Living with Other: Mastanawa Engagements with Alterity.

Rolando Betancourt, Giancarlo, Anthropology - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Mentore, George, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Wagner, Roy, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Hantman, Jeffrey, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Bashkow, Ira, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia

This dissertation deals with what many would regard as a fundamental human concern, the issue of the Other: How, from an Amerindian perspective, it is constructed, what is the basis upon which these constructions are built, and what do they entail in the everyday lives of people. In particular, this dissertation deals with the way in which the Mastanawa People understand and experience their relation with multiple others, taking as a starting point, the Mastanawa ontology of the person and the social. Several anthropologists of the South American Lowlands argue that indigenous models of personhood fit within the model of the dividual person (Strathern 1990). Since the publication of Seeger, da Matta, and Viveiros de Castro’s (1979) article on the construction of the person among Brazilian Indigenous societies, the body has occupied a central role in regional debates on the topic of personhood. To name a few examples, this issue has been written about in connection with the importance of eating together (Siskind 1973), the avoidance and incorporation of shamanic substances (from plant, animal, mineral or human origins) (Echeverri and Enokakuiodo 2013; Fausto 2007, 2012; Harner 1984), the use of body adornments (Erikson 1996; Mentore 2005; Turner 1980), and the incorporation of names and knowledge (Kensinger 1995; McCallum 2001). In addition, engaging with the Other has been recognized as an essential component of the process by which Amazonians achieve personhood (Erikson, 1986; Fausto 2012; Vilaça 2002). However, this debate has – for the most part – neglected to incorporate Amazonian’s engagements with non-indigenous others.

Following the Mastanawa attitude towards the Other, this dissertation builds on the notion of constitutive alterity proposed by Philippe Erikson (1986, 1996). Mastanawa, as well as the Matis studied by Erikson, define themselves through the other instead of in opposition to the other. This seemingly paradoxical feature of personal and collective identity, reported throughout Amazonian societies, has been predominantly explained in terms of cosmic relations organized under a system of generalized predation, where humans – and other-than-humans – compete for a fixed amount of vitality available in the cosmos. A main theme in studies that follow this approach is that of exocannibalism – whether real or symbolic – as a means to “capture” vitalities for the reproduction of society. Mastanawa sociality, from the point of view of my dissertation, shows that predation is not the only way of relating with the Other and, furthermore, that conviviality represents better the Mastanawa agenda of encompassing – and simultaneously being encompassed by – the Other.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Amazonia, personhood, Peru, Purus, Mastanawa, Pano
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