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Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society [Paperback]

by Beth A. Conklin
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 2001 0292712367 978-0292712362

Mourning the death of loved ones and recovering from their loss are universal human experiences, yet the grieving process is as different between cultures as it is among individuals. As late as the 1960s, the Wari' Indians of the western Amazonian rainforest ate the roasted flesh of their dead as an expression of compassion for the deceased and for his or her close relatives. By removing and transforming the corpse, which embodied ties between the living and the dead and was a focus of grief for the family of the deceased, Wari' death rites helped the bereaved kin accept their loss and go on with their lives.

Drawing on the recollections of Wari' elders who participated in consuming the dead, this book presents one of the richest, most authoritative ethnographic accounts of funerary cannibalism ever recorded. Beth Conklin explores Wari' conceptions of person, body, and spirit, as well as indigenous understandings of memory and emotion, to explain why the Wari' felt that corpses must be destroyed and why they preferred cannibalism over cremation. Her findings challenge many commonly held beliefs about cannibalism and show why, in Wari' terms, it was considered the most honorable and compassionate way of treating the dead.


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Editorial Reviews

Review

"This is probably the most significant ethnography of cannibalism. Period... I expect this book to become a classic, an ethnography of exceptional depth and clarity by an anthropologist whose sensitivity and insight are apparent on every page." -Donald Pollock, Associate Professor of Anthropology, SUNY Buffalo

Review

This is probably the most significant ethnography of cannibalism. Period. . . . I expect this book to become a classic, an ethnography of exceptional depth and clarity by an anthropologist whose sensitivity and insight are apparent on every page. (Donald Pollock, Associate Professor of Anthropology, SUNY Buffalo)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: University of Texas Press (July 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0292712367
  • ISBN-13: 978-0292712362
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #522,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
(12)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a superb discussion of a difficult topic May 15, 2009
Format:Paperback
This is an excellent book which thoroughly and sensitively covers a topic that is difficult for someone raised in U.S. culture to talk about. I am an anthropologist so I have the edge in terms of cultural relativism, but I think that anyone interested in the reality of this topic (rather than the sensationalist approach) would find this book compelling. I highly recommend it for personal or course use.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A GREAT BOOK FOR RESEARCH OR LEISURE July 17, 2003
By Vanessa
Format:Paperback
I looked into this book a source for a term paper I was writing on Ritual Cannibalism, but then chose to buy if as my summer reading material. The book is very well written and easy to understand, which make it ideal for professionals, students, and lay-people alike. Coklin does a great job letting the reader into the mind of Wari' peoples; the testemonials are engaging and thought-provoking. I must warn that if you are looking for material that is critical of cannibalism, or argues that it does not exist, this isn't it. "Consuming Grief" makes cannibalism seem rational, and makes you feel sad that these peoples customs and culture were forced away. Coklin is biased in the sense that she is an anthropologist, in that I mean she does not pass any judgement on the peoples she is studying.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Ethnography on Cannibalism March 21, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I'm a 20-year-old anthropology major and in my college Medicine and Culture class I was given an assignment in which I could choose any ethnography and write a critique of the book/author. My teacher provided us with examples of books we could read and this was one of them. I have always thought cannibalism was an interesting subject so I chose this book to critique. I find it to be excellently written and accessible to a lot of readers who are interested in cannibalism, not just anthropologists. The following is the introduction of my paper that I wrote to critique the book:

Cannibalism has often been a taboo subject in Western culture. In Consuming Grief: Compassionate Cannibalism in an Amazonian Society, Beth A. Conklin brings cannibalism into a whole new light. Conklin explains the funerary cannibalistic practices of the Wari' and gives underlying causes as to why they participated in this. The Wari' are native South American Indians who live in western Brazil and eastern Bolivia in the Amazon rainforest. She argues that the reason the Wari' practice funerary (also known as mortuary or endo-) cannibalism is that they are trying to eradicate physical reminders of the person who died so the family members of the deceased can move on with their lives and not live in constant grief. Conklin successfully conveys her argument through the use of emic explanations, simple language, images and maps, and a very flowing structure (not only the structure of the book itself, but also the way that she presents arguments). Although the argument is successful, there are a few areas in which Conklin could have improved her ethnography: when using etic perspectives, she often used ideas from other researchers instead of formulating her own and she was repetitive in her use of language.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I have used this book three years running in my Introduction to Cultural Anthropology course and inevitability students are taken with the book. In order to move away from large and generalizing textbooks, I have struggled to find engaging and more recently written ethnographies that introduce students to an array of concepts and questions normally covered in an introductory course. Consuming Grief fits the bill in several ways.

Conklin inserts herself into the book just enough to avoid seeming like an omniscient author whose argument and data was somehow miraculously discovered. She discusses her reasons for focusing on the subject matter and provides enough discussion of methods and context that students relate to her journey as much as to the lives of the Wari' about whom she so sensitively writes. Conklin is also candid about how her relationship to the subject of cross-cultural notions of grief changed over time and when her brother passed away, leaving her questioning American society's response to illness and death. Such inclusions are nicely integrated into the text so that the focus remains on the Wari', however, they do provide some insight to students as to how long-term research and one's relationship to the people in the field are complex and infrequently find expression in academic discourse. Consequently, this books is a good introduction to fieldwork, ethics in the field, and of course cultural relativism given its subject matter and Conklin's own brief discussion of European medical practices that can be considered cannibalism in their own right.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The body in Amazonia January 9, 2011
By anon
Format:Paperback
The book is not so much about eating humans, as about the most compassionate way to dispose of corpses. The book makes a clear case that funerary cannibalism has to be viewed in the light of native theories of the body, death and kin/affine relationships. Through careful ethnography, the book undermines attempts to explain cannibalism as a nutritional practice, which was held by leading North American anthropologists not too long ago. It also challenges psychological theories, which miss the point that funerary cannibalism among the Wari' was not performed willingly by the eaters. It was a highly distasteful practice, leading people to vomit, purely performed as an act of compassion towards the kin of the deceased who could not bear to let the body rot or be devoured by wild animals. The book is exceptionally valuable as it is possibly one of the few book-length ethnographies available in English to detail such practices, based on eyewitness accounts of informants who had seen or participated in these funerary events before they were suppressed by outsiders a few decades ago.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Getting the book
It came promptly and was what I wanted. There was a little delay because of weather but that isn't the sellers fault. Thanks for the book!
Published 2 months ago by Tonya
5.0 out of 5 stars I recommend it
If you are fascinated in learning about cultures different from your own, I would recommend this. It kept me interested.
Published 4 months ago by A.A.
4.0 out of 5 stars Had to read for class
One of the better books my professors have made me read. Very detailed, sometimes I was a little grossed out but overall enjoyed the book and learned something a lot. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Rachel
5.0 out of 5 stars Consuming Grief: Compassionate cannibalism in an amazonian society
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Published on February 24, 2012 by book
5.0 out of 5 stars Surprising Aspect
I found Dr. Conklin's discoveries totally unexpected in covering an aspect of this practice that is gentle, respectful, and reverent. Read more
Published on December 21, 2010 by J. Barker
5.0 out of 5 stars A Grand Text and Appropriate for Our Age
This book is one of the best, I own on the subject matter. Very well done and extreemely detailed. I bought a second copy and gave it away as a Christmas gift this year, at my... Read more
Published on December 21, 2001 by Albert B.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Grand Text and Appropriate for Our Age
This book is one of the best, I own on the subject matter. Very well done and extreemely detailed. I bought a second copy and gave it away as a Christmas gift this year, at my... Read more
Published on December 21, 2001 by Albert B.
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