Decolonisation, interculturality, and multiple epistemologies: Hiwi people in Bolivarian Venezuela

Scott, Emma Louise (2016) Decolonisation, interculturality, and multiple epistemologies: Hiwi people in Bolivarian Venezuela. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Under the Bolivarian government, Venezuela has undergone extensive changes in political, economic, and social policies designed to decolonise liberal conceptions of politics and economics to construct a direct democracy and a socially just economy. This project involves the recognition that indigenous peoples, such as the Hiwi people I work with, inhabit an intercultural space and that the State needs to address the inherent pluriethnicity of Venezuelan society. The opening up of a discursive and practical space for the creation of new socio-political imaginaries draws upon indigenous peoples' history of resistance and their diverse forms of political-economic organisation. Simultaneously, the government has committed to the promotion of indigenous self-determination, territorial demarcation, and the preservation of cultural knowledge, medicine, language and social organisation.

My primary aim in this thesis is to provide a detailed ethnographic description of Hiwi people living in several communities in Amazonas State, based on fourteen months of participant observation and informal interviews with participants in Venezuela. Through my ethnographic analysis of the contemporary social reality and epistemology of Hiwi people, I explore the effects, contradictions, and possibilities of the State's indigenous policies. The first three chapters focus on Hiwi forms of political, economic, and social organisation, which are positioned in relation to the State's discourse and practices around indigenous self-determination. Chapters Five to Seven constitute an investigation of Hiwi medical beliefs and practices, convivial morality, and epistemology. These forms of knowledge are grounded in particular assumptions about the world and the fundamental elements of Hiwi thought that radically differ from and are drawn out through intercultural comparison with dominant Western systems of knowledge. I argue that Hiwi people negotiate plural systems of meaning in their everyday lives, drawing simultaneously on Hiwi symbols, meanings, and traditions, as well as the mainstream currents in Venezuelan society. In this way, my participants maintain their Hiwi identity while managing to survive and thrive in a society based on vastly different principles.

This thesis demonstrates how Hiwi social life is predicated on flexibility, cultural adaptability, autonomy, complementarity, and conviviality, a confluence of principles that I call the paradigm of pluralism and difference. This paradigm allows individuals to select among Hiwi and criollo meanings that structure their lifeworld in the twenty-first century. I consider how the Hiwi intercultural reality contains the seeds of a possible decolonisation of Western ways of being and knowing, which may precede a more practical decolonisation of political and economic theories and practices. I conclude that decolonisation and indigenous self-determination requires a radical intercultural exchange in which indigenous voices are heard and their political, economic, and cultural systems are respected and maintained in their own right.

Item ID: 49417
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Amazonas, Bolivarian Venezuela, cultural identity, cultural traditions, culture, decolonization, economic conditions, ethnographic analysis, ethnography, Hiwi people, Indigenous communities, intercultural exchange, interculturality, medical pluralism, Shamanism, social conditions, social life and customs, Venezuelans
Date Deposited: 19 Jun 2017 22:44
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 100%
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