Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry

, Volume 31, Issue 4, pp 419–444 | Cite as

Desire, Envy and Punishment: A Matsigenka Emotion Schema in Illness Narratives and Folk Stories

  • Carolina IzquierdoEmail author
  • Allen Johnson
Original Paper


Accumulating evidence suggests that folktales in some societies are characterized by a culturally constructed underlying emotional structure, or Cultural Emotion Schema. In this paper we argue that Matsigenka illness narratives and folk stories share an underlying emotion schema, in which death and suffering result from conflicts between strong-willed individuals prompting anger and aggression. Analysis of illness narratives collected by Izquierdo in the Matsigenka community of Kamisea in the Peruvian Amazon between 1996 and 1999 reveals a common pattern in which envy and frustration lead to the belief in sorcery as the main cause of illness and death. This pattern contrasts with the typical stories of a previous generation collected by the Johnsons among the Matsigenka of Shimaa and other Matsigenka researchers, where sorcery beliefs were virtually absent. Our argument is that important changes in ecology, community, politics, and religion have led to a systematic rise in feelings of envy and frustration, and that these have increased the likelihood that sorcery accusations will occur. We explore the likelihood that such beliefs increase as egalitarian peoples become more crowded into settlements where they are likely to experience greater inequality, more competition for resources and increased societal and personal stress.


Matsigenka Peruvian Amazon Envy Sorcery Emotion schemas Folk stories Illness narratives 



Funding from several institutions made this research possible: Fulbright IIE, National Science Foundation Dissertation Research Grant SBR-9707454, the Anthropology Department at UCLA, and the Sloan Foundation (Center on Everyday Lives of Families; CELF) at UCLA. We are especially thankful to the Matsigenka people of Peru for their generosity and friendship always.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Anthropology DepartmentUniversity of California, Los AngelesLos AngelesUSA

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