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Indigenous Amazonian socio-philosophies typically consider that plants and animals share a similar humanity, intentionality, and rationality with people. Nonhuman elements are regarded as integral to human social and bodily realities – and consequently history. Controlled interactions between nonhuman and human subjects are necessary in order to (re)produce life, knowledge, guidance, and fertility. In Amazonian indigenous thought, beings come into existence through relations that are about transformation, exchange, and incorporation. Even certain objects contribute to the production of persons.
For Philippe Descola Amazonian thinking is “animism” and one form of ontology, and it contrasts to the naturalism that is typical of Euro-American thinking, in which “nature” is objectified and externalized. Comparative research between Amazonian indigenous and Euro-American societies also provides opportunities to deconstruct phenomena categorized as uncanny (kumma, in Finnish).
Many other fields of science have likewise added important fuel to a constructive criticism of persistent human / nonhuman, subject / object, and culture / nature dichotomies. The agency of animals, landscapes, and even objects has been addressed beyond Amazonian anthropology in a number of fields: by Donna Haraway, for example, who has discussed knowing subjects; from a general perspective in studies regarding the rights of animals, multispecies, interspecies; and in the posthumanist approach in which humans are not positioned above other forms of life. As a result, terms such as “supernatural” or “belief”, once widely used in the social and human sciences, are increasingly being problematized.
The understanding that humans are regarded as subjects produced in interactive relations with other forms of life, provides both a novel foundation and a motivation for studying evidence and evidential knowledge. In Amazonian lived experience nonhuman agents (animals, plants, ancestors, meteorological entities) play crucial roles in learning processes and knowledge-production, and consequently enable life for humans. Examining the knowledge received through these sources, usually via audio and visual perceptions, has supplied new data on the sources and validity of knowledge more broadly. In my research, combining understanding of the ontology and epistemology of Amazonian indigenous people has also offered a view to understanding the human mind in general. In fact, while sounds and visualization operate as a crucial part of knowledge-production in indigenous Amazonian lived worlds, they are also crucial in creative and art work in Western / Euro-American society.
Written by Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen