Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon

Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon

Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon

Families of the Forest: The Matsigenka Indians of the Peruvian Amazon

Synopsis

An ethnographic account of how and why a native American people live in autonomous, self-sufficient family groups along the Amazon frindge in the foothills of the Peruvian Andes.

Excerpt

I did the fieldwork that forms the basis of this ethnography between 1971 and 1980 in southeastern Peru. I had always intended to write it up as an ethnography and in fact had already drawn up an outline for a book by fall 1972, within a few months of beginning serious fieldwork in the Matsigenka community of Shimaa. But I felt I had rushed my previous ethnography (Johnson 1971) into print before I had taken the time to analyze all the data and to understand more fully what I had learned during fieldwork. Not wanting to make that mistake again, I set about writing a series of articles describing more limited issues in Matsigenka life and in methodology and theory that arose as I worked up my data. Those projects led me to new theoretical questions and also gradually made it clear that I had to reconfigure my data if I were to get the information I needed from them. Time passes more quickly than any sensible person would like, and so it is that I find myself, more than two decades after my last visit to the Matsigenka, finally having completed the ethnography I first conceived of thirty years ago.

From my perspective, the long lag time between first exploratory field trip and final manuscript preparation has had a particularly significant benefit: I have come to see the Matsigenka as an important case study in the way of life common to what Steward (1955) called “the family level of sociocultural integration. ”; Familiar with his concept from reading Theory of Culture Change, I had nonetheless not made the connection to the Matsigenka as a family level society while I was in the field. But in writing about them and in discussing them with colleagues, I came to recognize that they were an excellent example of his con-

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