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Hough 2008 - The Expression & Perception of Space in Wayana - eBook

Hough 2008 - The Expression & Perception of Space in Wayana - eBook

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Published by Sidestone Press
This ethno-linguistic analysis of the Cariban language, Wayana (still spoken in the dense rainforests of Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil), gives a detailed account of how spatiality is expressed in Wayana. This gives us a glimpse into the worldview of the Wayana, enabling us to achieve a greater understanding of how the Wayana perceive and categorize ‘space’ and the ‘landscape’ in which they live.
This ethno-linguistic analysis of the Cariban language, Wayana (still spoken in the dense rainforests of Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil), gives a detailed account of how spatiality is expressed in Wayana. This gives us a glimpse into the worldview of the Wayana, enabling us to achieve a greater understanding of how the Wayana perceive and categorize ‘space’ and the ‘landscape’ in which they live.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Sidestone Press on Oct 17, 2012
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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03/31/2013

Landscape is never passive. People engage with it, rework it, appropriate and contest it.
It is part of the way in which identities are created and disputed, whether as individual,
group or nation-state. Operating at the juncture of history and politics, social relations
and cultural perceptions, landscape is a concept of high tension. It is also an area of
study that forces the abandonment of conventional disciplinary boundaries and creates
potential for innovative cross-fertilization. (Barnard and Spencer, 2002: 324)

The term ‘landscape’ originally defined a particular painting technique used by
artists in the 16th

century; this same term was later applied to picturesque
rural settings which evoked memories of such ‘landscape’ paintings (cf. Hirsch,
1995: 2). Although western cultures continue to define general landscape as a
picturesque setting, the term has also evolved, connecting landscape to human
agency within anthropological discourse:

A landscape has no meaningful shape and significance until it is accorded place and
identity in the social and cognitive worlds of human experience. (Helms, 1998: 20)

However, it is only in recent decades that this anthropological notion of
landscape has come to be perceived as a dynamic, cultural process ‘between
foreground actuality and background potentiality
’ (Halbmayer, 2004: 136; cf.
Hirsch, 1995: 2-5). The ‘foreground actuality’ represents everyday experience
which coexists with the idea of a ‘background potentiality’; an ideal, potential
life, ‘the way we might be’ (Ibid: 3). Hirsch (1995: 4) divides these two senses of
being according to the following schemata:

foreground↔

background

place↔

space

inside↔

outside

image↔

representation

These notions continuously interrelate with each other creating a dynamic,
cultural process wherein human agency turns ‘space’ into a ‘place’, creating a
dynamic landscape which no longer fits into the static definition applied by
western Europeans and in the scientific discourses of disciplines such as
geography (cf. Hirsch, 1995: 5; Granero, 1995: 100; Barnard and Spencer Eds.
2002: 324).

79

Hirsch was summarizing here the ideas of Alfred Gell in his chapter: The Language of the Forest which was
published in ‘The Anthropology of Landscape’ (Hirsch and O’ Hanlon Eds. 1995).

The Expression and Perception of Space in Wayana

107

In anthropology, landscape is often intersected by concentric, spatial zones
radiating outwards from the known, ‘safe’ village towards the unknown and
potential danger. These concentric zones often become distorted by the
presence of rivers which elongate the centre ‘safe’ place as they are generally
perceived as:

A safe and “socialized” space where every river bend and local place is named, and
therefore known, with the forest beyond, a dangerous, mysterious and undifferentiated
wilderness of spirits and monsters (Helms, 1988: 23; cf. Chaumeil, 2004: 123).

This slight overgeneralization is not always the case inside the landscape of the
Wayana, where specific parts of the river are also perceived as ‘dangerous’
places, where spirits live and where oral traditions tell of past incidents which
have lead to the death of villagers. As expected, the most distinctive contrast of
landscape in Amazonia is that between forest and village, the latter of which is
perceived as being proximate, visible, known and thereby a safe place (cf.
Rivière, 1969: vii; Rivière, 1995: 43; Helms, 1988: 21).

As discussed above in section 1.3.3, the Wayana live in a highly
transformational world whereby different worlds and cosmological layers coexist
simultaneously and wherein humans, spirits and animals reside. The
habitation of spirits in forests and other cosmological layers creates the idea
that these areas represent space which is distal, invisible, unknown and
therefore uncontrollable (except through ritual), evoking a sense of uncertainty.
In this sense forests and other cosmological layers outside the one where
humans reside form a parallel. As posited by Helms (1988: 30):

Contact with the geographically distant unknown may be considered comparable to
contact with distant spiritual levels and unknowns.

These distinctions between proximate and distal place are made within the
demonstrative and third person pronouns and locative adverbs, (cf. Table 5.3)
as discussed in sections 4.4 and 5.5.

proximalmedialdistal

specific locationtan(ë)

molo

mon(o)

general location tale

hëj(e)

(stative)

mëje

(stative)

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