Memorialising Ancestral Landscapes Through Inter-Cultural Heritage Making in the Brazilian Northwest Amazon

This project draws on research in indigenous heritage making in the Negro River area in Brazil to develop lessons about resilience to climate change.
Project status

Pursuing sustainable human development within the context of tropical forest ecosystems invites interdisciplinary research into past human occupations and associated environmental alteration, both of which are key for establishing conservation baselines and reconstructing past sustainable lifeways that can offer future lessons about resilience to climate change. This is so especially since the erstwhile consensus that rainforests are pristine environments has started to be critically challenged by the global database of archaeological knowledge. However, especially when rainforest ecosystems are inhabited by indigenous peoples (who are crucial ecosystem stewards), increasing this knowledge is sensitive and demands involving indigenous peoples as veritable research stakeholders. New perspectives can then emerge since indigenous cultural conceptions are embedded in rainforest landscapes through intimate environmental knowledge and social memory, as well as recognition and use of enduringly transformed anthropic environments.

This project focuses on heritage making as a practice of knowledge production in the northwest Amazon region, specifically the Negro River indigenous area. The latter is a semi-autonomous territory of the Brazilian Amazon inhabited by different Amerindian groups speaking languages of the Arawak, Tukano and Maku families. The social memories and origin myths of these groups encode important information about the deeper human history of the region: memories generally detail events of displacement of centennial time-depth whilst origin myths identify specific locales in the landscape where powerful ancestors 'evolved' and shaped the world as is known. These narratives also mention the first use of crops, the history of landscape domestication, and past ownership of powerful objects (including ethnographic ritual paraphernalia now held in museums) before the arrival of ‘white people’. That many of these accounts refer to past events is illustrated by the single archaeological study that has been completed in the region, which confirmed oral histories about internecine pre-colonial warfare through excavations of a 12th century AD fortified settlement.

Principal Investigator: Dr Manuel Arroyo-Kalin, University College London

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