While living in the Peruvian Amazon, I heard several stories about “el tunchi” — a spirit of the dead that has to pay penance in this world. The Tunchi is said to retrace the steps of its past life, disturbing the living by moving furniture, displacing objects, or producing eerie whistling sounds. For the forthcoming issue of Anthropology and Humanism, I wrote a short piece about a tunchi that harrassed an acquaintance named Sandra. You can read it here.
I just completed revisions on an article titled “What Happens When We Flush?” that will appear in the September edition of Anthropology Now. You can read a pre-print version of it on my Academia.edu site. The article discusses how the modern flush toilet has perpetuated the illusion that human waste can be made to “disappear.” Examining the industrial origins of the flush toilet, I point out some of its problematic consequences as a model of sanitation in the contemporary world. Using examples from Pre-Columbian Amazonia and 19th century East Asia, I highlight alternative models of managing human excreta that have proven benefits for agricultural production, which might serve to reorient human relations to excrement in industrialized societies today.
Patricio, a large man with long curly hair and a nose bent severely to his right, grabs my hand and introduces himself. After a few seconds, I fear that I might not get my hand back. He tells me he’s drunk. “Bacán,” I say and laugh nervously. He lets my hand go.
Syd and I have lunch at a little menú place. She has doncella, I have pollo asado. “What would you like for a starter?” the waitress asks. The menu only lists: sopa de pata de res. Is there another option, Syd asks. No, the waitress says. Two soups, it is.
Syd and I talk about 2666. And a trip to the Costa Brava that we have to make some day. But today, we have another pilgrimage.
A short essay of mine was just published in Engagement, the blog of the Anthropology and Environment Society. The piece examines the story of Cobra Grande, a massive snake of Amazonian folklore that is implicated in the region’s ever-shifting hydrological landscape. I argue that Cobra Grande is more than just a quaint folk tale, but rather a central Amazonian metaphor that reminds that our surroundings are in constant flux, and that humans are not the only ones responsible for this ongoing transformation.
My first book Amazonia in the Anthropocene: People, Soils, Plants, Forests will be published this May with the University of Texas Press. You can order it here.
HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory has just released a new issue. It includes a collection of essays by Marisol de la Cadena, Philippe Descola, and Bruno Latour (among others), that engage and respond to Eduardo Kohn’s recent book How Forests Think (Univ. of California Press, 2013). Kohn also offers a response of his own, titled “Further thoughts on sylvan thinking.” The entire collection is worth a read.
Many justifications have been made for ‘saving the Amazon’ from preserving the ‘lungs of the world’ to protecting unknown botanical wonders that might yield cures to deadly diseases. However, Amazonians have responded to these claims with charges of ‘international covetousness’, interpreting such foreign interest as a thinly-masked desire to take control of the region’s natural resources. In this article I examine some of the counter-claims that have emerged in Brazil that reflect Amazonians’ uneasiness with such foreign interest in the region. Drawing from my own engagement with rural Amazonians, I share their critiques of the deep global inequalities that they see in conservation efforts and international research in Amazonia. To conclude, I discuss the value of ethnography and anthropological inquiry for encouraging grounded views of Amazonia that challenge abstracted notions of the region, including that of the monolithic rainforest in need of ‘saving’.