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Trekking Through History

Trekking Through History: The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador

Laura M. Rival
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Trekking Through History
    Book Description:

    The Huaorani of Ecuador lived as hunters and gatherers in the Amazonian rainforest for hundred of years, largely undisturbed by western civilization. Since their first encounter with North American missionaries in 1956, they have held a special place in journalistic and popular imagination as "Ecuador's last savages." Trekking Through History is the first description of Huaorani society and culture according to modern standards of ethnographic writing. Through her comprehensive study of their extraordinary tradition of trekking, Laura Rival shows that the Huaorani cannot be seen merely as anachronistic survivors of the Spanish Conquest. Her critical reappraisal of the notions of agricultural regression and cultural devolution challenges the universal application of the thesis that marginal tribes of the Amazon Basin represent devolved populations who have lost their knowledge of agriculture. Far from being an evolutionary event, trekking expresses cultural creativity and political agency. Through her detailed comparative discussion of native Amazonian representations of history and the environment, Rival illustrates the unique way the Huaorani have socialized nature by choosing to depend on resources created in the past -- highlighting the unique contribution anthropology makes to the study of environmental history.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50622-9
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
  3. Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xx)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xxi-xxii)
  6. Note on Orthography
    (pp. xxiii-xxvi)
  7. CHAPTER ONE Trekking in Amazonia
    (pp. 1-19)

    “Today I go walking in the forest” (ömere gobopa), usually implying “I cannot stay in the longhouse conversing with you,” is an apologetic explanation I heard repetitively during fieldwork, and it is not before I felt confident enough to accompany my Huaorani friends on day expeditions or longer treks that I truly started to understand their society. Men, women, and children spend a great part of their lives slowly exploring the forest. They hunt and gather, of course, but they also simply walk, observing with evident pleasure and interest animal movements, the progress of fruit maturation, or vegetation growth. When...

  8. CHAPTER TWO The Upper Amazon from Omagua Expansion to Zaparo Collapse
    (pp. 20-45)

    Chapter 1 has reviewed some of the environmental and historical explanations put forward to account for the form of Amazonian settlements, in particular, their small size, dispersion, and the predilection of some for long treks. For authors writing within the tradition of environmental determinism, history constitutes a mere background, a given that does not require explanation. More recently, however, interest in historical determinations and historical outcomes have superseded attention to environmental constraints. The chapter has also reviewed new historical arguments put forth against the proponents of environmental determinism. This renewed interest in history, which expresses a general trend in anthropological...

  9. CHAPTER THREE The Time and Space of Huaorani Nomadic Isolationism
    (pp. 46-67)

    As shall become evident in this chapter, Huaorani people are not devoid of historical consciousness, in the sense that they see themselves as having survived as a distinct and autonomous society despite the violence and aggression of non-Huaorani bellicose tribes. Their survival through time, which they attribute to self-segregation, is not conceptualized as the outcome of history, in our post-Hegelian, European sense, but is expressed through tales of warfare and myths, and, more implicitly, through a shared cultural discourse on anger, homicide, and death. It is this overall construction of history as violence that I explore here, first by examining...

  10. CHAPTER FOUR Harvesting the Forest’s Natural Abundance
    (pp. 68-93)

    As shown in the previous chapter, the permanent threat of predatory attacks and other types of aggression, as well as death, particularly violent death, cause people to flee, often abandoning everything behind. In this chapter I intend to present an aspect of Huaorani mobility linked to processes of life and subsistence. Trekking in this sense is more a coming back than a moving away. Living people, the forest, and past generations are linked together through trekking and the continuous abundance of foodstuff and other useful resources.

    Distinguishable from both animal foraging and agricultural production, Huaorani subsistence economy is, as I...

  11. CHAPTER FIVE Coming Back to the Longhouse
    (pp. 94-128)

    When the Ñihuairi decided to leave Dayuno definitively (see chapter 4) and to create the new community of Quehueire Ono along a particular bent of the Shiripuno River, they chose to build their two longhouses where the mother of the oldest brother’s wife had lived her youth. Her name was bestowed onto me during an improvised naming ceremony, as a sign of my formal affiliation to one of the two house groups forming the new settlement.

    Although not located on hilltops away from rivers, the two collective dwellings (nanicabo onco) were built traditionally, as large A-frame structures about 15 meters...

  12. CHAPTER SIX Eëmë Festivals: Ceremonial Increase and Marriage Alliance
    (pp. 129-151)

    The previous chapter on the longhouse presented a familiar picture in Amazonia of a “residential society,” in which society is basically coterminous with the group of people living together. But, as elsewhere in Amazonia, this house society opens itself for festivals and celebrations, during which autarchy is temporarily breached. In chapter 4 I examined festivities that take place in ancestral palm groves, and here I explore the other major type of festival: manioc drinking ceremonies (ëëmë). I present ethnographic data on the manioc drinking festival, examine the relation between marriage and social distance, and discuss the fact that whereas the...

  13. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  14. CHAPTER SEVEN Schools in the Rain Forest
    (pp. 152-176)

    I had no idea when I first set off to do fieldwork that state schooling was to become a major focus of my doctoral research. But the role of primary schools in producing cultural forms that seemed to undermine the Huaorani way of life increasingly caught my attention and forced me to reflect on the ways in which institutions structure social praxis and condition identity.

    Between 1989 and 1991 I slept in many houses and observed a large number of children getting ready to go to school. At dawn (around 5:30 a.m.), when the sky is still dark blue, people...

  15. CHAPTER EIGHT Prey at the Center
    (pp. 177-188)

    Ahuane recently told me: “Huaorani people have always wanted to go farther … beyond and away … This is no longer possible. We have to stay where we live, until death comes for us, until we depart this world.” These words were ushered as he hastily unpacked the forty or so boxes of clothes, canned tuna, biscuits, sugar, flour, oil, and bottles of soft drinks he and his young brothers and cousins had purchased in the least distant jungle town a few days before, and brought back after a perilous and exhausting journey by truck and canoe, and on foot...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 189-214)
  17. References
    (pp. 215-238)
  18. Index
    (pp. 239-246)