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(P41) Situations, contexts and prospects of hunter-gatherer societies of the Amazon region 

Convenors: Louis Forline, University of Nevada, Reno; Renato Athias, Federal University of Pernambuco, Brazil 

Abstract: This session discusses situations, contexts, and prospects of Amazonian foraging societies. Participants will present current and ongoing work among and hunting and gathering societies of this region, discussing the diversity of Amazonian hunter-gatherers, past and present, and notions of "isolation", "contact", and prospects for self-determination. 

Keywords: Amazonia, isolation, contact, engagement, self-determination 

Format: standard panel 

Precirculated papers: abstracts 


Ethnographically, South America was once referred to as the “least known continent” (see Lyon 1974). Lowland South America (Amazonia), in particular, was little known until recent works in the area of indigenous ethnology gave it more visibility. Today, a number of scholars call into question the use of ‘hunter-gatherers’ to accurately portray some of this region’s indigenous societies. Some of these communities practiced mixed subsistence strategies in the past before shifting to their current status as foragers in response to unbridled development. “Isolation”, “contact”, and engagement with neighboring indigenous groups and mainstream society have also stimulated much debate with regard to Amazonian foraging situations. A number of indigenous communities of the Amazon avoid contact with mainstream society and other indigenous groups. “Isolation” is often employed as a category by governments to impose policies on indigenous societies from different ethnic backgrounds and historical trajectories. Large-scale development projects undermine their natural resource base and their territories are diminishing; subsistence based on customary means is becoming unfeasible; and voluntary and involuntary contacts with the outside world usher in health problems. As such, this session examines the challenges related to the right for self-determination of different peoples in voluntary isolation and early contact both from practical and theoretical perspectives. We aim to scrutinize questions related to territory and contact processes, and problematize the terminology used in speaking about these peoples and about contact. Additionally, the implications of inter-ethnic contact between foragers, foragers and settled indigenous societies, as well as with members of national society are explored. Despite recent revisions in state policies, many Amazonian foraging societies are still regarded as state wards whose affairs are administered under a program of tutelage. We conclude with a critical view of this approach and offer recommendations, deferring to the societies covered in this session. 



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