5750 - Alterity Cards: Body Ornaments and Transformation among the Mamaindê of Central Brazil

A few months after I began my fieldwork among the Mamaindê, a Nambikwara group situated in the northwest of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, a young man spoke to me of the importance of his body ornaments by saying that they were like the identity cards of the whites. He justified this comparison by explaining that when white people in the city lose their identity card they are arrested by the police who claim that without that object they are no one. The same occurs, the man proceeded, when the spirits of the forest steal the ornaments of the Mamaindê: they hide them in holes in the forest and, consequently, the spirit of the person is stuck. The person then falls ill and no longer recognizes his kinsfolk. “Without his ornaments, he is no one”, the man concluded.

In this paper I analyze my informant’s comparison between the body ornaments of the Mamaindê and the identity cards of the whites. My aim is to investigate what this type of comparison can teach us about the relationship that the Mamaindê establish between body ornaments and those who wear them, and how it is possible to claim that a person deprived of certain objects “is no one”. Through an ethnographic description of the Mamaindê, I will demonstrate that the comparison of body ornaments and identity cards indicates not that the Mamaindê conceive their body ornaments as identity symbols, but rather that the identity card is seen to be a body ornament as these are conceived by them. Instead of referring to the idea of identity or representation, Mamaindê conceptions of identity cards are related to notions of alterity and transformation. I thus suggest that, like body ornaments, identity cards are an index of the relations that constitute the person rather than a symbol that represents her.

Palavras-chaves: Amazonia; Body Ornaments; Identity Cards; Nambikwara.

Autores: Miller, Joana (Universidade Federal Fluminense, Brazil / Brasilien)


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