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Mobility and Migration in Indigenous Amazonia

Contemporary Ethnoecological Perspectives

Edited by Miguel N. Alexiades

304 pages, 16 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-84545-563-7 $120.00/£75.00 Hb Published (April 2009)

ISBN  978-0-85745-797-4 $34.95/£21.00 Pb Published (December 2012)

eISBN 978-1-84545-907-9 eBook


Hb Pb
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“This impressive compilation exploring multiple faces of ethnoecology and mobility will have broad appeal to audiences of anthropology, cultural geography, ethnoecology, ethnobotany, and Latin American studies…[Its] commendable incorporation of multiple nations and ethnic groups makes it a particularly valuable contribution.  ·  Anthropos

One of the great strengths of Mobility and migration is the amount of ethnographic detail it provides for a large number of indigenous communities in Amazonia. It is this comprehensive information that makes the book a valuable read for anthropologists… especially those unfamiliar with the Amazon region or looking to increase their knowledge of Amazonian society. Brief and succinct, each chapter provides a snapshot of a new context and a new reality; thus presenting a new ethnoecological perspective on life in Amazonia…Most importantly, this book serves its main aim to challenge the idea of ‘spatial stasis’, becoming instead a collection of vivid and complex analyses that link the myriad ways in which indigenous populations interact with, and duly shape, the environment and nature.”  ·  Durham Anthropology Journal

“…this volume persuades us to change our perspectives on several conventional assumptions about migration, local emplacement, and traditional ecological knowledge. The comparative anthropology of Amazonia has once again contributed to a decisive transformation in our general understanding of culture, history, and human-environmental relations. “  ·  Tipit´ı: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America

This volume [by established and emerging scholars] is an important contribution to Indigenous ethnoecological research both within Amazonia and beyond, for it strongly refutes the understanding that Indigenous knowledge and cultures are static and unchanging…This engaging work forces a re-appraisal of such perceptions of Indigenous identity, through uncovering repeated movement, change, adaptation, and ethnoecological genesis amongst the peoples and environments of lowland Amazonia.”  ·  Economic Botany

The authors .. make a convincing collective case for an understanding of ecological knowledge as historically contingent in space as well as time, effectively complementing the importance now placed on local historicity with a sense of different ways of inhabiting and relating to space.  ·  JRAI

“This is a very rich collection of studies illuminating the complex relations between human movement, exchange, knowledge, and ecology among the native peoples of Amazonia since Pre-Columbian times. It persuades us to change our perspectives on several conventional assumptions about migration, local emplacement, and traditional ecological knowledge. Once again the comparative anthropology of Amazonia has contributed to a decisive transformation in our general understanding of culture, history, and human-environmental relations.”  ·  Professor Alf Hornborg, Lund University

“Mobility and migrations have always been of significance in the Amazon since people first arrived there. So much information is now brought together in this fascinating book. Evidences from the distribution of languages, plants and people from historic to modern times make this a volume that will be basic reading on the topic for many years to come.”  ·  Professor Sir Ghillean Prance FRS, VMH, (Former Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew), Scientific Director, The Eden Project

"The originality and importance of Alexiades' edited volume relates to recent developments in our understanding of Amazonian and its inhabitants. Set in the wider context of this new understanding, the volume not only fully takes on board the fact and implications movement, migration and displacement — rare in itself — but also does so in relation to a very under-explored area, human – environmental relations and the development and transmission of ecological knowledge. It is thus a very welcome initiative that adds a new and important dimension to historicization and regionalization of Amazonian studies."  ·  Stephen Hugh-Jones, Cambridge University

Contrary to ingrained academic and public assumptions, wherein indigenous lowland South American societies are viewed as the product of historical emplacement and spatial stasis, there is widespread evidence to suggest that migration and displacement have been the norm, and not the exception. This original and thought-provoking collection of case studies examines some of the ways in which migration, and the concomitant processes of ecological and social change, have shaped and continue to shape human-environment relations in Amazonia. Drawing on a wide range of historical time frames (from pre-conquest times to the present) and ethnographic contexts, different chapters examine the complex and important links between migration and the classification, management, and domestication of plants and landscapes, as well as the incorporation and transformation of environmental knowledge, practices, ideologies and identities.

Miguel N. Alexiades is Senior Lecturer at University of Kent, Canterbury (UK) and the Cultural Landscapes and Resource Rights Program Manager at People and Plants International (PPI). He is the editor of Selected Guidelines for Ethnobotanical Research: A Field Manual (1996, New York Botanical Garden Press) and Forest Products, Livelihoods and Conservation: Case-Studies of NTFP Systems (2004, Center for International Forestry Research).

Series: Volume 11, Environmental Anthropology and Ethnobiology


LC: F2519.3.M48 M63 2009

BL: YC.2010.a.10315

BISAC: SOC002010 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Anthropology/Cultural; SOC007000 SOCIAL SCIENCE/Emigration & Immigration; NAT011000 NATURE/Environmental Conservation & Protection

BIC: RNT Social impact of environmental issues; JFSL9 Indigenous peoples


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Table of Contents (Free download)

List of Figures and Tables (Free download)

Contributors (Free download)

Preface (Free download)

Mobility and Migration in Indigenous Amazonia

Contemporary Ethnoecological Perspectives - an Introduction

After providing some general definitions, I present a schematic overview of the history of indigenous mobility and migration in Amazonia, both before and after European conquest. I then discuss some of the common themes and questions raised by the different chapters of the volume, which are presented in two parts. Chapters in Part I, Circulations, explore the links between mobility and environmental knowledge, perceptions and resource management. Part II, Transformations, mostly focuses on how migration and the concomitant circulation of peoples, plants, technology and knowledge have transformed social and ecological systems and, hence, ethnoecologies.

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Towards an Understanding of the Huaorani Ways of Knowing and Naming Plants

After having reviewed various explanations linking domestication to the growth of ethnobiological taxonomies, I present a brief summary of Huaorani ecological knowledge. I then turn to two recent ethnobotanical surveys conducted in Huaorani land, and to some peculiarities of their plant naming system. What appears to characterise Huaorani plant taxonomy is not so much the shallowness of its nomenclature, but the central importance given to ecological relations and phenological criteria.

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The Restless Life of the Nahua

Shaping People and Places in the Peruvian Amazon

The Nahua are a restless people at both a collective and individual level, in their myths and in everyday life. Their concept of territory as a place where people wander and the intimate knowledge they possess of their landscape reflects this lifestyle. Their naming practices are a response to this mobility: naming empty space transforms the strange into the familiar and helps them deal with the potentially traumatic process of migration.

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Urban, Rural and In-between

Multi-sited Households Mobility and Resource Management in the Amazon Flood Plain

In this brief chapter we outline a number of complexities in the recent history of demographic flows and economic relationships between rural and urban places that have characterised several areas of the basin where we have worked, in particular the estuarine areas of the Brazilian state of Amapá and the lowland Peruvian Amazon. We briefly review demographic exchanges between rural and urban areas in recent decades, including shifts that temporarily reversed present urban-ward trends; we discuss the current situation of household "multi-sitedness", as well as a trend towards rural-to-urban migration and on to suburban residence; and, finally, we discuss several implications of these demographic processes for resource management in the flood plains of the estuary and elsewhere.

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Unpicking 'Community' in Community Conservation

Implications of Changing Settlement Patterns and Individual Mobility for the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Communal Reserve, Peru

At a time when collaborative approaches to conservation are subject to an increasingly strong critique, there is an urgent need to move beyond this rather simplistic approach to "community". The first step is to build up a body of case studies that unpick the concept of "community" in community conservation, in order to inform the development of a more realistic framework for community conservation projects. This chapter attempts to provide such a case study, with a particular focus on changing settlement patterns and individual mobility of local residents, based on communities neighbouring the Tamshiyacu Tahuayo Communal Reserve in Amazonian Peru.

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Domestication of Peach Palm (Bactris gasipaes)

The Roles of Human Mobility and Migration

This chapter will synthesise what is known and hypothesised about the origin and domestication of peach palm (Bactris gasipaes), the neotropics' premier palm domesticate.

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Intermediation, Ethnogenesis and Landscape Transformation at the Intersection of the Andes and the Amazon

The Historical Ecology of the Lecos of Apolo, Bolivia

Strategically located at the intersection of the Andes and the Amazon, the piedmont region of Apolo, Bolivia, is an interactive frontier in which indigenous communities have long been transformed by the movement of persons, resources and cultural practices between the altiplano (Andean high plateau) and the tropical lowlands. Drawing on recent ethnographic research, I shall discuss the history of the Lecos people indigenous to this region, changes to Lecos identity and mobility and resulting transformation of ecological relations.

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The Political Ecology of Ethnic Frontiers and Relations among the Piaroa of the Middle Orinoco

Fluctuations in resource relationships — that is, the competitive balance among population, resources, land, labour, power and socio-economic ties — are closely tied to the ebb and flow of ethnic categorisation. Although the effective local or regional environment and its impact on ethnicity are often deeply transformed by socio-political forces whose origin may be elsewhere, it can also be seen that local responses to such changes also shape the outcome.

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'Ordenar El Pensamiento'

Place-Making and the Moral Management of Resources in a Multi-Ethnic Territory, Amazonas, Colombia

This chapter connects the ways people signify and use the natural environment to specific projects of identity and place-making. In contrast to the view of cultural models of the environment — that is, the ways people relate to, signify, and manage the natural environment — as homoeostatic or shared structures, I conceive of them as socially mediated and emergent forms of knowledge that are created and recreated in social contexts.

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Plants 'of the Ancestors', Plants 'of the Outsiders'

Ese Eja History, Migration and Medicinal Plants

In this chapter we present evidence to suggest that Ese Eja medicinal plant knowledge can be more productively understood as historically contingent. We suggest that the ways in which Ese Eja think, talk about and interact with many medicinals reflects recent historical, social and ecological transformations. Specifically, we propose that the concatenation of twentieth-century downriver migration, sedentarisation and heightened involvement with agriculture and market-based forest extractivism is reflected in how plants are used, both symbolically and materially.

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Weaving Power

Displacement and the Dynamics of Basketry Knowledge amongst the Kaiabi in the Brazilian Amazon

In this chapter, we focus on the dynamics of Kaiabi indigenous knowledge relating to the manufacture of traditional baskets and textiles. Our chapter seeks to contribute to the literature examining the role of social change and displacement in shaping indigenous knowledge, its transformation and its transmission. We also seek to respond to Chatty and Colchester's (2002) observation that the long-term impacts of induced and forced migration on indigenous knowledge transmission are poorly understood.

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Traditions in Transition

African Diaspora Ethnobotany in Lowland South America

Working on the assumption that ecological knowledge of nature is historically contingent in time and space, this chapter questions the notion that the African diaspora of lowland South America maintains marginal ethnobotanical skills. I explore, in particular, the relationship between migration and ethnobotanical retention and acquisition.

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Index (Free download)