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General MacArthur among the Guna : the aesthetics of power and alterity in an Amerindian society.

Fortis, P. (2016) 'General MacArthur among the Guna : the aesthetics of power and alterity in an Amerindian society.', Current anthropology., 57 (4). pp. 430-451.


This article deals with issues surrounding the study of indigenous appropriations of symbols of military power. It focuses on the case of Guna people from the San Blas Archipelago of Panama who, in the 1940s, carved some wooden figures in the likeness of General Douglas MacArthur and used them as auxiliary spirits in collective healing rituals. By appealing to anthropological reflections on the notion of style, the article suggests a correlation between stylistic variations in forms of visual art, sociality, and power. It exploits the potential of style analysis for interpreting historical phenomena from an anthropological perspective. It is argued that there is a strong link between the stylistic changes in Guna woodcarving and the sociopolitical transformations that occurred in the middle of the twentieth century. The Guna figures of MacArthur are the outcome of a stylistic switch toward individuation, paralleled by the creation of strong political subjects called upon by the historical events of the first half of the twentieth century in San Blas. Finally, the case of cross-cultural appropriation discussed in the article shows the potential of ethnographic studies of local lived worlds in furthering the understanding of global events such as World War II.

Item Type:Article
Full text:(AM) Accepted Manuscript
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Publisher statement:© 2016 by The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research.
Date accepted:11 April 2015
Date deposited:07 September 2016
Date of first online publication:01 June 2016
Date first made open access:01 June 2017

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