ANTH 1713: Amazonian Religion and Nature
Contact Hours: 45 Credits: 3
Instructor: Tod Swanson
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%)
Brown, Michael. Tsewa’s Gift: Magic and Meaning in an Amazonian Society. Smithsonian Institution Press. 1986
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, June 29
Sunday, June 30
Monday, July 1
Tuesday, July 2
Wednesday, July 3
Thursday, July 4
Saturday-Sunday July 6-7
Monday, July 8
Tuesday, July 9
Wednesday, July 10
Thursday, July 11
Friday, July 12
Saturday-Sunday July 13-14
Monday, July 15
Tuesday, July 16
Wednesday , July 17
Thursday, July 18
Friday, July 19
Saturday-Sunday July 20-21
Monday, June 22
Tuesday, June 23
Wednesday, June 24
Thursday, June 25
Friday, July 26
Saturday, July 27
Arrive in Quito
Travel to Iyarina
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
Introduction to the course
The Local Land as Object of Religious Emotion and Action.
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 potatos in a place like Kaata.
Planting party in Sarhua. This video shows how the communities celebrated together as they planted their fields.
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.
Origin stories: The transformation of humans into animals and the consequences for Amazonian religious practice.
Origin of the Agouti Origin of the Agouti
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.
"Killa" The Andean Amazonian understanding of fault (evil)
Adolescence as process of coming into relation with the land.
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.
Travel to Yasuni National Park
Yasuni National Park
Yasuni National Park
Yasuní National Park
Return from Yasuni Park
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.
Travel to the airport
A comparative examination of fault in North American Indian Origin Stories
Swanson Lecture, Guide to reading Native Origin Stories (especially Air Spirit People and Origin of the Moon and Ilucu)
Presents worldviews through the art, architecture, writing, mythology, ritual and folklore of tribes in Native America.
This course explores Native worldviews as ways of living as relatives with the land. Weeks 1 and 2 examine the Native
experience of living in response to the Great Plains and the Sonoran Desert. Weeks 3 then examines the religious
emotions that tie people together as relatives with their land. Week 4 examines the stories of origin and transformation
from out of which sacred lands emerge. Week 5 examines the relation to other species that emerges from these
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.
7 essays of 500 words each that critically examine the readings. The essays should be posted through that weeks
forum on the discussion board. (6% each for a total of 42%)