Amazonian Religion and Nature
Contact Hours: 45
Instructor: Tod Swanson
Program Pitt in Ecuador
The course examines Amazonian religious life as cultural way of engaging nature as human-like and alive. It thus explores cultural knowledge of water, weather, plant and animal life seeking to uncover underlying assumptions that constitute a systematic, if implicit, religious philosophy of nature. It also teaches students how to ask key questions and to carry out qualitative ethnographic research in the Cultural Anthropology and the Humanities. How do Amazonian people understand their relatedness to a natural world believed to be alive and human-like? How do they understand the hidden social lives of plants and animals. What is believed to cause new species to emerge or to become extinct? How are human emotions related to the seasonal cycle of rains? How is plant and animal ecology believed to serve as a model for understanding human society and vice versa. What aesthetic, emotional or religious practices were developed to create bonds of empathy or communication between human beings and the natural world.
At the completion of this course, students will be able to:
• Give a basic description of Andean/Amazonian religious relation to land, plants and animals
• Analyze an Amazonian narratives on plant and animal origins to determine its underlying assumptions
• Articulate how relations to the land mediate relations to family.
• Describe Native thinking about the key emotions and patterns of behavior that hold a group of relatives together with
their land or tear them apart.
• Describe Native practices of listening and speaking with the land or responding to the land.
• Articulate how nature works as a pattern for organizing Amazonian social life and conversely, how social life works as a model for understanding nature.
• Carry out simple qualitative research in Cultural Anthropology and the Humanities.
• Understand the aesthetics of Amazonian engagement of other species.
• Articulate how people came into a special relation to the forest and animals as they matured.
• Articulate patterns of similarity that distinguish Native stories of encounters with animals and their world
Method of Instruction
This course is a field course which teaches students how to elicit and analyze indigenous knowledge of nature. Because Amazonian cultures are oral cultures their knowledge of nature has not been codified in texts but rather in origin stories, art, songs, prohibitions and patterns of speech for addressing nature. It is thus these materials which the course teaches students to analyze.
Assignments and Grading Procedure
Grades reflect your performance on assignments and adherence to deadlines. Graded assignments will be available
within 48 hours of the due date via the Gradebook. 3 tests for a total of 46% (Test 1: 15%; Test 2: 15%; Test 3: 16%). These tests are primarily multiple choice intended to measure comprehension and the ability to apply concepts learned from the assigned videos, readings and lectures.
4 essays of 400 words each that critically examine the readings, videos, or field engagement of indigenous culture . The essays are due by end of day each Friday and should be posted through that weeks forum on the discussion board. (11% each for a total of 44%)
Descola, Phillipe. In the Society of Nature: A Native Ecology in Amazonia. Cambridge University Press, 1996 .
Muratorio, Blanca. The Life and Times of Grandfather Alonso: Culture and History in the Upper Amazon. Rutgers University Press, 1991.
Overing, Joanna and Alan Passes. The Anthropology of Love and Anger: The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia, Routledge Press, 2000.
Swanson, Tod. Singing to Estranged Relatives: Quichua Relations to Plants in the Ecuadorian Amazon. Journal of Religion and Culture, Vol 3.1 (2009) 36-65.
Saturday, July 2. Arrive in Quito
Sunday, July 3
8:00 AM Breakfast
9:00 AM Tour colonial Quito (founded 1535)
12:00 Lunch At Hotel Real Audiencia
1:PM Hike in the high altitude páramo polylepus forest.
6:30 PM Arrive at Yanayacu Cloud forest Station
Monday, July 4
Introduction to the course
Tuesday, July 5
The Local Land as Object of Religious Emotion and Action.
Swanson, "Relatives of the Living Forest: The Social Relation to Nature Underlying Ecological Action in Amazonian Kichwa Communities . Please read the whole article but focus your attention on the portion of the paper from page 5 on. In this article I examine how Amazonian Quichua come into a physical relation with the forest spirit owners of the animals.
Pedro Andi, On the closed salt lick
Eulodia, On the slamming door
Pedro Andi. On Santu Urku
Pedro Andi on the Social Organization of the Sacha Runa
Wednesday, July 6
Social Relation to Land in the Andes and Amazonian Chacras.
This Peruvian Farmer Grows Over 400 Varieties of Potatoes . This video illustrates what the culture of potato growing in a community like Kaata was like.
Paropata: Land of the Potato . This video helps to show the religious and cultural significance of potatoes in a place like Kaata.
Planting party in Sarhua. This video shows how the communities celebrated together as they planted their fields.
Thursday, July 7
How the Relation to the Land is Mediated by Family Ties
Read Isicha Puytu as the story of a girl who comes from an ayllu like Mt Kaata.
Friday, July 8.
Saturday-Sunday July 9-19
Monday, July 11.
Travel to Waorani community on the Río Nushino. Planting a tree, On weaving a roof, Waorani dance and marriage
Tuesday, July 12. Waorani community on the Río Nushino
Wednesday, July 13. Waorani community on the Río Nushino
Thursday, July 14
Estrangement and the origin of the animals
Friday, July 15. Free day
Saturday-Sunday July 16-17
Monday, July 18
Amazonian Traditions on the Avoidance of Anger
Tuesday, July 19
Llakichina and Empathy
Peter Gow (2000), “Helplessness – the affective preconditions of Piro social life”. In Joanna Overing and Alan Passes eds., The Anthropology of Love and Anger: The Aesthetics of Conviviality in Native Amazonia, pp 46-63. Routledge: London.
Wednesday , July 20
Origin Stories continued:
The Moon's Sister Follows Him to Become the Kingu Constellation This is another version or episode in the story of the moon and his sister. In this version the sister is left behind pregnant with their child. After the the brother become the moon and the sister is left behind she follows him downriver to the east carrying their child. When she reaches the ocean at the mouth of the Amazon she and the child follow the moon into the sky. The child becomes the evening star and the sister become the zig-zag kingu constellation that rises following the moon each evening.
Thursday, July 21
Friday, July 22 Free afternoon. No class
Saturday-Sunday July 23-24
Monday, June 25
Tuesday, June 26
Wednesday, June 27
Thursday, June 28
Friday, July 29 Travel to the Airport