Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
No Cover Image

Under a Watchful Eye: Self, Power, and Intimacy in Amazonia

Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 252
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Under a Watchful Eye
    Book Description:

    What does it mean to be accompanied? How can autonomy and a sense of self emerge through one’s involvement with others? This book examines the formation of self among the Urarina, an Amazonian people of lowland Peru. Based on detailed ethnography, the analysis highlights the role of intimate but asymmetrical attachments and dependencies which begin in the womb, but can extend beyond human society to include a variety of animals, plants, spirits and material objects. It thereby raises fundamental questions about what it means to be alive, to be an experiencing subject, and to be human. From the highly personalized relationships that develop between babies and their hammocks, to the demonstrations of love and respect between spouses and the power asymmetries that structure encounters between shamans and spirits, hunters and game animals, or owners and pets, what emerges is a strong sense that the lived experience of togetherness lies at the heart of the human condition. Recognizing this relational quality of existence enables us to see how acting effectively in the world may be less a matter of individual self-assertion than learning how to elicit empathetic acts of care and attentiveness by endearing oneself to others.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95421-2
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Prologue: Learning to Stand-Leaned-Together
    (pp. 1-6)

    Upon returning from fieldwork in the Peruvian Amazon I was often asked, as many returning anthropologists must surely be, what I missed most from life in the field. After contemplating for a moment the peaceful beauty of the river just before dawn and the agreeable challenge of drinking abundant manioc beer in good company, I was often led to ponder a certain hard to define aspect of the quality of life that I suspected had something to do with the sense of freedom that comes with self-sufficiency, or more precisely mastery over the entire range of productive techniques and resources...

  6. 1. Spaces of Refuge
    (pp. 7-33)

    This book is about the shared nature of human existence: how we live our lives in the close company of others, in whose very being we come to participate. We come into the world accompanied, and this remains our defining condition: who we are, how we come to experience ourselves as conscious subjects, with the capacity to act on the world, are fundamentally conditioned by our constitutively accompanied nature. This mutuality does not undermine individuality but precedes it and is its condition of existence. Typically grounded in intimate but often asymmetrical relations of care and protection, mutuality nevertheless also establishes...

  7. 2. Vital Shields
    (pp. 34-58)

    Urarina dwellings are small and simple affairs. An overarching roof of thatched palm leaves shelters a raised stilt palm floor, but the dwelling remains otherwise open to the elements, allowing little by way of privacy. Walking past Lorenzo’s house to the river one morning, my idle glance inside met with a familiar, homely sight. Lorenzo’s wife, Renona, was seated on the floor with a leg stretched out in front of her, absently humming softly to her sleeping baby boy, who was tightly wrapped in blankets and barely visible inside a small, string hammock that arced gracefully back and forth through...

  8. 3. Conceiving the Conjugal Body
    (pp. 59-93)

    Buuno’s first marriage lasted just three days. It began in high spirits when Anita, on a brief visit to the community, passed the night in his bed after a drinking party and remained there the next morning. Though already twice divorced, Anita had no children, and the young couple was clearly happy with the union, as was Buuno’s father, Sere, who immediately offered his daughter to Anita’s brother. But when the father of the bride learned of these events by two-way radio, he made some swift inquiries into Buuno’s character. It was duly reported that the lad was a poor...

  9. 4. Mutuality and Autonomy
    (pp. 94-132)

    From the earliest appearance in the womb through to a restful state of receptivity in the protective space of the hammock, the creation and early growth of a new person is at every moment wedded to a broader process of socialization and the formation or consolidation of companionships between spouses, ritual co-parents, and others in the infant’s innermost social circle. As discussed in the previous two chapters, this process often hinges on implicit ideas about the nature of subjectivity and materiality, usually revealed through practices involving the bodies of infants and related discourse surrounding the heart-soul and shadow-soul. This chapter...

  10. 5. Authority and Solidarity
    (pp. 133-163)

    Weary of the interminable feuding, Roberto and his extended family, comprising nearly half the community of Nueva Unión, finally dismantled their houses and cleared a site for a new, breakaway village just a few bends downriver. The dispute between Roberto and his brother Lorenzo was so long-standing that people had trouble remembering how it started. By the time I arrived on the upper Chambira, Roberto’s group had just created a modest football pitch and were about to begin their lengthy campaign to recruit a teacher for their handful of pupils. Hostilities were rife and grievances a regular feature of people’s...

  11. 6. Mastering Subjection
    (pp. 164-202)

    That most animals, plants, and a host of other nonhumans are said to have some kind of master, owner, or mother is one of the most ubiquitous features of Amazonian cosmologies. In his classic formulation of Amerindian perspectivism, Viveiros de Castro (1998: 471) mentions these only in passing, suggesting that they appear to function as reified personifications, or “hypostatizations,” of the species with they are associated, allowing humans to relate to animals on an intersubjective basis. By insisting that the owner, mother, or master is essentially an abstraction drawn from the capacities of the animal itself, the conceptual distinction between...

  12. Epilogue: An Accompanied Life
    (pp. 203-216)

    Old Gustodio lay motionless as the visitors started to arrive, the only sign of life the barely detectable rise and fall of his blankets. One of his sons, a quiet lad named Amiuri, gently fanned air over his tired body. I stared at the floor in front of me as one person after another slowly wandered over and climbed the steps to the house, easing themselves down onto the stilt palm floor. Nobody spoke a word. From far away across the river I could hear the whistling of a tinamou. The heavy atmosphere that clung to the house like a...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 217-226)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 227-234)
  15. Index
    (pp. 235-239)