Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Of Fear and Friendship: Amazonian Sociality beyond Kinship and affinity./La Crainte et L'amitie: La Socialite Amazonienne, Entre Parente et Affinite

Academic journal article Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

Of Fear and Friendship: Amazonian Sociality beyond Kinship and affinity./La Crainte et L'amitie: La Socialite Amazonienne, Entre Parente et Affinite

Article excerpt

  In the matters of lending, assistance in work, and sociability,
  friendship plays at least as large a functional part as does mere
  kinship, which, when it stands alone, implies for the most part, as
  among ourselves, rights and duties frequently less vital than those of
  friendship.
  Gillin 1975 [1936]: 99

This article is concerned with how sociality in its broadest sense--that is, as a domain that includes relations with alien and even spirit beings--is understood and constructed by Amazonian indigenous peoples. (1) I will analyse trading partnerships, shamanic alliances, and mystical associations with other-worldly beings, as instances of the creation of spaces of sociality with ambiguous others. The focus, therefore, is on the little-studied issue of friendship, which I view as an alternative mode of relationship in the forging of native Amazonian sociality. In so doing, I seek to problematize prevailing views of Amerindian social life, which place emphasis either on consanguinity, conviviality, and identity, or on affinity, predation, and alterity (see Overing & Passes 2000; Viveiros de Castro 1996a). Labelled respectively the 'moral economy of intimacy' and the 'symbolic economy of alterity', these two approaches, which Viveiros de Castro (1996a) viewed as distinct but not exclusive analytical styles, have subsequently been represented by Taylor (1996) as opposed and disparate theoretical positions and schools of thought. This was an unfortunate turn, for it transformed what was originally a ternary view of Amazonian studies--Viveiros de Castro's original formulation included a third approach labelled the 'political economy of control'--into a dualistic, 'either/or' type of formula. Furthermore, it transformed what originally were conceived of as different theoretical emphases into inflexible models of native Amazonian sociality.

If, as it is argued, Amazonian sociality is only about kinship or affinity, conviviality or predation, how are we to interpret the many relationships between non-kin that are phrased in the idiom of friendship? The need to examine this type of relationships, somewhat obscured today by the over-emphasis on consanguinity and affinity, was pointed out some time ago, without it leading, however, to more detailed research. Viveiros de Castro (1993: 178) has drawn attention to a wide variety of social relationships that fall neither into the sphere of convivial kinship, nor into that of predatory affinity, articulating the need for a Lowland South American theory of non-kin relationships. On the basis of C.S. Peirce's notion of 'thirdness', he and Riviere have stressed the importance of those social relationships that in the highly dualistic Amazonian indigenous societies mediate 'between the same and the other, the inside and outside, friend and enemy, living and dead' (Riviere 1993: 512). As an interstitial institution (Suttles 1970: 97; Wolf 1977: 168), friendship offers new avenues through which to explore the nature of sociality in native Amazonia. This article is meant as an initial step in this direction.

In native Amazonia, at least three spheres exist in which relations of amicability can be established with 'others'. The first sphere is that of familial others, or the 'others who are not', that is, people with whom ego is already related through links of consanguinity and affinity of varying degrees of closeness. Examples of friendship in this sphere are Ge ceremonial formal friendships, but also some instances of Jivaro amigri relationships (Da Matta 1982: 87-93; Harner 1973:125). The second sphere is that of neighbouring others, or the 'others within', those who belong to ego's ethnic group but are separated from ego by either social or geographical distance. Instances of friendship in this domain are the Arawete apihi-piha sexual friends (Viveiros de Castro 1992:167-78) and the Piro compadres (Gow 1991: 174-8). Finally, there is the sphere of foreign others, or the 'others without', that is, persons who do not belong to ego's ethnic group and are generally considered as enemies. …

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