El Tunchi

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.

Cultures of Energy Podcast

Cymene Howe and Dominic Boyer invited me on to the Cultures of Energy podcast to discuss my recent book Amazonia in the Anthropocene. Our conversation touched on an number of different topics including Amazonian deforestation, the politics of indigeneity, terra preta do índio (Amazonian Dark Earth), American Confederates in the Amazon, weeds (and weed), flooding in south Florida, Marx and the metabolic rift, and “night soil” (i.e. human shit). The episode just went online today. Give it listen.

Religion, Race, and Weedy Plants

Yesterday I published a new research article titled “How Religion, Race, and the Weedy Agency of Plants Shape Rural Amazonian Home Gardens” in the latest edition of Culture, Agriculture, Food and Environment. You can read a pre-press version of it on my academia.edu page. Here is the abstract:

“Across Brazilian Amazonia, it is common to find rural households that keep plants with magico-medicinal properties in their home gardens. Despite widespread occurrence of such plants, some Amazonians—especially in Evangelical communities—openly criticize their use as incongruent with Christian belief and practice. In this article, I offer ethnographic observations that indicate divergent attitudes toward magico-medicinal plants between Evangelical Christians and Amazonian folk Catholics, the latter of whom borrow heavily from Afro-Brazilian and indigenous religions. I contend that Evangelicals’ attempts to establish distance from such plants is due in part to histories of ethnic and racial marginalization that are indexed in their use. Still, many magico-medicinal plants are weedy species that actively colonize areas occupied by humans, thus openly defying Evangelical attempts to evade them. In this manner, magico-medicinal plants are not just subject to human agencies, but are arguably agents in their own right.”

The Challenges of the Anthropocene: A Conversation

Yesterday I spoke with Matthew DeMello about my recent article The Irony of the Anthropocene. We discussed some of the challenges posed by this new geological epoch and the current ecological crisis facing humanity. We also talked about how the global situation compares with that of the Amazon region specifically. You can take a listen here.

Magico-Medicinal Plants of Rural Amazonia: Supplementary Table

My article “How Religion, Race, and the Weedy Agency of Plants Shapes Rural Amazonia Home Gardens” will be published in the 2016 fall issue of Culture, Agriculture, Food, and the Environment. Here is the species list of magico-medicinal plants that I identified in the study, which wasn’t included in the article due to space constraints.

The Irony of the Anthropocene

I just published a short essay with The Conversation that outlines some of the inherent contradictions and ironies in the Anthropocene. Despite the common portrayal of humanity as the dominant force on the planet, I argue that the Anthropocene is rooted in a growing realization that we are in a state of ecological crisis that defies our control.

Review of “Amazonia in the Anthropocene” in TLS

Michael F. Brown reviewed my book in the Times Literary Supplement this July. Here’s a brief excerpt:

“Growing awareness of humankind’s role in shaping Amazonian environments raises new questions about anthropology’s hoariest dichotomy: the distinction between nature and culture. Anthropologists working elsewhere in Amazonia – notably Philippe Descola, Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Eduardo Kohn – have embraced strands of post-humanist thought that reject an exclusive focus on human intentionality in favour of indigenous ideologies that portray the natural world as an eminently social domain…Amazonia in the Anthropocene offers an admirably concise and accessible contribution to this analytical ferment…[Kawa] wishes to challenge current scientific thinking about the Anthropocene, the proposed geological epoch defined by humanity’s pre-eminent role in reshaping the planet’s physical features – land, water, and atmospheric conditions. We may think of ourselves as having achieved planetary mastery, but ultimately, Kawa insists, “humans are not the only actors of consequence in the world, nor are humans the only ones who can ‘see’ or ‘think’ or ‘know’.”