Date of Award

May 2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Ingrid Jordt

Committee Members

Kalman Applbaum, Thomas Malaby


Aleluya, Kanaima, Paramakatoi, Patamuna, Piya, Taleng


Kanaima in Amazonia has been theorized within anthropology as “assault sorcery,” “dark shamanism,” and “anti-structure.” Among the Patamuna Indians of Guyana kanaima have been theorized as “cultural expression” of “hyper-traditionality” in response to an encroaching state, its industry and development, evangelism, and modernity (Whitehead; 2002). Kanaima is a mode of terror and violence, of healing, enhancing power, and performing masculinity—a symbol that operates in Patamuna mythology, cosmology, and place-making. Kanaima is intimately entangled with jaguar identity and the wildness of the Pakaraimas, functioning as the ultimate symbol of terror and control over the Patamuna and outsiders. The threat of kanaima is directed both inside and out, its dual nature as a practice of healing and killing unifies its mythology and it describes the world of the Patamuna as one of constant threat—one that in its broadest condition shapes the arrangements of violent reciprocity. The violence of kanaima is invisible, an open secret, done by unknown individuals and this assassination aspect is present because kanaima is a weapon of the weak. Terror is used when open power relations cannot be directly challenged. In this thesis, I explore how terror is operationalized as a repertoire for personal power enhancement and as a collective assertion by the Patamuna that ties their identity to the jaguar, the wild hinterland, and as masters of violence. Terror, invoked by the threat of uncanny violence, shapes the landscape of Paramakatoi and the relations of Patamuna with each other and with others outside their society through practices of rumor, boasting, veiled threats, personal comportment, practices of defense and unexplained deaths. An art program I offered at the bequest of Patamuna leaders, as a way of giving back to the community, became a diagnostic for exploring contemporary ideas about the living jaguar, Patamuna mythology and folktales, and ideas about kanaima as were-jaguars, supernatural purveyors of terror. I argue that kanaima is a means of enhancing personal and collective power by destabilizing asymmetrical power arrangements. This thesis engages the work of Neil L. Whitehead and entangles the biographies of ethnographers and the Patamuna in the discourse on terror, violence, and death.