10023 - 'When I grow up, I want to peel potatoes'. Learning as imitation: children in Apiao, Chiloé, Chile

This paper explores the notion of personhood in Apiao, Chiloé and looks at the ways children learn to be proper adults in everyday life. Silent observation and imitation are the children’s tools to reproduce their parents’ skills to be allowed into the adults’ world. What makes an adult in the small island of Apiao, Chiloé is not some complex rite of passage or some specific transformative ritual. In fact, all instances marking pivotal moments in one’s life, such as marriage, pregnancy, birth of a child, moving with the in-laws are carefully downplayed and minimised. Meaningful social life often takes place within the household and each action undertaken in one’s home acquires a strong value, whether it involves the households’ inhabitants, or visiting guests. In the household children learn the elaborate ritual acted out each time a guest arrives, the offer of food and drinks, the uttering of fixed formulas, the proper way to address people, the boundaries between individuals and what it is expected of them. Children know that the only way to be accepted into the adults’ world is learning to act like adults. This can be achieved only by careful and silent observation, obedience, attentive imitation and reproduction of the adults’ ways. However imitation is never mere passive repetition but it carries the full force of the child’s witty personality, often expressed in children’s playing practices. This paper, based on ethnographic data, shows the intricacies of the concept of the person in Apiao as seen through children’s experiences and dwells on anthropological notions of learning, knowledge, and experience.

Keywords: children, learning, imitation, notion of the person

Author: Bacchiddu, Giovanna (St Andrews University, Italy / Italien)


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