Amerindian constructions of otherness
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Amerindian constructions of otherness Amerindian constructions of otherness Presentation Transcript

  • Review: Amerindian Constructions of Otherness Author(s): Tullio Maranhāo Source: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 97, No. 3 (Sep., 1995), pp. 580-581 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/683284 . Accessed: 26/04/2011 22:04 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at . http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=black. . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Blackwell Publishing and American Anthropological Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Anthropologist. http://www.jstor.org
  • 580 AMERICANANTHROPOLOGIST* VOL. 97, No. 3 * SEPTEMBER1995580 AMERICANANTHROPOLOGIST* VOL. 97, No. 3 * SEPTEMBER1995 seum catalogue edited by the author of the article that follows his, Jerome Feldman-a catalogue to which Crys- tal himself had contributed an article. Especially thought- provoking is an article by LaurenceMoss, a consultant and art collector, on the rapid material changes in the Lesser Sundas from the 1970s to the 1990s:plastic bags replaced sandalwood boxes, empty flashlight casings supplanted bamboo containers. Moss links these shifts to the interna- tional art market's targeting of Indonesia in the 1970s as alast untapped source forprimitive art.Tourism exploded at the same time, and local producers began to produce much of what ended up in collections (as "tribalart")for the art market. What then, asks Moss, is a "fake"?What about an object made to replace an object sold on the market? Moss points out that dealers label as fake many recent pieces intended to be substitutes, not means of deception, and that this classification may be in order to keep scarce, and therefore expensive, the "real"pieces. (Why,after all,should older objects be more valued? They may be less attractive, worn, or damaged.) Many of the authors also ask what ought to be done. Here is another source of potent tensions. Michael Hep- pel, for example, notes that the Indonesian state has at times rescued weaving skills from extinction, and other authors urge Indonesian and international agencies to pour money into local craft organizations and museums. But to do what? For example, Heppel notes that whereas the market prefers the "soft, restrained colors of natural dyes" (p. 134), Iban women on Borneo prefer to use brightly colored, aniline-dyed threads because they are seum catalogue edited by the author of the article that follows his, Jerome Feldman-a catalogue to which Crys- tal himself had contributed an article. Especially thought- provoking is an article by LaurenceMoss, a consultant and art collector, on the rapid material changes in the Lesser Sundas from the 1970s to the 1990s:plastic bags replaced sandalwood boxes, empty flashlight casings supplanted bamboo containers. Moss links these shifts to the interna- tional art market's targeting of Indonesia in the 1970s as alast untapped source forprimitive art.Tourism exploded at the same time, and local producers began to produce much of what ended up in collections (as "tribalart")for the art market. What then, asks Moss, is a "fake"?What about an object made to replace an object sold on the market? Moss points out that dealers label as fake many recent pieces intended to be substitutes, not means of deception, and that this classification may be in order to keep scarce, and therefore expensive, the "real"pieces. (Why,after all,should older objects be more valued? They may be less attractive, worn, or damaged.) Many of the authors also ask what ought to be done. Here is another source of potent tensions. Michael Hep- pel, for example, notes that the Indonesian state has at times rescued weaving skills from extinction, and other authors urge Indonesian and international agencies to pour money into local craft organizations and museums. But to do what? For example, Heppel notes that whereas the market prefers the "soft, restrained colors of natural dyes" (p. 134), Iban women on Borneo prefer to use brightly colored, aniline-dyed threads because they are finer and so produce a better knot, because they find the colors pleasing, and because the dying is more depend- able (pp. 132-133). As Moss would surely point out, the market preferences are in order to maintain the value of unreproducible older cloths. Heppel, however, thinks that the Iban should be encouraged to use only older dyes in their production for the market (p. 134). In whose inter- ests would this be? As Shelly Erringtonpoints out, metanarratives about modernization and the market may lead some to collude in cultural grave-robbing. Yet her own metanarrative- that it is largely the Javanese-controlled state that is re- sponsible-also has difficulty allowing for the ambiva- lence, the posing of pros and cons, displayed by most of the authors toward state-sponsored museums and proj- ects. As Taylor argues in his introduction, change and choice are far from transparent notions. Lamenting the passing of olderpractices, many of us in anthropology find it troubling when people with whom we work contribute to that passing. But is this choice false consciousness, succumbing to market forces, or is it cultural innovation? In part it depends on the case-the vibrancy of Batak innovations versus the mass thefts of Torajan statuary. But it also depends on who is talking. We may decry the mixing of forms-as when Heppel frowns on Javanese figures mixed with Dayak designs-but, one might ask, how widely shared is this kind of authenticity-mindedness among Indonesia's painters, composers, and poets? Whose aesthetics? In whose name? I finer and so produce a better knot, because they find the colors pleasing, and because the dying is more depend- able (pp. 132-133). As Moss would surely point out, the market preferences are in order to maintain the value of unreproducible older cloths. Heppel, however, thinks that the Iban should be encouraged to use only older dyes in their production for the market (p. 134). In whose inter- ests would this be? As Shelly Erringtonpoints out, metanarratives about modernization and the market may lead some to collude in cultural grave-robbing. Yet her own metanarrative- that it is largely the Javanese-controlled state that is re- sponsible-also has difficulty allowing for the ambiva- lence, the posing of pros and cons, displayed by most of the authors toward state-sponsored museums and proj- ects. As Taylor argues in his introduction, change and choice are far from transparent notions. Lamenting the passing of olderpractices, many of us in anthropology find it troubling when people with whom we work contribute to that passing. But is this choice false consciousness, succumbing to market forces, or is it cultural innovation? In part it depends on the case-the vibrancy of Batak innovations versus the mass thefts of Torajan statuary. But it also depends on who is talking. We may decry the mixing of forms-as when Heppel frowns on Javanese figures mixed with Dayak designs-but, one might ask, how widely shared is this kind of authenticity-mindedness among Indonesia's painters, composers, and poets? Whose aesthetics? In whose name? I TULLIO MA?ANHAO University of Saint Thomas, Twin Cities From the Enemy's Point of View: Humanity and Divin- ity in an Amazonian Society. EduardoViveiros de Cas- tro. Catherine V. Howard, trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. 407 pp. La memoria rituale: Follia e immagine del Bianco in una tradizione sciamanica amerindiana. Carlo Severi. Firenze: LaNuova Italia Editora, 1993.273 pp. These two books deal with perceptions and construc- tions of Otherness in Amerindian groups. Italian anthro- pologist Carlo Severi studies the Cuna Indians of the Archipelago of San Blas on the Panamanian Atlantic coast, revealing that in their shamanistic healing, the fig- ure of the white man-the conqueror, invader, and en- emy-has become associated with evil spirits that cause a syndrome identified as madness. The Arawete of the Amazon forest, studied by the Brazilian anthropologist TULLIO MA?ANHAO University of Saint Thomas, Twin Cities From the Enemy's Point of View: Humanity and Divin- ity in an Amazonian Society. EduardoViveiros de Cas- tro. Catherine V. Howard, trans. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992. 407 pp. La memoria rituale: Follia e immagine del Bianco in una tradizione sciamanica amerindiana. Carlo Severi. Firenze: LaNuova Italia Editora, 1993.273 pp. These two books deal with perceptions and construc- tions of Otherness in Amerindian groups. Italian anthro- pologist Carlo Severi studies the Cuna Indians of the Archipelago of San Blas on the Panamanian Atlantic coast, revealing that in their shamanistic healing, the fig- ure of the white man-the conqueror, invader, and en- emy-has become associated with evil spirits that cause a syndrome identified as madness. The Arawete of the Amazon forest, studied by the Brazilian anthropologist Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, belong to the Tupi-Guarani trunk,the Indians who met the European colonizer inthe 16th century along the Brazilian coast. While the Tupi- Guaranipracticed cannibalism, the Arawete attribute the custom tothe gods, who, by devouring humans upon their death, restore their premythical immortality which was lost duringthe cataclysmic events of the end of the world. The new era that followed, in which the Arawete live nowadays, is characterized by the separation of cosmic layers, the estrangement between man and god, andthe divisive animosity among human groups. Whilethe Cuna construe an image of Otherness with evil spirits such as the jaguar of the sky and the white man, who-cannibals par excellence-help de?me the moral identity of the we-group as human and suffering, the symbolic raw ma- terials employed by the Arawete are the gods, the actual Amerindian enemies, death, and mortality. Underneath the apparent differences between these two excellent ethnographies lies a fundamental common trend: as both Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, belong to the Tupi-Guarani trunk,the Indians who met the European colonizer inthe 16th century along the Brazilian coast. While the Tupi- Guaranipracticed cannibalism, the Arawete attribute the custom tothe gods, who, by devouring humans upon their death, restore their premythical immortality which was lost duringthe cataclysmic events of the end of the world. The new era that followed, in which the Arawete live nowadays, is characterized by the separation of cosmic layers, the estrangement between man and god, andthe divisive animosity among human groups. Whilethe Cuna construe an image of Otherness with evil spirits such as the jaguar of the sky and the white man, who-cannibals par excellence-help de?me the moral identity of the we-group as human and suffering, the symbolic raw ma- terials employed by the Arawete are the gods, the actual Amerindian enemies, death, and mortality. Underneath the apparent differences between these two excellent ethnographies lies a fundamental common trend: as both AmerindianConstructionsofOthernessAmerindianConstructionsofOtherness
  • BOOKREVIEWESSAYS 581 Castro puts it, the life goal of those inhabitants of the Amazon Forest is to "become Other"(p. 270). Although dependent on the gods' cannibalism to regain their im- mortality, the Arawete can achieve that goal on their own by killing an enemy and reemerging with a new being, the iraparathi, which springs from the commerce be- tween the souls of slayer and slain. The new being who secures immortality on its own is enemy to the gods and constitutes a primary aspect of Arawete identity. The definition of self as the Other'sOtherprovides the title for the English translation of the book, "Fromthe Enemy's Point of View." For the Arawete, selfsameness is the so- cius, that which stands face to face with the Other which shows itself as death, divinity,enmity, affinity,and animal- ity such as that of jaguar. While the shaman links the socius as well as the individual'sbody to the supernatural, the warrior-slayer-hunter, who is also the father- or brother-in-law, establishes contact with the enemy, who is also the affine. As with the Cuna,the encounter with the Other is mediated by sex and killing. In his journey, the shaman returnsto his most frequent client, the body of the woman, which is also the body of the socius, since women give birthto those who constitute society. Forthe warrior there is no homecoming; he either dies oris immortalized, becoming the Other. In Amerindian anthropology, life on earth is transi- tory and precarious, fraught with the danger of falling into sheer animality, when the Amerindian becomes a man-eater like the jaguar. Among the 16th-century Tup- inamba, only women and children ate the flesh of the slain prisoner. The executioner abstained and went through a profound identity crisis from which he emerged as a new and immortal being, while the com- mensals in the cannibal feast reenacted the fall into bestiality. Cannibal sacrifice was therefore the ultimate ritual in the dilemma of separation and the attempt to overcome the split between self and other by eliminat- ing the position not of Otherness but of selfsameness. These two ethnographies, appearing in the ebbing tide of Levi-Straussian structuralism, are free from the formalistic side of that movement, but retain the French master's interest in the work of the mind. They are forerunners in the auspicious renaissance of LatinAmeri- can ethnography which, free of the scientistic concerns of structuralism and of the stylistic legerdemain of post- structuralism, is reconsidering the question of the mean- ing of the cultural life of the aborigines as an ontological quest for the Other. The course followed by this renais- sance is similar to that of Western philosophy from Des- cartes to Heidegger, always bringing the thinker back to the question of selfsameness. These two books by Severi and Viveiros de Castro can be read as an invitation for anthropologists to engage in a serious comparison among tribal traditions of thinking, and between Amerindian and cosmopolitan anthropo-philosophy. f authors unveil the work of the Amerindian mind constru- ing its image of Otherness, it is not the mind structure but self-image and self-identity that are disclosed. Among the Cuna,madness takes the individual away from the community (from his Cuna identity), to the anti- human world of the forest and the supernatural. Its symp- toms are leg andarmtremors,loss of coherent speech, and homicidal fury. The pathological condition is caused by the encounter with an alien being-jaguar of the sky-which, invisible in daylight, makes itself visible in the victim's dreams, and appears as a seductive man or woman who lures the sleeper into sexual intercourse. Making love to a cannibal beast, even if only in dream, the Cuna disrupts his or her human ontological status and falls into madness. This ex- treme manifestation of infrahumanness in nature is paralleled by the radical infrahumanness of civiliza- tion represented by the white man. Walking the tight- rope between divinity and animality, the Cuna strug- gle to maintain their humanness through the media of everyday life: sex, hunting, and language. Induced into madness by sexual intercourse with a being of a different ontological order, the demented Amerin- dian consequently becomes a manhunter. The sha- man restores the ontological balance by singing the "Chant of the Devil" to his client in a hermetic and sacred language addressed to the evil spirits. The chanting takes the shaman on a journey through the mythical villages inhabited by different categories of being, in search of his client's stranded soul. The ritual reenactment of mythical and historical themes fuses the past of colonial invasion with the present of a disrupted society in the existential plight of the individual split between body and soul. For the Cuna, suffering is feeling without seeing. The shaman tries to restore the ontological balance of being Cuna by filling the void created by madness with images, an endeavor in which he is aided by a rich repertoire of pictographic art and by the famous Cuna wooden figurines. The ontological quest for the Other, which re- turns the inquirer to answers about his or her own self, is evidently not foreign to Western philosophy. Among the Cuna it unfolds from a fundamental di- chotomy between the bodily inside and the cosmic outside, the space of Otherness. The challenge faced by Cuna thinking resides in the extreme difficulties among beings and the promiscuity in which they would live in an overpopulated world. Such a world would lead to deformations of ontological structures just as a hybrid crossing between animal and human once gave birth to the monstrous white man. With a very similar anthropo-philosophical quest, the Arawete seek a completely different solution to the ontological disruption of being. As Viveiros de View slide