Juan Carlos Galeano


Although anthropology has shown a keen interest in native myth, this has often been at the expense of recording and interpreting the wealth of oral art among Amazonian people more widely. Juan Carlos Galeano has assembled a fascinating set of such stories, some of which include motifs familiar to anthropologists, others that will be a revelation. Galeano, as a poet in his own right, also provides a subtle context for reading such tales through a lyrical rather than literal translation of the oral materials into textual form. This approach creates a sense of listening rather than just reading. Given Galeano's emphasis on the instability of social, cultural and ontological boundaries in Amazonia, this book thus skillfully awakens us to the limitations of our own perceptions and the richness of other sensory worlds.

—Neil L. Whitehead
Professor of Anthropology
and Religious Studies
University of Wisconsin-Madison,
Author of Dark Shamans: Kanaima and the Poetics of Violent Death

Here are tales of evil shamans; dolphins and other aquatic creatures who fall in love with maidens; Curupira, the guardian spirit of the forest; boas and anacondas; Chullachaki, the owner of trees and animals; and Seringa, the mother of the rubber trees, who offers a piece of wisdom that echoes throughout this book: “Humans don't know what trees know.” Vividly, in countless ways, Folktales of the Amazon conveys a lesson we ignore at our peril: True happiness lies not in amassing wealth, but in living in right relationship with the human and more-than-human world around us. It is a groundbreaking collection, and a splendid tribute to the peoples among whom Juan Carlos Galeano spent his childhood. I will treasure this book, and I can't wait to share it with my students.

—Ann Fisher-Wirth
Professor of English
and Literatures of the Environment
University of Mississippi
Co-editor of The Ecopoetry Anthology

If any of the countries of the great Amazon basin are in the curriculum of your school, then this is a fascinating collection of folktales that can be used to build authenticity into the study of the region. These tales are very different than the Eurocentral ones kids and teens have heard, so it is a fresh new experience…These are as close to authentic as it gets.

—Teacher Librarian

Galeano has gone to great pains to make these stories readable and aesthetically pleasing while also remaining faithful to the spirit of the mythology that defines them. Galeano is like the Shaman and the reader the patient. The author transports us into a new mimetic reality through his art. The beauty of the folktales, masterfully translated by Rebecca Ann Morgan and Kenneth Watson, allow the English reader to experience these stories as if they were not translated at all. One feels and hears the power of the Amazonian world through a foreign language. Its like dreaming and reading at the same time.

—Michael Uzendoski
Florida State University and
Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), Ecuador
Author of The Ecology of the Spoken Word: Amazonian Storytelling and the Shamanism Among the Napo Runa

Galeano, a poet and translator, left his native Columbia long ago, but recently revived an interest in the folktales of the region as a source for poetic and literary inspiration. He taped the stories from oral tellings, then drew on his literary craft to rework and rewrite them. In addition to offering the tales themselves, he demonstrates a way of looking at folklore from the perspective of art rather than social science. His sections are topical, with tales about origins; anacondas and boas; dolphins and other aquatic seducers; beasts and forest defenders; dark and malevolent shamans; punishment for ill behavior; and special places, plants, and birds.

—Reference & Research Book News

The Trees Have A Mother

This is a documentary film that I co-produced and co-directed along with Professor Valliere Richard Auzenne from Florida State University. This documentary was produced by the FSU School of Motion Picture, Television and Recording Arts.

This film documents the true story of a mother searching for her son who has disappeared in the heart of Peruvian Amazonian rainforest. Her quest is told against the backdrop of Amazonian cosmological views expressed by forest, riverbank and city dwellers who believe in the existence of the supernatural world. As the mother consults local shamans about the fate of her son, stories about close encounters and relationships among humans, dolphins and mythological creatures from the forest and underwater world propel the film. Their tales are metaphorical of the physical and socio-cultural transformations of Amazonia. Contrasting current practices of Westerners seeking to demystify nature through deforestation and an increasing search for commodities in the Amazon basin, this documentary gives ample exposure to people's trust in the power of sacred and medicinal plants able to bring comfort to spiritual unrest and benefit physical health. Accounts of daily life and their concern about the destruction of their environment reveal a heartfelt hope for the survival of the forests and humankind.

The Trees Have a Mother is essential viewing for anyone concerned with the Amazonian environment and its inhabitants. At once an important work of cultural anthropology, a nature documentary, and plea for environmental justice, this film provides a perfect introduction to this uniquely beautiful and threatened landscape, and the people, cultures and histories that have shaped it, and been shaped by it.

—Paul Outka
University of Kansas
Author of Race and Nature from Transcendentalism to the Harlem Renaissance
2013 ASLE President

In The Trees Have a Mother, Juan Carlos Galeano captures the belief system of Amazonians in the stories of hunters, fishermen, small town and riverine city dwellers. Their tales about dolphins, other aquatic seducers, and a spirit guardian of the forest who falls in love and kidnaps a young lad, bring together elements of mystery, healing and hope for an Amazonian mother in search of her lost son. A documentary about Amazonians' expressions of affect for their land, the film illustrates their regard for rivers, lakes, stones, trees and places as sentient. Their perception of nature as more than mere commodity springs communal ecologically engaged resistance toward oil and logging companies. Viewers of this film must let go of Western rationalities and the urban mind and acquire ways to perceive our more than human world from the environmental imaginations of Amazonians.

—Roberto Forns-Broggi
Metropolitan State University of Denver
Author of Nudos como estrellas. ABC de la imaginación ecológica de nuestras Américas

Folktales of the Amazon

The Amazon basin and the mythologies of their inhabitants have provided the world with an almost unknown plethora of folktales. For the first time, Folktales of the Amazon provides the English-speaking world with a comprehensive collection of forty-one tales containing the rich lore of Amazonians. Organized thematically, these tales convey messages of kinship bonds and reciprocity, capturing the socialized relationships between peoples, animals, plants, places, and a variety of shape-shifting supernatural entities. The stories in this collection reflecting the indigenous cosmologies are as unique as their recasting which involved both an anthropological and literary approach. These folktales were gathered in seven countries, a product of many years of fieldwork done by Juan Carlos Galeano, an Amazonian writer who grew up listening to folktales from the Caquetá and Putumayo Rivers and returned in his adulthood to gather many versions of stories told throughout the Amazon basin. After collecting the stories from fishermen, hunters, loggers, and forest and small town dwellers, he crafted them into individual lyrical narratives maintaining the Amazonian view of the world and a sense of wonder in each story. A scholarly foreword, illustrations, historical background, a map, glossary and story notes enhance this collection.

Juan Carlos Galeano is an amazing poet and storyteller. These versions of folktales from Amazonia are thick with cosmographic imagery and communicate the unique perspectives of the inhabitants of this vital region on planet Earth. Morgan and Watson's translations make Galeano's words come alive in English.

—Mark Bender
Ohio State University
Co-editor of the Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature

Cuentos Amazonicós

Juan Carlos Galeano escuchó los cuentos de la selva durante su niñez en el Amazonas y decide regresar un día a escribirlos. Su búsqueda lo lleva a viajar por todos los países de la cuenca amazónica para encontrarse con los relatos de viva voz de pescadores, madereros, cazadores, gentes de las aldeas ribereñas e indígenas en contacto con la vida moderna. Reconstruyéndolos, a partir de múltiples versiones y fragmentos, el autor conserva la sencillez con que todavía los cuentan los pobladores de la Amazonia.

Estos cuentos amazónicos de Juan Carlos Galeano comienzan con claras coordenadas fluviales y de ahí van fluyendo hacia el inconsciente humano, donde existe una mayor fluidez entre las especies y las palabras que usamos para narrar los misterios de la vida y los desequilibrios ecológicos que nosotros mismos hemos causado. Estas historias no tienen patria, pues los lectores son navegantes de sueños lúcidos que se llaman Amazonas, Beni, Huallaga, Içá, Madeira, Madre de Dios, Nanay, Napo, Pachitea, Pastaza, Putumayo y Yavarí con su rica diversidad de flora y fauna establecidas, cada vez más amenazadas, y presentadas aquí con todo su esplendor. Si, después de leer este libro imprescindible, no crees en la urgente necesidad del reencantamiento del mundo, te queda un lamento planetario que nace en la cuenca amazónica: Ayaymama, Ayaymama, huischurchurca, lo cual quiere decir, Madrecita, Madrecita, ¿por qué nos has abandonado?

—Steven F. White
St. Lawrence University
Co-editor of Ayahuasca Reader: Encounters with the Amazon's Sacred Vine and editor de El consumo de lo que somos: muestra de poesía ecológica hispánica contemporánea

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