Burlington, VT, pp. 147–166.Google Scholar
  49. Vilaça, A., and Wright, R. M. (2009). Introduction. In Vilaça, A., and Wright, R. M. (eds.), Native Christians: Modes and Effects of Christianity among Indigenous Peoples of the Americas. Ashgate, Burlington, VT, pp. 1–19.Google Scholar
  50. Wright, R. M. (2009). The Art of Being Crente: The Baniwa Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Sustainable Development. Identities 16(2): 202–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Yost, J., and Kelley, P. (1983). Shotguns, blowguns, and spears: An analysis of technological efficiency. In Hames, R., and Vickers, W. (eds.), Adaptive Responses of Native Amazonians. Academic, New York, pp. 189–224.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey B. Luzar
    • 1
    Email author
  • Kirsten M. Silvius
    • 2
  • Jose M. V. Fragoso
    • 1
  1. 1.Stanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Moore FoundationPalo AltoUSA

Personalised recommendations