"Doctors of our knowledge" : kinship, research, and embodiment in an Amerindian village in Guyana
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Ethnography of how people in Surama—a mostly Makushi, Amerindian Village in the North Rupununi of Region 9 in Guyana—conceive of “work” as social formation, “development” as a local manifestation, and knowledge tied to being supports an argument that foreign power is obviated through the formation of similar bodied kin in the community. The focus on a single community, Surama, is a methodological choice born out of previous anthropological understandings of community-settlements as fluid, comprised of consanguineal kin, and leadership as non-coercive and limited to each community. Today, Amerindian Villages are spatially fixed, and administered by Village Councils—the most local branch of government. To understand how people in Amerindian Villages conceive of politics and kinship today, I had to myself become more familiar. I resided in one community, with one family. I took part both in what my hosts described as “tradition”, and “development”. People in Surama described tensions in changing ways of being social. While they champion sociality associated with “tradition”, they manifested “development” as a contribution to the wider world. In this way, they carried what they considered proper social personhood, sharing and willingful contributions, to the wider world. People in Surama conceive of “tradition” and “culture” through a history of mediating outside researchers’ and policy-makers’ interest in their lives. They recognize foreign interest in their visible knowledge of the forest, and share this knowledge through these concepts. Simultaneously, these concepts keep certain ways of knowing distant from researchers. Embodied ways of knowing and interacting with persons in the forest are called “belief”, and are limited to believers. My hosts maintained this as a fundamental difference in our ways of knowing. Their knowing is a doing with kin; ours is writing about that doing. Through extending their knowing and ways of being social to researchers, however, they turn us into similar bodied kin.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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