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Cassava Spirit and the Seed of History: On Garden Cosmology in Indigenous Amazonia

Daly, Lewis; (2021) Cassava Spirit and the Seed of History: On Garden Cosmology in Indigenous Amazonia. Anthropological Forum , 31 (4) pp. 377-395. 10.1080/00664677.2021.1994918. Green open access

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Abstract

This article concerns the practice of cassava gardening among the indigenous Makushi people of Amazonian Guyana. By focusing on the cassava garden (mîî) as a primary site of multispecies engagement, I explore some of the heterogeneous modes that people–plant relationships take in everyday life and ritual practice. Plants, for the Makushi, are typically thought of as ‘persons’ (pemon), and gardening is predicated upon maintaining relationships of interspecies care via regular human–plant communication. In the idiom of human kinship, cassava plants are spoken of as being ‘children’ (more yamî’), both of human gardeners and Cassava Mama, the tutelary spirit of cultivated plants. Human–plant communication is both verbal, in the form of poetic language (taren) and songs (eremu), and embodied, in the form of tactile engagement and substance-based transfers. It is in the cultivation of communicative relationships with plants and their spirits, I argue, that Makushi gardeners create and nourish human persons and, ultimately, reproduce society. I go on to address the anthropological problem of plant animism in Amazonia, arguing that a more embodied, sensorial and, following Strathern, ‘immanentist’ notion of spirit is required to better account for the complex entanglement of bodies and souls that undergirds human–plant interpenetration in indigenous Amazonia. In dialogue with literature from the multispecies turn, I suggest that an anthropology beyond the human, much like Makushi gardening, might usefully be thought of as a process of more-than-human ontogenesis.

Type: Article
Title: Cassava Spirit and the Seed of History: On Garden Cosmology in Indigenous Amazonia
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1080/00664677.2021.1994918
Publisher version: https://doi.org/10.1080/00664677.2021.1994918
Language: English
Additional information: Copyright © 2021 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Keywords: Makushi, Amazonia, plants, gardening, cosmology
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10146861
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