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|Title: ||Elastic selves and fluid cosmologies : Nahua resilience in a changing world|
|Authors: ||Feather, Conrad|
|Supervisors: ||Gow, Peter|
|Issue Date: ||Nov-2010|
|Abstract: ||In May 1984, the Nahua, a Panoan speaking indigenous people living in a remote corner
of the Peruvian Amazon, experienced their ‘first contact’ with Peruvian national
society. 25 years later they appear to many observers to have ‘thrown away their
culture’ under pressure from the outside world. This thesis argues instead that these
changes were adopted by the Nahua for their own very good reasons and that these
transformations reflect greater continuity with the past than first appears.
The apparent lack of nostalgia that the Nahua have for the past instead reflects an
inherent capacity for flexibility. This flexibility is manifested at a collective level in the
frequent fissions of local groups and at an individual level in their susceptibility to
losing their sense of self. The thesis focuses on two key aspects of this flexibility.
The first is that the Nahua understand the site of their personal transformations to be the
body which they describe as ‘soft’. This ‘softness’ refers to its ability to incorporate
other worldly powers and become like the animals they eat or the people with whom
they co-reside. Nevertheless, this capacity also means they can become ‘other’ when
they live apart from their kin. This elasticity of selfhood is typical of many indigenous
Amazonian peoples but the Nahua sit at the more flexible end of this spectrum. This is
because they cultivate an attitude of radical hunger towards the outside world and place
relatively less importance on techniques of restraint and control.
The second aspect is the astonishing flexibility of Nahua worldviews. This is because
their cosmologies are less a fixed set of facts and more a shamanic technique of
knowing the unknown. These techniques help the Nahua understand the mysteries of
the spirit world, their dreams and the world of Peruvians.
In conclusion, it is the ‘softness’ of their bodies, the elasticity of their selves and the
flexibility of their cosmologies that explain the extraordinary resilience of the Nahua in
the face of dramatic transformations in the surrounding world.|
|Publisher: ||University of St Andrews|
|Appears in Collections:||Social Anthropology Theses|
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