Native Americans, including some from here, Brazil, are afraid of photos. They don't like it when you take pictures of them because they think that you are stealing their souls.

Why do they think that?

2 Answers 2


Well, not many do anymore. I found this on a question on the skeptics stack exchange

[Carolyn J. Marr] illustrates a change in Native Americans' attitudes towards photography from the late 19th to the early 20th century.

At first, many Native Americans were wary of having their photographs taken and often refused. They believed that the process could steal a person's soul and disrespected the spiritual world.

Over time, however, some Native Americans came to cherish photographs as links to ancestors and even integrated them into important ceremonies.
Source: Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Photographs and Symbols

As to why, the indigenous people didn't understand this technology. In their minds, they saw this as magic that could trap a person or an image inside something. Hence the idea that it would steal your soul. This is similar to the ideas of medieval peoples that found alien things magical and often evil (hence the witch hunts, even though they weren't as huge as they seem), I'm sure the reaction of a medieval person to photographs would be very similar.

  • 2
    I like this answer, but is there a source for the quoted material? (I don't doubt the veracity, but we like citations wherever possible.)
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 24, 2017 at 19:27
  • @DukeZhou the source can be found on the skeptics stack exchange post
    – Sam
    Aug 25, 2017 at 0:18
  • 2
    Unfortunately, all of those links are dead except one that doesn't have the quote :( but I did manage to find an archived source: web.archive.org/web/20091113050027/www.loc.gov/teachers/…
    – DukeZhou
    Aug 25, 2017 at 0:42

The question suggests that the notion of photographs 'stealing souls' is primitive and without foundation and what one might expect pre-literate and pre-media societies to misunderstand, I'd like to present a different view.

First, this has a parallel within Western thinking. For example, the Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord, was a very influential thesis which touches upon exactly this point, suitably interpreted. And this is only underlined today by the pervasiveness of the digital and virtual worlds where the darker dystopic vision is knocking up against the earlier, and it seems, naively utopian picture sold to everywhere. This is only underlined by the fact of the immense corporate monopoly power wielded by the big five tech giants and which only very recently has been challenged by democratic means - for example, Facebook was fined $4 Billion dollars after the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

What was Cambridge Analytica upto, other than 'stealing souls'? And what was Facebook upto, but facilitating the 'stealing of souls'? All for a price of course to their real clientele - advertisers.

It seems to me, that the Plains Indians were spot on.

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