Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Equivalence, Personhood and Relationality: Processes of Relatedness among the Hoti of Venezuelan Guiana

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Equivalence, Personhood and Relationality: Processes of Relatedness among the Hoti of Venezuelan Guiana

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Petit groupe de chasseurs-horticulteurs isoles dans le centre de la Guyane venezuelienne, les Hotis sont peut-etre L'un des peuples les plus egalitaires decrits dans l'ethnographie amazonienne. L'endogamie villageoise est un element tres important de leur societe et l'obligation d'epouser [??]des semblables[??] (et non des etrangers), a laquelle s'ajoutcnt la petite taille des villages et l'absence de notion notion de parente genealogique, aboutit frequemment a des mariages entre proches parents genealogiques, souvent entre freres et soeurs. Les notions [??]d'inceste[??] et de son [??]interdit[??] n'ont aucun sens pour les Hotis, puisqu'il he saurait y avoir d'inceste sans genealogie. Plutot qu'a. l'absence [??]d'interdit de l'inceste[??], j'ai voulu m'interesser aux modalites de l'apparentement chez les Hotis, revelees par cette etonnante [??]absence[??]. Les liens de parente entre les Hotis se fondent sur le vecu et non sur la genealogie et s'appuient sur des connaissances cosmologiques qui s'averent sous-tendre leur structure sociale exceptionnellement egalitaire.

The Hoti (1) are a group of about seven hundred semi-nomadic Amerindian people living by hunting, gathering, and slash-and-burn farming in the mountainous tropical forest of the Serrania de Maigualida in central Venezuelan Guiana, building their houses and cutting their gardens at altitudes of between 150 and 1,000m, with most people living between 300 and 600 m. This is a country of dense forests, streams, and fast-flowing small rivers, none of which are navigable. The core of the territory, which is exclusively occupied by the Hoti, is an area of approximately 10,000 [km.sup.2]. This is surrounded by a wider zone of about 20,000 [km.sup.2] which is well known to the Hoti as a hunting-ground, though it is not generally settled or gardened by them. For the neighbours of the Hoti, that is, the more-or-less sedentary Amerindian peoples who inhabit the surrounding lowland areas, the whole vast mountainous region where Hoti live, garden, and hunt is thought of as inhospitable and unsuitable for gardens. More than half of the Hoti population live in two mission villages: Kayama in the north, which was founded in 1982 by Roman Catholic nuns from Colombia, and Carlo Iguana in the south, which was established in the early 1970s by the North American New Tribes Mission. Despite this proximity to the missions, almost all the Hoti are monolingual in their own language. The Hoti's neighbours to the west are the Piaroa, Yabarana, and Hiwi; to the south and east, the Ye'kuana and Sanema; and to the north, the Panare. (See Map.)

Hoti sociality does not recognize any idea of genealogical connection between persons. Perhaps the most striking consequence for anthropological understandings of relatedness is that, for the Hoti, neither the notion of 'incest' nor its 'prohibition' are meaningful. What I discovered over the course of my fieldwork is that most groups among the Hoti place an emphasis (amounting almost to an imperative) on settlement endogamy, a preference which is found throughout the Guiana region. (2) However, unlike other Guianese societies, the Hoti have no expressed incest prohibition. Indeed, sibling marriage is a preferred option in some groups, accounting for 18 per cent of all marriages in the population living in the northern half of Hoti territory. I found one example of father-daughter marriage that had produced children, but no existing mother-son marriages. In this article I will examine how the Hoti establish processes of personal relatedness in the absence of genealogical classification.

'Incest' has, in the past, exercised a particular fascination for anthropologists but its absence in this case, as either a concept or a prohibition, should not be viewed as an exotic anomaly. My examination of Hoti relatedness is intended to illuminate Hoti cosmological thought more generally, in which context this supposed lack reveals an epistemology that is based upon neither genealogical ways of thought nor classificatory logic. …

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