6027 - The to and fro of documents: vying for a conquest of perspective

Responding to the invitation to unite material and linguistic perspectives I seek to describe the myriad ways the Enawene-nawe, an Amerindian people of central-Brazil, deploy documents in their relations with the state. As I see it, in some ways this is a new twist to Lévi-Strauss’ writing lesson: the modern arts of communicative exchange are ‘old hat’ even though Enawene people have only had direct dealings with state agencies in the last decade, and despite the fact that few speak Portuguese. Documents are deftly deployed by leaders in myriad political negotiations and it is common to see an Enawene leader in the National Indian Agency office issuing orders to the receptionist in the service of his community; “put Brasilia on the line, send this fax through”.      

As state agents are increasingly enrolled in the provision of necessities for Enawene livelihood, which is expressed in ritual reproduction, documents become one medium in a cosmopolitics where the givers and takers of words and things exchange positions and perspectives. Documents are technologies of relational differentiation, enshrining the appropriate time delay, silence and judiciousness, central to Enawene linguistic ideology. For the Enawene, for example, ‘I talk you’ and ‘you listen’ is a non-transitive relationship, wherein one is subjected to another's speech until the positions are reversed and the other masters words. So it is with the to and fro of documents: vying for the conquest of perspective and for recognition. Documents are material words in a second sense. They are almost always about materialising promises – a project for gasoline provision, a new vehicle for the health team –they make relationships appear in their proper form, by making things appear.    

Keywords: documents, state, amerindian, politics, Enawene

Author: Nahum-Claudel, Chloe (University of Cambridge, United Kingdom/Ver Königr)


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