Indigenous Rights and Development: Self-Determination in an Amazonian Community

Indigenous Rights and Development: Self-Determination in an Amazonian Community

Indigenous Rights and Development: Self-Determination in an Amazonian Community

Indigenous Rights and Development: Self-Determination in an Amazonian Community

Synopsis

The Arakmbut are an indigenous people who live in the Madre de Dios region of thesoutheastern Peruvian rain forest. Since their first encounters with missionaries in the 1950s,they have shown resilience and a determination to affirm their identity in the face of many difficulties. During the last fifteen years, Arakmbut survival has been under threat from a goldrush that has attracted hundreds of colonists onto their territories. This trilogy of books traces the ways in which the Arakmbut overcome the dangers that surround them: their mythology and cultural strength; their social flexibility; and their capacity to incorporate non-indigenous concepts and activities into their defence strategies. Each area is punctuated by the constant presence of the invisible spirit, which provides a seamless theme connecting the books to each other.

Following the Arakmbuts' recommendation, the author uses their three greatest myths to introduce social, cultural and historical aspects of their lives. He ends with a discussion of the relationship between myth and history showing how the Arakmbut recreate their myths at the dramatic moments of their history.

Excerpt

T he Arakmbut are an indigenous people who live in the Madre de Dios region of the southeastern Peruvian rainforest. They are one of seven Harakmbut peoples all of which belong to the same linguistic family and which number in total about two thousand people. Despite having been known as Mashco and Amarakaeri during their forty years of contact with Peruvian national society, the people of the community of San José del Karene, with whom I have lived periodically since 1980, request that they be known as 'Arakmbut'.

Since their first encounters with missionaries in the 1950s, the Arakmbut have shown resilience and determination to affirm their identity in the face of difficulty. For the last fifteen years, the Arakmbut have been under threat from a gold rush that has attracted hundreds of colonists onto their territories.

This trilogy traces the ways in which the Arakmbut strive to overcome the dangers that surround them: They use their mythology to reinforce cultural strength; they demonstrate social flexibility in the face of alien peoples; and they show a discriminating capacity to incorporate positive non-indigenous concepts and activities into their defence strategies. Each of these factors reflects the constant presence of the invisible spirit world, which provides a theme connecting these books to each other.

The mythology of the Arakmbut is extremely important to them and to the way in which they perceive the world. On my departure from the community of San José del Karene after two years in 1981, 1 was told by several elders that I should write up my material around the three central myths. The first volume of this trilogy looks at each of these myths in order to introduce different facets of Arakmbut life.

The first myth, 'Wanamey', tells of the origins of the Arakmbut, the visible world and their social and cultural existence. It provides . . .

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