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5434 - Public Property and Well-being in Northwest Amazonia: A Diachronic Perspective

In the Western Tukano societies of Peruvian-Ecuadorian Amazonia, the notion of ―collectivity‖ is circumscribed to local groups. Eighteenth-century Jesuit sources provide abundant information about the impact that the possession of foreign objects (metal tools in particular) had in indigenous perceptions of well-being. Possession of such objects not only turned some individuals into allies of the missionaries, but also (if only temporarily) into leaders of their local groups. These objects were transmitted as heirlooms, a practice that introduced important changes in societies where inheritance did not previously exist. From an endogenous perspective, the well-being of local groups depends on the powers achieved by local shamans as expressed in the possession of plants and objects obtained from celestial beings. Plants and objects obtained from non-human beings are not externally different from ordinary ones, except for their extraordinary properties, manifested either in terms of their resistance or their psychotropic potency. At the death of the shaman that obtained them, his plants were destroyed, whereas his powerful objects were either buried with the deceased as a funerary offering or kept by the deceased‘s family. Such objects were probably the only examples of private property in Western Tukano societies, insofar as the use of them by other persons was considered to be extremely dangerous. Although such objects are not collectively owned, they are connected to the well-being of local groups, since the well-being of an alien local group is frequently attributed to the theft by its members of the extraordinary plants possessed by the religious specialist of another group. Through use of the concepts of well-being and public wealth this paper will analyze the reasons why Western Tukano peoples have survived and persisted in a region characterized by processes of ethnocide, ethnogenesis and ethnic camouflage.

Keywords: ethnohistory, shamanism, propiety

Author: Cipolletti, Maria Susana (Universidad Bonn, Germany / Deutschland)

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