Eagles, Donkeys, and Butterflies

An Anthropological Study of Brazil's "Animal Game"

Roberto DaMatta and Elena Soárez
Translated by Clifford E. Landers

From the Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies

“For years, anthropologists have been interested in jogo de bicho as a key Brazilian institution. We now have an English translation uniting Roberto DaMatta’s theoretical acumen and knowledge of Brazil with Elena Soarez’s field work. In Eagles, Donkeys, and Butterflies, they combine a stunningly effective analysis of the game in terms of rituals and symbols with an enlightening analysis of the structural and symbolic significance of the animals and the numbers associated with them. This is a welcome addition to the literature on the game’s cultural meaning and its place in the context of Brazilian society.” —Conrad P. Kottak, University of Michigan

“This book is fascinating and marked by a richness of detail that keeps a reader’s attention. It constitutes an important contribution to the understanding of Brazilian and Latin American culture.” —Thomas E. Skidmore, Brown University

Roberto DaMatta, one of the foremost Brazilian anthropologists, and his colleague Elena Soárez approach the question of gambling in popular culture in general and its treatment in social anthropology in particular. They focus on the “animal game,” a kind of popular gambling entertainment or lottery within Brazil in which locals bet on a list of twenty-five animals. They argue that the success of this game, which originated in 1882 with the founding of the first zoo in Rio de Janeiro, and the social release the game provides are significant aspects of Brazilian social history and of the Brazilian “identity.” Within the animal game, players “totemize” and identify with various animals. DaMatta and Soárez use this identification as a lens through which to view Brazil’s modernity, society, the significance of gambling, and even the role of animal images in Brazilian and Western society.

Appearing for the first time in English, this well-written work moves smoothly between comprehensive analysis and field observations of specific behaviors and practices, such as the lucky tricks and devices invested with magical thinking by those who play the game. This book will be of interest to students and scholars in sociology, anthropology, Brazilian studies, and Latin American cultural studies.

ROBERTO DAMATTA is professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Notre Dame and is presently teaching at the Catholic University in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

ELENA SOÁREZ is a script writer.


“DaMatta and Soárez have performed a valuable service to the field of Brazilian studies. . . . The book’s essayistic sections make it a useful window on one dimension of the twentieth-century Brazilian anthropological imagination as it explores how the European anthropology of ‘savages’ can be applied to their own modern, urban society. Thus this book is a study of totemism as a concept in itself as much as it is a book about the elusive and omnipresent animal game.” — Journal of Latin American Studies