skip to content

Department of Social Anthropology


Dr Stephen Hugh-Jones (University of Cambridge) 

Monteverdi's Unruly Women and their Amazonian Sisters: a Philosophy of the Body-Tube

In his 'The Jealous Potter', Lévi-Strauss outlines an Amazonian philosophy of the digestive tube allied to the use of the blowgun. Though aimed in the right direction, his sketch misses the mark through its focus on a restricted range of tubes and narrow sample of relevant ethnography. NW Amazonian ideas about why women should not play wind instruments have parallels with C17 ideas about why female singers trod a fine line between beauty and lasciviousness. Following this lead, I explore some similarities between themes in NW Amazonian mythology and early modern European ideas about the body derived from the writings of Galen and Aristotle. The conclusion drawn is that it is the flute rather than the blowgun that best exemplifies the philosophy that Lévi-Strauss had in mind, a multi-sensorial philosophy involving the regulation and control of all materials that enter and exit the body but one that gives pride of place to music. However, the implications of my analysis are that the music we modern know may not be the same as that hear and see in action in Amazonian ritual. I conclude with some brief speculations as to why NW Amazonian should be a region where tube-thinking has become so elaborated

Friday, 27 April, 2018 - 16:15 to 18:00
Event location: 
Edmund Leach Room Department of Social Anthropology Free School Lane, Cambridge