Polarities of difference : how Wapichannao negotiate identities within a creole state
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This thesis is an ethnographic account of how the Wapichannao, who are situated in the Rupununi of Guyana perceive themselves within the nation-state. This is also an account of how non-Amerindian Guyanese envisage Amerindians as ‘past’ peoples. Hence, distinctions are made between Amerindian and non-Amerindian—us vs. them—where both identities become placed as opposite poles within a continuum. Emphasis is placed on the shifting relationships between these poles, but more specifically, the cultural paradigm through which these relationships are made possible. This paradigm, I suggest, may be understood in terms of polarities of difference, with regard to which Amerindians are constantly ambiguating/negotiating, disjoining, and resignifying notions of ‘who they are’. This thesis evidences this paradigm through an ethnography of some of those aspects of Wapichannao culture—village work, the shop, joking activity, culture shows—that are considered to be traditional on the one hand, and modern on the other. In doing so, an incongruous trend emerges, on which makes the classic imagery of Amerindian ontological homogeneity much more complex. Therefore, this thesis moves from the more traditional aspects of Wapichannao culture towards the nation-state, in order to take into account aspects of Amerindian experience absent from classic ethnographic accounts.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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