Andes and Amazon Field School

Ethnobiology:  Amazonian Culture and the Natural Environment

Instructor: Tod Swanson and Michael Severino Patterson

M,TU,W,TH, F 9:00-12:00

Contact Hours: 45  Credits: 3


Course Description


The present course explores Amazonian cultural knowledge knowledge of plant and animal species, comparing it to scientific knowledge, to uncover underlying assumptions that constitute a systematic, if implicit, Amazonian philosophy of nature.  It also teaches students how to ask key questions and to carry out qualitative research on ethnobiology.  Over generations of  hunting and gathering Amazonian cultures gained an intimate knowledge of their rainforest environment, the most bio-diverse on earth.  Now, more than ever, preservation of that environment depends on improving understanding and cooperation between environmentalists and the native peoples who live there; and upon integrating traditional Amazonian and scientific knowledge of the natural world.  The course addresses key ethnobiological questions such as: How do native Amazonian people classify plant and animal species?    How do they understand the extinction or the emergence of new species?  How do they understand plant and animal behavior? How is plant and animal ecology believed to serve as a model for understanding human society and vice versa?  How should human emotions be regulated so as to better work with nature?  What aesthetic, emotional or religious practices were developed to create bonds of empathy or communication between human beings and and other species?  What are the practical implications of the answers to these questions for collaborative environmental work with indigenous communities.


Learning Objectives:


•  Understand key assumptions underlying the Amazonian philosophy of nature and their practical implications for collaborative environmental work.

•  Learn to ask effective ethnobiological questions in terms that native informants can understand. 

•  Gain experience in collaborative qualitative research on ethnobiology.

•  Learn to analyze Amazonian narratives on plant and animal origins

•  Understand the aesthetics of Amazonian engagement of other species.  

•  Understand how nature works as a pattern for organizing Amazonian social life and, conversely, how social life works as a model for understanding nature.


Method of Instruction:


This course is a field course which teaches students how to elicit and analyze indigenous knowledge of plant and animal species.  Because Amazonian cultures are oral cultures Amazonian knowledge of nature has not been codified in texts but rather in origin stories, art, songs, prohibitions and patterns of speech for addressing nature.  It is thus these materials which the course teaches students to analyze.     Framed by carefully selected readings, lectures and discussion students spend time in the forest learning from traditional elders.    Sessions typically begin with a carefully selected short sub-titled video from a previous interview with a native informant talking about some aspect of the meaning of nature in Amazonian society.  The instructor analyzes the material in the video teasing out underlying assumptions.    Discussion then centers on the formulation of appropriate questions for eliciting further information.  The next 2 hours are then spent with a native informant eliciting further information on the topic of the video.  Group discussion with the native informant is video taped.   Native elders speak in Kichwa.  Their discourse is translated into English for students by the instructor.   Student questions are similarly translated.  Students then write about what they have learned in daily journal entries.   On Fridays students pool their journal entries to construct collaborative summaries of the research.


Grading and Assessment:

Weekly tests over reading and lectures  40%

Daily entries in an academic journal.      40%

Participation in collaborative group projects 20%.


Required Readings:  (Selections from) Note:  Although the course is on amazonian ethno-biology a number of the readings are on the ethno-biology of indigenous peoples outside the Amazonian area.  These readings have been selected because of their exemplary theoretical treatment of the subject which will be applied comparatively to the Amazonian area.


The journal entries should focus on things that you found surprising.  http://blog.ted.com/2013/07/26/8-tips-to-make-your-life-more-surprising-from-a-surprisologist/


Brown, Michael.  Tsewa’s Gift:  Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society.  Smithsonian Institution Press.  1986


Descola, Phillipe.  In the Society of Nature:  A Native Ecology in Amazonia.  Cambridge University Press, 1996 [1986].


Feld, Steven. 1982. Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in Kaluli Expression. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Krener, Eva and Nils Folk.   Good Luck and the Taita Carnaval of Canar.  Folk 19-20, 1977-78, Pp. 151-169.  (Artical analyzes the feeding of the mountain in the fiesta of Cañar in southern Ecuador.)


Overing, Joanna and Alan Passes.  The Anthropology of Love and Anger:  The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia, Routledge Press, 2000.


Swanson, Tod.  Singing to Estranged Relatives:  Quichua Relations to Plants in the Ecuadorian Amazon.  Journal of Religion and Culture, Vol 3.1 (2009) 36-65.

 

Tidermann, Sonia and Andrew Gosler, eds.  2010. Ethno-Ornithology: Birds and Indigenous Peoples, Culture and Society. Earthscan Publications Ltd.


SCHEDULE:

Note:  These units have been developed to create maximum synergy with other courses taught in the Field School.   Units 1 and 3 are designed to engage Tropical Ecology.  Unit 2 is designed to engage the Amazonian Artist Workshop.  Unit 4 engages the Geography course of water resources.  All of the units in this class engage complementary units in the Kichwa Language courses.


Unit 1:   Speciation and Extinction in Indigenous Thinking

Note:  These units have been developed to create maximum synergy with other courses taught in the Field School.  According to Amazonian tradition plant and animal species evolved through a separation from a previously human condition motivated by anger, neglect and family tensions.   Mistreatment of animals can lead to their further emotional withdrawal and extinction.  This unit explores the implications of these ideas for contemporary Amazonian understanding of why species become locally extinct and how that extinction can be avoided.  


June 7   9:00-10:15 Lecture: “Introduction to the community and environment.”  10:30-12:00  “Shamanism and the finite mountain: The sources of animal abundance and the reasons for their disappearance.”

June 8   “The story of Chingarishca Bartolo.”   Two native narrators present stories on encounters with the the spirit masters of animals.  Students and faculty analyze the narratives in discussion with the narrators.

June 11  Hike to the sacred places where the animals are said to emerge and retreat into the sides of the cliffs.  Faculty/student interviews with native informants.

June 12   Amazonian Origin Stories.  Lecture analyzes video taped interviews with native narrators on the origin stories recorded during previous field school sessions.   In the second half of the morning students elicit new material on origin stories from native narrators.


Readings:

“Origin of Agoutis”,  “A Man and Woman Become Wooly Monkeys”, “A Man and Woman become Woodpeckers.”   Kichwa narratives translated by Tod Swanson.


Luisa Elvira Belaunde. "The convivial self and the fear of anger amongst the Airo-Pai of Amazonian Peru."   In Joanna Overing and Alan Passes eds., The Anthropology of Love and Anger:  The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia, Routledge: London. 2000. Pp 46-63.


Unit 2  The aesthetics of evoking nature  

This unit explores the differences between the scientific injunction to limit emotional language in biological inquiry in  order to control variables and Amazonian aesthetic approaches to the understanding of other species.   Amazonian people are convinced that the human ability to communicate with nature is mediated by beauty, empathy and emotion.  They dressed in the feathers of birds, painted their faces with animal patterns, imitated animal movement in dance.   Behind all of this is a very distinctive aesthetic that encoded beliefs about how nature should be approached.    This module teaches students to understand the Amazonian art of engaging nature.


Activities: 

June 13   Lecture:  Bio-Mimicry and Abstraction in Amazonian Aesthetics

June 14  Lecture:  “Speaking in earth sounds” or “Letting nature speak in a human voice.”   Prof. Janis Nucholls

June 15   Lecture:  “Llaquichina:  Beauty that breaks the heart of the earth”  Tod Swanson


Ceramic Arts Workshop.  During this week following a lecture in the first hour each student will work with an Amazonian master potter to produce a bowl that mimics nature in both shape and pattern.


Readings: Keith Basso  “Speaking with Names,”  “Stalking with Stories”  “To Give Up on Words.”  From Wisdom Sits in Places:  Language and Landscape among the Western Apache. University of New Mexico Press. 1996.


Peter Gow.  “Helplessness – the affective preconditions of Piro social life”.  In Joanna Overing and Alan Passes eds., The Anthropology of Love and Anger:  The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia, Routledge: London. 2000. Pp 46-63.


Unit 3  Human Society and the Emotional Life of Birds 

Kichwa and Shuar speaking people pay acute attention to groups of fruit eating birds which, despite being of different species, travel and feed together.   According to Amazonian myth these birds were once human beings who were transformed into birds because they could not get along as humans.    The belief that the birds conceal a past human society means that their observed social dynamics of apparent mutual attraction and cooperation between bird species can be used as an elaborate metaphor for thinking about contemporary human social dynamics.   This unit explores Amazonian cultural thinking about the meaning of birds.  


Activities:


Mon  June 18  Lecture:  "The Ecology  of Mixed Flock Fruit Eaters"    

Tues  6/19  Lecture: "Interaction of Bird Species as Symbols of Love Relations" 

W June 20  Student-faculty collaborative research on Ethno-ornothology.   Th  June 21  Student-fac collaborative research on Ethno-ornothology.

Friday June 22 Collaborative Projects


Readings:  “The Boy who became a Muni Bird” and “To you they are Birds, to Me they are Voices in the Forest” from Steven Feld, Sound and Sentiment: Birds, Weeping, Poetics, and Song in Kaluli Expression. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1982.

Ritual songs to birds translated by Tod Swanson:

"I am the Mountain Toucan's Wife"  Clara Santi

"I a Toucan of the Headwaters."   Eulodia Dagua

"This Parrot is not from Around Here"  Eulodia Dagua

"Oropendola Woman"   Luisa Cadena

Passage on the Violaceaous Jay as model oflLeadership  from Elsje Maria Lagrou.  "Homesickness and the Cashinahua self".  In Joanna Overing and Alan Passes eds., The Anthropology of Love and Anger:  The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia,  pp 152-169.  Routledge: London, 2000.


Unit 4:  Water World and Water Beings

This unit examines Amazonian thinking about aquatic species and the water cycle. 

June 25

Video recording of Yukuna myth on Barbasco and the Fish People

Session begins with a short subtitled video tape of the Yukuna narrative.  After students and native informants view the video together students elicit new narratives from the native informants and analyze them together.

June 26

Origin myth of Amazonian dolphins and the retreat of dolphins due to oil spills. 

Session begins with a short subtitled video tape of a Kichwa narrating the origin of dolphins.  After students and native informants view the video together students elicit new narratives from the native informants and analyze them together.


Readings:  “Terrestrial water, celestial water”; “Upstream and down”;  and “The world of the river”  From Phillipe Descola.  In the Society of Nature:  A Native Ecology in Amazonia.  Cambridge University Press, 1996 [1986].  Pp. 36-61; 270-283

Anaconda of Bagricucha.   Kichwa narrative of the water world translated by Tod Swanson.


Unit 5:  Feeding the Living Mountains

This unit examines the Andean belief that mountains are living beings which sustain the communities that live on them and are in turn ritually fed by fiestas.


June 27  Lecture  Feeding the Mountains:   The Andean Fiesta.  Exam 

June 28- Travel to Picalqui Inti Raymi Fiesta

June 29- Dancing in Picalqui Inti Raymi Fiesta

Wrap up session concluding the program.

June 30 First Summer Session Concludes


Readings:

•  "The Poor Alcalde and the Living Mountain."   Traditional Salasaca story narrated by Rosa Masaquiza.  Recorded and translated from Kichwa by Tod Swanson

•  Eva Krener and Nils Folk.   Good Luck and the Taita Carnaval of Cañar.  Folk 19-20, 1977-78, Pp. 151-169.  (Artical analyzes the feeding of the mountain in the fiesta of Cañar in southern Ecuador.)