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State Healthcare and Yanomami Transformations

A Symmetrical Ethnography

José Antonio Kelly

Publication Year: 2011

Amazonian indigenous peoples have preserved many aspects of their culture and cosmology while also developing complex relationships with dominant non-indigenous society. Until now, anthropological writing on Amazonian peoples has been divided between “traditional” topics like kinship, cosmology, ritual, and myth, on the one hand, and the analysis of their struggles with the nation-state on the other. What has been lacking is work that bridges these two approaches and takes into consideration the meaning of relationships with the state from an indigenous perspective.

That long-standing dichotomy is challenged in this new ethnography by anthropologist José Kelly. Kelly places the study of culture and cosmology squarely within the context of the modern nation-state and its institutions. He explores Indian-white relations as seen through the operation of a state-run health system among the indigenous Yanomami of southern Venezuela.

With theoretical foundations in the fields of medical and Amazonian anthropology, Kelly sheds light on how Amerindian cosmology shapes concepts of the state at the community level. The result is a symmetrical anthropology that treats white and Amerindian perceptions of each other within a single theoretical framework, thus expanding our understanding of each group and its influences on the other. This book will be valuable to those studying Amazonian peoples, medical anthropology, development studies, and Latin America. Its new takes on theory and methodology make it ideal for classroom use.

Published by: University of Arizona Press

Front Matter

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pp. vii-viii

List of Figures

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pp. ix-x

List of Tables

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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xiii-xvi

Many institutions and people have played a part in the production of this book. My initial research in the Upper Orinoco was funded by FONACIT (Fundación Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología) in Venezuela through its agreement with the Cambridge Overseas Trust...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xvii-xx

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pp. 1-13

I arrived in Ocamo, a Yanomami village in the Upper Orinoco, in August 2000 to study Yanomami political transformations. I wanted to examine their integration into the Venezuelan state as it had become more intense and complex. Having initially dealt mainly with missionaries, the Yanomami were now part of a broader political field that involved not only...

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1. The Upper Orinoco Yanomami and Their Context

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pp. 14-33

The first two chapters situate the reader in two ways: this chapter provides the general context of Yanomami-state relations; the next narrows the focus to the operation of the state health system in the Upper Orinoco. A panoramic view of the Yanomami living in the Upper Orinoco is followed by a description of the cluster of communities known as Ocamo...

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2. Particularizing the Upper Orinoco Health System

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pp. 34-51

Our focus in this chapter turns directly to the health system and the doctors working in it. I begin by describing the organization of the health system in the Upper Orinoco and continue with a review of doctors’ motivations and their first-impression accounts. The usually taken-for-granted figure of “the doctor” is thus particularized in the circumstance of fresh...

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3. Epidemic Diseases, Criollos, and the Morality of Being Human

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pp. 52-73

This chapter explores key aspects of the historical relationship between Yanomami and criollos, with a particular emphasis on epidemic diseases. Drawing on Albert’s (1988) analysis, we follow the innovative transformation of the Yanomami conception of shawara from a type of “war sorcery” to an ontologically criollo form of disease. This conceptual shift...

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4. Becoming Napë and the Napë Transformational Axis

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pp. 74-92

The previous chapter discussed the trajectories of criollos and shawara according to the conventional relations that constitute the Yanomami socio-political space. According to Wagner’s (1981) theoretical framework, the conventional, when innovated upon, becomes to some degree particularized. Inevitably, however, the innovation becomes recognizable...

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5. Making Kin, Making Society, and Napë Potential Affinity

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pp. 93-110

This chapter is devoted to putting the arguments I have presented thus far in conversation with Amazonian anthropological theory. In so doing, I provide a theoretical framework for interpretation and a basis for analysis in subsequent chapters. Comparing the napë transformational axis with Gow’s analysis of circumstances for the Piro reveals many similarities but also...

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6. Being and Performing Napë and Yanomami

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pp. 111-139

Having proposed in chapter 5 that criollos be considered potential affines on the napë transformational axis, I now provide an ethnographic description of what this entails. Chapter 6 is divided in three parts. First, I examine the different aspects of doctors’ potential affinity, namely, their being providers of objects, their generality, their powerlessness, and the consequent...

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7. Doctors and Shamans

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pp. 140-163

This chapter is devoted to the articulation of medical systems, exploring the practical place and conceptual fit of doctors, medicine, and biomedical procedures in relation to shamanism.1 I focus on the ways doctors and shapori work together and how Yanomami and doctors conceptualize their respective roles in curing. I will argue that there is an inverse distribution...

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8. Two Meetings and a Protest

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pp. 164-199

In this chapter I take a step back, zoom out, so to speak, in order to analyze direct encounters between Yanomami and state representatives. I concentrate on occasions where health issues were prominent: a protest in La Esmeralda held in 2001; the first and only “Yanomami conference,” held in the Mavaca cluster also in 2001; and a meeting with national health authorities that also...

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9. Changing Tides and Mixed Feelings

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pp. 220-216

With the new constitution of 1999, Venezuela officially became a multicultural and pluri-ethnic nation. This final chapter is devoted to describing some of the changes that have since occurred in the Venezuelan state’s relations with indigenous peoples. I begin by describing the general shift in the treatment of the “indigenous issue,” revealing how the...

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pp. 217-232

The scope and density of Upper Orinoco Yanomami integration into the Venezuelan state has not stopped growing since the initial permanent missionary contacts in the 1950s. The daunting complexity of Yanomamicriollo relations that leaves most criollos, be they missionaries, doctors or anthropologists, slightly bewildered and episodically perplexed has become...


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pp. 233-238


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pp. 239-248


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pp. 249-256

About the Author

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E-ISBN-13: 9780816502868
Print-ISBN-13: 9780816529209

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2011