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Accepted Paper:

The concept of ancestry between political use of molecular biology and indigenous territory, understood as a relationship between the living and the dead  


Laura Volpi (State University of Milan (Unimi))

Paper short abstract:

This paper wants to examine the political category of ancestry, applied to indigenous territory. An ethnographic study, conducted in the Peruvian Amazon forest, highlights how the rhizomatic native vision of the environment can incorporate and reinterpret a genealogical-genetic model of land.

Paper long abstract:

Kichwa indigenous people of the Peruvian Amazon Forest have been facing, for several years, a territorial conflict due to the establishment of a Regional Conservation Area on their homelands. In order to question the legitimacy of native claims, the Regional Government of San Martín puts forward the hypothesis of the Andean kichwa migration. On the other hand, several NGOs hope to help this native people, using some biomolecular investigations (Sandoval et al., 2016; Barbieri et al., 2017) that scientifically certify its Amazonian origins and, consequently, its ancestral relationship with the surrounding territories. However, the natives seem lukewarm to the uncritical acquisition of a strategic discourse based on the rhetoric of 'temporal primacy' and continue to consider their own territorial claims using a "relational model" of the environment (Ingold, 2000). Thus, despite having assimilated an ancestral-genetic discourse, they reshape it in light of a native conception of territory. The latter, far from being considered an inheritance transmitted from one generation to the other, is seen as a complex network of present and active relationships between the living, the dead and medical plants. This ethnographic case highlights a big misunderstanding about the concepts of "ancestry" and "territory" whose meaning, in the native sphere, overcomes limits imposed by national jurisdiction and legal terminology. It is, in fact, in the permanent presence of ancestor's intentionality (accentuated by the consumption of plants) that we can identify the real meaning of the ancestral link between natives and territory.

Panel B05a
Re-presenting Indigenous territorialities