The Salt of the Montaña: Interpreting Indigenous Activism in the Rain Forest

Essay Excerpt

This article discusses interpretations of the social conflict and political organizing activities of the Pajonal Ash6ninka, an indigenous population in a remote Upper Amazon region in eastern Peru that has seen some highly unexpected and unforeseeable social and political changes in what for a long time counted as the established order of things in this part of the Amazon. These changes, moreover, have been brought about mainly through the agency of the indigenous ("nonmodern") rather than the immigrant, nonnative ("modern") local population. In conventional social analysis and development discourse, as well as in some of the more recent interpretations of current changes in indigenous cultures, the latter has generally been considered the promoter of change while the former has been perceived as merely adapting, if sometimes even creatively, to external impacts. Researchers such as Alberto Melucci interpret contemporary movements as signs that "signal a deep transformation in the logic and the processes that guide complex societies" (Melucci 1996:1). Yet old ways of thinking may prevent us from hearing the message of such movements when they are located within exotic native Amazonian settings rather than in more quotidian vicinities, whether Western or modern Third World. A part from reporting the changes, the challenge then consists in grasping the nature of the indigenous movements capable of effecting profound changes and questioning the modes of thought that inform the observer's perception while exploring alternative conceptual frameworks for interpretation. Inspired by what has been termed "new social movements theory, "this article considers its applicability and conceptual advantages in relation to the interpretation of indigenous activism in the Amazon. (Veber, 383)

About the Author

Veber is a Professor at the University of Copenhagen. 

He specializes in indigeniety, nature, activism and social movements and embodiment.

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