Geography Reference
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non-humans in two separate and crystallized ontological domains. The difference in
degree established between humans and non-humans does not imply a difference in
nature among human beings, plants, and animals. Neither is there a rigid distinction
between the natural and supernatural worlds. The Amerindian self encompasses the
dialectical interaction of humans and non-humans, animate and inanimate beings,
plants and animals, as various scholars have argued (Carneiro da Cunha 1998;
Descola 1998; Gallois 1996; Müller 1996; Overing 1990; Viveiros de Castro 1998,
1996; Wright 1999; Wright and Hill 1992).
What these scholars have shown is that among lowland Amerindian societies,
the process of world-making does not differentiate between humans and non-
humans; what it does is discriminate on the grounds of the knowledges each being
holds and is able to offer as a unique contribution to the making and remaking of
the world experienced. Plants and animals, among other entities, are, therefore,
legitimate interlocutors of the art of world-making since they do not live in an
ontological plane distinct from the one populated by human beings (Goodman
1978). This hyper-relativistic perception of the world experienced often gives rise
to an onthology that has been called “perspectivism” (Viveiros de Castro 1998).
Perspectivism reaffirms the strong belief Amerindian societies hold that multiple
worldviews can exist at the same time without contradicting each other. This is
precisely what the shamanic knowledge portrayed in the court case here considered,
as well as in other similar land claims (Franchetto 1987; Lea 1997a, 1997b), wants
to convey.
Anthropologists working on, or involved in, central Brazilian court cases in
the 1980s and 1990s have relied extensively on Indigenous Peoples' worldviews
- the socially constituted worlds and their cosmological foundations - and
mapping capabilities when elaborating reports on ancestral or traditional land
occupation. Shamans are important protagonists of these testimonies, since they
are viewed today, by modern or late modern anthropologists, as main mediators
of complex sociopolitical systems. Shamanism itself can be understood as
a cosmological system, rather than exclusively as a religion (Chaumeil 1983,
Langdon 1996). Because Amerindian shamans continuously dedicate themselves
to the making and remaking of worlds (Overing 1990), it is quite evident that
shamanic knowledge encompasses politics and economics in the construction of
the symbolic order.
Cosmological foundations, and the socially constituted worlds of the 16
Indigenous peoples that now live within the limits of the Xingu Park, form the
basis of the knowledge conveyed by anthropologist Bruna Franchetto (1987)
in her report about migration patterns and land occupation in the Xingu river
basin in the state of Mato Grosso. Following the trend in modern anthropology
since the 1960s, Franchetto grants oral history the status of written evidence,
and relies heavily on the narratives of Indigenous “elders, who sustain the
accumulated knowledge of the group they belong to” (1987:3; my translation).
The anthropologist goes on to say that:
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