Geography Reference
In-Depth Information
Funai officials who occasionally visit the Xingu park usually lecture on Indigenous
“customs” to their employees or guests. These speeches are also invariably
punctuated by figures: how much money the federal agency has spent to keep the
“Indians” alive and well (“privileged people, when compared to non-Indians”), birth
and death rates (“they're not doing so bad, after all”), the park's area (“too much land
for such few Indians”), and so on.
You tell us in school what mathematics is good for and how it works, but I will
tell you what it is not good for. Don't try to learn our patterns of weaving using
numbers; don't try to ask me exactly how much tree bark ashes you should mix
in the clay for pottery. These are things that don't ask for numbers, and that's
why you are so confused. [Nunu Juruna, author's weaving and pottery teacher,
February 1983]
That we have turned our lives into an “arithmetic problem” (Simmel 1968, 1987) is
no news at all. What it means to impose a numerical culture upon peoples who did
not orient themselves extensively by means of calculation until recently is a question
that has not yet been posed. Making sense out of a numerical world reaches far
beyond the exclusive relations among its arithmetical elements; it means more than
understanding standard systematizations of quantitative relations. As anthropologist
Jean Lave (1988:120) points out, “in practice, relations among arithmetic elements
and other kinds of concerns in the world are often equal to, or more important than,
the arithmetic relations among those same elements, and relations of quantity are
merged (or submerged) into ongoing activity.” Identifying these concerns is critical
to understanding how arithmetic unfolds in action within different settings and, in
this particular case, in a cross-cultural situation.
Arithmetical dilemmas involving monetary transactions constituted one of the
greatest concerns of the Kayabi, Suyá, and Juruna in school. Numbers and money
have become, in some senses, the arbitrary means for comparing unlike things on a
scale that is supposed to be common to them all. In arithmetical terms, this means
that money becomes “a sort of 'common denominator,' which 'reifies' value in terms
of recognized units” (Crump 1992:92). As we shall see, standards of value expressed
in monetary terms conflict with the value embedded in reciprocal gift systems in
problem-solving activities, since they imply different rate exchanges between
different categories or goods.
Knowing a little mathematics has made our lives easier.... To tell you the
truth, numbers don't scare me anymore. What goes behind numbers, what the
white men actually think, is more important than adding or subtracting. [Aturi
Kayabi, a former teacher at the Diauarum School, June 1990]
Different worldviews - the socially constituted world and its cosmological
foundations - and the everyday experience of active individuals account for the
diversity of strategies of mathematical reasoning. In other words, different cultures,
and individuals within any given culture, proceed differently in their logical schemes
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