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Animism in Rainforest and Tundra

Animism in Rainforest and Tundra: Personhood, Animals, Plants and Things in Contemporary Amazonia and Siberia

Marc Brightman
Vanessa Elisa Grotti
Olga Ulturgasheva
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 226
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  • Book Info
    Animism in Rainforest and Tundra
    Book Description:

    Amazonia and Siberia, classic regions of shamanism, have long challenged 'western' understandings of man's place in the world. By exploring the social relations between humans and non-human entities credited with human-like personhood (not only animals and plants, but also 'things' such as artifacts, trade items, or mineral resources) from a comparative perspective, this volume offers valuable insights into the constitutions of humanity and personhood characteristic of the two areas. The contributors conducted their ethnographic fieldwork among peoples undergoing transformative processes of their lived environments, such as the depletion of natural resources and migration to urban centers. They describe here fundamental relational modes that are being tested in the face of change, presenting groundbreaking research on personhood and agency in shamanic societies and contributing to our global understanding of social and cultural change and continuity.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-469-0
    Subjects: Anthropology, Biological Sciences, Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Stephen Hugh-Jones

    Back in the early 1970s, after a two-year spell of fieldwork in north-west Amazonia and needing somewhere to write her doctoral thesis in social anthropology, my wife Christine was offered desk space at Cambridge University’s Scott Polar Research Institute – anything was better than trying to work at home with two small children. Inevitably, this apparently incongruous conjunction between Amazon and Arctic became the subject of frequent jokes by friends and colleagues: ‘Bet you’re cold in there!’, ‘Careful, you’ll melt the ice’, and so on. Little could these jokers have imagined that, forty years on, precisely this conjunction would lead to...

  6. Maps
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  7. Introduction Animism and Invisible Worlds: The Place of Non-humans in Indigenous Ontologies
    (pp. 1-28)
    Marc Brightman, Vanessa Elisa Grotti and Olga Ulturgasheva

    Shamanic peoples such as the indigenous inhabitants of Amazonia and Siberia frequently appear in the popular imagination as ‘living in harmony with nature’, and indeed this image has become part of their identity on the global political stage (United Nations 2007). It is therefore not entirely accidental that two thinkers, Rousseau and Marx, had particularly lasting influence over the ethnography of these two regions. Each of them relies in important and divergent ways upon the distinction between nature and culture, and together they have been described as part of the bedrock of modern anthropology (Leach 2000). Rousseau’s noble savage, partly...

  8. Chapter 1 Too Many Owners: Mastery and Ownership in Amazonia
    (pp. 29-47)
    Carlos Fausto

    This chapter discusses an indigenous Amazonian category – usually translated as ‘owner’ or ‘master’ – which far transcends a simple expression of a relation of ownership, authority or domination.¹ The category and its reciprocal terms designate a widespread mode of relationship that applies to humans, non-humans and things. I argue here that it comprises a key category for our comprehension of indigenous socio-cosmologies, despite receiving relatively little consideration thus far. Three decades ago, Seeger called our attention to this disregard: ‘The concept of the owner-controller permeates Suyá society, even though there is relatively little property in the material sense of the word...

  9. Chapter 2 Revisiting the Animism versus Totemism Debate: Fabricating Persons among the Eveny and Chukchi of North-eastern Siberia
    (pp. 48-68)
    Rane Willerslev and Olga Ulturgashev

    This chapter explores hunting and pastoralist ontological models, essential to the construction of human personhood among two Siberian indigenous groups, the Eveny and the Chukchi. Besides speaking distinct languages that belong to totally different language groups, the greatest difference between the two groups rests on their modes of subsistence and the environments they inhabit: whereas the Eveny inhabit forested and mountain regions and live by a combination of small-scale reindeer herding and hunting, the Chukchi inhabit the treeless tundra and live either as large-scale reindeer herders in the interior or as sea-mammal hunters on the Arctic seashore.

    Despite these obvious...

  10. Chapter 3 Animism and the Meanings of Life: Reflections from Amazonia
    (pp. 69-81)
    Laura Rival

    A substantial part of my research has dealt with plant symbolism and plant knowledge.¹ More recently, I have become particularly interested in the Amerindian ethnoclassification of manioc (Manihot esculenta) in ‘bitter’ and ‘sweet’ types, as well as in the diverse ways of cultivating, processing, storing and consuming manioc varieties. My interest has grown from having worked with two extremely different groups of manioc cultivators, the Huaorani and the Makushi.

    A domesticated species of the genusManihotin the Euphorbiaceae family with hundreds of different landraces, manioc contains a powerful toxic element, hydrocyanic acid (HCN), commonly known as prussic acid. High...

  11. Chapter 4 Stories about Evenki People and their Dogs: Communication through Sharing Contexts
    (pp. 82-95)
    Tatiana Safonova and István Sántha

    The Evenki people have inspired a number of anthropologists to reflect on the problem of communication between them and neighbouring people. In 1935 Shirokogoroff introduced the Evenki wordshamaninto scientific discourse, shamanism later becoming an independent anthropological category (see Shirokogoroff 1999). He devoted much of his writing to the description of social structures and kinship terms that the Evenki obtained from neighbours, such as Buryats or Yakuts (Shirokogoroff 1929). He also wrote a chapter on Evenki character, in which he described the way Evenki were attentive observers and learners, and how they tricked strangers. Lindgren (1936) analysedandakirelationships...

  12. Chapter 5 Making Animals into Food among the Kanamari of Western Amazonia
    (pp. 96-112)
    Luiz Costa

    This chapter will analyse the ways in which the Kanamari, a Katukina-speaking people of western Amazonia, ensure that the animal flesh that they eat is rendered as food.¹ As is probably universal in Amazonia, the Kanamari claim that, in certain contexts, animals are persons, occupying the position of subjects in their relationships with humans.² My aim is to investigate how, given this condition, the Kanamari make animal subjects into food that, when shared out among coresidents, cooked and eaten together, serves to create or reinforce kinship ties.

    Although my investigation will be limited to the Kanamari, I intend it to...

  13. Chapter 6 ‘Spirit-charged’ Animals in Siberia
    (pp. 113-129)
    Alexandra Lavrillier

    The purpose of this chapter is to analyse the concept of ‘spirit charge’ which the Evenki reindeer herders and hunters of Siberia apply to all humans and to some animals they consider ritually powerful. The analysis will show that this concept implies individual differentiation among animals and the attribution of intentionality to certain animals. It will also contribute to fostering the comparative perspective adopted in this book, insofar as there seems to be no concept with the same Evenki specific understanding of ‘spirit charge’ in Amazonia. In addition, it will feed, on the basis of recent Siberian ethnographic materials, the...

  14. Chapter 7 Shamans, Animals and Enemies: Human and Non-human Agency in an Amazonian Cosmos of Alterity
    (pp. 130-145)
    Casey High

    For many indigenous peoples of Amazonia and Siberia, the intentions and capacities of non-humans are an important part of mythology, ritual symbolism and everyday subsistence practices. In both of these regions indigenous understandings of interactions between humans and animals can be seen in shamanic practices oriented specifically toward relations of alterity, transformation and domestication. In the Waorani communities of Amazonian Ecuador, shamanic engagement with non-human agencies is central not only to healing illnesses and ensuring successful hunting, but also to assault sorcery. Waorani elders explain that in the past revenge killings were often carried out in response to shamans who...

  15. Chapter 8 Expressions and Experiences of Personhood: Spatiality and Objects in the Nenets Tundra Home
    (pp. 146-161)
    Vera Skvirskaja

    This chapter examines some of the ways in which Nenets tundra dwellers on the Yamal peninsula experience patrilineal clan identity and establish a relational sense of themselves via the mobile tundra dwelling, orchoom(Nenets,mia).¹ My take on the Nenetschoomdraws on Lévi-Strauss’s concept of the house as a ‘moral person’, recognising it as a social entity that commands material and immaterial wealth and perpetuates a name (Lévi-Strauss 1987). But while for Lévi-Strauss the house objectifies a relation of alliance in what he calls

    ‘house societies’, I am more interested in looking at how thechoomenables the...

  16. Chapter 9 Humanity, Personhood and Transformability in Northern Amazonia
    (pp. 162-174)
    Vanessa Elisa Grotti and Marc Brightman

    In the native cosmologies of Amazonia and Siberia, the ability to transform one’s body and one’s perspective in order to act beyond the human sphere has conventionally been associated with specialist practitioners: shamans. Amazonian societies are also known to thrive and, indeed, depend on the appropriation of alterity for their continuity (Overing 1983/1984), but the fact that affinity or alterity remain volatile at the heart of the social sphere has only recently been established (Vilaça 2005) and requires further development. Discussions of native Amazonian sociality tend to rely on a notion of humanity which is more or less exclusive to...

  17. Chapter 10 Masked Predation, Hierarchy and the Scaling of Extractive Relations in Inner Asia and Beyond
    (pp. 175-194)
    Katherine Swancutt

    Predation – as an everyday phenomenon and as an important lynchpin in many shamanic cosmologies – has been a leitmotif in anthropological studies of personhood in Amazonia and the Siberian tundra.¹ A classic theme, such as predation, is often a wellspring of ideas. Not surprisingly, then, the study of predation has helped reveal what it means to be a person, spirit, animal, plant, stone or even a ‘thing’ in these two regions. The spirit of ontological unwrapping has since caught the widespread attention of anthropologists, who have honed the Amazonia– Siberian comparison,² or exported it as a ‘thought experiment’ to see how...

  18. Afterword
    (pp. 195-199)
    Piers Vitebsky

    This collection is no ordinary regional comparison. It is an encounter between two discourses, on both the ethnographic and the theoretical level, which have been prevented from meeting for nearly a century. The prehistoric peopling of the Americas, the colonial histories as resource frontiers creating communities of marginality and tribalism, the striking parallels in ontologies of human, animal and spirit: all of these cry out for systematic comparison. But our means of knowing and interpreting these societies and cultures have developed in quite different ways. There is no chapter here which in itself compares both regions, and (unlike some other...

  19. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 200-202)
  20. Index
    (pp. 203-210)