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Surveying the American TropicsA Literary Geography from New York to Rio$
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Maria Cristina Fumagalli, Peter Hulme, Owen Robinson, and Lesley Wylie

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9781846318900

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.5949/liverpool/9781846318900.001.0001

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Golden Kings, Cocaine Lords, and the Madness of El Dorado: Guayana as Native and Colonial Imaginary

Golden Kings, Cocaine Lords, and the Madness of El Dorado: Guayana as Native and Colonial Imaginary

(p.263) Golden Kings, Cocaine Lords, and the Madness of El Dorado: Guayana as Native and Colonial Imaginary
Surveying the American Tropics

Neil L. Whitehead

Liverpool University Press

‘Guayana’ is one of those indigenous terms which have survived, against all colonial odds, to do duty as valuable designations of cultural areas long since divided politically. The word morphed into Guianas, British, French and Dutch, the British part achieving independence as Guyana, but the region of Guayana also includes parts of northern Brazil and Venezuela. Neil L. Whitehead's chapter attends equally to actual indigenous practices in Guayana, and to the myths and legends associated with the place. A proper understanding of native ritual and trade is essential to understanding the actions of Walter Ralegh and others, who certainly had plausible reasons for seeking gold in the region and whose long-ridiculed accounts have largely been validated by recent archaeology. The golden dust which coated El Dorado has been replaced, Whitehead says—in a startling juxtaposition of sixteenth- and twenty-first-century icons—with the white powder of cocaine, the imagination of Guayana again becoming ‘a zone of crazed violence and dissolution of self, illicit wealth, and relentless vengeance’, for which the name is kanaimà, a shamanic complex fundamental to the understanding of many aspects of this region of the American Tropics—its mythology and its literature, but also its contemporary political reality.

Keywords:   Guayana, El Dorado, Orinoco, gold, cocaine, Kanaimà, indigenous practice, mythology

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