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Volume 65 / Social Sciences

ANTHROPOLOGY: ETHNOLOGY: South America: Lowlands

BARTHOLOMEW DEAN, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Kansas and Profesor Invitado, Graduate Program in Amazonian Studies/Maestría en Estudios Amazónicos, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos, Lima, Peru
SILVIA MARÍA HIRSCH, Professor, FLACSO, Buenos Aires, Argentina
ROBIN M. WRIGHT, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Florida, Gainesville

A CURSORY REVIEW OF REPRESENTATIVE CONTRIBUTIONS to the ethnology of Lowland South America reveals a diverse set of topics of scholarly inquiry, mimicking the region's rich sociocultural mosaic and astonishing biodiversity. To wit, authors explore stalwart themes of anthropological inquiry—social organization, ritual life, shamanism, cosmology, and mythopraxis—as well as probing recent concerns with identity politics, market integration and transformations in resource use, medical anthropology, and efforts to understand the complex relationships among indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, not to mention agents of the self-aggrandizing "developmentalist" state driven by paradigms of neoliberal modernization. This latter point is illustrated by a number of scholarly contributions that assess the supra-local factors shaping indigenous peoples' communities, such as the special issue of Íconos that assesses the character of globalized linkages in Amazonia (item #bi2009004407#), Rubenstein's survey of the changing symbolic import of Shuar tsantsas (the shrunken heads of foes slain in warfare) (item #bi2009004416#), or Killick's trenchant review of land titling among the Ashéninka of the Peruvian Amazon (item #bi2009004421#). Emphasizing a positivist approach, Lu's research among Ecuadorian indigenous peoples demonstrates the need to employ multiple variables of both household production and consumption when ascertaining levels of market integration.

Particularly noteworthy recent ethnographic iterations include the Whitten's remarkable text Puyo Runa: Imagery and Power in Modern Amazonia (item #bi2008000968#) and Jonathan Hill's masterful collection entitled Made-from-Bone (item #bi2009004445#). Puyo Runa represents the fruits of more than four decades of fieldwork conducted among the Canelos Quichua of Ecuador, and yields critical insight into the character of ethnogenesis, and local understandings of ecology, cosmology, and shamanism. While attending to the intricacies of mythopraxis, the Whitten's situate the Canelos Quichua's political engagements within the wider nonindigenous world. For its part, Hill's Made-from-Bone is a beautifully crafted ethnographic depiction of the Wakuénai peoples of Venezuela's mythic past and "audioscapes." In addition to drawing attention to their continuing enmeshment in the structural ambiguities of everyday life, Hill's provocative work adeptly provides meaning to the esthetic and poetic facets of Wakuénai narratives.

While the aforementioned ethnographic accounts highlight the cosmological veracity and "health" of indigenous societies, analysts continue to document the destructive impact of the postcolonial encounter. Predicated on both field research conducted among the Nukak peoples of Colombia, and on primary archival documents, Cabrera Becerra's valuable text, for example, recounts the tragic legacy that Protestant mission activity (New Tribes Mission) has had for indigenous peoples (item #bi2008001924#). Notwithstanding recognition of the detrimental influence outsiders have historically had for native cosmologies and performed ritual life, the spiritual and ontological aspects of indigenous sociality remain key concerns of ethnographers of Lowland South America. This is evident in Rosengren's incisive evaluation of the dynamics of human-spirit interactions among the Matsigenka of southeastern Peru (item #bi2007004944#), or Zent's welcome study illustrating the cosmological, as well as the ecological, vitality of hunting among the Jotï of the Venezuelan Guayana (item #bi2009004417#). While Santos-Granero explores the nature of sociality and alterity by providing a sustained analysis of the concept of "friendship" in indigenous Amazonia (item #bi2009004427#), others have emphasized the violent expression of social life in Lowland South America. On this point, Beckerman and Valentine have produced a seminal collection on the widespread phenomena of revenge noted among 14 indigenous groups of Lowland South America (item #bi2008000961#). This collection complements the 2004 publication In Darkness and Secrecy: The Anthropology of Assault Sorcery and Witchcraft in Amazonia (see HLAS 63:825).

In the arena of medical anthropology, research in Lowland South America has minimized the putative divide between Occidental biomedicine and indigenous health systems. Scholars such as Calvet-Mir, Reyes-García, and Tanner have underscored the prominence of medical pluralism in the region, and the innovative collaboration among local healers and medical practitioners (see item #bi2009004406#). Similarly, Lewis' findings affirm the efficacy of Western psychotherapists assisting ayahuasca imbibers: psychotherapists can provide ritual participants with meaning for the emotional anguish they experience during shamanic rituals (item #bi2009004441#). Indication of the concern with global health challenges is evidenced by a number of research projects, such as Martínez Silva's work in Colombia's northwest Amazonian frontier (item #bi2009004411#). Martínez Silva endeavors to situate illness narratives about HIV-AIDS, while concomitantly interrogating the theoretical categories underpinning biomedicine itself.

An allied concern of medical anthropology is the enduring interest in plants and people, which has given rise to a number of innovative studies, such as Wilson's investigation of manioc selection among the Colombian Tukanoans (item #bi2009004447#), Heckler and Zent's work on manioc's function as a social mediator among the Piaora of Venezuela (item #bi2009004422#), or the scholarly review of the deleterious impact global forces have had on "traditional" knowledge systems, such the Yuquí of Bolivia. Yet, research among the Yuquí demonstrates how the tourist trade for bows and arrows has had a positive impact on the retention of customary knowledge associated with the use of "black beeswax" as arrow cement (item #bi2009003166#). Continued attention to the use of psychotropic use in Lowland South America is manifest by studies on Banisteriopsis caapi consumption, while advances in ethnobotany are evident in Jernigan's pioneering research on Aguaruna chemosensory clues for their identification and classification of woody plants in the Peruvian rainforest (item #bi2009004431#).

In trying to comprehend how environmental transformations have influenced the historical trajectories of human societies, Rival calls for a methodological embrace of historical ecology (item #bi2009004436#). This approach is elaborated by Schjellerup et al.'s comprehensive text on the Chilchos Valley of Peru, which provides excellent insight into the complex nature of human adaptations to various biomes, including the area's ecologically vulnerable montane forests (item #bi2008001949#). Interest in human-environment interactions is showcased in Cepek's analysis of Cofán environmental discourses and practices (item #bi2009004446#). Instead of rendering environmentalism as merely instrumentalist responses to transnational identity politics, Cepek reveals the substantive ties between the Cofán peoples' cultural identity and their traditional territories. Likewise, Garcés comparative study of the Achuar, Shuar and Kichua of Ecuador reveals the role that management of natural resource has in influencing the vary nature of gender relations (item #bi2008001957#).

The political nature of indigenous cultural performances is recognized by many analysts of the human topography of the region. For instance, Veber's astute analysis of Ashéninka leader's narrative accentuates the politically charged nature of the interplay between individual and communal interests in the Peruvian Amazon (item #bi2009004442#). Struggles for greater administrative and cultural autonomy from the state takes center stage in Viatori and Ushigua's study of the Zápara case of Ecuador, which highlights how language revalorization initiatives have been critical to local efforts at securing self-determination. In a somewhat similar vein, Stronza's study of ecotourism in the Peruvian Amazon stresses the growth of local efforts to actively promote linguistic survival and enhanced interest in indigenous cultural heritage, particularly in the face of an influx of tourists and all of their accoutrements of modernity (item #bi2009004432#).

Debates over the performance, and meanings of indigeneity are common themes surfacing in the sociopolitical lives of contemporary indigenous peoples of Lowland South America. For example, Valdivia's study of the distinctive performances of indigeneity among three native political organizations (FEINCE, OISE, and FOISE) in the Ecuadoran Amazon is useful for assessing the legal case against Chevron Texaco (see HLAS 63:869). Moreover, by outlining how indigenous federations have endeavored to garner supra-local support for their claims, Valdivia demonstrates how identity politics and transnational social networks are themselves mutually implicated in the formation of organizations that putatively represent indigenous peoples. In a similar fashion, Jaramillo's text provides not only insight into the sociopolitical lives of the Embera of Colombia, but it also shows how local conceptions of sociological constructs (i.e. "community," "territorially," and "identity,") are embedded in supra-local interactions and processes (item #bi2008001938#). Likewise, Alarcón Puentes adopts a political anthropological approach to account for the transformations of power noted among the Wayúu and their fractious relations with the Venezuelan state and broader national society (item #bi2008001929#). Finally, Lucero's comparative study of two indigenous political federations in Bolivia (CONAMAQ) and Ecuador (FEINE) is a somber reminder that indigeneity is a product of both localized "grassroots" mobilization, as well as a result of "opportunity structures" located beyond the community that collude to privilege some voices over others (see HLAS 63:861). In the face of global and local alterations associated with the predominance of neoliberalism and the ongoing challenges to the cultural survival of indigenous societies, additional research is warranted that effectively links multiple levels of analysis capable of understanding the radically transformed modalities of sociocultural existence in Lowland South America. [BD]


The publications selected for review in this issue can be grouped into six themes which are, in order of importance, the following: (1) indigenous experiences and views of contact phenomena; (2) ethnographies of indigenous peoples of Northeast Brazil and other, little-known peoples; (3) the fields of Brazilian anthropology and ethnology; (4) aspects of symbolism in indigenous religious traditions; (5) indigenous education; and (6) Brazilian mestizo populations.

The first and perhaps the most dynamic of the themes is a result, in part, of the trend in Brazilian ethnology toward understanding more deeply indigenous views, perspectives, and experiences of contact. One of the important sources of theoretical stimulus in this direction is the "Nucleus for [the study of] Indigenous Transformations," coordinated by the Brazilian ethnologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro at the National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, and his ex-advisees and colleagues. This "school" has produced innovative studies of indigenous identity in the contact situation (item #bi2008000562#), indigenous perspectives on "the civilizing process" (item #bi2008000570#), and indigenous understandings of, and relation to, money and merchandise (item #bi2008000569#), which previously would have been classified under the rubric of "economic anthropology." These studies have in common a determination to take seriously indigenous perspectives and experiences of contact and to explore how categories of indigenous ontology (being and becoming) transform in the process. Methodology is based in phenomenology of perception and the poststructuralist school of "perspectivism." Other ways of understanding religious phenomena in historical situations of contact are based on a combination of symbolic anthropology and ethnohistory and have produced important studies, such as Wright on prophetic movements (item #bi2007000729#) and conversion movements (item #bi2010000151#). Both trends complement each other and should not be seen as mutually exclusive; other areas where such approaches can be extended include gender studies and shamanism.

The second theme includes ethnographies of the ways of life and cultures of such little-known peoples as the Caxixo of Minas Gerais—one of the "newly-emergent" or "resistant" peoples (item #bi2008000560#), the Kambiwa and Pipipa of the Northeast (item #bi2008000580#), the Guarani of Rio de Janeiro state (item #bi2008000594#), the Bakairi (item #bi2008000561#) of the Xingu; and isolated peoples of the southern Amazon known only by the exquisite craftsmanship of their arrows (item #bi2008000964#). Each of these contributes in different ways to ethnographic approaches: the relation of discourse and culture in the case of "newly-emergent" peoples; the regional importance of ritual forms, such as the Tore, to the resistant peoples of the Northeast (item #bi2008000087#); an insider's view by an ethnographer married to a Bakairi political leader; and intertribal encounters amongst the Guarani, Pataxo, and Indians of the US Southwest when each presented their own cultural ways to the other.

Thirdly, over the past decade, Brazilian anthropologists have taken stock of their field's diversification as it has grown and matured. One collection provides a general panorama of Brazilian anthropology (item #bi2008000967#); another, its methods in fieldwork (item #bi2008000498#); or, developing codes of ethics for different kinds of fieldwork (item #bi2008000584#); and finally, documenting the role of the ethnologist in the process of land definition for indigenous peoples (item #bi2008000586#).

A fourth area extends anthropological research on religious traditions with studies of the Tikunas' understanding of astronomy, meteorology, ritual and myth (item #bi2007004065#), and recovering the meaning of Bororo ritual items that had long been stored in mission museums (item #bi2008000499#). To a certain extent, these studies overlap with the first trend mentioned above, insofar as each seeks to understand the parameters of subjectivity in native thought, and how "artifacts" partake of their creator's subjectivity.

One area that has produced numerous workshops and conference sessions, but is underrepresented in this issue of the HLAS, is ethno-education. Under discussion are the parameters of a "differentiated education" specific to native peoples (item #bi2008000583#), which raises methodological questions and innovative ethnographies of indigenous children (item #bi2008000575#) and how their subjectivities are formed.

Finally, another underrepresented area is the study of mestizo populations of Brazil, such as the Amazonian caboclo (item #bi2008000963#) and the caicara population of the southeastern coast (item #bi2008000966#). The latter is simply a re-edition of a "classic" study but needs updating; and the former seems to be searching for new approaches to modernization among Amazonian caboclos.

Concluding, in the future we expect to see studies of sustainable development projects organized and administered by native and rural peoples, discussing how such projects are perceived by subjects; the future of shamanism among native peoples, an institution that is rapidly transforming if not disappearing at least in its traditional forms; and discussions of the protection of traditional knowledge and heritage sites which, in Brazil, unlike the US, has barely begun. [RMW]

Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay

The works reviewed in this volume include an increasing number of publications on gender, a topic on which there had been significant production in other regions, but had been neglected in the lowlands of Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The publication of a collection of essays on indigenous women in Argentina (item #bi2009003871#) introduces an array of perspectives that range from symbolic and performative analysis of initiation, life cycles, gender violence, mothering, and the sexual division of labor, among Toba, Wichi, Guaraní, and Mapuche people. Other studies (item #bi2009003867#) focus on women's knowledge of their environment, their gathering practices, and how notions of personhood (item #bi2009003863#) are constitutive of gender and gender relations.

Ethnohistorical studies not only continue to be the focus of scholarship in the area but also constitute a contribution to unravelling the complex processes of inter-ethnic relations and the process of mestizaje among different indigenous groups. In fact, the dynamics of "mestizaje," (item #bi2009003862#) are not between whites and Indians, but between two different indigenous groups, the Chane (Arawak origin) and the Guaraní. The study not only questions how this process has been described in the literature, but also illustrates the cultural and political influences of an Arawak group on the Guarani (item #bi2008001697#), hereby changing the point of view of previous studies. The ethnohistorical dimension of inter-ethnic relations and of the social and political organization of lowland groups is a fundamental component of several studies reviewed (#bi2009003859#, #bi2009003872#, and #bi2007003011#). The publication of an edited volume (item #bi2009003866#) on the impact of the Chaco war is a major contribution to the study of the displacements and transformations undergone by indigenous peoples caught in the middle of a political confrontation between two states.

In Lowland South America, the study of political systems is part of a genealogy of works by ethnographers which range from Nordenskiold to Clastres. Several publications describe current political systems with a historical perspective, while focusing on the changes undergone and the emergence of new forms of leadership among numerous lowland groups of the Chaco region. These works show a nuanced approach to the relations among leaders, kinship, social organizations, and inter-ethnic relations. Braunstein in his collection based on a conference organized in the Chaco province in Argentina, explores the complexity of the new forms of leadership that are present in indigenous communities (item #bi2009003869#). In this venue, several authors in the volume address the role of religious leaders, such as evangelical pastors and shamans, and the new leadership roles imposed by governmental agencies, who are seeking intermediaries in their relations with the communities. Moreover, the study of Mbya Guaraní leadership (item #bi2009004003#) illustrates a paradigmatic case in which the changes undergone in the political system, in addition to the pressures exerted by the Catholic Church and the government, undermine the role of traditional leaders, and give rise to new political authorities. These new leadership roles help in connecting the communities to the municipal and national centers, and provide a means for channeling resources, but create conflicts in terms of authority and representation and frequently divide the communities in terms of political loyalty.

Interdisciplinary projects have addressed collaborative research with native peoples and in so doing have produced ethnographic descriptions (item #bi2007003011#, #bi2009003860#, #bi2009003872#) written in an accessible language. These ethnographies provide useful data on understudied groups which have been "invisibilized" as a result of their subaltern relation with the larger society. The new ways in which identities reemerge and contest the state's representation and defy commonly held ideas of who is indigenous is represented by several contributions reviewed (items #bi2009003105# and #bi2009003864#).

Several works included in this volume reflect innovative and in-depth symbolic (item #bi2009003873#) and reflexive accounts on religion and religious conversion (item #bi2009003870#), shamanism, and dreaming. In addition, the growing field of anthropology of the body, which explores dances, rituals, and music and how the body is constitutive of these practices is represented by a study conducted among the Toba Indians (item #bi2009003857#).

The conflictive and tense relations between indigenous peoples and the state and the impact of the latter's policies on the internal life of communities has been a continuing focus of research (items #bi2009003864# and #bi2009003858#). New scholarship is based on a comparative perspective on these relations at the regional and provincial levels, focusing on the development of laws and policies and the politics of ethnicity put forward by indigenous peoples. [SMH]

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