Fertile words : aspects of language and sociality among Yanomami people of Venezuela
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In the first part of the thesis (Chapters I to 7)1 discuss two Yanomami myths of origin, namely the myth of the origin of the night, and the myth of the master of banana plants. While drawing heavily on Lizot's ethnographical and linguistic work, my analysis of the myth will be embedded within two interconnected debates of present concern to anthropology: On the one hand, the strong linkage between the poetics of myth narration and the poetics of the everyday life. To better explore this relationship I will also drawn on Overing's recent work on the fundamental importance of understanding the political philosophy that pervades such linkage. On the other hand there is also the important role that the world of the felt, the senses and passions play in Yanomami conceptions and practices of sociality. In part 2 of the thesis, I deal with the issue of Yanomami warfare by describing Yanomami people's understanding of warfare. In doing this, I endeavour to develop a shift from the anthropologist's theories of war among the Yanomami to the Yanomami's own theories about both peace and its failure. War and conflict are addressed here from the point of view of the Yanomami aesthetics of their own convivial relations and sociality, along with its multiple oral expressions. I demonstrate that Yanomami people have their own (strong) theories about what is conducive to peace and war and how these theories are grounded in moral and political values attached to a particular Yanomami aesthetics of egalitarianism. In doing this, I explore the way Lizot emphasises the dialectic between Yanomami conceptions of peace and warfare. Furthermore, through an exploration of the linkage Lizot establishes between Yanomami warfare and their morality, I wish to shed new light on the political dimensions of their conflicts and the place of warfare in their culturally specific aesthetics of egalitarian relationships. Part 3 of the thesis (chapters 9, 10, 11) deals with the Yanomami elders' speech, a mode of communication that has been almost neglected in other previous works. After having discussed various topics (myth and the everyday, Yanomami warfare) through which various aspects of Yanomami moral and political philosophy can be grasped, in this last part of the thesis I show the strong linkage between such philosophy and this type of speech. The elders' speech is dealt with in various parts of the thesis and also in various ways. First, and departing from the way a myth of origin explicitly makes references to it, I illustrate, the way Yanomami people conceive of this type of speech. I do this by describing, following Hymes' (1981,2003) insights, the way in which the myth teller "describes" this speech in his narrative. Second, in Chapter 3, I make a brief description of the speech and in Chapters 9, 10, and 11 I provide fragments of the speech of an elder that I transcribed and analysed.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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