10: Invisible Caboclos and Vagabond Ethnographers: A Look at Ethnographic Engagement in Twenty-First-Century Amazonia
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177 10 Invisible Caboclos and Vagabond Ethnographers A Look at Ethnographic Engagement in Twenty-First-Century Amazonia Kent Wisniewski Introduction I had been awake for a while when I heard my research assistant Dal clapping, then pounding, on the door of our two-room, cinder-block dwelling, yelling, Accorda! Accorda, aí! (“Wake-up! Wake-up in there!”) It was the wet season and I lingered in bed because it was only in the morning hours that my body heat finally dried out the thin foam mattress and I no longer had the feeling of sleeping on a damp sponge. I was reveling in those precious dry moments and wondering how we would ever find a caboclo community to work in when I heard Dal’s shouts. Dal and his wife Léia are Brazilian hippies or malucos (literally, “crazies”) and also my unlikely research assistants. The hippy culture in the United States is now a thing of the past, but in Brazil it is still a vibrant, viable way of life. There is a national law in Brazil that allows artisans to sell their wares in any public space. Thus, hippies travel all over the country doing just that. They all have some sort of handicraft specialty and live day to day, selling their goods DOI: 10.5876/9781607321705.c10 178 Kent Wisniewski in the public plazas around the country. I met Dal and Léia at the beginning of my journey in Manaus, a city of 1.6 million that sits just above where the inky Rio Negro and the turbulent Rio Solimões combine their forces to form the Amazon mainstream. It did not take long for our lives to become intertwined. Scholars today recognize that the particular historical contexts of colonization and modernity in various locations around the world have produced different social and political frameworks or “alternative modernities” (Gaonkar 2001, 1). The context created by Brazilian modernity is one of these dynamic structures that creates the space for many kinds of experiences and understandings of the world: what can be recognized as plural ontologies (Whitehead 2009). These varied ontological frameworks give people with different experiences and understandings of Brazilian modernity the agency to adapt and innovate to create meaningful lives and find ways to survive in the face of their changing experiences of the world. My dissertation fieldwork (2005) took me to Brazil to study the adaptations and ontological orientation of one particular group living at the margins Figure 10.1. Author (center) with Léia, Dal, and Jeosadak 179 Invisible Caboclos and Vagabond Ethnographers of Brazilian society: that of the mixed-heritage ribeirinhos, or caboclos, of the Brazilian Amazon along the middle Rio Negro near Barcelos.1 However, in the end my research program became a collaborative effort between myself, a caboclo anthropologist, and Dal and Léia (the Brazilian hippy couple), whom I have labeled “vagabond ethnographers” because, in addition to traveling the country selling their wares, they make a living as cultural liaisons for tourists. The choice to live as a hippy in Brazil is another adaptation or innovation within the context of Brazilian modernity. These innovations produced by Brazil’s hippy culture revealed yet another ontological orientation, and this experience forced me to try to understand what might be shared in the lived experiences of caboclos and hippies in the modernity shaped by the Brazilian state. In this chapter, I will describe the production of our ethnography and its implications for ethnographic methods. Anthropology, more than most disciplines, has taken great pains to reflect on its own origins and practices. Although the reflexive process can often be painful, the net result has been fruitful. Through this process of selfreflection anthropologists have learned to be more aware of the importance of history in cross-cultural understandings and, in particular, how the effects of contact and colonization shape the lives of the people we study, as well as how our own cultural backgrounds cannot help but influence our understandings of others. As scholars of humanity we now regularly seek to include the voices of those seldom or never heard before and agonize over how to properly represent those voices to others. In particular the relationship between the ethnographer and informant has been a point of some interest since the beginnings of the discipline. Kaufmann (2002) provides an excellent review of the many ways in which anthropologists have portrayed informants over time. These include minimizing their presence entirely, showing them as uncooperative or even prone...