The shifting ground of 'civilization': Amahuaca people's engagement with missionation and modernity in lowland Peru
Christopher Hewlett (University of St Andrews)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines connections between Amahuaca people in the Peruvian lowlands and the Summer Institute of Linguistics from the early 1950s until the mid 1990s with particular focus on changing notions of political personhood and civilization.
Paper long abstract:
This paper examines connections between Amahuaca people in the Peruvian lowlands and the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) from the early 1950s until the mid 1990s. The first mission was founded in 1953 at the headwaters of the Inuya River with the primary aim of integrating Amahuaca people into wider Peruvian society. Over the course of the forty-year period in which the SIL actively engaged with Amahuaca people wider society and systems of governance underwent major transformations. By focusing on three specific moments in time (1950s, 1970s and 1990s) the aim is to examine how responses by the SIL to government and international pressures articulated with and/or diverged from the expectations and aspirations of Amahuaca people. While the initial project began in terms of 'saving' Amahuaca people, aims that were embedded in wider notions of modernization and national integration, by the 1990s the mission was seen as being only partly successful by the government and SIL based on new and very detailed criteria. These criteria correspond to wider shifts based on specific notions of individual agency, divisions of labor and representative democracy. In short, although Amahuaca people remain at the periphery of regional social and political life due to their participation in the SIL project they have come to perceive of themselves as part of wider society and are seeking ways to integrate that often contradict fundamental expectations stemming from the shifting ground of modernity and civilization.
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