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The Imbalance of Power: Leadership, Masculinity and Wealth in the Amazon

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The Imbalance of Power

Leadership, Masculinity and Wealth in the Amazon

Marc Brightman

206 pages, 20 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-78533-309-5 $135.00/£99.00 Hb Published (December 2016)

ISBN  978-1-78920-842-9 $34.95/£27.95 Pb Published (January 2020)

eISBN 978-1-78533-310-1 eBook

Hb Pb View cartYour country: United States - Click here to remove geolocation   Buy the eBook! $34.95 Request a Review or Examination Copy (in Digital Format) Recommend to your Library Available in GOBI®


“This book makes a crucial contribution to Amazonian anthropology, bringing to the forefront a topic that has remained under-thematized in the last decades.” · Carlos Fausto, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro

"This remarkable book on indigenous leadership The Trio, Wayana and Akuriyo (all from the Upper Tapanahony, Suriname), skilfully uses the tools of anthropology to provide us with enlightening ethnography, far from the usual traps of isolation, environmentalism and indigenous resistance.· AIBR


Amerindian societies have an iconic status in classical political thought. For Montaigne, Hobbes, Locke, Hume and Rousseau, the native American ‘state of nature’ operates as a foil for the European polity. Challenging this tradition, The Imbalance of Power demonstrates ethnographically that the Carib speaking indigenous societies of the Guiana region of Amazonia do not fit conventional characterizations of ‘simple’ political units with ‘egalitarian’ political ideologies and ‘harmonious’ relationships with nature. Marc Brightman builds a persuasive and original theory of Amerindian politics: far from balanced and egalitarian, Carib societies are rife with tension and difference; but this imbalance conditions social dynamism and a distinctive mode of cohesion. The Imbalance of Power is based on the author’s fieldwork in partnership with Vanessa Grotti, who is working on a companion volume entitled Living with the Enemy: First Contacts and the Making of Christian Bodies in Amazonia.

Marc Brightman is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Bologna. He has published on a variety of topics including ownership, indigenous movements, animism and forest governance.

Subject: Anthropology (General)
Area: Latin America and the Caribbean


A note on Trio and Wayana orthography
List of acronyms and abbreviations


  • Guianan Leadership
  • Guiana
  • The Trio, Wayana and Akuriyo
  • Fieldwork and its Limitations
  • Structure and Scope of the Book

Chapter 1. Making Trio and Other Peoples

  • Ethnogenesis
  • A Theory of Continuity
  • Substance and Filiation
  • Telling Stories, Making Groups
  • Time, History and Identity
  • ‘The Trio’ as a Group
  • Ethnogenesis and Alterity
  • Missionisation and Ethnicity: The Contact of the Akuriyo
  • Slavery and Identity
  • Marriage and Manioc
  • Strategic Ethnicity
  • Leadership Inside and Out

Chapter 2. Houses and In-Laws

  • Leadership, Inequality and the House
  • Houses and Housebuilders
  • The House as Artefact
  • The Collective House
  • Scale and the Household
  • Consanguinity, Affinity and the ‘Atom of Politics’
  • Symmetry and Asymmetry
  • Leadership and the House as Idea

Chapter 3. Trade, Money and Influence

  • Economic Influence
  • Exchange and Trade
  • Trading with Maroons
  • Money
  • The Politics of Air Travel
  • Airborne Evangelism
  • The City, Prestige and Mobility
  • Air Entrepreneurship
  • Public Speaking
  • Literacy
  • Metaphysical Communication
  • Bible Economy
  • Leadership and Influence Beyond Consanguinity

Chapter 4. Music and Ritual Capacities

  • Structured Sound
  • Tortoiseshell Pipes: Individual and Collective
  • Rattles and Shamanism: Percussion and Harmony
  • Capacity, Blowing and Song
  • The Music of the Other
  • Speech as Music
  • Ceremonial Dialogue
  • Music and Leadership
  • Heterophony
  • Music and Difference

Chapter 5. Owning Places and Persons

  • The Language of Possession
  • Moveable Wealth
  • The Value of Land
  • Names and Places
  • Gender Asymmetry and Women as Property
  • Ownership, Wealth and Influence

Conclusion: Society Transcends the State

Appendix: Trio Relationship Terminology

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