Séminaire AMAZ

Mardi 22 juin 2021

de 11h à 12h30

« Does the Coca Spirit Help Those who “Rat” on it Commodification Processes and the Ontology of Market Economic Exchange among the Andoque (Northwest Amazonia, Colombia) »

Eliran Arazi (LAS, EHESS)


Following the increasing valorization of indigenous cultures in Colombia, some indigenous people in the Amazon have been exporting in recent years their coca powder (mambe) to non-indigenous consumers in the city, including students, researchers, and employees of governmental and non-governmental organizations working in the region. Many members of the Andoque community of the Middle Caquetá engage in this commerce, although they often comment on its negative consequences, as this much revered, personified plant partakes in the production of personal and collective subjectivities and is essential for effective dialog with the spirits inhabiting the territory. Existing ethnographic literature can only take us so far in understanding the negative implications of this activity. Research on the commodification of “sacred objects” rests on the Western distinction between sacred and profane, ritualized and mundane, while anthropologists who studied the appropriation of indigenous knowledge failed to incorporate into their analyses the ontological assumptions of their informants, thereby furthering the marginalization of this knowledge. This lecture aims to fill this gap as it addresses the question: how does the coca commerce partake in shaping the relationship between the Andoque and their indigenous territory, and between them and the national society and the national territory? On the one hand, conversations with group members on the plant, on the damages caused by mambe commodification and on the different strategies enacted to minimize them, show that, in Andoque eyes, by jeopardizing the relationship between the Andoque and their territory, including the spirits inhabiting it, the coca commerce undermines the prospects of living safely in it. Coca commerce is further examined in light of other economic booms, both past and present, as yet another extractive activity that undermines the relations that the Andoque nourish with nonhuman entities in their territory. On the other hand, this commerce is not purely negative, since giving mambe to others is seen as a way of orienting their thoughts and actions – and these actions may concern indigenous lives, in the case of non-indigenous workers of governmental and non-governmental organizations. Indigenous ontological analysis thus sheds light on an oft-neglected aspect of economic exchange in colonial globality: the shift that occurs in people’s cosmo-spatial frame of reference, as they transition from one cosmo-spatial frame of reference (the indigenous territory) to another (the national territory, or the market’s supra-territory).


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