Huibana : cultivating Bobonaza Quichua and forest animal relations of mutual care and utility




Beveridge, James Michael

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This dissertation examines the relational philosophy of Quichua Indigenous people living along the Bobonaza river in the Ecuadorian Amazon. I argue that Bobonaza river Quichuas cultivate social relationships with nonhuman beings such as plants and animals to navigate the web of biosemiotic relations that constitute the Amazon forest. I examine Amazonian Quichua and anthropological notions of ‘self’ and kinship in more-than-human contexts. Bobonaza Quichuas understand nonhuman beings such as plants and animals to be selves imbued with intentionality, sociality, and subjectivity. They become yacharishka (familiar with or accustomed to) with nonhuman selves through specific practices such as songs, dreaming, and the ingestion of entheogens. By becoming yacharishka and come to intimately know and be aligned with nonhuman selves, Bobonaza Quichuas are able to cultivate intersubjective relationships of mutual care and utility with nonhuman selves to harness their attributes and powers. My principal intervention is to rethink the widespread Amazonian Indigenous practice of capturing and raising forest animals (huibana in Quichua). This practice has largely been theorized within the neostructuralist paradigm of predation, mastery, and ownership which frames the human-forest animal relationship as one of master/owner and pet. However, my ethnographic research shows how Bobonaza Quichua women raise huiba (forest) animals to act as sensors in locating dangers in the forest such as snakes, spiders, and ants. Bobonaza women become yacharishka with the huiba animals by being attentive to their particular calls, signals, and bodily movements. In this way, Bobonaza women are able to tap into the biosemiotic web of forest relations using the huiba animals as a sensory medium. I argue that rather than taming and ownership, the Quichua-huiba relationship is a semiotic intersubjective relationship of mutual care and utility. Furthermore, the centrality of women in navigating nonhuman relationships with huiba animals and other practices joins other scholarship in problematizing the neostructuralist theorization of women in dichotomous ways: consanguienty to men’s affinity, interiority to men’s exteriority, women’s domestic and domesticating, to men’s wild and predation. Finally, in contrast to scholars working in the vein of ontological politics and ontological turn that posit a pluriverse or multiple worlds, I argue that Bobonaza Quichua and nonhuman being relation-making is bound up in the overarching biosemiotic relational schema within all beings participate and co-become. Bobonaza Quichuas very much inhabit this relational and phenomenological world and are attuned to the political, social, and semiotic contours of the world they live in. The crucial difference is the ways that Bobonaza Quichuas are attentive to, become yacharishka with, and cultivate intersubjective relationships with the nonhuman plants and animals that constitute the world they share.



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