Accepted paper:

Moral outrage and anthropological knowledge: what will stop the extermination of native Amazonians in voluntary isolation?


Laura Rival (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

20 ‘uncontacted’ Huaorani were slaughtered and 2 girls kidnapped in retaliation for the killing of two ‘civilised Huaorani’. The Ecuadorian state abducted the girls and sent 6 warriors to jail. I analyse my attempts to make sense of the events and end with a reflection on ontological politics.

Paper long abstract:

I am writing this paper to clarify my ideas about moral relativism and ontological politics, and the ethical issues that Amazonianist anthropology has raised since the publication of Darkness in El Dorado. In retaliation for the 'spear killing' of a 'civilised' Huaorani couple (5 March 2013), 20 'uncontacted' Huaorani women and children were slaughtered, and two female children kidnapped (25 March). After months of evasiveness, the Ecuadorian state finally reacted by abducting the two little girls, and sending six warriors to jail (26 November). Each of these actions caused a moral outrage locally, nationally, and internationally. The paper discusses the ways in which I was successively called by Huaorani friends, Ecuadorian anthropologists, the police, and indigenous rights campaigners to use my knowledge and expertise to advise on the best course of action. I analyse my phronetic attempts to make sense of the events while remaining an objective witness, and my feelings of powerlessness. The feeling of not knowing all the facts, of being manipulated through hidden agendas, and of being an outsider all played an important part in the decisions I made throughout the crisis. I end with a reflection on the tension between explaining facts, behaviour, and values on the one hand, and guiding action on the other.

panel P38
Moral certainty and ambiguity in research: anthropology's enlightenment legacies and the politics of ethnography