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Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Time Event
11:46a
Back-to-back reviews, eh?
There were actually several days in between finishing that last book and this one, but I was dragging my feet on the previous review, and had a feeling that I should get this out before the details fade.

Shabono: A Visit to a Remote and Magical World in the South American Rain Forest by Florinda Donner is an easy, interesting read ... but one of those that you stand back from and somewhat wonder about. First of all, the author purports to be the "Florinda" of the Castaneda books, one of the sorcerers in Don Juan Matus' circle. As I understand it, Castaneda acknowledged her (and Taisha Abelar) while denying the claims of several others, but I've also seen various things on the web (admittedly, from what seem to be disgruntled students) which raise a lot of questions of how this author could have been in the places she claims to have been, with the people she writes about, at the times that the various events were said to take place.

As I've written about Sufi books (and especially those of Idries Shah), you often need to try to see the intent behind a book before you can judge on what level the book is meant to operate. This is frequently the case for Shamanic books as well, where the inner dynamics are more important than the "historical accuracy" of the narrative. My own Shamanic teacher, Alberto Villoldo, would drop a file box full of notes off to his co-author and pretty much leave it to the unfortunate writer to piece together a book (which, from my own experience, often results in a tale that's nothing like the actual time-line of events covered), and perhaps something similar is in effect here. If we suspend doubt and take Ms. Donner as who she supposedly is, Shabono is still a pretty vague book, very dream-like in its presentation, with descriptions of people, places, and things which suggest but hardly present clear images. Of course, at a relatively early point in the story, she does let us know how her notes (what the natives referred to as her "decorating" her paper) got destroyed, so there is an excuse in that the whole tale is crafted from after-the-fact recall.

Given these caveats, this is still a book worth reading. The story is of the author's time staying with a Yanomama tribal group in the vast jungles of South America; the title comes from their word for a settlement or village. She starts out as an anthropologist doing research into the healing methods of various "medicine people" in Venezuela, and is invited to accompany some friends on a trip up the Orinoco River, where she hopes to possibly meet a native Shaman. Rather abruptly (in terms of continuity), she gets to a river outpost, and dis-engages from the rest of traveling group, connects with a very old Yanomama lady, and (against all warnings) goes off with her to visit her village. What was supposed to have been a 2-week trip then turns into a year of living among the natives where she eventually gets her "Shamanic experience" but hardly in the ways she expected. Again, I felt the narrative was a bit lean on concrete descriptions, and many details seemed like they were added in after having been looked up in books on the flora and fauna of the region. Even the "shamanic" parts seemed "off" to me, but this could well be due to the rather idiosyncratic concept of hekuras (little "spirit people") that she indicates are at the center of the native shamanic practice, with which I don't have any direct parallel to fairly compare.

This does appear to still be in print, so you might be able to get it via your local bookstore, but Amazon has it for 1/3 off of cover, and their new/used vendors (which is where I got mine) have "like new" copies for as little as a buck and a half (plus shipping), should you decide that a lazy mental drift up the Orinoco is appealing.


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