Parrots, peccaries, and people
The western margin of the Amazon basin near the modern-day border between Ecuador and Peru is an area of notable linguistic and ethnic diversity, but the indigenous cultures also show considerable similarities, thanks to a long history of contact and mutual influence. One of the cultural traits of the area is a genre of “magic” songs used to ensure success in all kinds of activities, but especially romantic pursuits, hunting (for men), and gardening (for women). These songs are distinguished musically from other song types, the lyrics are rich in imagery and metaphor (especially relating to birds and animals) and allusions to mythology, and they use a lexicon that includes both archaisms and innovative loanwords from neighbouring languages. This paper focuses on the magic songs (called ann or anen) of the Aguaruna or Awajún, an indigenous group of north Peru. I describe the formal and poetic properties of these songs and their significance within the context of Aguaruna oral tradition and traditional culture, and then ask what these songs can tell us about the social and linguistic history of the region.