Friday, October 11, 2013

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro: The Inconstancy of the Indian Soul - The Encounter of Catholics and Cannibals in 16-century Brazil

In the mid-sixteenth century, Jesuit missionaries working in what is now Brazil were struck by what they called the inconstancy of the people they met, the indigenous tribes of the Atlantic coast. Though the Indians appeared eager to receive the Western religion, they also had a tendency to forget the missionaries’ lessons and go back to their natural state of war, cannibalism, and polygamy. This peculiar mixture of acceptance and rejection, compulsion and forgetfulness is the starting point for Viveiros de Castro's brilliant research into how the priests took this as a sign of the natives’ incapacity to believe in anything durably.

Drawing from anthropologists as James Clifford and Claude Lévi-Strauss, Viveiros de Castro sees how the ongoing dialogues between cultures creates new knowledge and affect each other ceaslessly. In this short book Viveiros de Castro starts by looking at two sculptures: one made of marble and the other of myrtle. By doing so, he  situates the Jesuit missionaries’ accounts of the meeting the indigenous people in historical perspective, and in the process draws out some startling and insightful implications of their multiple perspectives, their specific ontology and how Western universalism stands in the way for understanding otherness.

To download the brilliant text "COSMOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVISM IN AMAZONIA AND ELSEWHERE" by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro click here. The work of Viveiros de Castro has been central in developing the concept for the OuUnPo session in Brazil.

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