10530 - private thoughts on public wealth: how communal life works against property

Gê-speaking peoples are known for their communal ritual structures and collective orientation, having being classically analyzed through contrasts between domestic and public domains of activity and value. In this context, it is tempting to see collective ownership of names, songs and ritual paraphernalia as elements of a “public domain”, a form of public wealth, in contrast to individual or family assets. Nevertheless, this is not a contrast easily identified in native discourse or practice. On the other hand, it appears as a focus of overt concern with the rise of a different sort of collective property: the money and non-indigenous goods (motor-boats, trucks, funds for development and cultural projects) obtained on behalf of “the community”. This paper offers a preliminary description of the various modes of acquisition, circulation and consumption of different kinds of non-indigenous assets among the Gê-speaking Kïsêdjê, trying to show how relationships that constitute persons are created, activated or negated through them. It argues that, in a context in which access to cities, money and non-indigenous goods has dramatically increased, notions of private and public wealth tend to reinforce each other, at the expense of ceremonial group structures as well as of kinship relations. So, although obtaining large sums of money is both a private family preoccupation and the object of public communal strategies, the desire for money is also disquieting for the Kïsêdjê, who point to its disruptive powers regarding communal life through both a critique of individual appropriation and a subtle redirection of “community property” to the production of particular kinship relationships, through idioms of 'help' and 'care', investment and debt not always well understood by outsiders.

Keywords: Gê Indians, Property, Public Wealth, Kinship, Communal Life

Author: Coelho de Souza, Marcela (Universidade de Brasília, Brazil / Brasilien)


University of Vienna | Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring 1 | 1010 Vienna | T +43 1 4277 17575