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War of the Gods

War of the Gods. © DWS contact RAI

Series Disappearing World Series
Director Brian Moser
Anthropologist Peter Silverwood-Cope, Stephen Hugh-Jones, Christine Hugh-Jones
Country/Production UK
Release 1971
Length 52 mins
Format Colour / DVD or VHS / PAL / All region
Location Columbia / America
Ethnic Group Makú and Barasana, Amazonian Indians

Order No RAI-200.62
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While relying on a polemical stance directed against the cultural genocide wrought by missionaries, War of the Gods also contains a wealth of information and detail about Amazonian Indian cosmology, social life and sexual division of labour. Two groups of Indians from the Vaupés region of Colombia are shown, the Makú, who live mainly by hunting and gathering, and the sedentary Barasana, who live mainly by farming. The film contrasts the belief systems and way of life of the Indians, presented by the anthropologists who worked and lived with them, with those of Protestant and Catholic missionaries. The Protestants, North American Fundamentalists from the Summer Institute of Linguistics, are said to have used their organisation as a cover in order to be allowed to work with the Indians, because open Protestant missionary activity would not have been acceptable to the authorities. No attempt is made to gloss over the complexities of contact between Whites and Indians: the Barasana themselves want change, and the missionaries' influence is undoubtedly more beneficial to the Indians than that of rubber gatherers. Included in this film is an interview — using voice-over — with a Makú shaman, and there are scenes from the Barasana moloka, the communal house which is a centre of social and domestic activity. The climax of the film is a contrasting look at a church service at the S.I.L. headquarters, a Barasana ritual dance (accompanied by the ritual use of the hallucinogen yagé), and a Mass at the Catholic mission attended by some of the Indians who took part in the ritual dance. Some missionaries who have seen this film consider that its editing is unfair to the S.I.L., but the head of another important missionary organisation has said that it should be screened during missionary training courses. C. Hugh-Jones, 1979. From the Milk River: Spatial and Temporal Processes in Northwest Amazonia. Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology, No. 26. Cambridge University Press. S. Hugh-Jones, 1978. A Closer Look at Amazonian Indians. The Archon Press, London. (Book intended for children aged 10–14.) S. Hugh-Jones, 1979. The Palm and the Pleiades: Initiation and Cosmology in Northwest Amazonia. Cambridge Studies in Social Anthropology, No. 24. Cambridge University Press. B. Saler, 1974. Review of the film. American Anthropologist, Vol. 76, pp. 210–212

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