Accepted paper:

Resources of hope: reactivating Indigenous biocultural heritage in the upper Rio Negro, Brazil


Luciana Martins (Birkbeck, University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the potential and challenges of working collaboratively with Indigenous researchers in the context of an interdisciplinary research programme on the biocultural collections ammassed by Richard Spruce (Kew Gardens & British Museum), and Koch-Grünberg (Berlin Ethnological Museum).

Paper long abstract:

Botanist Richard Spruce spent 15 years collecting specimens and making notes as he travelled through the Amazon and the Andes in the mid-nineteenth century, bringing home tools and ceremonial objects used by Indigenous peoples, now held in storage at Kew Gardens and the British Museum. Fifty years later, similar artefacts were collected by the German ethnologist Theodor Koch-Grünberg for the Ethnological Museum in Berlin. This paper focusses on an ongoing research programme aimed at building capacity in Brazil to research, catalogue and mobilise data from these biocultural collections, developing these resources for improved understanding of the useful and cultural properties of plants. It aims to build collaborative relationships, making biocultural collections and associated data accessible online, and above all to strengthen capacity of indigenous communities on the Rio Negro for autonomous research into material culture and plant use. Considering the trajectories of selected objects from the field to the archive and back to the field again, I ask: how can the stories of these objects be told, taking into account not only what they were made to be, but what they have become? what difference does it make to our understanding of these objects if we consider their mobility through different spatio-temporalities - those enmeshed in the field but also in the metropolitan archive? how can indigenous and scientific knowledge be displayed successfully, establishing meaningful ontologies for knowledge platforms within this context? how can knowledge about specific useful plants circulate considering a constructive, culturally appropriate engagement with local communities?

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Reactivating Ethnobotanical Collections in the Anthropology Museum