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Magical Death

             "Magical Death" is just one of anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon and ethnographic filmmaker Timothy Asch's collaborative projects that document the lives and culture of an indigenous Lowland South American society in Venezuela. Their more than forty films resulted in making the Yanomami of this particular village are one of the most visually well-represented aboriginal peoples in 20th century anthropological studies. According to Tiffany and Adams (1996), the films made by Chagnon and Asch throughout the 1970s: ". . . made over a quarter of a century ago, provide vivid - frequently startling - scenarios of an aggressively masculine world of club fights, chest-pounding duels, treacherous feasts, sorcery, drug-ingesting, misogynist origin myths, and derogations of women as drudges and trouble-makers. These visual representations are reinforced by the "Fierce People" designation in Chagnon's [1968] widely-read ethnography" (pp. 169).
             Focus on the Yanomami .
             Many of the films made by Chagnon and Asch focus on the day-to-day life of the Yanomami and have titles such as Weeding the Garden, A Man and His Wife Make a Hammock, and Firewood. Magical Death, made in 1973, portrays Yanomami shamans causing a trance through taking psycho-active drug "ebene." They do this in order to be able to contact their spirit helpers or "hekura" for assistance and guidance in times of sickness or adversity. In a review of the movie for American Anthropologist in 1975, Eric Almquist noted that Magical Death "is a testing ground for cultural tolerance, a test which most of us would have to admit failing" and refers to its "visual brutality" (pp. 179). Almquist also noted his certainty that the film was designed to shock and revolt the viewers from the 20th century Western world. He adds: "The impact of the entire film on American student audiences is brutal, and in some cases even nauseating. In an age when students are either experienced with or highly aware of psycho-active drugs, it is still shocking for them to see a powdered drug (ebene) blow-gunned with a powerful breath into the nose of a shaman" (pp.

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