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Ethnicity in Ancient Amazonia

Ethnicity in Ancient Amazonia: Reconstructing Past Identities from Archaeology, Linguistics, and Ethnohistory

Alf Hornborg
Jonathan D. Hill
Copyright Date: 2011
Pages: 380
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  • Book Info
    Ethnicity in Ancient Amazonia
    Book Description:

    A transdisciplinary collaboration among ethnologists, linguists, and archaeologists, Ethnicity in Ancient Amazonia traces the emergence, expansion, and decline of cultural identities in indigenous Amazonia. Hornborg and Hill argue that the tendency to link language, culture, and biology--essentialist notions of ethnic identities--is a Eurocentric bias that has characterized largely inaccurate explanations of the distribution of ethnic groups and languages in Amazonia. The evidence, however, suggests a much more fluid relationship among geography, language use, ethnic identity, and genetics. In Ethnicity in Ancient Amazonia, leading linguists, ethnographers, ethnohistorians, and archaeologists interpret their research from a unique nonessentialist perspective to form a more accurate picture of the ethnolinguistic diversity in this area. Revealing how ethnic identity construction is constantly in flux, contributors show how such processes can be traced through different ethnic markers such as pottery styles and languages. Scholars and students studying lowland South America will be especially interested, as will anthropologists intrigued by its cutting-edge, interdisciplinary approach.

    eISBN: 978-1-60732-095-1
    Subjects: Sociology, Archaeology, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. List of Maps
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. List of Tables
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. Preface
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    Alf Hornborg and Jonathan D. Hill
  7. CHAPTER ONE Introduction: Ethnicity in Ancient Amazonia
    (pp. 1-28)
    Alf Hornborg and Jonathan D. Hill

    Attempts to explain the distribution of indigenous languages and ethnic groups in Amazonia since the time of European contact, whether by historians, linguists, or archaeologists, have generally been founded on an essentialist conception of ethnolinguistic groups as more or less bounded, genetically distinct populations that have reached their recent territories through migration. This perception of ethnolinguistic diversity is a phenomenon that itself deserves explanation, as it appears to draw on a Eurocentric experience of nation-building that historically has struggled to integrate territory, language, identity, and biology (cf. Jones 1997). On closer examination, the evidence in Amazonia suggests a much more...


    • CHAPTER TWO Archaeological Cultures and Past Identities in the Pre-colonial Central Amazon
      (pp. 31-56)
      Eduardo Góes Neves

      Archaeologists are well aware that a simple association between patterns in the archaeological record and ethnographic or ethnohistorical patterns is highly problematic. The ethnographic literature on lowland South America is full of examples of multilinguistic regional systems where different language groups share, for instance, the use of the same pottery, occupy villages with similar spatial layout, and even produce and consume the same basic foodstuffs. Such examples show that there is no simple correlation between the dynamic functioning of social systems and the static dimension of the archaeological record. In the particular case of Amazonia and northern South America the...

    • CHAPTER THREE Deep History, Cultural Identities, and Ethnogenesis in the Southern Amazon
      (pp. 57-74)
      Michael Heckenberger

      Ethnogenesis is a widely discussed aspect of cultural change in indigenous Amazonia, generally taken to mean the emergence of a discrete “ethnos” through the mixing of two or more distinctive cultural groups, particularly within the context of European colonialism (Hill 1996). However, little is known in most cases about the actual processes of change, particularly over the long term, including different perspectives on change and continuity operating at multiple scales. Processes of cultural transformation, including major changes within societies and across regional systems, as well as cultural pluralism, are particularly poorly understood for pre-Columbian periods. This is due to a...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Deep Time, Big Space: An Archaeologist Skirts the Topic at Hand
      (pp. 75-98)
      Warren DeBoer

      Polarities are falsehoods that focus debate. At the risk of losing focus, this chapter scouts a middle ground between so-called primordialist and instrumentalist views of ethnic groups. The primordialist argues for deep-seated continuity of the kind implied by the continental terms Bauplan and Volksgeist, the longue durée, and those enduring dispositions of habitus and hexis— an argot referring to what Latour (2007) dubs the ethers of social science. In contrast, instrumentalists (many of whom unknowingly employ a primordialist vocabulary) emphasize the mercurial and fleeting character of ethnic identities as they are asserted, resisted, or otherwise strategically reworked by social agents....

    • CHAPTER FIVE Generic Pots and Generic Indians: The Archaeology of Ethnogenesis in the Middle Orinoco
      (pp. 99-128)
      Kay Tarble de Scaramelli and Franz Scaramelli

      Epidemic disease, slave raiding, and the displacement and relocation of indigenous groups under the colonial mission regime resulted in dramatic transformations in the ethnic conformation of the middle Orinoco area, as in other parts of America. Nonetheless, after the expulsion of the missionaries following the war of independence, native societies had the opportunity to redefine themselves vis-à-vis the fledgling Republics of Colombia and Venezuela. This process involved the coalition of small, remnant groups into viable multiethnic communities and the appearance of new ethnic identities. At the same time, a non-indigenous Criollo/Llanero (creole/ranger or cowboy) identity was evolving out of the...

    • CHAPTER SIX An Attempt to Understand Panoan Ethnogenesis in Relation to Long-Term Patterns and Transformations of Regional Interaction in Western Amazonia
      (pp. 129-152)
      Alf Hornborg and Love Eriksen

      This chapter will explore the regional context and reproduction of the Panoan ethnolinguistic family in western Amazonia. The argument is a specific case within a more general project¹ aiming to build a database for correlating the geography, linguistics, material culture (e.g., ceramic styles, rock-art styles, horticultural systems, etc.), trade routes, and political projects of indigenous Amazonia over time (Eriksen 2011). We believe that correlations thus established can be used to test or at least illuminate various hypotheses on the emergence and history of specific ethnolinguistic groups. The Panoan language family provides an appropriate illustration of this more general perspective. In...


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Amazonian Ritual Communication in Relation to Multilingual Social Networks
      (pp. 155-172)
      Ellen B. Basso

      In this chapter I describe several approaches to how we might enhance our understanding of Amazonian ritual communication, offering suggestions for incorporating aspects of language use in the region into the new orientation to regional ethnogenesis (Hornborg 2005). As we have learned from studies of Amazonian welcoming rituals and other ceremonial dialogues, ritual practice probes the sources of community, helping participants to understand how latent hostility and tension among participants are transformed into some concrete, positive social relationships. Writers exploring this subject have adopted processual, affective, and ultimately evolutionary models involving the “sensory preconditions of meaning” (Urban 1986, 1988, 1989,...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT The Spread of the Arawakan Languages: A View from Structural Phylogenetics
      (pp. 173-196)
      Swintha Danielsen, Michael Dunn and Pieter Muysken

      Over the last three decades the Arawakan language family has drawn increasing attention in a number of disciplines (cf. Hill and Santos-Granero 2002). The family is unique in South America in several respects. It has the widest geographical extension of a language family in the continent. Furthermore, the literature reports for many individual members of the language family considerable influence from other languages in their immediate surroundings. In this chapter we aim to accomplish four things. First, we present a first analysis of a database of structural (as opposed to lexical) features of the Arawakan languages (Dunn et al. 2008)....

    • CHAPTER NINE Comparative Arawak Linguistics: Notes on Reconstruction, Diffusion, and Amazonian Prehistory
      (pp. 197-210)
      Sidney da Silva Facundes and Ana Paula B. Brandão

      In this chapter we address two issues related to the historical-comparative studies of Arawak. First, we will review the Apurinã-Piro-Iñapari linguistic subgrouping hypothesis that we have previously presented (Brandão and Facundes 2007). Second, we will make an exploratory analysis of twelve lexical similarities between Arawak and Arawá languages. And third, we will present suggestions on possible implications of the answers to the first two issues for the historical development of Arawak.

      In 1492 Christopher Columbus landed on an island he called San Salvador, where he met the Taíno people. It was the beginning of the end of the Taíno communities...

    • CHAPTER TEN Linguistic Diversity Zones and Cartographic Modeling: GIS as a Method for Understanding the Prehistory of Lowland South America
      (pp. 211-224)
      Östen Dahl, J. Christopher Gillam, David G. Anderson, José Iriarte and Silvia M. Copé

      The vast geographic scale, time depth, linguistic variability, and inherent complexity of long-term cultural trajectories influencing social ethnogenesis in lowland South America have presented scholars with many challenges in the past century (see Hornborg and Hill, this volume). However, it is this multifaceted character of the problem that lends itself to meaningful interpretations of ethnic identity and transformation in Amazonia. Traditional methods that focus on specific localities or groups and then extrapolate to the broader area often create generalization where differentiation is due. With few exceptions, our ability as anthropologists to manage and manipulate vast quantities of cultural and environmental...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Nested Identities in the Southern Guyana-Surinam Corner
      (pp. 225-236)
      Eithne B. Carlin

      This chapter explores the history of contact between several borderland language communities who live in the triangle that forms the southern border between Guyana and Surinam. In particular, focus is on the histories of four groups in this triangle that have been intricately intertwined through trade and intermarriage for more than two centuries, namely the Waiwai, Mawayana, Taruma, and Wapishana. Linguistically these four groups are quite distinct in that Waiwai belongs to the Cariban family, Mawayana and Wapishana are Arawakan languages that share no more than half of their basic vocabulary, and Taruma is unclassified. An additional group that held...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Change, Contact, and Ethnogenesis in Northern Quechua: Structural Phylogenetic Approaches to Clause-Embedding Predicates
      (pp. 237-256)
      Pieter Muysken

      This chapter is part of a research program focused on the long-term history and development of the South American languages. It tries to study grammatical properties of these languages as potential indices of genetic relationships. Under current analyses, based on years of research and using the well-established methods of historical linguistics, over 100 language families are postulated, many of them quite small or even unaffiliated or isolated languages, the so-called isolates. This is very surprising since other continents may have only half a dozen families, even though they were settled much earlier in the course of human history. South America...


    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Sacred Landscapes as Environmental Histories in Lowland South America
      (pp. 259-278)
      Jonathan D. Hill

      In this chapter I will focus on ritual practices as active components in the ways that indigenous peoples of lowland South America have historically constructed power relations and the material, ecological landscapes that these different ritual practices have produced. The term “landscape” is used here to refer to a “historical construct, the visible imprint of past human agency” (Neves and Petersen 2006:279), or reflections of interactive processes that are at once organic, inorganic, and semiotic. Ritual practices and associated mythic narratives play a central role in the way material and organic phenomena are signified (i.e., named, classified, consumed, handled, or...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Constancy in Continuity? Native Oral History, Iconography, and Earthworks on the Upper Purús River
      (pp. 279-296)
      Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen

      When I was working with the Manchineri in Acre state, Brazil, I asked young people to produce drawings as a way of gaining more insight into their lived worlds. Once a young man drew the ayahuasca (Banisteriopsis) vision he had seen during a shamanic ceremony. When I later compared this shamanic Manchineri design with a satellite photo of an earthwork of the same region, I was surprised by how similarly the drawing followed the geometric forms of the earth structure. According to the young man, the geometric design was the “vehicle” of a palm spirit, which he depicted above it.¹...

    • CHAPTER FIFTEEN Ethnogenesis at the Interface of the Andes and the Amazon: Re-examining Ethnicity in the Piedmont Region of Apolobamba, Bolivia
      (pp. 297-320)
      Meredith Dudley

      On June 1, 2007, a group of Andean colonists and peasants (campesinos) block-aded the road between the highland city of La Paz and the small provincial capital of Apolo, located in the piedmont region of Apolobamba, Bolivia. Throughout the summer of 2007, the normally bucolic town was engulfed in chaos as protesters razed the local headquarters of Madidi National Park and the military police responded to protests with rounds of tear gas. Conditions in Apolo, which had been simmering unnoticed for years, were suddenly thrust into the national spotlight (ABI 2007a, 2007b; APB 2007).

      The dispute arose in response to...

    • CHAPTER SIXTEEN Ethnogenesis and Interculturality in the “Forest of Canelos”: The Wild and the Tame Revisited
      (pp. 321-334)
      Norman E. Whitten Jr.

      In this chapter I focus on indigenous ethnogenesis and interculturality of the Canelos Quichua and Jivaroan people of the “forest of Canelos” as the former perceive themselves as emerging in a regional cultural system. I also focus on historical ethnogenesis wherein the portrayal of Quichua-speaking and Jivaroan-speaking people in Dominican archives established a strategic polarity seized upon by some scholars who, however inadvertently, subvert the epistemology revealed in serious, extended ethnography.

      In 1536 Gonzalo Díaz de Pineda identified a place or region known as Canelos from his expedition’s terminal point of sub-Andean Quijos. This region constituted a crucial trade node...

    • CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Captive Identities, or the Genesis of Subordinate Quasi-Ethnic Collectivities in the American Tropics
      (pp. 335-348)
      Fernando Santos-Granero

      Situations in which different social groups come into close contact and become engaged in a power struggle constitute an especially propitious terrain for the unfolding of processes of ethnogenesis. This is particularly true of colonial situations, where ethnogenesis has been characterized “as a creative adaptation to a general history of violent changes” (Hill 1996:1). In the Americas, the economic, demographic, cultural, and political processes triggered by the presence and pressures of colonial agents have undoubtedly affected indigenous peoples, leading to the disappearance of some identities, the emergence of new ones, and the transformation and reinvention of most. Thus, much of...

    • CHAPTER EIGHTEEN Afterword: Ethnicity in Ancient Amazonia
      (pp. 349-358)
      Neil L. Whitehead

      This volume makes a major contribution to rethinking the history of South America by directly confronting some of the major theoretical constraints that have interfered with a better appreciation of the nature of ancient Amazonia. Several authors in the volume use the lens of Arawakan peoples to begin to provide a coherent ethnological framework for thinking through the interrelationships of language, society, culture, and history over extended time frames. This necessarily means that archaeological, no less than linguistic and sociocultural, materials are brought together into an emerging theoretical and historical paradigm. This has been achieved by rejecting earlier simplistic conceptions...

  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 359-368)
  12. Index
    (pp. 369-380)