In Brenda Bowser's article “The Amazonian House,” she relates a story of a typical local political interaction in lowland Amazonian Ecuador. In Runa culture, illness and death in the family are always considered to be the effects of spirit darts or 'brujería' sent by another community member, usually out of jealousy or malice. Therefore the appropriate response to a death in one's family is to ascertain who is responsible for the murder and take action against that person. This is the situation in the narrative at the beginning of Bowser's article, which is where the politics of the Amazonian household begin to come into play: a man's daughter has died and a friend encourages him to keep the peace rather than seeking vengeance for his daughter's death because the negative consequences of such a conflict will be too great. This advice is received in the context of drinking aswa or chicha beer together in the house. The ritual of sharing aswa that is served by the wife of the host and the stylized conversation in this situation is key to the resolution of conflict.
Bowser’s goal in the article is to explain the role of pottery, and thereby women's work, in political interactions. Bowser's method of research was to stay in the community for nine months conducting interviews and observing interactions in order to get a feel for the social and political alliances and interactions of community members. She presents a few of her conclusions in the article, stating how women affect political interactions and how the spheres of male and female politics are separated in public but overlap in the home through the conversations between husbands and wives. She points out that women have political influence and mediating abilities and that their pottery and houses have an impact on these situations as well. The article is a good introduction to the connection between material culture and politics.
This article does not relate directly to my linguistic research but it provides useful cultural information about people in the same area of the Amazon as those that I am interested in. The article also describes how these small communities mediate conflict, which is important to understand when doing field work in the area.
-Kohn, Eduardo. "How Dogs Dream: Amazonian Natures and the Politics of Transspecies Engagement." American Ethnologist 34.1 (2007): 3-24. Print.
Kohn’s goal in this article is to broaden the study of anthropology and ethnography to include nonhuman participants. He uses Runa society as both the subject (through their interactions with dogs) and an example of a people who interact with nonhuman species in a much different way than the cultural academic tradition of the West. Kohn argues that anthropology will benefit from viewing the world (ie other species) as an active rather than a passive participant with humans in everyday life. He points out that humans interact with other beings in a two-way relationship rather than simply imposing their will on the world.
Kohn uses an ethnographic description of Runa people interacting with their dogs as his method of persuasion. According to Kohn's observation of Runa culture, animals and plants are seen as “selves” much as humans are. Though Kohn acknowledges that humans are distinct creatures, he wants to broaden ethnography to give a similar kind of recognition to the wider world.
Kohn creates a strong argument for a shift in paradigms that would result in the expansion of the anthropological field. Kohn's treatment of nonhuman subjects in reference to Runa culture is very relevant to my research because it helps to describe the worldview of the Runa people in an area that is very different from Western, academic and American (US) culture. This difference is also evident in the Kichwa language, especially in their traditional and mythological narratives as well as their use of sound-symbolic adjectives and evidential suffixes in the narrative context. All of these aspects of the language also relate to the issue of embodying and relating to other selves, in varying levels of anthropomorphism. I also like Kohn's emphasis on communication between human and nonhuman selves, which shows his appreciation of the importance of language. (Another great source for exploration of Runa perspectives and relationships with nonhuman selves is Lessons from a Quechua Strongwoman, by Janis Nuckolls.)
-Swanson, Tod. "Singing to Estranged Lovers: Runa Relations to Plants in the Ecuadorian Amazon." Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture 3.1 (2009): 36-65. Print.
In this article Swanson discusses the relationship between Quichua-speaking Ecuadorian Runa and plants. He uses ritual songs that are sung to the plants and mythical stories about their human origins as the evidence for their relations to these species. In the article Swanson uses two main songs sung to plants before harvesting from them and one story about the origin of two plants used for pigment as examples. Through the songs he shows that plants are seen as individuals to whom Runa people relate, singing in order to convince the plant (or the person inside the plant perhaps) to be helpful, almost like we might ask a friend a favor. These songs also contain an element of male-female romantic relations, which Swanson explains by stating that the singer is relating to the plant as a potential lover, using courtship traditions to induce a gift from the spirit of the plant.
Swanson is successful in portraying a relationship between Runa and plants that is more like a human, interactive relationship that a relationship between a human and an inanimate object. Unlike the Western habit of perceiving plants only in terms of the quantity of their usefulness to humans (which is based in traditions of Western philosophy and religion), Runa people see plants as individual beings and only expect to harvest some benefit from them after performing the proper rituals in order to convince them.
I think that the article makes it seem as though Runa relations to other species can be entirely encompassed within the descriptions of children or lovers, and this is perhaps too narrow a categorization for the complexity of Runa relations to their surroundings. However the article addresses the Runa perspective in an insightful way based on the evidence presented and years of fieldwork and living in a Runa community (in fact, Swanson married a Runa woman). The article was good practice of my Quichua language skills to read the original text of the songs and stories, and it helped me understand the use of language when dealing with nature and language as a performance and a speech action in Runa culture.