Florinda Donner-Grau Chronology Part II [1981 - 1984]

1981 - Castaneda¡¯s The Eagle's Gift published by Simon and Schuster.

When Silvio Manuel "sees" that the problem with Castaneda¡¯s party is that Castaneda was not the right nagual for them, the Nagual woman supervises Castaneda and la Gorda in a series of not-doings. After the incident on the bridge, don Juan¡¯s party and all his apprentices meet at the house, where the "Nagual woman made the male apprentices sit against the east wall; she made the women sit against the west wall." p. 306. [Taisha and Florinda are apparently not in this group. La Gorda is mentioned throughout the book, however.] Castaneda ends the book by describing his jump with Pablito and Nestor from the precipice "[a]t dusk that afternoon . . . at the precise moment when [don Juan] and all of his warriors had kindled their awareness." p.315.

September 3, 1981 - Castaneda signs a power of attorney Castaneda naming Regina Thal, who likewise executes a power of attorney naming Castaneda. [Both documents are recorded on September 21, 1981: 81-09369832 and 09369833.]

September 4, 1981 - Castaneda revokes the power of attorney he had previously granted to Anna Marie Carter. [Document is recorded on December 23, 1981 as 81-0918985.] [Note: Mt. St. Helens erupted cataclysmically the previous year, on May 18, 1980, and Castaneda later states at Sunday and night sessions that Taisha had invested a lot of their monies in Mt. St. Helens real estate before the eruption.]

April? 1982 - Florinda¡¯s Shabono: A visit to a remote and magical world in the South American rainforest, is published by Delacorte Press. [A May 9, 1982, L.A. Times ad includes a prominent quote from Castaneda. Florinda dedicates the book to "the five-legged spider that carries me on its back." It was a Book of the Month Club alternate.]

In Chapter 1, Florinda explains she accepted a friend¡¯s offer to go hunting up the Orinoco River at the urging of Dona Mercedes [the "Mercedes Peralta" she later writes about in 1985¡¯s The Witches Dream], "one of three curers" she was working with "in the Barlovento area." Florinda indicates she had been planning to return to Los Angeles, and that the Orinoco hunting trip was supposed to be for two weeks. This trip, which leads to Florinda¡¯s months with the Yanomama Indians purportedly described in Shabono, therefor occurs "[a]fter transcribing, translating, and analyzing the numerous tapes and hundreds of pages of notes gathered during months of field work among the three Barlovento curers" (notes that she and dona Mercedes later burn, per the scene described in Shabono). A week later, then, Florinda is "on my way in a small plane to one of the Catholic missions on the upper Orinoco with my friend," to meet the other members of the hunting party, who had set out by boat a few days before with the gear and provisions necessary for two weeks in the jungle.

On arrival, Florinda suddenly decides to forego the hunting trip and instead to spend the two weeks at the mission. A couple days later, and against the advice of the priest who runs the mission, Florinda is on her way into the jungle with an old native woman, Angelica, and their guide, Milagros. Some days later, Angelica dies, and Florinda continues with Milagros to the tiny settlement (or "shabono") that Angelica had come from, and which becomes the primary focus of Florinda¡¯s book. Six months later, Florinda sends a letter back to the mission by way of Milagros informing the priest of her plan "to stay for at least two more months with the Iticoteri," and asking him to so inform her friends in Caracas. (Trade paperback version p. 61.) Florinda continues to learn the tribal language and to find out what she can about the practices of the "shapori," the Yanomama term for shaman, and their use of "epena," a hallucinogen.

  Replica Watches  Replica Watches

Florinda is later warned about what the shapori of another tribe would do if he got his hands on her: "¡¯A shapori isn¡¯t an ordinary man. He wouldn¡¯t want you for his pleasure. A shapori needs the femaleness in his body.¡¯" An older woman, Hayama, asks her, "¡®Do you know where that femaleness is?¡¯" When Florinda responds, "no," Hayama "looked at me as if she thought I was slow-witted. ¡®In the vagina,¡¯ she finally said, almost choking on her laughter." p. 270. Hayama describes the "old shapori" as "stronger than any man in the shabono," and claims that "¡¯There are nights when that old man goes from hut to hut, sticking his cock inside every woman he can find.¡¯" Id.

Milagros returns, some weeks later, with pencils and soap for Florinda from the mission. Florinda describes Milagros entertaining the tribe with exaggerated and absurd stories about the white men. According to Florinda, "If ever anyone in the audience dared to doubt the veracity of his account, Milagros, in a very dignified manner, would turn to me. ¡®White girl, tell them if I¡¯m lying.¡¯ No matter how much he had exaggerated, I never contradicted him." p. 196.

Florinda is ultimately taken back to the mission by Iramamowe, a shapori, who, en route, drugs and has sex with Florinda, who records: "I no longer knew if I was awake or dreaming. At moments I vaguely remembered old Hayama¡¯s words about shamans needing the femaleness in their bodies." p. 288. Florinda describes the experience in an odd mix of simple description and dream imagery: "I was crushed by the weight of his body and my arms folded beneath his chest. He whispered words into my ears that I could not hear. . . . . Iramamowe¡¯s heavy body held me; his eyes sowed seeds of light inside me; his gentle voice urged me to follow him through dreams of day and night, dreams of rainwater and bitter leaves. There was nothing violent about his body imprisoning mine. Waves of pleasure mingled with visions of mountains and rivers, faraway places where hekuras dwell. I dance with the spirits of animals and trees, gliding with them through mist, through roots and trunks, through branches and leaves. I sang with the voices of birds and spiders, jaguars and snakes. I shared the dreams of all those who feed on epena, on bitter flowers and leaves. . . . . Greedily I drank the dark bearer of visions until once again I was suspended in a timelessness that was neither day or night. I was one with the rhythm of Iramamowe¡¯s breath, with the beat of his heart, as I merged with the light and the darkness inside him." p. 287-88.

When the drug wears off, Florinda imagines Iramamowe might keep her there rather than return her to the mission, so she bashes him in the head with a water gourd. After they patch up this little misunderstanding, Iramamowe explains, "I wanted to take the hekuras I once saw in your eyes," i.e., tiny humanoid spirits that the older shapori had "seen within her" also. "¡¯Every time I lay with you and felt the energy bursting inside you, I hoped to lure the spirits into my chest,¡¯ Iramamowe said. ¡®But they didn¡¯t want to leave you.¡¯ He turned his eyes to me, intense with protest. ¡®The hekuras would not answer my call; they would not heed my songs. And then I became afraid that you might take the hekuras from my body.¡¯" p. 292. He then sends her on her way back to the mission by canoe, and she gives him "the stone the shaman Juan Caridad gave me" as a parting gift.

On her return to the mission, instead of taking the priest up on his offer to "radio your friends in Caracas to pick you up with their plane," Florinda hangs out for an extended period. She is grateful that the two other Europeans there never "asked me where I had been for over a year, what I had done, or what I had seen," since "I would not have been able to answer¡ªnot because I wanted to be secretive, but because there was nothing to say." p. 299. Milagros shows up, and Florinda tells him, "I¡¯m going back to Los Angeles." After a brief conversation regarding the lack of words for "thank you" or "goodbye" in their language, Florinda notices that Milagros is gone. She concludes the book with the following lines: "From across the river, out of the distant darkness, the wind carried the Iticoteri¡¯s laughter. ¡®Goodbye is said with the eyes.¡¯ The voice rustled through the ancient trees, then vanished, like the silvery ripples on the water." p. 301.

April 25, 1982 - The St. Petersburg Times publishes an article on Florinda and Shabono by Maria D. Vesperi entitled, "Mystery clouds the air in tale of Indian life."

According to this article, Florinda stated that she lived with the Yanomami during 1976-77. The reviewer, Vesperi, holds a Masters and Doctorate in Anthropology from Princeton. In relevant part, the review reads:

"Ms. Donner¡¯s text provides no new information about traditional Yanomami culture--and no information at all about their current situation. The knowledgable reader is also left to wonder when and under what auspices Ms. Donner¡¯s fieldwork as an anthropologist was conducted.

Isabel Geffner, publicity manager for Delacorte, seems unconcerned about Ms. Donner¡¯s lack of documentation or other evidence of authenticity. 'We hoped anthropologists wouldn¡¯t review the book,' she told the St. Petersburg Times.

. . . . Tracing Ms. Donner¡¯s credentials is not an easy job. She is not affiliated with any major anthropological association, has no previous publications in the field, and has not completed a doctoral dissertation.

. . . . Ms. Donner herself is hard to contact. But she did respond--through Delacorte--to a request for a telephone interview. She called several times 'from a friend¡¯s house,' but claimed the Times could not return the calls because she doesn¡¯t have a telephone. [Doesn't sound like the Florinda I knew, who was constantly on the telephone, interfacing for Castaneda.]

Ms. Donner said she legally changed her name four years ago, thus explaining the confusion at UCLA. She prefers to keep her original name a secret.

. . . . Ms. Donner confirms that she is currently 'off the record' at UCLA. She has not really decided whether to finish her graduate studies, and does not plan an academic career. But she does plan to continue her research into shamanism and curing--research she has pursued over the past 10 years in association with Castaneda. 'This is not research that will be published.' she says firmly.

Ms. Donner says she lived with the Yanomami during 1976-1977. She did not plan to make her trip a 'study' and did not take notes on her experiences. She says Shabono was written later 'as an exercise' and was never really intended for publication.

Despite Ms. Donner¡¯s claim, Shabono has found its way into print. It reportedly has been selected as a Book-of-the-Month Club offering, complete with a glossary of Yanomami words and their phonetic pronunciations.

Delacorte Press dismisses concern over the book¡¯s omissions as bad faith on the part of academic writers who resent popularization. Yet there is a long-established tradition of 'popular' anthropology, stretching from the early writings of Margaret Mead to the recent works of Marvin Harris. While these books differ widely in theory and scope, they share a respect for the reader¡¯s right to evaluate content - based on an open presentation of the how, where and why of the authors¡¯ research. The mystery and hocus-pocus surrounding Shabono leads this reader to believe that it will not find a place among them."

May 9, 1982 - The Los Angeles Times publishes a book review of Shabono [front page, book review section] that takes a dim view of the book as factual anthropology, calling it instead "anthro-romance."

1982 - Castaneda and Florinda attend a dinner party given by Jacques Barzaghi, California Governor Jerry Brown¡¯s longtime advisor. [Celeste Fremon, who first met Castaneda and Florinda while interviewing Castaneda in 1972 for articles that subsequently appeared in Seventeen and Harper's, recounts seeing them again there in her July 3, 1998, L.A. Weekly memoir.]

Sept. 11, 1983 ¨C The Los Angeles Times publishes an article by Ann Japenga, "The Saga of a Cultural Crossover," based on an interview with Florinda. The following are excerpts from this article (with my commentary appearing in blue):

"Currently pursuing her Ph.D. at UCLA [not true at the time: see letter from Florinda's former doctoral committe below], Donner divides her time between field work from her base in Caracas, Venezuela, where she grew up, and a small apartment in Westwood furnished only with a typewriter, folding table and sleeping mat. She doesn¡¯t drive a car (there is no speed limit in Caracas, she explained, so driving in Los Angeles by Caracas rules, she accumulated too many tickets and forfeited her license). [Oh, so that¡¯s why she no longer drove the ¡¯68 Karmann Ghia she salvaged from her 1972 divorce. She should have told Old Florinda, it would have saved her having to shove that imaginary "brand new sports car" into the ravine.]

As a child growing up in Caracas, Donner used to hike into the jungle surrounding the city to hunt orchids with her parents, immigrants from Germany and Sweden. Once she met a 7-year-old girl who had lived deep in the jungle among the Indians. It was Donner¡¯s first exposure to the hidden world beyond the fringes of the forest.

Donner recalled that the meeting left a great impression on her: ¡®She (the girl) showed me a shrunken head, one with white hair. I knew that the white hair had once been blonde, like mine. Then she started to dance around and around. She was completely wild. I was enchanted.¡¯

When she came to UCLA, Donner first studied healing practices in El Monte and other nearby communities, but her ambition was to study the Latin American curing practices her nanny had introduced her to. Donner traveled to Barlovento and lived for a year in a one-room shack with an old healer woman who chain-smoked cigarettes.

Donner soon reached an impasse in her studies. She said she witnessed successful healings¡ªparticularly in the realm of psychiatry¡ªbut the old woman¡¯s practices were inconsistent. There was no way for Donner to make her research conform to a thesis.

The healer argued: ¡®What difference does it make what I do now and what I did a few months ago? [Or "what I say now and what I¡¯ll say at workshops in a few years?"] All that matters is that the patients get well.¡¯

While she was struggling with a solution to her academic problem, Donner was invited by another old woman to accompany her to her village deep in the jungle. In hopes of observing healing practices far from the influences of white society [not a rationale for the hike she gives in Being-in-Dreaming], Donner followed.

She left with a knapsack, sneakers and a diary. Donner recalled: ¡®I didn¡¯t expect to be gone more than a month. I had only one pair of jeans. I didn¡¯t have enough shampoo.¡¯

One day a group of children playing with Donner¡¯s belongings mischievously burnt her notepads on the hearth and dumped them into the river. [Well, at least those kids were thorough.] . . . .

¡®The fear left me then,¡¯ Donner recalled. ¡®It didn¡¯t matter anymore if I would ever come back.¡¯ [But what about your desperate love for Castaneda, as you described it to don Genaro in Being-in-Dreaming? Wouldn¡¯t you miss him? See summary of Being-in-Dreaming.]

In a sequence she describes as more amusing than frightening, a neighboring tribe made a bungling attempt to abduct Donner. She was in great demand because the Indians believed she might be that rare thing¡ªa female shaman. [Damn, seems like these kinds of abductions happen any time Flo gets around those native peoples¡ªeven when she¡¯s just minding her own business, dancing naked on tabletops in Houston. See summary of Being-in-Dreaming.]

¡®From the very beginning, they thought I had powers,¡¯ Donner said. ¡®They thought I had spirits in my chest.¡¯ In a ritual usually reserved for men, Donner partook of the hallucinogenic epena (snuff from the bark of an epena tree) and had a vision of a hummingbird hekura, or spirit, residing in her chest. It served to increase the fascination she held for the Indians, who already were uncertain how to regard the slender blonde anthropologist [manque].

Donner¡¯s strange appearance had other advantages. Most anthropologists are to an extent excluded from the lives they study because they are men. Larger than their subjects, and often bearded after spending months in the field, they are seen to be in competition for women and game.

Donner on the other hand, appeared androgynous and insignificant when seen beside the tribe¡¯s big-boned women. No one saw her as a threat. ¡®Even the women weren¡¯t jealous of me because their men didn¡¯t like me,¡¯ Donner said. [Well, unless you count those two shapori who were supposedly so anxious to get into your shredded jeans.]

¡®If I go into the field now, it¡¯s so easy for me to be an anthropologist,¡¯ Donner added. ¡®I know it¡¯s because I¡¯ve learned to follow certain precepts.¡¯

Donner said professors have told her that to defend herself against the scorn of hard-line anthropologists, she should complete work on her Ph.D. [Apparently not UCLA professors, who didn¡¯t even know who "Donner" was until she got in touch with them after this article appeared.] Although she continues work on her thesis [a baldface lie, see letter from her former doctoral committe below], Donner said she doesn¡¯t feel the need to prove her professionalism. [Some tasks are just too large, even for sorcery.]

1983 - An article by Rebecca B. De Holmes of Caracas, Venezuela, is published in American Anthropology [Vol. 85, p. 664], entitled, "Shabono: Scandal or Superb Social Science?" De Holmes describes extensive similarities between Florinda¡¯s book and events and language contained in Ettore Biocca¡¯s Yano¨¢ma (Dutton 1971), the oral autobiography of Helena Valero, a Caucasian girl kidnapped by Venezuelan Indians. See Comparison of Shabono with Yano¨¢ma.

December 1983 - Letter from Florinda's former doctoral thesis advisors concerning questions about Shabono is published in Anthropology Newsletter. (American Anthropological Association):

"As the former committee of a previously registered graduate student, now turned author, it is incumbent on us to provide some information to the serious implications raised by Holmes (AA 1983:664), who strongly suggests affinities of this book with a previously published account of life with the Yano¨¢ma by Helena Valero (1971). When Shabono was first published, this committee did express our concern privately to a prominent Yanomama scholar. Since that time three issues now force us to make a public statement. The first is the commentary by Holmes; the second is the fact that the author of Shabono, Florinda Donner, has been reported by the press as currently pursing her studies at UCLA (Japenga 1983), and the third is the reported chronology of the Yanomama peregrination which appears to show that it was done while Donner was a student under our supervision. . . . . It should be immediately pointed out that the publication of Shabono was four years after Donner had allowed her graduate studies at UCLA to lapse, and that there had been no formal connection between this student and her committee since the fall of 1977. Indeed, on publication of this book in 1982, this committee was not even aware that its author was our ex-student. It was only after one reviewer, learning from the publishers that Donner had been at UCLA and eventually tracking down her chairman, that the connection was made (reported in Vesperi 1982). On learning that her student identity had now been discovered, Donner telephoned the chairman and acknowledged that she had changed her name and written this book.

Briefly, all that we are advised to report on Donner's graduate career is the historical record. She entered the anthropology department as a graduate in 1972. She was advanced to doctoral candidacy in April, 1976. She applied successfully for leave of absence for 1977-78, after which time she never re-registered. It is true to state that Ms. Donner was in good scholastic standing when she left.

Donner's graduate committee approved her dissertation proposal, which was for the study of curing practices at Curiepe, on the coastal region of Venezuela, which she subsequently reported. It may be pertinent to state that the graduate record indicated that another research proposal was earlier made in the spring of 1973 for a study of curanderos in Tucipata, described as an urban center on the Orinoco river in Venezuela. This proposal stated that she had already made a visit to this town.

All the time that Donner was under our supervision she never informed this committee of any extended visit, research or contact with the Yanomama. We find it perplexing that she failed to tell us of this undoubtedly exciting trip and of her traumatic experiences with the people there. Thus this committee regrets that we are unable to provide any information on this reported field experience. It would be helpful if Donner had been precise as to exactly when this trip was made. In Shabono there are no dates whatsoever. It was only subsequent to publication of the book that some dates have been reported to reporters for local presses. These dates have left this committee further puzzled. From Vesperi (1982) the chronology was given out as 1976-77. From Japenga (1983) the dating was extended to 'about 10 years ago'. This implies that the period was 1974-75, or perhaps 1975-76, which would mean that it was before her research visit to the coast. It is possible that we will never know for sure, as from the helpful interview with Japenga (1983) we learn that 'Donner said she gave up keeping track of the years when she lived with Ritimi, Tutemi and Texoma, her Yanomama friends, who never saw a need to count higher than three'." [For the complete text of this letter, click here.]

1984 - Castaneda¡¯s The Fire From Within published by Simon and Schuster [includes forward thanking H.Y.L., referring to the group¡¯s martial arts teacher, Howard Lee]

Go to Florinda Donner-Grau Chronology part III