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Under a Watchful Eye

Self, Power, and Intimacy in Amazonia

Harry Walker (Author)

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Paperback, 252 pages
ISBN: 9780520273603
November 2012
$29.95, £19.95
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What does it mean to be accompanied? How can autonomy and a sense of self emerge through one’s involvement with others? This book examines the formation of self among the Urarina, an Amazonian people of lowland Peru. Based on detailed ethnography, the analysis highlights the role of intimate but asymmetrical attachments and dependencies which begin in the womb, but can extend beyond human society to include a variety of animals, plants, spirits and material objects. It thereby raises fundamental questions about what it means to be alive, to be an experiencing subject, and to be human. From the highly personalized relationships that develop between babies and their hammocks, to the demonstrations of love and respect between spouses and the power asymmetries that structure encounters between shamans and spirits, hunters and game animals, or owners and pets, what emerges is a strong sense that the lived experience of togetherness lies at the heart of the human condition. Recognizing this relational quality of existence enables us to see how acting effectively in the world may be less a matter of individual self-assertion than learning how to elicit empathetic acts of care and attentiveness by endearing oneself to others.
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Prologue: Learning to Stand-Leaned-Together
1. Spaces of Refuge
2. Vital Shields
3. Conceiving the Conjugal Body
4. Mutuality and Autonomy
5. Authority and Solidarity
6. Mastering Subjection
Epilogue: An Accompanied Life
Notes
Bibliography
Index
Harry Walker is Lecturer in Anthropology at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
"In this beautifully written study of Urarina mastery of life, Walker demonstrates the continued importance of careful ethnographic attention to historically emergent forms of subjectivity. Walker's perceptive attention to social values and organising principles helps us understand how the Urarina transcend predation, identity and difference. We are transported to the heart of a society both more individualising and more communalist than the ones we have grown up in."—Laura Rival, author of Trekking through history: The Huaorani of Amazonian Ecuador>/i>

"A celebration of Urarina understandings of the individual and the social world, Under a Watchful Eye unveils the many paradoxes of native Amazonian sociality. Well-written and finely crafted, the book critically engages with issues raised by perspectivism, incorporation theory, and constructional approaches, proposing novel and stimulating insights on indigenous notions of living well."—Fernando Santos-Granero, author of Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life

"This book is based on the sensitive and multi-layered ethnography which only real, long-term participant observation can produce. We are convinced by detailed supporting evidence and never lost, as is the case for some Amazonian ethnography, in formulations, which having acquired an academic life of their own, seem impossibly remote from the experience of shared human practice."—Maurice Bloch, author of How We Think They Think: Anthropological Studies in Cognition, Memory and Literacy

1.

Spaces of Refuge

Person and Being

This book is about the shared nature of human existence: how we live our lives in the close company of others, in whose very being we come to participate. We come into the world accompanied, and this remains our defining condition: who we are, how we come to experience ourselves as conscious subjects, with the capacity to act on the world, are fundamentally conditioned by our constitutively accompanied nature. This mutuality does not undermine individuality but precedes it and is its condition of existence. Typically grounded in intimate but often asymmetrical relations of care and protection, mutuality nevertheless also establishes a certain vulnerability. This can manifest as a willingness to be dominated, if our continued sense of identity, our sense of self, can thereby be assured.

The Urarina, a hunting and horticultural people of the Peruvian Amazon with reference to whom these arguments are developed, recognize and elaborate these relational qualities of human experience to a high degree. Yet they never lose sight of the importance of individuality and uniqueness. A range of factors have shaped this dual emphasis on mutuality and autonomy, from low population density and the immediate, largely face-to-face nature of the social environment to limited access to modern technologies and manufactured goods to the exuberant, formidable expanse of the seemingly endless jungle, teeming with diverse forms of life. Then there is the extraordinary, turbulent history of the Amazon basin itself, marked by complex networks of trade and warfare, demographic expansion and contraction, high mobility, and brutal clashes between radically different civilizations. The struggle for survival of the indigenous inhabitants of the region has not diminished over the centuries, and their enemies today remain as powerful as ever. Despite historical trajectories and environmental conditions that are in many ways unique, peoples such as the Urarina also grapple with answers to fundamental existential conundrums that apply equally to us all, concerning what it means to be alive, to be human, and to live with others.

Despite the commonality of our human predicament, the responses that Urarina have developed-not to mention the distinctive cultural forms through which these are expressed-are their own, and must be understood with reference to the social and cultural milieu in which they are embedded. Careful analysis of a diverse range of practices and events together with commentaries and explanations offered by my hosts and interlocutors over the course of fieldwork reveal a set of basic assumptions and presuppositions, often more or less taken for granted, about the nature of the self and its coming into being through relations with others. How well these square with our own theories or intuitions may vary considerably. Some of the most important rites and practices of child care from an Urarina perspective-ceremoniously cutting the umbilical cord and burying the placenta, or going out of one's way to keep a newborn baby feeling warm and safe-differ only slightly from our own experiences, while others-the performance of esoteric chants that can last for hours, or the receipt and bestowal of personal names by shamans in the throes of powerful visionary experiences-offer a striking contrast. The common Amazonian wisdom that certain animals, plants, or material objects are themselves essentially persons who share many basic qualities of humanity, including a mind or soul, intentionality, and even human culture, are still more difficult to reconcile with our scientifically informed understandings. Reflecting on these ideas and practices may not only help to draw our attention to implicit assumptions and prejudices in our own worldview; they may be seen to offer insights into the nature of human experience that we can recognize as valid in some important sense despite being largely overlooked or even suppressed by dominant Western discourses.

In everyday language in the West, the term person is used more or less synonymously with human being. We might therefore assume that asking what it means to be a person is the same as asking what it means to be human. But a little closer examination reveals some exceptions: someone in a permanent coma is still human, for example, but could be said to have lost some intrinsic part of his or her personhood. Certain animals, on the other hand, such as much-loved pets, might come close to being treated as persons by their owners, even if deep down the latter "know better." Further enquiry into the dominant logic in Western societies suggests a more or less widespread sense that to be a person is to be a self-contained, independent entity endowed with a set of inner mental or psychological capacities such as self-awareness, rationality, and responsibility. These criteria effectively constitute the individual as an autonomous being, the author of his or her own actions, an authentic self with a private identity, capable of having experiences that belong exclusively to that private self. This sovereign individual, self-governing and self-disciplining, is considered to have a separate and independent existence both temporally and spatially, with his or her own unique experiences as well as abilities, preferences, needs, and desires.

The commonsense Western view has largely taken it for granted that it is essentially because we are conscious, rational beings of this kind that we are able to enter into social relations with others. People are assumed to preexist the social relationships they enter into, giving rise to a conception of social relationships as a kind of supra-personal glue that binds individuals together, linking them up to form a larger unit-society-to which they are in some sense opposed but which mirrors their qualities of wholeness and enclosure at a larger scale. The processes by which people are drawn into social relations are often labeled "socialization" or "enculturation," revealing a related assumption that we begin life as essentially natural organisms, asocial and cultureless. There may be an implicit dualism at work here that opposes the body to the mind or soul as completely different kinds of substance and that tends to objectify "external" objects as existing entirely separately from the observer, implying a rigid distinction between subjects and objects. This further corresponds to the dualism of nature and culture: the body is basically seen as a biological organism, bounded by the skin and endowed with a more or less "given" or "natural" set of needs or drives that are met, controlled, or moderated by "culture," an artificial creation of joint human activity.

Processes of socialization or enculturation are correspondingly focused on cultivating the mind, comprising forms of learning conceived as primarily psychological rather than physiological. These are not absolute distinctions, but they do reflect general tendencies or habits of thought that stem from deeply rooted and widely shared assumptions about the underlying nature of reality: they constitute part of our shared understanding of what the world is like on the most fundamental level, or what kinds of things make up a world-what is sometimes referred to as an ontology.

Concepts of the person are deeply implicated in everyday practices, values, and social institutions ranging from morality and law to politics and religion. This was a point made forcefully by Durkheim (1973 [1898]), who pointed out the centrality of ideas and values surrounding the individual to the modern form of collective life. In the wake of industrialization and modernization, the notion of the abstract individual as the key locus of natural rights and moral values had become a key source of coherence in an increasingly secular society characterized by highly divergent lifestyles. Mauss (1983 [1938]) took this further by showing how this Western concept of the individual had a historical trajectory of its own, in which a range of influences, including ancient Greek moral philosophy, Roman law, and Christianity, all conspired to give shape to a concept of the person as an individuated self, separable from the particular role or social position he or she inhabited.

Since Mauss, a vast literature has grown up dedicated to exploring historical and cross-cultural variability in, and determinations of, the person or self. Much of this literature has converged in drawing a somewhat stereotypical contrast between "Western" and "non-Western" forms of personhood. Generally speaking, the latter has been conceptualized as more or less the opposite of the bounded, autonomous, reflexive, and independent Western self; hence a proliferation of terms emphasizing its essentially "joined-up" rather than "individualized" qualities, as implied by descriptive labels such as "interdependent," "sociocentric," "dividual," "permeable," "multiple," "partible," or "detachable." This may further correspond on a moral or ideological level to a contrast between the values of individualism and egalitarianism, on the one hand, and holism, on the other, the latter typically associated with forms of hierarchy and collectivism (e.g., Dumont 1972). Western social sciences are not immune to the same predispositions, and it has been suggested that their methodological focus on individuals as the basic units of social reality has hindered their ability to comprehend even individualistic societies (Dumont 1986: 11).

Forms of personhood are more divergent at the level of moral values and ideologies than in terms of actual, everyday experience of the self and of one's relations with others. In this latter sense, Western persons are undoubtedly more "relational" or "joined up," and less "individualistic," than the discourse of individualism would imply (see, e.g., Carsten 2004: 101-7). On the other hand, many of the features of individualism are to be found in a variety of non-Western societies. Scholars have long drawn attention to the fact that native Amazonian societies are structured in terms of symbolic idioms that relate to the construction of the individual or, more precisely, the fabrication of the body rather than the definition of groups and the transmission of goods (e.g., Seeger, Da Matta, and Viveiros de Castro 1979). In many areas of Amazonia there are no social groups that survive the lifetime of single individuals; the only social group is formed by the settlement, which has little continuity through time because its existence depends on the leader or headman and is constituted by his personal network of relationships (see Rivière 1984). The apparent individualism of some Amazonian peoples is thus in part the product of an atomistic social system; and yet these same peoples maintain an unmistakably strong orientation toward others, emphasizing the relational grounding of the self to a high degree. That we perceive these tendencies as contradictory, or their coexistence as paradoxical, calls into question some of the ontological assumptions that underpin much Western thinking about the person.

Beyond Perspectives

A radical difference between Western and Amazonian concepts of the person arises from their divergent attitudes toward animals and other nonhuman beings. The significance of this difference was driven home by Descola (1992, 1996), who observed that nonhumans are often considered to possess a soul or spiritual principle and that it is therefore possible for humans to establish various kinds of personal relations with them, ranging from seduction or protection to forms of alliance and exchanges of services. These natural beings are thought to be endowed with human dispositions and emotions, the ability to talk, and a variety of other social attributes, including human forms of social organization, behaviors based on kinship and respect for certain norms of conduct (Descola 1992: 114). Descola drew the conclusion that these "animistic" systems of thought effectively invert the way Western "naturalism" deals with the differences between humans and nonhumans. As he later expressed it, if Western ontology proposes that humans and animals have similar bodies (all made up of the same basic elements) but very different minds or interiorities (only humans have higher-order consciousness), animistic ontologies propose the opposite: a fundamental discontinuity of bodies but a continuity of minds, shared by humans and nonhumans alike (Descola 2005).

This crucial insight forms the basis of what is now known as perspectivism. Especially as developed in a groundbreaking article by Viveiros de Castro (1998), this theory derives much of its considerable explanatory power, and its striking elegance, from one key claim-that people everywhere make some kind of distinction between what is "universal" or "given" in the world and what is "particular" or "constructed" through intentional action but that Westerners and Amazonians have almost precisely opposed ideas about which is which. The most obvious example concerns the categories of nature and culture. Western thought posits a unitary nature, differently perceived or represented by the world's many diverse cultures (hence the familiar notion of multiculturalism). Amazonian ontology, by contrast, is "multinaturalist": it presumes a universal (human) culture but a multiplicity of natures.

Though at first highly counterintuitive to a Westerner steeped in a naturalistic ontology, such a formulation immediately helps us to make sense of the claim that although all beings see themselves as human, they do not see other kinds of beings as human but rather as nonhuman predators or prey. Animals are assumed to inhabit a cultural universe more or less shared by everyone: they may dwell in longhouses, drink manioc beer, have chiefs and shamans, marry exogamously, and so on. We do not see any of this under normal waking conditions, because of the limitations imposed by our own species-specific "nature," our (human) body with its unique capacities, affordances, and dispositions. Where a jaguar sees manioc beer, we see blood; a tapir's ceremonial house is for us a salt lick. It is not merely that we see the same world in different ways: in a multinaturalist ontology, different beings see different worlds in the same way.

The implications of perspectivism for kinship and personhood have tended to receive less attention from anthropologists than relations with nonhumans, especially outside Amazonia, but they are no less significant. We typically assume consanguinity, or blood relatedness, to be fixed at birth and relatively unproblematic; affines or in-laws, on the other hand, are created through human intervention, specifically marriage. Thus anthropology has traditionally focused attention on marriage patterns and their consequences while assuming that who or what counts as a blood relation can be mostly taken for granted. Yet the evidence suggests that many Amazonian peoples see consanguinity as unstable and in need of careful creation out of an assumed universal background of real or potential affinity, which extends to include even enemies and nonhumans. This simple inversion of our own expectations helps to explain why so many Amazonian social practices are focused on the body and its fabrication, from everyday acts of feeding and nurturing to complex rites of decoration and ornamentation. All living beings, nonhumans included, share the same generic soul, which sees only the same thing everywhere; bodies, on the other hand, are markers and instruments of difference. Conceived as bundles of capacities and affects as much as physical matter, it is the body that determines the world one apprehends.

Although grounded in the body, perspectives are not fixed or immutable. In fact, Amazonian social practice has been characterized precisely as an ongoing, essentially predatory "struggle between points of view" (Stolze Lima 2000: 48), in which all beings seek to impose their perspective on others while avoiding the attempts of those same others to do likewise. Fausto (2000, 2007) describes the Amazonian lived world as one in which different groups, human and nonhuman, living and dead, all seek to capture "others" and turn them into kin. Shamans and warriors seek to capture animals and enemy spirits, appropriating their names, songs, or souls as a way of ensuring the reproduction of the social group. At the same time, nonhumans try to capture humans by seducing or preying on them so as to transform them into members of their community. Such a formulation is especially useful for the way in which it brings concepts of power to the fore while making clear that they can no longer simply be associated with relations of coercion or control between humans. Instead, power is embedded in the relational matrix through which perspectives are transformed, especially relations of adoptive filiation, domestication, and "taming."

In this book I build on some of perspectivism's key insights, especially insofar as they confirm the need to firmly situate the study of sociality and personhood in a broader cosmological and ontological context. However, I also seek to moderate some of the theory's core assumptions and to move beyond it in certain ways. One of these concerns the emphasis on predation. Many Amazonian societies valorize hunting and warfare, while shamanic practice often partakes heavily in the symbolism of both these institutions. As Descola (1992: 94) put it, for the more warlike peoples especially "the capture and incorporation of persons, identities, bodies and substances form the touchstone of a cannibalistic social philosophy." Perspectivism builds on an established tradition of Amazonian scholarship that emphasizes the importance of predation as a key symbol or ideology, inscribing this directly into indigenous ontology. Subjectivity is determined by one's position within a relational matrix of predators and prey, and to be a true subject or agent means first and foremost to be a predator.

An analytical emphasis on predation was an important step forward in recognizing the moral and ontological autonomy of Amazonian peoples, and it cautioned against idealistically projecting Western ethical values onto others. But it has also tended to privilege, and to generalize, masculine modes of relating to others in the contexts of hunting and warfare. An emphasis on the capture or appropriation from the outside of the elements needed for social reproduction, especially of souls or other vital forces through life-taking, has similarly meant downplaying the life-giving and other productive capabilities to be found within the group. Some of the most symbolically significant and sociologically productive forms of relationships established by Urarina are not with animals but with other nonhumans such as plants or material artifacts, often associated with feminine spheres of activity, and embedded in a relational ethics of care.

If the concept of predation is of limited utility in comprehending the Urarina lived world, this may be in part for historical reasons. The Urarina are a relatively peaceful people who nevertheless have a long history of subordination vis-à-vis powerful outsiders, to whom they see themselves as morally superior. They are understandably reluctant to accord full personhood to the powerful figure of the predator, and prefer to recognize the agency (not to mention humanity) of the subordinate party. Yet rather than simply identify as "prey," they instead seek out other ways of representing concepts of subjectivity and agency. While ideologies of predation are not entirely absent, this is far from the most important kind of relation in terms of the processes that constitute persons and groups.

The relationships of greatest significance in Urarina social life are instead often expressed through idioms of "companionship" or "fellowship," relations irreducible to kinship but more formal than friendship and typically grounded in certain forms of shared activity and structures of feeling. Often established with reference to the creation of new life and new persons, I suggest, the full realization of a sense of self is achieved through participation in the lives of others in the context of such companionships, which at the same time are the basis of Urarina social groups. They imply a sense of security and mutuality that is sometimes imagined as the intimate coexistence of fetus and placenta in the protective space of the womb, a founding state of proximity and mutual permeability that in some ways they seek to re-create.

In tracing through the implications of this argument, I call attention to the fact that although perspectivism challenges and relativizes many of the most deeply held ontological assumptions of Western thought, it does not challenge the assumption that the subject is ultimately a unitary point of view, even if an unstable one: it is essentially a perspective on the world, anchored in the individual. As in classical psychoanalysis, it is the supposedly formative qualities of a self-other opposition that is emphasized, understood primarily with reference to the visual field. A "self-image," for example, may arise when the self or ego sees itself reflected in the other, as though in a mirror.

Drawing on the Urarina material as well as Sloterdijk's (2011) theory of spheres, or spaces of coexistence, the alternative I propose is that a prior field of sensation informs the development of a self-image and that this field is constituted through intimate relations with others that are always already present, from our earliest moments of intrauterine existence. In place of the Western privileging of the visual field in the constitution of a sense of self, I shift emphasis to the acoustic domain. Rather than images, reflections, or perspectives-optical tropes that reinforce a self-other divide-I seek to show how it is above all within the psychoacoustic field that subjects are called into being. This helps to foreground some of the broader ontological claims made, to the effect that human existence has a medial structure and that the subject is always situated in a shared field of protection and attention that logically and temporally precedes any isolation of a single point of view or subsequent polarization into the position of "predator" or "prey."

Urarina strive to achieve their personal autonomy and sense of self through a network of relationships far more varied than we would find in the so-called individualist West. Whether this is a hammock "singing" its lullaby to the baby who swings in it, a wife demanding cooperation from her captive tortoise, a shaman communicating with his powerful stone bowl, or simply the ongoing exchange of words and sounds that characterize all intimate relationships, selves are always connected to their alters within shared acoustic fields, and it is in this context too that they begin their process of differentiation. The Urarina subject is constantly under construction, less a "point of view" than an animated field of attachments and dependencies that always involves two or more. Yet simplistic contrasts between Western "individual" personhood and non-Western "relational" personhood run at right angles to what might better be described as a continual movement in which individual autonomy emerges from relations of mutual engagement and reciprocity but is then immediately directed at the reestablishment and re-creation of solidarity and connectedness, and in turn to the production of the autonomy of others. Partaking in the lives of others is not in conflict with the irreducibly individual and private dimensions of existence, or the experience of an inner life, but a condition for their emergence.

Such a focus on the intimate spaces of coexistence within which the contours of the self take shape further serves to highlight that what it is to be a person or self cannot be separated from the conceptions of the good that prevail in a particular milieu. As Londoño Sulkin (2005) has shown, standards of moral behavior may impose strong constraints on how the personhood of others is recognized or bestowed in Amazonia, tempering the perspectivist claim that all kinds of beings, human and nonhuman, are ontologically equivalent. I would emphasize that the particular understanding of morality that is of greatest relevance here is less that concerned with the content of obligation-with what it is right to do-than with what it is good to be and with the nature of the good life. In other words, the self exists in moral space, and understanding its sources, as Taylor (1989) makes clear, must incorporate an inquiry into how people seek to live the best possible life in accordance with their ideas of what makes life meaningful and fulfilling. The care of children along with trust in the relations of interdependency related to such care are primary moral concerns expressed by many Amazonian peoples (Overing 2003: 297), and my exploration of these themes emphasizes that the special importance placed by Urarina on patterns of care form part of a relational ethics rooted in ideas of mutuality, receptivity, and responsiveness.

In the following chapters I trace the path of development from the earliest moments of intrauterine existence through infancy and childhood to the cultivation of a gendered social and political identity to show how deeply intimate but asymmetrical attachments and dependencies shape Urarina experience and selfhood. These can, on occasion, extend beyond human society to include a variety of animals, plants, spirits, and material objects, raising questions about the position of humanity within a wider universe of potential subjectivities. This relative openness, or charitable disposition, as it were, to the personhood of nonhuman entities is such an important feature of many Amazonian societies because it points to radically different understandings of power, of the aims or ends of social life, and of the ontological importance of mutual coexistence as a precursor to the inner life of the individual. While issues of political subordination and relations to state power are not dealt with at any length here, we can reasonably assume that the early formation of subjectivity in conditions of intimate attachments and dependencies can condition one's subsequent incorporation into the social and political order (Butler 1997). By virtue of the nature of its own formation, bound to seek recognition under conditions not of its own making, the subject is rendered vulnerable to certain forms of exploitation or subjugation. As manifest in the most intimate spheres, power is rarely coercive, and largely expressed through vectors of caring, defending, seducing, or taming. These may in turn be thought of in terms of a broader matrix of subjectification, or subjection, implying the simultaneous subordination and forming of subjects. This process is clearly neither simple nor unidirectional, and the elicitation and manipulation of emotional attachments and desires are of paramount importance. A focus on the material and discursive practices of subjection, in this expanded sense, could shed new light on the complex relationship between autonomy and dependency, which I have already suggested lies at the heart of Amazonian sociality.

Approaching the Urarina

This book is based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted between January 2005 and March 2007 in two communities of the upper Chambira River, which I call here San Pedro and Nueva Unión. Since their earliest appearances in seventeenth-century Spanish chronicles, and probably since their emergence as a distinct ethnic group, the Urarina have inhabited the middle and upper reaches of the Chambira River and its affluents in the region between the Pastaza and Tigre Rivers, now in the province and region of Loreto (map 1). Urarina communities may today also be found along the Uritoyacu and Corrientes Rivers, which like the Chambira flow into the Marañon River to form the headwaters of the Amazon.

The journey to these communities essentially begins in Iquitos, the regional capital and the largest city in the Peruvian rainforest. From here I would travel by passenger ferry southwestward up the Marañon for a day and a night, passing through hot, sparsely populated, low-lying rainforest, dotted along the way with predominantly riverine peasant, or ribereño, communities and a couple of small towns. There are also a number of Cocama communities along the lower Marañon; this group historically had close ties to the Urarina but were encouraged to deny their indigenous heritage for much of the twentieth century, until quite recently launching a project of cultural revitalization. On reaching the mouth of the Chambira, I would disembark the ferry and begin winding slowly up its dark, meandering waters by motorized dugout canoe, stopping overnight in villages along the way (figure 1). For the first day or two, the communities are predominantly mixed-descent mestizoswho do not identify as indigenous, but beyond this are almost entirely Urarina. The rivers are slow moving and sinuous in this low-lying, swampy landscape, and liable to rise or fall several meters according to the season. As one progresses upriver toward the remoter headwaters of the Chambira, the river grows steadily shallower, and in the dry season especially one must be careful to avoid submerged branches and other hazards.

After around five days of traveling in this manner, one reaches the community of Nueva Unión; San Pedro is located a few hours farther upstream on a smaller tributary. Both communities are relatively small even by Urarina standards, comprising eight to ten houses and a school scattered around a central grassy plaza that doubles as a football field. The houses themselves are small and simple and made entirely of materials sourced locally. Four hardwood columns support a pitched roof of thatched palm leaves; the floor comprises an elevated platform made from huacrapona trunks (Iriartea deltoidea), split open and joined together. The houses are otherwise entirely open, and the lack of walls is pleasant in the heat, especially at night, but makes privacy difficult. A simple hearth, comprising three combustible wooden poles arranged radially, with the cooking pot resting on their point of convergence, is usually located on bare ground just next to the house, sheltered by the overhanging leaves. People usually sit directly on the floor, though some men fashion low benches or utilize hammocks while resting during the day.

While most residents of a community are related to each other in some way or another, it is often possible to detect clusters of houses located closer together, reflecting extended family groups who tend to cooperate in common tasks and share food slightly more frequently with each other than with their more distant neighbors. Because postmarital residence is uxorilocal, with brideservice lasting at least several years, the houses in these clusters are often inhabited by a group of sisters and their in-marrying husbands. Urarina have no lineages, or any other kind of corporate group, and their social organization is relatively fluid. Many alliances are volatile and the social groupings that exist relatively unstable, with people coming and going as they choose, and mobility within and between communities remains high.

The economy is subsistence based, oriented to hunting, fishing, and swidden horticulture. A strong ethic of economic independence at the level of the nuclear family means that everyone is more or less equally competent in all the activities appropriate to their gender. Men still hunt with blowpipes on a regular basis but nowadays prefer to use shotguns if cartridges are available; less often, they hunt with dogs or set traps. Fishing is usually with hooked lines (done mostly by women) or spears (mostly by men), occasionally using poison made from crushed huaca leaves and released into shallow streams. Women assume primary responsibility for maintaining gardens once they have been cleared and planted, tasks with which men assist. Plantains and sweet manioc are the staple crops, though most gardens also contain smaller quantities of a variety of other cultigens, such as maize, papaya, and peanuts; these are supplemented by wild fruits gathered from the forest, especially from the ungurahui, aguaje, and pijuayo palms. Women generally spend much more time than men in the house during the day, engaged with cooking and child care, weaving, sewing clothes, or making string bags to exchange with fluvial traders. Many women also raise chickens, and men occasionally raise pigs, all exclusively for exchange.

The Urarina are a relatively large ethnolinguistic group by contemporary Amazonian standards, numbering somewhere around four thousand to six thousand, although exact numbers are difficult to determine because relatively few have identity documents or are covered in the national census. In the literature they have been variously referred to as Aracuies, Cingacuchuscas, Chambiras, and Shimacus, among other names, while Urarina themselves use the ethnonym cacha. As is common elsewhere in the region, this autonym essentially means "real people" or "true humans." Other languages traditionally spoken in the vicinity of Urarina territory include Candoshi, Omurana, Iquito, Jebero, Cocama, and Yameo. Although they have been erroneously accorded membership in a variety of ethnic and linguistic families since their first documentation in the literature, Urarina is today considered a linguistic isolate, unrelated to any other known language.

The Urarina language is used exclusively among Urarina themselves. Spanish is spoken only to outsiders, and then only by men. Most men are today reasonably competent speakers of Spanish, and a minority could be considered fully bilingual; women, however, generally do not speak Spanish. This is attributable in part to the pervasive gender segregation that characterizes Urarina society, and is indeed one of the most immediately distinctive features for an outside observer. It is generally considered inappropriate for a woman to converse with a man who is not her husband or close kin. Interaction with outsiders-especially with mestizos and other non-Urarina-is the exclusive province of men. Hence for both cultural and linguistic reasons the majority of my interactions were with men rather than women. Elderly widows were an exception to this rule (as they are to many constraints imposed on women generally), and I developed a certain rapport with a couple of older women, with whom I was able to converse in Urarina at a basic level and in Spanish with the help of a translator. For although I made a concerted effort to learn the Urarina language and, over time, developed a degree of competency in reading and writing, I never learned to speak it well. This was due in no small measure to the complex verbal morphology, which proved particularly difficult to master. As such, I spoke more Spanish than Urarina during my stay. When conversing with women, I often found it most convenient, and reliable, to record their responses to open-ended questions and then transcribe and translate them later. Hence although every effort was made to consider women's perspectives wherever possible, these constraints on the analysis of gender should be taken into consideration. I have little doubt that future work with women will reveal additional perspectives on Urarina society complementary to those elaborated here.

Because of the relative inaccessibility of these communities, visitors are relatively rare. Like many other Amazonian peoples, Urarina are understandably suspicious of outsiders and their intentions, and it took time and patience to build solid working relations of mutual trust. I eventually began to establish rewarding friendships with a small handful of men whose particularly insightful commentaries on a range of matters were of inestimable help in advancing my understandings. Their voices appear from time to time in these pages, and I have made an effort to stay faithful to their distinctive style of speech.

My greatest debt of all is to Lorenzo, without whose intellectual engagement with my project this book could not exist. At the time of my stay, Lorenzo was an aspiring and astute middle-aged man living with his second wife, their three small children, and his widowed mother. As an elected leader, or lieutenant governor (teniente gobernador), of Nueva Unión, he thought constantly about how best to enhance its size and prosperity and was particularly interested in tapping into the resources of the state and its legal system to achieve his ends. While deeply interested in the stories and wisdom of the ancients, he was also a staunch advocate of progress, who regularly implored people to live in a disciplined, "organized," forward-looking manner. I came to admire greatly his resourcefulness, vision, and determination.

Jorge was a young man of roughly my own age who moved to Nueva Unión with his family while I was already residing there following a bitter dispute with his erstwhile neighbors farther upriver. He quickly became a good friend and indispensable assistant and translator. This was no doubt in part because of his own status as a relative outsider and newcomer to the community but also because he had spent a few years in his youth in the city of Iquitos and was comfortable speaking Spanish as well as relatively sensitive to, and understanding of, cultural differences. He also developed a reasonable comprehension of the aims of my project and helped me to explain these to others, alleviating suspicions about my motives. Jorge had two wives-not in itself unusual-but one of them was Lorenzo's mother-in-law. This was anomalous given Lorenzo's seniority in terms of age and was doubtless a source a tension between the two men, who did not often see eye to eye. Other valued companions in the field included Martín, one of the local Urarina schoolteachers who was also originally from another community; and Samuel, one of my nearest neighbors in Nueva Unión, whose tiny ramshackle house-in which I spent much time visiting-was always full of colorful pet birds, from tiny parakeets to imposing trumpeters. A congenial, middle-aged man living with his wife, mother-in-law, and four children, he was always happy to chat, ideally over a bowl of manioc beer prepared by his adolescent daughter.

One reason for including these people's individual voices where possible is to avoid giving the impression of a normativity or conformity that simply does not exist. Amazonian societies tend to be loosely and informally organized, with little emphasis on statuses or roles. They are relatively free of explicit or standardized normative codes and conventions, and there is little by way of a tradition of exegesis. Even within the upper Chambira area, I found that certain beliefs and practices tended to vary from group to group, or even person to person. This is another of the ways in which Urarina society is quite individualistic, and there is often a healthy difference of opinion to be found on a great number of matters.

This may be especially the case with shamanism, a cultural institution of great importance in the everyday lives of many Urarina and which is by its nature highly dependent on individual experience rather than the standardized cultural transmission of ideas. Urarina shamanism is not a restricted domain accessible only to initiates: any man willing to persevere may eventually be considered a coaairi coera, "drinker of psychotropics," by regularly consuming ample quantities over a long period of time of decoctions prepared from ayahausca (Banisteriopsis caapi) or angel's trumpet (Brugmansia suavolens). For the only proper teacher is considered to be the spiritual presence of the plant itself, typically referred to as its "mother" or "owner." For this reason, the term shaman, as used in this book, generally refers to an experienced drinker of psychotropics but not a separate category of person. In Nueva Unión and San Pedro, most men of middle age or above were essentially practicing shamans of one form or another, who drank psychedelics on a regular basis for a diverse array of ends. Although women do sometimes drink infusions of ayahuasca or angel's trumpet, they rarely if ever persevere. Certain men seek to go further by training to become a benane, or sorcerer, one credited with the power to inflict harm on others by mystical means, as well as with enhanced abilities to cure such harm. Such men are considered highly dangerous, though they are also few and ever dwindling in number.

One of my earliest challenges, after my arrival, was adequately conveying, to my own satisfaction, the purpose of my stay. While I was graciously accepted into the community right from the outset, my attempts to explain the anthropological endeavor were generally met with skepticism or incomprehension. Finally Damian, the communal chief of San Pedro, gave me a knowing look. "Ah, yes, now I see," he said, nodding his head. "But if you really want to understand about us Urarina, how we live and so on, we can't tell you all that. You have to drink ayahuasca, and keep drinking and drinking and drinking. It will tell you everything, just like it tells us everything." Though I did not expect the visions induced by this powerful psychoactive infusion to substitute for patient participant observation, Damian's remark certainly brought home to me just how seriously visionary experiences were taken. Anthropologists have long recognized that it is impossible to treat Amazonian ritual practices or cosmological ideas as separate from everyday social life, for these are deeply intertwined. As I have just mentioned, Urarina shamanism is far from a restricted domain of esoteric practice, of interest only to specialists. On the contrary, it comprises a kind of implicit background of shared meanings pervading a wide range of everyday tasks. In the case of infant and early child care, for example, shamanic ritual practices were often considered to be of great importance for ensuring a safe and healthy start to life. People's ideas about matters ranging from right conduct to the nature of the self were typically informed to some extent by religious and healing ceremonies involving the consumption of psychotropics. The resulting visions are deemed authoritative in a way that is difficult for us sometimes to comprehend, far surpassing the relatively unreliable sensory data obtained under normal waking conditions, where appearances are all too often deceiving. Yet such visionary experiences are just one important source of knowledge and of current practices and ideas; historical experiences are another and equally important one.

"The Ancestors Were Already Learning"

Historical information on the Urarina is limited to a smattering of references in the accounts of early missionaries and traders. The first ethnographic portrait was made by Tessman (1930) in the course of his extensive travels through the Peruvian Amazon; his observations have since been supplemented by Castillo (1958, 1961), Ferrúa Carrasco and colleagues (1980), Kramer (1977, 1979), and, finally, Dean (2009), who offers a more extensive historical overview than can be accommodated here. My aim in the following is to enable an understanding of the Urarina as a distinct and unique group vis-à-vis their neighbors and to contextualize some of the salient features of Urarina culture by tracing them, where possible, to historical experiences of trade, warfare, missionization, and the gradual process of incorporation into Peruvian national society.

The Urarina were first contacted in the seventeenth century by Jesuit missionaries, who used the neighboring Cocama and Itucale peoples as guides and intermediaries. By the time the Jesuits entered the western Amazon in 1638, the exchange networks along the Marañon and Huallaga River systems were already under the control of the Tupian Cocama and Omagua, who had begun their migration up the Napo and Marañon some time prior to 1500. Due to their riverine base, superior technology, and warlike disposition, these groups came to play a critical and increasingly dominant role in the region, both trading with and raiding their neighbors. The aggressiveness of the Cocama, who were probably the Urarina's closest trading partners, intensified around the time of Jesuit contact, as a result of the European demand for slaves as well as the indigenous desire for European trade goods. Captives were taken from other groups to "ransom" for trade goods, and by 1640 the Cocama were regularly raiding the entire length of the Huallaga in search of iron tools, captives, and heads (Reeve 1993: 110-11). The decimating effects of disease epidemics contributed to the spiral of violence, and any death attributable to shamanic aggression might be met with retaliation. With their peaceful, even timid disposition, Urarina were likely victims of the raiding warfare into which earlier trade relationships deteriorated following Spanish contact.

The Cocama who assisted the Jesuits to "pacify" the Urarina had in turn been contacted and pacified by the Jevero, who, thanks to their access to European goods, were able to strengthen their position vis-à-vis others (Reeve 1993: 120). As was the pattern elsewhere in the region, proselytization and mission formation followed indigenous alliance networks, and each reinforced the other. The Jesuits eventually came to control regional exchange, and local populations were soon dependent on them for European trade goods, of which iron tools were the principal items. Trade came to center on the exploitation of salt and the exchange of blowgun-dart poison, both activities organized by the missionaries (Reeve 1993: 119). The mission town of San Xavier de Urarinas was founded on the banks of the Chambira in 1738, changing location twice before the Jesuits were expelled in 1767. By this time it had a population of six hundred persons and was considered one of the most established and potentially successful missions to fall under Franciscan jurisdiction (Kramer 1979: 12).

The Jesuit missionary Velasco wrote in the eighteenth century of the challenges faced by his colleagues in coming to terms with the characteristically fluid and independent way of life of the peoples who inhabited the Marañon and its tributaries.

None of them had either small or large town. Divided entirely into separate tribes, with each tribe subdivided into small homesteads, each distant from the other, they were incapable of uniting themselves as a society. They found this abhorrent in the extreme because each family head wanted to be independent, and subject to his natural lord or prince only on the rarest of occasions. They readily offered the missionaries friendship and peace; they promised to subject themselves to their teachings and to receive the gospel, but to speak to them about uniting together in settlements was to hit a sore point, and achieving it was not just arduous, it was impossible.

(Velasco 1979 [1789]: 478)

Velasco further reported that the Urarina traditionally inhabited the interfluvial areas, preferring travel through the jungle by foot to river travel (Costales and Costales 1983: 124), and indeed the people I spoke to also confirmed that their earliest ancestors did not fabricate, or travel in, canoes. Dubbing them the "gypsies of the Marañon," Velasco observed that they traveled overland in "flying squadrons," staying only as long in an area as the duration of a particular fruit or hunt, constructing makeshift huts of leaves and branches.

Velasco's characterizations are revealing. They tell us that the Urarina are relatively marginal to dominant political and economic structures, that they prefer flight to confrontation, and that they have an ethos of passive resistance. These features still structure their relations with outsiders today. The Urarina's peaceful, even submissive disposition contrasts sharply with their famously bellicose Tupian and Jivaroan neighbors. This did not escape the notice of the Franciscan historian Izaguirre (2004: 615), who characterized the Urarina as a calm and pacifist people, who received their first missionaries graciously and benevolently, to the point of appearing obsequious and servile. The surrounding tribes, on the other hand, would in such situations turn hostile and prepare to wage war.

During my time in the field I recorded a number of myths and oral histories dealing with the relations between the Urarina and their neighbors. Many of these concern the Candoshi or other hostile peoples whom the Urarina refer to generically as bacauha. The stories often portray the Urarina as the innocent victims of hostile raiding parties, typically in search of captives and/or brides. Against tremendous odds, the Urarina are forced to defend themselves through a combination of wile and bravery. For example, in one story two Urarina women are kidnapped by a Candoshi raiding party and taken back to their village, where they are raised like pets. They are much admired by their new "owner" for their obedience, though his children continually pester them and eye them hungrily. They are fed all kinds of delicacies, especially pineapple, until they grow tremendously fat. One day, they are sent to fetch firewood, water, and maize to make a giant soup. It dawns on them that they are themselves to be the main ingredient. Without letting on, they dutifully begin dehusking rice and grinding maize for the soup. When they are sent to wash and scrub themselves well, they decide to flee. Luckily, they run into one of their uncles, who happens to be out in the forest, clearing a spot to build himself a small shelter. When they tell him their story, he gathers his companions and concocts a plan, and is finally successful in extracting revenge.

The term bacauha may be translated as "enemy" or "savage," and the people so designated are in many ways considered the diametric opposite of real people or true humans (cacha). Yet rather than simply define themselves as "prey" in relation to enemy "predators," Urarina tend to refuse or ignore the predatory mode of relation altogether, and typically spurn violence, cannibalism, and warfare as the concerns of barbarous, uncivilized "others." Even game animals are thought to be "given" to hunters by divine agents through acts of paternalistic kindness, in response to self-effacing requests. Yet if predation is not the primary model of interaction with the outside, there is nevertheless a distinctive ethos of "protection" or "defense," which figures as an encompassing value in Urarina notions of community and selfhood.

In some ways, notably their aversion to warfare, the Urarina might resemble the better-known Arawakan groups in their vicinity; yet they are quite dissimilar in certain other respects. The emphasis on genealogy and descent, refined agricultural techniques, and tendencies toward complex hierarchical polities that characterize the latter (Santos Granero 2005b) are all lacking among the Urarina. So too are the ritualized greetings characteristic of Arawak speakers, which "serve as reminders of a common humanity and peaceful ethos" (Hornborg 2005: 592). Urarina did not traditionally greet each other at all, and even today do so only occasionally, using forms directly copied from Spanish. That said, analysis of the kinship terminology does suggest a historical shift away from a two-line prescriptive system to a generational system, such that many cross-parallel distinctions are blurred, cousins are classified with siblings, and a certain exogamous ideology has come to the fore (see Walker 2009b). In other words, in place of an earlier marriage rule specifying a particular category of relative, there is now only a prohibition on marrying close kin, meaning that people seek spouses from ever further afield. This could be taken to reflect growing interest in long-term trade and a social system more accommodating of outsiders, which is at least comparable to the case of Arawakan groups such as the Matsiguenga or Piro (see, e.g., Henley 1996: 49-50). In addition, the cultural importance placed on relationships of trust, friendship, and love with both fellow humans and nonhumans, rather than exclusively corporeal idioms of shared substance, is in line with recent discussions of Matsiguenga and Amuesha sociality by Rosengren (2006) and Santos Granero (2007) respectively.

Urarina experience with missions was fairly moderate compared to that of many other groups, such as the Cocama and Cocamilla living farther downstream. Though they are broadly familiar with Christian idioms such as God and the Devil, sin, the Bible, and so on, it would be highly misleading to describe them as Christian. Nevertheless, the figure of the missionary or "priest" (batiri, from the Spanish padre) enjoys a special prominence in Urarina historical consciousness. Although long absent from the Chambira, priests are still almost wistfully spoken of as educators and benefactors, sources of gifts and important moral knowledge on how to lead a "civilized" life. The following story, told to me by a highly respected old man named Tivorcio, might be considered fairly typical.

A long time ago, from the time of our creation, there was a priest. And the people got drunk, earlier, and the women had no shame, they used only tiny coverings that scarcely concealed their vaginas. That priest hardly weighed anything, like a bag of cotton wool. He made them learn to feel embarrassed, and speaking to them thus, he taught them. Before, the women would simply sit down on a fire log, without shame, hardly covering their vagina, and we could see it. Really. That's why the priest told them, that's no good, one must cover up, like this. When he spoke like this, the women learned, they learned to be embarrassed. When you get drunk, dance like this, he told them, that's how you dance, and with that the women learned everything. The men also learned. The men used to string up their penises out in the open, but then they started wearing clothing. They were already learning. That's how it's done for all us men.

Other accounts also lend credence to Izaguirre's depictions of the submissive welcome extended to Spanish missionaries, discussed earlier. But they reveal too a deeper level of anxieties and suspicions in people's attitudes to outsiders. Due to their "fear" or "ignorance" (not to mention a resistance to the sedentary lifestyles promoted by missionaries), the Urarina first contacted by these priests are said to have fled into the forest, terrified of being taken to the city as captives. Instead of receiving the gifts on offer, they invoked the wrath of their well-intentioned visitors. Such attitudes toward priests, both then and now, form part of broader interpretive structures that continue to inform constructions of some non-Urarina, including or especially divine beings. Complementary to perceptions of their Jivaroan and Candoshi enemies, certain other, no less powerful outsiders are here seen as benevolent, paternalistic providers of knowledge and other important gifts necessary for living well. Again somewhat reminiscent of the Amuesha case (Santos Granero 1991), power may be conjoined with love such that hierarchy is reconstructed as nurture and thereby legitimized-even if there is always a lingering degree of ambivalence.

After the expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767, the Marañon region was increasingly characterized by a nascent capitalism in which bosses and traders would exploit native labor in exchange for Western goods (Kramer 1979:13). Although rubber was not tapped along the Chambira itself, some Urarina were captured and relocated, and many others worked as debt peons for local patrones, periodically retreating into more inaccessible zones to avoid the perils of contact. By the middle of the twentieth century, the Urarina living on the Chambira River were in more or less continuous contact with whites. While continuing to derive income from extracted forest resources, the region entered a phase of commercial agriculture, characteristically dominated by "feudal" estates (San Roman 1975: 168-90). Some Urarina were bonded to such an estate located on the Marañon River at the mouth of the Chambira. With the gradual improvement of transportation facilities, especially air transport, the jungle region was further integrated into Peruvian national life. In the wake of this increased commercialization, a degree of competition emerged between a variety of entrepreneurs wishing to gain control of indigenous labor. In 1943 the Augustian priest Villarejo described the Urarina as being "submissive to whites" and quite willing to work for patronesor sell products to traders (Kramer 1979:16). These same patroneswere nevertheless prone to threaten and even torture or imprison unwilling laborers, as confirmed by any number of collective memories and oral histories.

The name Shimacu was used commonly through the early twentieth century by neighboring peasantor ribereñocommunities,and it may still be heard today in the region, although Urarina themselves consider it derogatory. According to Dean (2009: 31), Shimacu derives etymologically from cimarrón, which in the Iberian Americas originally signified escaped feral livestock, then runaway Indian slave. There are echoes here of notions of "taming" or "domesticating" that are still quite important in Urarina culture, as well as the tendencies toward submissiveness and evasiveness that were first flagged by Velasco two centuries earlier. At least for some of their trade partners and neighbors, then, these tendencies had perhaps even come to define the Urarina as a group.

In 1960 a couple from the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) began living and working with the Urarina, and have done so intermittently over the past several decades. The effects of this presence have been subtle and complex. In addition to being instrumental in introducing formal schooling, particularly literacy training, this husband and wife team helped to found the first Comunidad Nativa (Native Community)-the official landholding entity recognized by Peruvian law-setting an example that other communities soon followed. Although relatively few Urarina have "converted" to Christianity as a result of this missionary presence, at least so far as I could ascertain, it may have reinforced the importance of a number of apparently Christian themes already discernible within the "traditional" mythology and cosmology, which were presumably embedded in local idioms over the centuries following exposure to mission life. For example, one myth tells of how the son of God was sent to teach the Urarina how to lead a better life. Despite his ability to work miracles, such as turning tiny fish into big fish to feed the masses, the ancient Urarina refused to listen and ended up burying him in the sand.

In recent decades petroleum exploration has brought new migrants into the region and spurred the development of a local timber industry, as well as an increase in commercial agricultural production. Although lumbering is highly regarded by Urarina as a potentially lucrative enterprise, it is undertaken only intermittently, and always at the initiative of traders and private entrepreneurs (figure 2). During the period of my fieldwork, easily the most important commercial activity undertaken was the extraction of edible palm hearts, particularly from the huasai palm (Euterpe precatoria). Not consumed by Urarina, these are sold by traders to a cannery in Iquitos, as well as to local vendors. The Chambira is allegedly the largest single source of edible palm hearts in the Department of Loreto. Urarina exchange palm hearts and other forest products with mestizotraders under the system of habilitación. Desired goods such as shotgun cartridges, batteries, salt, or kerosene are advanced by itinerant fluvial traders on credit as they wind their way slowly upriver, incurring a debt that their Urarina clients must then work off, preferably by extracting the equivalent value of forest produce by the time the trader returns on his way downriver to Iquitos. Such transactions are of considerable ideological significance, rivaling hunting and gardening as bases for Urarina constructions of their cultural identity.

After being substantially reduced in number following contact, primarily as a result of disease, the Urarina population today is thriving. Despite their long and intensive history of contact, they have retained a strong cultural and ethnic identity. Although many Urarina are bilingual, all use the Urarina language exclusively among themselves, and even the majority of schoolteachers are native speakers drawn from other Urarina communities. Barring the occasional (unsubstantiated) rumor of some feared bacauha appearing in Urarina territory, contact with other indigenous groups is currently negligible. The Cocama, perhaps the group historically in closest contact, made a more or less conscious effort to erase their indigenous identity some decades ago, and most of the Urarina's other erstwhile trading partners, such as the Jebero, Omagua, Omurana, and Lamista, have more or less disappeared.

Social and political integration into the Peruvian nation has nevertheless been slow. State presence in the region is mostly limited to the locally elected lieutenant governors (teniente gobernadores), on whom it confers nominal disciplinary power, a small primary health care outpost in the community of Nueva Esperanza, and modest funding for local schoolteachers. In the early 1990s the Fujimori government donated a number of aluminum dinghies to Urarina communities as part of its incentives to form Native Communities, effectively raising awareness of the potential benefits of political participation, although most of these have long since fallen into disrepair. The vast majority of Urarina living on the upper Chambira do not possess a national identity card (DNI), which is more than symbolic of their exclusion from national society; depriving them of suffrage, it effectively ensures their irrelevance to regional governments, which naturally prefer to focus their attentions on their voting constituency.

The continuing social isolation of the Urarina is due in large part to the geographic isolation of the Chambira River but also to Urarina people's deeply entrenched indifference to, and mistrust of, most forms of political organization. The Urarina were one of the last indigenous groups in Peru to form a representative organization, and the impetus to do so at all began as a mandate of the nongovernmental organization CEDIA (Centro para el Desarrollo del Indígena Amazónico), which has worked most intensively with Urarina communities along the Tigrillo, an affluent of the lower Chambira. The president and other officials of the indigenous organization, known as CURCHA (Consejo Urarina del Río Chambira), were drawn from these communities and supported financially by CEDIA, leading to a widespread sentiment, along the upper Chambira, that CURCHA is not representative of the Urarina people as a whole. In recent years the reach of CURCHA has been limited further by the increasing power of the Red Educativa, an institutional arm of the bilingual education program established by the SIL missionaries, though it remains to be seen whether this will develop into a rival ethnopolitical organization.

Urarina occupation of the Chambira basin is not entirely uniform; the lower stretches of the river are populated by mestizocommunities; several live further upriver also. Where mestizos otherwise live in Urarina communities, usually after having married an Urarina woman, they tend to enjoy positions of influence. Many of the Urarina communities appear to cluster together into loosely endogamous units, defined by a higher density of matrimonial alliances within them than between them, and certain dialectical and other linguistic differences (e.g., forms of ritual discourse) are discernible. Mobility patterns are complex and not limited to uxorilocal residence patterns, but there is a certain territoriality that prompts people often to return to the general area of their birth. Several decades ago a group of Urarina crossed by land to the Corrientes River, where at least two sizable communities are now flourishing. In 2006 a small group of Urarina left the Chambira to join with a mestizotown on the banks of the Marañon, though it remains to be seen if the move will prove permanent. Migration patterns appear otherwise virtually nonexistent. A very small handful of Urarina are known to have moved to Iquitos but in almost all cases are reported to have lost contact with their families entirely and renounced their former indigenous identity.

Nevertheless, the marks of change from the past half century or so are clear. For example, in place of the earlier system of debt bondage, based on strong hierarchical and occasionally coercive patron-client relationships, traders now have to compete against each other for native labor, potentially paving the way for the emergence of a market economy. Most people lead more sedentary lifestyles and live in larger communities than ever before, and this is associated with growing dependency on imported foodstuffs and manufactured goods. The majority of children attend school, even if literacy rates remain low, while resolutions to disputes or conflicts are today as likely to be sought through legal avenues as through traditional techniques of shamanic vengeance. Many people appear deeply ambivalent about these and other changes, and it is possible to discern two very distinct ethnohistorical discourses, one celebrating the ascendance of Urarina people into "civilization" from a state of ignorance and relative "savagery" and interminable feuding and another warning of an impending apocalypse as an unavoidable consequence of the gradual but tragic disappearance of the shamanic knowledge necessary for forestalling it. In a similar vein, material wealth in the form of watches, radios, outboard motors, and so on increasingly orients people's desires and structures their expectations. Yet these goods are also intimately associated with the devil, who is said to be their source and true "owner" and who punishes the souls of those who possess them in his celestial fire. In some other respects, however, life on the upper Chambira River continues much as it has since the times of the ancients, an assertion endlessly reiterated in the various genres of ritual discourse. Most of the inhabitants here remain perfectly content to continue making a living in the ways they know best: hunting the animals placed in the forest by the Creator, toiling in their gardens to reap the rewards of their labor, and so on; but above all by standing-leaned-together as real people must, seeking out that ever elusive balance between the various, sometimes contradictory ingredients indispensable for living well.

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