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Other Knowledges: Reflections on Recent Archaeology in South America by David Turnbull

To give you some sense of where I am coming from, I have always worked in what is now known as science studies, and in particular within the sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK). My overarching interest has been with looking at the ways in which people, practices, and places are moved and assembled in differing local knowledge traditions. So I see my work and that which the Latin American historian Santiago Castro-Gomez has labelled ‘Coloniality of Power’ Group, as having a key question in common­– how to work with the multiplicity of knowledges without subordinating them in the panoptic archive of western science.[1]

A guiding principle of SSK has been ‘things could be other than they are’, accordingly that which seems self-evident, natural, true or authoritative requires examination and explanation. The historical understanding of South America, like the global south as a whole, Australia included, has been frequently enmeshed in the self-evident and naturalising assumptions of Eurocentric explanations of the emergence of complex societies and civilization, of what civilisation consists in and how it came to be. This is especially apparent in the méconnaissance and violent misrecognition surrounding knowledges, spaces and rationalities in the narratives of prehistory within which South America has been framed.[2] South America has been variously portrayed as the last continent to be ‘discovered’, a ‘New World’, a pristine wilderness, as inhabited by primitive natives without civilization, though with the acknowledged exception of the Incas. Not only has South America been continuously subjected to the most extreme forms of violent conquest and exploitation since Columbus chanced upon it, but our understandings of it have been shaped within a narrative of a universalizing knowledge tradition and an abstract space, perhaps the most egregious and disturbingly popular being Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel.[3]

However, such narratives have been substantially challenged from a number of directions. First and foremost have been the challenges from South American critics, authors, and indigenous activists including Jorge Luis Borges[4], Edmundo O’Gorman[5], Arturo Escobar[6], Walter Mignolo[7], Enrique Dussel[8], Eduardo Viveiros de Castro,[9] and the movements leading to the establishment of The Intercultural University “Amawtay Wasi” (UIAW) of the Indigenous Nationalities and People of Ecuador[10], all of whom, in various ways, aim to destabilise the dichotomies under which the hierarchical hegemony of a unifying and universalising western science is established. They pose differing oppositions of unity and multiplicity in their conceptions of ‘agonistic pluralism’, ‘transmodernity’, ‘diversality’, ‘interculturality’, ‘multinaturalism’. Other challenges have come from a rethinking of the peopling of the world, the origins of complexity, modernity and civilization, that have emerged along with the geneticisation of history and archaeological work in Africa and the Near East. But it is the debates and controversies surrounding recent archaeological and historical ecological research in Norte Chico and Amazonia, and their articulation in understanding the emergence of complex societies and what constitutes civilization that are the central concerns of this paper. Naturally this concern carries with it a reflexive corollary: can an explanation of complexity in terms of emergence avoid simply being an extension of a universalizing knowledge tradition on the one hand, while avoiding a vitiating proliferation of multiplicities on the other?

A number of assumptions have served to preset the narratives of prehistory. Among them are the assumption that early man had little agency and was subject to population and environmental pressures, climate change, resource supply and geography, and that agency was only fully achieved with settlement and the invention of agriculture. This ‘sedentarist’ metaphysics reinforces the dominant orthodoxy that the Neolithic revolution was the precondition of civilisation and modernity, and was largely a Mesopotamian phenomenon.[11] Though counterparts in the East were acknowledged, the natural supremacy of Europe was assumed, because, at least according to Diamond, Europeans were geographically advantaged by being able to spread their domesticated crops and animals latitudinally. They were also lucky enough to have a climate and environment that encouraged them to sleep with their animals and thereby acquire immunity to infectious diseases. All they needed was to invent steel and the world was theirs.

This narrative underpins a particular conception of modernity and rationality that ties it to being settled in place — particularly Europe — and to building cities, establishing the rule of law and creating hierarchical states. Fixity in space and place has become the foundation stone of western rationality and epistemology. Consequently unrestrained movement is equated with wandering, irrationality, placelessness and the primitive, something that needs to be controlled, located and set in logical, linear order.[12] It is now possible to pose a counter narrative in which movement is given greater salience, and in which the notion of revolutions, especially the European Neolithic revolution, as foundation of modernity are undermined by recent archaeological work in South Africa, Turkey, and South America.

Arguably one of the key components on which all forms of movement depend is a social technology of kinship – a network of relatedness, bonding, and obligations that enables the transmission of resource access and knowledge across generations through a classification of friends, enemies, and strangers. Such conceptions of kinship and relatedness are social and cultural constructs and do not necessarily map naturally onto genetic and biological relationships. However, the development of such complex forms of social cognition is, Clive Gamble suggests, a prerequisite for overcoming the limitations of co-presence and extending relationships in space and time. A view that is consonant with Robin Dunbar’s ‘social brain hypothesis’.[13] Dunbar argues that ‘Primate societies are implicit social contracts established to solve the ecological problems of survival and reproduction more effectively than they could do on their own. Primate societies work as effectively as they do in this respect because they are based on deep social bonding that is cognitively expensive. Thus it is the computational demands of managing complex interactions that has driven neocortical evolution.’ This conception of the dynamics of human neocortical evolution as social rather than simply technological or biological fits well with both the model proposed by Stanley Ambrose for the co-development of language, symbolisation, a larger brain, and compound tool-making that began in Africa around 300,000BP, and with Ben Marwick’s claim that language and symbolisation developed with the extension of exchange networks.[14] In large part the symbolisation and feedback essential to the development of such social networks depends on keeping track of relatedness and kinship through forms of telling – performing and representation, storytelling, singing, dancing, painting, building, and, importantly for my argument, weaving.[15]

The narrative of human dispersals around the world simply as mass migrations or demic diffusions, can now be countered with a more complex narrative. One in which human movements are seen a relatively fast and strategic, demonstrating great flexibility in a diversity of environments, necessitating complex information exchange systems that allow group decision making and feedback, but without the necessity for hierarchy or plans.[16] Such information-exchange systems typically exhibit forms of emergent complexity in which relationships, language, materials, genes, places, practices and people are co-produced in the process of human movement.[17]

Correspondingly there are at least two possible frameworks, with multiple dimensions, within which to understand the origins of social complexity, modernity, and the relationship of knowledge and space. In a heterarchical framework social order can be understood as an emergent effect of a complex adaptive system. While a hierarchical framework implies that systemic superstructural forces produce social order. In turn heterarchical models have a dynamic based in multiplicity and difference, while hierarchical models are totalizing. I would argue that the answer to how work with multiplicity is not to simply favour the heterarchical, but to hold these two frameworks in the kind of tension of agonistic pluralism advocated by Dussel, that would allow for emergent knowledges and spaces.

Python Rock, oldest religious site, Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, 77 kya

Python Rock, oldest religious site, Tsodilo Hills, Botswana, 77 kya

To date production of universalising scientific knowledge has been a narrative of dependency on a tightly demarcated organisation of abstract space and regularized movement. However, the naturalization of this narrative of space, time and knowledge subserving an account of European modernity is now countered by recent discoveries at the Blombos Cave and Pinnacle Point in Southern Africa which reveal that the behaviours that have been claimed to make humans ‘modern’ such as sourcing, combining, and storing materials that enhance technology or social practices, along with external symbolization and religion, occurred, not in Europe after a Neolithic revolution, but 100,000 years ago, before humans ever left Africa.[18]

Fig 2 Pierced shells Blombos Cave 75kya indicating external symbolisation and use of string

Fig 2 Pierced shells Blombos Cave 75kya indicating external symbolisation and use of string

Fig 3 Incised ochre with possible tally marks according to Ambrose

Fig 3 Incised ochre with possible tally marks according to Ambrose

Fig 4 Incised Ostrich shells

Fig 4 Incised Ostrich shells

Fig 5 Arrow heads

Fig 5 Arrow heads

While recent excavations in Turkey and Jordan suggest that the sequence of settle down, invent agriculture and only then are complex and hierarchical structures and societies possible is not the way things worked out in every case, rather there appear to have been a diversity of approaches to living and working together, including examples of building complex structures without agriculture or settling down.[19]

Fig 7 Community center for processing wild plants, and performances. Wadi Faynan 16 South Jordan 12,000BP

Fig 7 Community center for processing wild plants, and performances. Wadi Faynan 16 South Jordan 12,000BP

Fig 8 Gobekli Tepe 11.5kya pre-agricultural monumental architecture

Fig 8 Gobekli Tepe 11.5kya pre-agricultural monumental architecture

Fig 9 Çatalhöyük 9.5kya post-agriculture; all domestic spaces, no complex monumental architecture, the only public space being house roofs

Fig 9 Çatalhöyük 9.5kya post-agriculture; all domestic spaces, no complex monumental architecture, the only public space being house roofs

Fig replica of a Catal Hoyuk house, with everything public and domestic in one space:- a shrine, a hearth and ancestors under the bed

Fig replica of a Catal Hoyuk house, with everything public and domestic in one space:- a shrine, a hearth and ancestors under the bed

There is no time here to expand on the evidence for alternative paths to complex societies in the Near East, or on the evidence of human movements by sea in prehistory.

Fig 10 Possible Maritime Routes into South America- the ’kelp highway’

Fig 10 Possible Maritime Routes into South America- the ’kelp highway’

However, the revision of the view that human movement around the globe was largely by land, opens up the possibility of a much earlier time frame for the peopling of South America no longer constrained by an impassable barrier in eth Bering Straits. As early as 30,000BP people could have been coasting on the ‘kelp highway, with multiple groups overlapping each other along the coast and penetrating the interior simultaneously.[20]

It also lends strong support to Michael Moseley’s controversial ‘Maritime foundation of Andean civilization’ (MFAC) hypothesis, that is at the heart of the debate over Caral which, with its impressive size and massive pyramids and plazas, is now variously proclaimed the ‘oldest city’ or ‘oldest civilization in the Americas’, even ‘the oldest in the world’ and which is the main focus of this talk.[21]

Fig 11 Norte Chico

Fig 11 Norte Chico

The area of coastal Peru north of Lima, now known as Norte Chico, was first noted as significant in 1905. Aspero, the site at the mouth of the Supe river on which Caral stands, was excavated in 1941 by Willey and Corbett. Much to their subsequent embarrassment Willey and Corbett simply failed to recognise the existence of pyramids at the site, dismissing them as ‘natural eminences of sand’.[22] The site did not excite much attention because it was pre-ceramic, having no pottery or gold; it was also in an arid cold desert. It simply didn’t rate as a site of a possible civilization.

Fig 11 Aerial view Caral Complex

Fig 11 Aerial view Caral Complex

Fig 12 Ampitheatre Pyramid Caral

Fig 12 Ampitheatre Pyramid Caral

Fig 13 Caral Megalith

Fig 13 Caral Megalith

Fig 14 Main Plaza torch lit

Fig 14 Main Plaza torch lit

Fig 15 Caral Geoglyph Human Face

Fig 15 Caral Geoglyph Human Face

Fig 16 Shicra (woven) reed bags of differing sizes filled with stones

Fig 16 Shicra (woven) reed bags of differing sizes filled with stones

image

image

Fig 17 4000-year-old engraved gourd image reveals the fanged teeth and splayed feet of the

Fig 17 4000-year-old engraved gourd image reveals the fanged teeth and splayed feet of the

It was not until the late 1990s that the single-minded persistence of the Peruvian archaeologist Ruth Shady revealed its full complexity and extent with multiple, massive pyramids, temples, plazas and residences. Interest in Caral became intense when Shady published the dating results in Science in 2001 with the help of Jonathon Haas and Winifred Creamer from the Field Museum in Chicago.[23] At 2900 BCE it was declared ‘the oldest civilization in the Americas’, making Caral one of the oldest civilizations in the world. At this period the only other site with that degree of urban complexity was Sumer in Mesopotamia.

Haas and Creamer have turned their attention to revealing the complex of sites in adjacent valleys, and to articulating an alternative explanation to Ruth Shady’s for the emergence of this society, while Shady has continued to excavate Caral. Despite a growing rivalry and differing explanations, Shady and Haas/Creamer have taken each other’s work into account and have more in common than their apparent differences.[24] The importance of Caral lies in the fact that much of what has been found does not fit with the orthodox understanding of the emergence of a complex society, of civilization. The same can be said of recent work in Amazonia.

Much to everyone’s surprise historical ecologists, archaeologists and anthropologists, Anna Roosevelt, William Denevan, Clark Erickson, William Balée and Michael Heckenberger have found evidence of the fabled civilizations first reported by Francisco de Orellana in his extraordinary voyage down the Amazon in 1541. The region may have had a population of 4-5million, but who, in a wavefront of disease, possibly smallpox, disappeared ahead of full-scale Spanish invasion. Such large populations, it is claimed, were made possible by the total and deliberate transformation of what would be otherwise rather difficult and restricted ecosystems with very poor soil subject to severe flooding. The Amazon, on this account, is not a pristine wilderness, but an anthropogenic construct, a performative landscape with spatial, temporal and epistemological dimensions, a co-production of human agency, knowledge practices, movement and the environment. Until recently what has gone unnoticed, seemingly invisible in the dense rainforests, were the massive complexes of geometrical earthworks, mounds, causeways, canals, roads, fishtraps and terra preta.[25]

Fig 18 Prehispanic Raised fields Beni Region Bolivian Amazonia

Fig 18 Prehispanic Raised fields Beni Region Bolivian Amazonia

Fig Terra Preta mounds

Fig Terra Preta mounds

Fig 19 Xingu complex of villages

Fig 19 Xingu complex of villages

These earthworks and soil transformations enabled the proliferation of large interlinked urban settlements. Around the Amazon and its tributaries in the floodplains (varzea) the dark earth (terra preta) mounds, carefully and deliberately created out of soil mixed with charcoal, broken pottery, fish and food remains and human excreta, were superbly fertile, allowing the abundant growth of food crops.[26]

Fig 20 Fazenda Colorada Geoglyph Geometric Earthworks Upland Amazonia.

Fig 20 Fazenda Colorada Geoglyph Geometric Earthworks Upland Amazonia.

At the same time geometrical earthworks or geoglyphs are starting to become visible in upland areas of the Amazon (terra firme) as they are exposed by forest clearing and archaeology’s newest research technique Google Earth. These massive constructions are most likely to be performance spaces, though there is some possibility that they had defensive functions. Whatever their function the researchers anticipate finding thousands more such structures, revealing a completely unexpected degree of social complexity in a region held to have been only capable of supporting simple villages.[27]

Now that the first round of what Denevan calls the ‘Amazon archaeology wars’ has been won, and the presence of these vast complexes has largely been accepted, what remains at issue is how and why they could have been built. The critics argue that the massive earthworks would have required a correspondingly massive workforce, which in turn would have necessitated a hierarchical social structure and division of labour, typical of state-level societies, along with an augmented food supply, i.e. agriculture,

Erikson, Heckenberger and Roosevelt have shown that there is evidence of augmented food supply, but agree there is no historical or ethnographic evidence of such hierarchical social structures in Amazonia [28] They suggest the earthworks, were built by heterarchical societies: groups of communities, loosely bound by shifting horizontal links through kinship, alliances, and informal associations. For Heckenberger these were ‘self-organising autonomous polities in a distributed system’, for Erickson the result is ‘the accumulated landscape capital of generations of farmers who built it more or less on their own’. [29]

In my own work I have similarly argued that complex structures like the gothic cathedrals did not, in the first instance, require either a master architect or a plan, they were the result of the ‘ad hoc accumulation of the work of many men’.[30] However, I would also argue that these communal activities have to be understood performatively. These communities were creating knowledge spaces, enabling people, practices and places to be linked together. They socialised the landscape through performance of a collective social identity.[31]

At Norte Chico the evidence is more equivocal. Norte Chico is of great importance because of its special features, not just its surprising age. It is built in one the most arid environments on earth, which would seem to lend support to Moseley’s MFAC hypothesis based on the superabundance of anchovies, sardines and molluscs on the Peruvian coast. However, Shady’s discoveries at Caral and Haas and Creamer’s at other inland sites in Norte Chico reveal a complexity that caused Moseley to modify his claim that ‘it’s all based on fish’. All the sites are centered on irrigation utilising the seasonal floodwaters of the four main rivers coming down from the Andes. While some food crops were grown in these irrigation areas, the dominant crop was domesticated cotton. Despite Haas and Creamer’s claims that their inland sites are as old as, and outnumber the coastal ones, and[V1] that hence the maritime hypothesis cannot hold, it seems plausible to claim that the region displays a unique example of co-dependency.[32]

Fig 21 Buena Vista site of oldest calendar? 4.2kya

Fig 21 Buena Vista site of oldest calendar? 4.2kya

Fig 22 Sechin Baja Plaza near Casma 5.5kya

Fig 22 Sechin Baja Plaza near Casma 5.5kya

Fresh sites of greater age are being found, on the coast, inland, and in the mountains as attention has become focused on Norte Chico, at Sechin Baja at Casma, Buena Vista, Bandurria and Chankillo for example.[33] These sites suggest that initially they were autonomous, though right from the earliest stages they were linked in trading networks exchanging exotic goods up and down the coast, inland into the mountains, possibly even to the Amazon.

Fig 23 Bandurria 4.5kya

Fig 23 Bandurria 4.5kya

Fig 28 Found at Caral: 1. feather necklace 2. offering 3. basket 4. sandal

Fig 28 Found at Caral: 1. feather necklace 2. offering 3. basket 4. sandal

Fig 29 Whale vertebra seat unearthed at Caral

Fig 29 Whale vertebra seat unearthed at Caral

Fig 30 Caral Flutes with Incised Amazonian jungle monkey images

Fig 30 Caral Flutes with Incised Amazonian jungle monkey images

Fig 27 Spondylus shell

Fig 27 Spondylus shell

For example Spondylus shells from the warm water off the Ecuadorian coast have been found in the Andes, as have salt crystals from the Peruvian coast.[34] Feathers from the Amazon jungle along with Condor bones, the aphrodisiac achiote, and obsidian from the Andes have all been found in Norte Chico.[35] Michael Moseley suggests that there was an ancient coastal trading tradition with exchange specialists called mindala. [36] These traders sailed massive balsa rafts up to Mexico carrying Spondylus shells and other exotic materials, and would have been the kind of craft captured by the conquistador Pizarro in 1526.

Shady’s and Haas and Creamer’s attraction to a hierarchical explanation of social complexity may in part be rooted in their attempt to attribute a special iconic status to Norte Chico as a ‘mother civilisation’ on the grounds that, unlike any other, it grew in isolation from outside influence.[37] The trading networks and exchange systems which would have been established through the movements and interactions of the region’s earliest occupants, as a precursor to social complexity, make such miraculous births seem as unlikely as ‘neolithic revolutions’ and ‘pristine wildernesses’, whilst they also undermine the apparent corollary of seeming to have done it all by themselves, and that there must have been an elite to direct it.[38]

Autonomous communities and exchange networks aside, the evidence seems to show that the inland communities’ basic source of protein was fish, and for the coastal communities to supply that volume of food they had to have nets, nets made[V2] from cotton domesticated and grown in irrigated plots inland. Over time what may have developed was a relationship of co-dependence rather than dominance by one or the other. Equally problematic is the qustionof how the labour force was organised to build this massive complex of monuments[V3] ?

For Haas it’s straightforwardly obvious: The size of a structure is really an indication of power…People don’t just say, ‘Hey, let’s build a great big monument.’ They do it because they’re told to and because the consequences of not doing so are significant.[39] Shady is likewise in no doubt, it was a proto-state run by an elite in the service of a religious ideology: ‘Religion functioned as the instrument of cohesion and coercion, and it was very effective’[40] But her key claim for the necessary existence of an elite hierarchy dominated by religious and scientific experts is that Caral was laid out in a specific spatial plan based on astronomy and a calendar.

[t]he arrangement of architectural structures implies a spatial ordering that preceded construction and the elaboration of a planned design of the city, that recognised important social organisational criteria such as hierarchical social strata and symbolic divisions into halves- upper and lower, right and left…Supe society produced advanced scientific and technological knowledge; it constructed the first planned cities in the New World and laid down the foundations of what would become the Central Andean social system.[41]

Leaving aside the question of the evidence for accurate astronomical and calendrical alignments, which she does not provide, her argument depends on a self-evident understanding of knowledge and space. If a set of structures has a spatial ordering then there must have been a planner or group of planners. The apparent differentiation in the quality of domestic spaces may be evidence of social division, but it may also be interpreted as permanent and occasional accommodation. However, the claim of necessary hierarchy looks less cogent if the large geometric and spatially organised structures in the Amazon were built communally without an expert elite. Other archaeologists such as Richard Burger suggest that it was possible to mobilize the large labor force needed for such monumental architecture without state coercion. Like Shady he thinks religious ideology was the key innovation:

In motivating collective efforts, maintaining order and perpetuating the system… an ideology that held that the community not the individual owned and controlled critical resources… structured many of the productive activities and shaped social and economic dimensions. Consequently it would be misleading to think of religion – and particularly in these early ‘ceremonial centres’ – as somehow separate from the economic or political spheres.[42]

For Burger, unlike Shady, hierarchy is not self-evidently necessary nor is communal ideology inherently coercive.

Herrera proposes a ‘heterarchical framework that drives socio-spatial organization’ and: sketch[es] a picture of Andean social complexity as embedded in the history of deeply intertwined sacred and economic landscapes, held together by reciprocal relations about places, including sources of water, ultimately anchored in memory through the idiom of kinship.[43]

Burger’s and Herrera’s interpretive frameworks differ from that of Shady and Haas, not only in conceiving knowledge and space as an emergent effect of heterarchy, but also in being performative rather than representational, a framework which brings to the fore two key dimensions. The first gives the community active and engaged agency rather than reducing them to passivity and coercion. The second is the manifest spatial character of all the Norte Chico sites and especially Caral, where the central and most obvious characteristic is not the buildings or their layout, but the plazas and their associated performance spaces, spaces where the community enact their understandings of the world and the cosmos.[44] The cultural landscape and the community are the product of movement and social interaction, of people making connections. However, the performative and emergent character of an heterarchical, distributive system, framework cannot be assumed presumptively, it has to be held in tension with the top down structuralist character of an hierarchical one. But I also think we should treat the notion of tension as having more ontological significance than this epistemological point would suggest.

These reasons lie in the role of string and stories, textiles, khipu and narratives; other forms of connection which seem relatively slight, mundane and banal against the massive solidity of the pyramids and the vast plazas, but which were also central to the performance of knowledge and space at Caral.

Fig 31 Oldest Khipu Caral

Fig 31 Oldest Khipu Caral

Fig 32 Caral textile

Fig 32 Caral textile

In a sealed room in one of the pyramids in 2005 Shady and her team made the most exciting find at Caral – the earliest known example of a khipu, a proto-khipu consisting of a ladder-like assemblage of 12 cotton strings, some knotted, wrapped around sticks. Famously Khipu are the knotted string devices used for recoding and transmitting information in the Inca Empire. Along with the khipu many fragments of textiles have been which along with the landscape itself are held to be readable as narratives of social order and identity.

Fig 33 Andean textile

Fig 33 Andean textile

Heather Lechtman in her brilliant analysis of Andean technologies of power argues that solutions to the problem of productive management of the disparate and distributed systems in the Andes that were ‘uncoordinated spatially and temporally’, ‘had to be solutions of articulation, design and labour orchestration rather than through tools, artefacts, or machines’.[45] And it was textiles, string and Khipu that provided the means of orchestration.

‘Textiles were the primary visual medium for the expression of ideas, the fundamental art form of the Andean peoples’.[46] Their ‘weaving insists that messages be embodied in and expressed by structure’. [47] As Katherine Seibold puts it, ‘Textiles are art which reveals cosmologies.’[48] Inca landscapes were draped with textiles, as for example on the island of the sun in Lake Titicaca, and people’s clothing was designed to be read t reveal their status and their ethnicity.

 

Fig 34 Last Inca string bridge

Fig 34 Last Inca string bridge

‘Andean solutions to the most fundamental, physical and mechanical problems of daily life, as well as those of communication and ideology, were sought, conceived and executed through resource to technologies based on the engineering of fibres.’[49] According to William Conklin ‘tension was the Inca way. Textiles are held together by tension and they exploited that tension with amazing inventiveness and precision’.[50]

Fig 35 Ceque lines radiating out from Cuzco. According to Bauer

Fig 35 Ceque lines radiating out from Cuzco. According to Bauer

Fig 36 A khipu that may be a map of Ica Valley Ceque System

Fig 36 A khipu that may be a map of Ica Valley Ceque System

Fig Q’enqo Huaca near Cuzco. Maybe a map, a solar observatory, a shrine, an altar, a performance space, on, in, through and around.

Fig Q’enqo Huaca near Cuzco. Maybe a map, a solar observatory, a shrine, an altar, a performance space, on, in, through and around.

Likewise the landscape was marked by lines (ceques) radiating out from the capital Cuzco. These lines joining sacred shrines (huacas) formed an abstract social map projected onto the landscape as paths, which had their fabric and material analog in the knotted string khipu.[51] In their ‘discursive construction of the landscape…the ceque lines, and the khipu may be homologous forms: visible, tactile, and emotive, they each embody knowledge, produce history, and harness the memory’. [52] Khipu are knotted strings that hang off a main primary cord. Their spin, colour, size of knots and so on can record all kinds of knowledge. It has been known for some time that some of them are numerical ledger books recording llama flock numbers, labour tax records, tributes and food quantities in storage.[53] It is now hypothesised that there are many varieties of khipu and some may also encode narratives and histories.[54]

Fig 37 Khipu on display at civic plenum Peru 1995 (Salomon)

Fig 37 Khipu on display at civic plenum Peru 1995 (Salomon)

This understanding fits with that of the anthropologist Frank Salomon who has recently found khipus are still in use in some Peruvian villages.[55] Admittedly they have been undoubtedly transformed from those of their original Inca ancestors, nonetheless he finds khipu are markers of social obligation to the commons, and are also badges of office. They are used in pairs in dialogue with each other; one as sort of simulation of an agenda, the other a simulation of the results. The dialogue between the plan and the record generates the communally agreed rationality of the community and public acknowledgement of the labour obligations of its members. Basically Salomon finds khipu to be operational devices for trying out alternatives, for modelling and assembling a plan for the commons through being publicly performed in theatres or ceremonial plazas.

In Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years, Elizabeth Barber made a delightful observation that she suspects string to be ‘the unseen weapon that allowed the human race to conquer the earth, that enabled us to move out into every econiche on the globe during the Upper Palaeolithic. We could call it the String Revolution’.[56] The recognition that the capacity to join things together through lashing, binding and knotting, with string or cordage, is what enabled people to move is of profound importance. Movements are performed by groups of people through the actions of their own bodies and are coordinated and motivated through ritual, music, dance and stories. Historically stories and string were very likely coproduced with one another; they certainly inform each other mythopoetically through the fundamental commonality of narrative and weaving. Weaving and storytelling reflect a common origin in the derivation of text and textile from the Latin verb texere to weave. What weaving, stories, and string share is the complex duality of tension and connection, difference and similarity. Stories join ideas, string joins things together, and both are dependent on tension.[57] String and cordage derive their connective capacity from tension in knots, binding, or twining. Weaving depends on the tension between the warp and the weft.

The “incredible fact,” in the view of William J. Conklin, architect, archaeologist and research associate at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C, is that “weaving was invented for what we might call ‘conceptual art’—to communicate meaning—and only afterward was it used for clothing. Textiles are important to every society. But their role in Andean societies as carriers of meaning and power is different from anything else that I know.”[58]

Just as khipu are not forms of writing Andean textiles are not representations.[59] Weaving and textiles like khipu are profoundly tactile coming alive in performance, which makes Andean knowledge traditions profoundly different ontologically and epistemologically from those underpinning Western conceptions of modernity. For the Inca ‘[t]he universe and the world are alive and this can be captured in weaving, the threads can have power, life and meaning are imparted by the weaver through rotation spinning and twisting’.[60] Tension is thus central to an Andean ontology, and to heterarchy and complex adaptive systems in the opposition of positive and negative feed back.[61] But, tension is also central to the agonistic pluralism and diversality that is vital to working with differing knowledge traditions, and to the possibility of emergent new knowledge.

The conditions for possibilities of there being other knowledges, other spaces, other rationalities’ lie, as Dussel suggested, in creating a space for transmodernity in which modernity and its negated alterity could co-realise themselves in a process of mutual creative fertilization. However, I would argue, along with Dussel, that in order to ground an anti-foundationalist position with its recognition of multiple incommensurable knowledge traditions you need to sustain critical reason in order to avoid the vitiation of simply celebrating difference.[62] Critical reason is best sustained through comparing the ways in which spatiality, temporality, knowledge and reason are coproduced in differing traditions. Such ontological dimensions are typically concealed and invisible behind a screen of self-evidence in any given tradition, bringing them to the fore and recognising them may best achieved through by putting them on a equitable footing, acknowledging that all knowledges whether they are indigenous, scientific or traditional, are local in that they are performed by people in places with specific practices. Holding them in tension can reveal the differing ways in which knowledge and space are co-produced. The linkings of people, practices and places and the production of knowledge spaces have messy, contingent, and only partly acknowledged dimensions: ontologies, systems of trust, reciprocity and obligation, technical devices, social strategies and spatial structures for moving, assembling, and performing the knowledge, along with narratives of spatiality and temporality that shape community and identity. In addition to being profoundly narratological and spatial, knowledges are also performative, they are based in embodied practices, in the movement of human bodies in engagement with each other, with the physical environment, and with their own artifacts, in the movement along cognitive trails through conceptual space in making linkages and connections.[63]

To make all these dimensions visible, to enable them to interact and to create the conditions for the possibility of the emergent knowledge, we need to experiment with ways to create third spaces, theatres of diversity in which differing knowledge traditions can not only be performed together, but can be critically compared in determining how best to proceed in sustaining diversity and the commons once we are aware of how things could be other than they are.[64] To that end I am working with Wade Chambers to develop Story Weaver at The Institute of American Indian Art (IAIA) and with Robin Boast at the Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology in Cambridge and Ramesh Srinivasen at UCLA to develop a distributed knowledge system between museums. Both these projects sustain the commons by allowing differing knowledges to work together while holding them in tension rather than absorbing them into one dominant tradition, but that is a story for another day.

This paper was previously subtitled ‘Other Spaces, Other Rationalities: Heterarchy, Complexity and Tension, Norte Chico, Amazonia and Narratives of Prehistory in South America’. It was delivered at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies, Melbourne on 5 Nov 2011 as part of the Southern Perspectives series by David Turnbull from the Victoria Eco-Innovation Lab (VEIL), Architecture Faculty, University of Melbourne (email [email protected]).


[1] Turnbull, David. 2009. Introduction. Futures: Special Issue on The Futures of Indigenous Knowledges, Guest Editor David Turnbull 41 (1):1-5.

———. Working with Incommensurable Knowledge Traditions: Assemblage, Diversity, Emergent Knowledge, Narrativity, Performativity, Mobility and Synergy 2009. Available from http://thoughtmesh.net/publish/279.php?space#conclusionassemblage.Castro-Gomez, Santiago. 2008. (Post)coloniality for Dummies: Latin American Prespectives on Modernity, Coloniality, and the Geopolitics of Knowledge. In Coloniality at Large: Latin America and the Postcolonial Debate, edited by M. Moraña, E. Dussel and C. Jauregui, 259-285. Durham NC: Duke University.Santos, Boaventura de Sousa, Joao Arriscado Nunes, and Mari Paula Meneses. 2007. Introduction: Opening up the Canon of Knowledge and Recognition of Difference. In Another Knowledge is Possible: Beyond Northern Epistemologies, edited by B. d. S. Santos, xvix-lxii. London: Verso. Canaparo, Claudio. 2009. Geo-epistemology: Latin America and the Location of Knowledge. Oxford: Peter Lang.

[2] Pierre Bourdieu defines méconnaissance as self seeking silence, and for Dussel violent misrecognition is definitional of our encounter with the other.

[3] Diamond, Jared. 1997. Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Society. London: Jonathon Cape.

———. 2005. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Survive. London: Allen Lane.

[4] Especially the stories ‘Of exactitude in science’ 1935, ‘Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge’ 1942, ‘The Garden of Forking Paths’ 1941

[5] O’Gorman, Edmundo. 1961. The Invention of America: An Inquiry into the Historical Nature of the New World and the Meaning of its History. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

[6] Escobar, Arturo. 2008. Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes. Durham: Duke University Press. See also

[7] Mignolo, Walter. 1995. The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

[8] Dussel, Enrique. 1993. Eurocentrism and Modernity. boundary 2 2 (20/3):65-76.

[9] Viveiros De Castro, Eduardo 2004. The Transformation of Objects into Subjects in Amerindian Ontologies Common Knowledge 10 (3):463-.

[10] Mignolo, Walter. 2003. Globalization and the Geopolitics of Knowledge: The Role of the Humanities in the Corporate University. Nepantla: Views from South 4 (1):97-119.

[11] Cresswell, Tim. 2006. On The Move: Mobility in the Modern Western World. New York: Routledge.

[12] Turnbull, David. 2004. Narrative Traditions of Space, Time and Trust in Court: Terra Nullius, ‘wandering’, The Yorta Yorta Native Title Claim, and The Hindmarsh Island Bridge Controversy. In Expertise in Regulation and Law, edited by G. Edmond, 166-183. Aldershot: Ashgate.

[13] Dunbar, Robin. 2007. The Social Brain and the Cultural Explosion of the Human Revolution. In Rethinking the Human Revolution: New Behavioural and Biological Perspectives on the Origin and Dispersal of Modern Humans, edited by P. Mellars, K. Boyle, O. Bar-Yosef and C. Stringer, 91-98. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

[14] Marwick, Ben. 2003. Pleistocene Exchange Networks as Evidence for the Evolution of Language Cambridge Archaeological Journal 13 (1):67-81.

[15] Dunbar, Robin. 2008. Kinship in Biological Perspective. In Early Human Kinship: From Sex to Social Reproduction, edited by N. Allen, H. Callan, R. Dunbar and W. James, 131-150. Oxford: Blackwell. Fiedel, Stuart, and David Anthony. 2003. Deerslayers, Pathfinders and Icemen: Origins of the European Neolithic As Seen from the Frontier. In Colonization of Unfamiliar Landscapes: The Archaeology of Adaptation, edited by M. Rockman and J. Steele, 144-168. London: Routledge.

[18] McBrearty, Sally. 2007. Down with the Revolution. In Rethinking the Human Revolution: New Behavioural and Biological Perspectives on the Origin and Dispersal of Modern Humans, edited by P. Mellars, K. Boyle, O. Bar-Yosef and C. Stringer, 133-151. Cambridge: McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research.

Henshilwood, CS, F d’Errico, et al. (2011) A 100,000-Year-Old Ochre-Processing Workshop at Blombos Cave, South Africa, Science, 334: 219-222.

[19] Balter, M (2011) First Buildings May Have Been Community Centers, Science Now.

[20] Erlandson, JM, MH Graham, et al. (2007) The Kelp Highway Hypothesis: Marine Ecology, the Coastal Migration Theory, and the

Peopling of the Americas, Journal of Island & Coastal Archaeology, 2: 161-74.

[21] Moseley, Michael, and Robert Feldman. 1988. Fishing, Farming, and the Foundations of Andean Civilisation. In The Archaeology of Prehistoric Coastlines, edited by G. Bailey and J. Parkington, 125-134. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Moseley, Michael E. 2010. The Maritime Foundations of Andean Civilization: An Evolving Hypothesis. In the Hall of Maat Submitted August 10, 2004 for Peru y El Mar: 12000 anos del historia del pescaria. Pedro Trillo, Editor. Sociedad Nacional de Pesqueria. Lima, Peru, 2005. Caral Civilization Peru Weblog: The Origins of Civilization in Peru

Proyecto Especial Arqueológico Caral-Supe/INC 2005 [cited May 13 2010].

[22] Mann, Charles C. 2005. Oldest Civilization in the Americas Revealed. Science 307 (5706):34-35.

[23] Shady, Ruth, Jonathon Haas, and Winifred Creamer. 2001. Dating Caral, A Preceramic Site in the Supe Valley on the Central Coast of Peru. Science 292 (5517):723-726.

[24] Miller, Kenneth. 2005. Showdown at the O.K. Caral. Discover Magazine

Solis, Ruth Shady. 2006. America’s First City? The Case of Late Archaic Caral. In Andean Archaeology 111: North and South, edited by W. Isbell and H. Silverman, 28-. New York: Springer.

[25] Denevan, William. 2001. Cultivated Landscapes of Native Amazonia and the Andes. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Balée, William, and Clark Erickson. 2006. Time, Complexity, Historical Ecology. In Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands, edited by W. Balée and C. Erickson, 1-20. New York: Columbia University Press. Erickson, Clark. 2003. Historical Ecology and Future Explanations. In Amazonian Dark Earths: Origins, Properties, Management, edited by J. Lehmann, D. Kern, B. Glaser and W. Woods, 455-500. Dordrecht: Kluwer. Erikson, Clark. 2003. Pre-Columbian Roads of the Amazon. Expedition 43 (2):21-30. Heckenberger, Michael. 2005. The Ecology of Power: Culture, Place and Personhood in the Southern Amazon, A.D. 1000-2000. New York: Routledge. Heckenberger, Michael. 2006. History, Ecology, and Alerity: Visualising Polity in Ancient Amazonia. In Time and Complexity in Historical Ecology: Studies in the Neotropical Lowlands, edited by W. Balée and C. Erickson, 311-340. New York: Columbia University Press. Heckenberger, Michael, Afukaka Kulkuro, Urissapa Kulkuro, Christian Russell, Morgan Schmidt, Carlos Fausto, and Bruna Franchetto. 2003. Amazonia 1492: Pristine Forest or Cultural Parkland? Science 301:1710-1715. Heckenberger, Michael, Christian Russell, Carlos Fausto, Joshua Toney, Morgan Schmidt, Edithe Pereira, Bruna Franchetto, and Afukaka Kulkuro. 2010. Pre-Columbian Urbanism, Anthropogenic Landscapes, and the Future of the Amazon. Science 321:1214-1217. Heckenberger, Michael J, Christian Russell, Joshua R Toney, and Morgan J Schmidt. 2007. The legacy of cultural landscapes in the Brazilian Amazon: implications for biodiversity. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 362 (148):197-208.

[26] Erickson, Clark. 2003. Historical Ecology and Future Explanations. In Amazonian Dark Earths: Origins, Properties, Management, edited by J. Lehmann, D. Kern, B. Glaser and W. Woods. Dordrecht: Kluwer

[27] Parssinen, Martti, Denise Schaan, and Alceu Ranzi. 2009. Pre-Columbian geometric earthworks in the upper Puru ́s: a complex society in western Amazonia. Antiquity 83 (322):1084-1095.

[28] Roosevelt, Anna. 1999. The Development of Prehistoric Complex Societies: Amazonia, A Tropical Forest. Archeological Papers of the American Anthropological Association 9 (1):13-33. Heckenberger, Michael, Christian Russell, Carlos Fausto, Joshua Toney, Morgan Schmidt, Edithe Pereira, Bruna Franchetto, and Afukaka Kulkuro. 2010. Pre-Columbian Urbanism, Anthropogenic Landscapes, and the Future of the Amazon. Science 321:1214-1217. Mann, Charles. 2000. Earthmovers of the Amazon. Science 287 (5454):786-789

[29] cited in Mann 2000

[30] Turnbull 2000.

[31] Herrera, Alexander. 2007. Social Landscapes and Community Identity: the Social Organisation of Space in the North-central Andes. In Socialising Complexity: Structure, Interaction and Power in Archaeological Discourse, edited by S. Kohring and S. Wynne-Jones: Oxbow Books. Abercrombie, Thomas. 1998. Pathways of Memory and Power: Ethnography and History Among an Andean People. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

[32] Haas, Jonathan, and Winifred Creamer. 2006. Crucible of Andean Civilization: The Peruvian Coast from 3000 to 1800 BC. Current Anthropology 47 (5):745-775.

[33] Sandweiss, Daniel. Michael Moseley, 2001. Amplifying Importance of New Research in Peru. Science 294 (5547):1651-1653. Ghezzi, Ivan, and Clive Ruggles. 2007. Chankillo: A 2300-Year-Old Solar Observatory in Coastal Peru. Science 315 (5816):1239-1243.

Dillehay, Tom D., Jack Rossen, Thomas C. Andres, and David E. Williams. 2007. Preceramic Adoption of Peanut, Squash, and Cotton in Northern Peru. Science 316 (5833):1890-1893.

[34] Burger, Richard. 1992. Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization. London: Thames and Hudson, 32. See also http://www.chirije.com/the-spondylus-trail.html

[35] Brooks, Sarah Osgood. 1997. Source of Volcanic glass for Ancient Andean Tools. Nature 386 (6624):449-450.

Burger, Richard L., Karen L. Mohr Chávez, and Sergio J. Chávez. 2000. Through the Glass Darkly: Prehispanic Obsidian Procurement and Exchange in Southern Peru and Northern Bolivia. Journal of World Prehistory 14 (3):267-312.

Owen, Bruce. 2010. The Late Preceramic period: Massive Monuments in Simple Societies 2006 [cited June 1st 2010].

[36] Moseley, Michael. 2001. The Incas and Their Ancestors: The Archaeology of Peru. London: Thames and Hudson, 48-9.

Miller, Kenneth. 2005. Showdown at the O.K. Caral. Discover Magazine.

Salomon, Frank. 1987. A North Andean Status Trader Complex Under Inca Rule. Ethnohistory 43 (1):63-77.

Burger, Richard. 1992. Chavin and the Origins of Andean Civilization. London: Thames and Hudson.

Heyerdahl, Thor, Daniel Sandweiss, and Alfredo Narvaez. 1995. Pyramids of Tucume: The Quest for Peru’s Forgotten City. London: Thames and Hudson.

Sandweiss, Daniel H. 1999. The Return of the Native Symbol: Peru Picks Spondylus to Represent New Integration with Ecuador. Society for American Archaeology 17 (2).

Owen, Bruce. 2010. The Late Preceramic period: Massive Monuments in Simple Societies 2006 [cited June 1st 2010].

[37] Mann, Charles C. 2005. Oldest Civilization in the Americas Revealed. Science 307 (5706):34-35.

[38] Marwick, Ben. 2003. Pleistocene Exchange Networks as Evidence for the Evolution of Language Cambridge Archaeological Journal 13 (1):67-81.Gamble, Clive. 2007. Origins and Revolutions: Human Identity in Earliest Prehistory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

[39] na. 2001. Ancient Peruvian Metropolis Predates Other Known Cities. National Geographic News

[40] Solis, Ruth Shady. 2006. America’s First City? The Case of Late Archaic Caral. In Andean Archaeology 111: North and South, edited by W. Isbell and H. Silverman, 28-. New York: Springer, 58-9.

[41] Op cit 36, 62.

[42] Burger, 38.

[43] Herrera, 180

[44] Moore, Jerry. 2005. Cultural Landscapes in the Ancient Andes: Archaeologies of Place. Gainesville: University of Florida.

[45] Lechtman, Heather. "Technologies of Power: The Andean Case." In Configurations of Power: Holistic Anthropology in Theory and Practice, edited by John Henderson and Patricia Netherly, 244-81. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993, 246.

[46] Ibid 255

[47] Ibid 273

[48] Seibold, Katherine. "Textiles and Cosmology in Choquecancha, Cuzco, Peru." In Andean Cosmologies through Time: Persistence and Emergence, edited by Robert Dover, Katherine Seibold and John McDowell, 166-201. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.

[49] Lechtman, 255.

[50] Mann, Charles. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas before Columbus. New York: Alfred Knopf, 2005, 83

[51] Abercrombie, 179

[52] Howard R, 2002, "Spinning A Yarn: Landscape, Memory, and Discourse Structure in Quechua Narratives", in Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu Eds J Quilter and G Urton (University of Texs Press, Austin) pp 26-52, 46. Frame M, 2001, "Beyond The Image: The Dimensions of Pattern in Ancient Andean Textiles", in Abstraction: The Amerindian Paradigm Ed C Paternosto (Societe des Expositions du Palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelle, Brussells) pp 113-136.

[53] Urton, Gary. Signs of the Inka Khipu: Binary Coding in the Andean Knotted-String Records. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2003.

[54] anon. "Language Could Be Tied up in Inca Knots." Canberra Times, Aug 13th 2005, 15.Brokaw, Galen. "Toward Deciphering the Khipu." Journal of Interdisciplinary History xxxv, no. 4 (2005): 571-89.Conklin, Willliam. "A Khipu Information String Theory." In Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu, edited by J. Quilter and G. Urton, 53-86. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.Quilter, J., and G. Urton, eds. Narrative Threads: Accounting and Recounting in Andean Khipu. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

[55] Salomon, Frank. The Cord Keepers: Khipus and Cultural Life in a Peruvian Village. Durham NC: Duke University Press, 2004. See his khipu conservation project www.ucl.ac.uk/…/ peters-khipus/index.htm

[56] Barber, Elizabeth. Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years. New York: W.W, 45. See also Good, I. 2001, Archaeological Textiles: A Review of Current Research, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, 209-226, 209.

[57] According to Webster’s Dictionary tension owes its etymology to the Sanskrit word for string. My thanks to Lesley Green for this point.

[58] Mann, Charles. 2005. Unraveling Khipu’s Secrets. Science 309 (5737):1008-1009.

[59] Mignolo, Walter. 1995. The Darker Side of the Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality and Colonization. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 86.

Boone, Elizabeth Hill. 1994. Introduction: Writing and Recording Knowledge. In Writing Without Words: Alternative Literacies in Mesoamerica and the Andes, edited by E. H. Boone and W. Mignolo, 3-26. Durham: Duke University Press.

[60] Conklin, William. 2008. The Culture of Chavin Textiles. In Chavin: Art, Architecture, and Culture, edited by W. Conklin and J. Quilter, 261-278. Los Angeles: Costen Institute of Archaeology, University of California.

[61] Turnbull, David. Working with Incommensurable Knowledge Traditions: Assemblage, Diversity, Emergent Knowledge, Narrativity, Performativity, Mobility and Synergy 2009 [cited. Available from http://thoughtmesh.net/publish/279.php?space#conclusionassemblage.

[62] Dussel, Enrique. 2000. Epilogue. In Thinking from the Underside of History: Enrique Dussel’s Philosophy of Liberation, edited by L. Alcoff and E. Mendieta, 269-290. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 276-7.Turnbull, David. 2005. Multiplicity, Criticism and Knowing What to Do Next: Way-finding in a Transmodern World’. Response to Meera Nanda’s Prophets Facing Backwards. Social Epistemology 19 (1):19-32.

[63] Cussins, Adrian. 1992. Content, Embodiment and Objectivity: The Theory of Cognitive Trails. Mind 101:651-688.

[64] Guardiola-Rivera, Oscar. 2010. What If Latin America Ruled the World? How the South Will Take the North into the 22nd Century. London: Bloomsbury Press, 48.

Escobar, Arturo. 2008. Territories of Difference: Place, Movements, Life, Redes. Durham: Duke University Press, 25.

David Turnbull – Other Knowledges: Reflections on Recent Archaeology in South America

Other Knowledges: Reflections on Recent Archaeology in South America
3 November 2011 7:30pm Institute of Postcolonial studies

David Turnbull considers recent research into the ancient civilisation of Caral in Peru, which questions the privileging of sedentary forms as necessary for complex social organisation. Turnbull reflects on the nature of heterarchy as framework for emergent knowledges and spaces. He relates this to the work of Enrique Dussel, which advocates ‘a space for transmodernity in which modernity and its negated alterity could co-realise themselves in a process of mutual creative fertilization.’

Dr David Turnbull is a philosopher of science who has published extensively on the history of space and time, with recent emphasis on concept specific to southern knowledges. His books include Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge (2000)

Institute of Postcolonial Studies
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Talk – Modernism as a local phenomenon: the art of Artur Barrio and Helio Oiticica

María Elena Lucero, Universidad Nacional Rosario, Argentina
11 August 2011 7:30pm, Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North Melbourne

María Elena Lucero

María Elena Lucero

Visiting Argentinian art theorist presents a paper on influential Brazilian artists Artur Barrio and Helio Oiticica in relation to recent ‘decolonial’ thinking in Latin America. In this, she tracks a particular local modernism that drew its materials from the margins. She makes reference to the tropicalia movement, which endures as a quintessential southern way of thinking and creating. Her paper reflects a ‘decolonial aesthetics’, as found in Latin America writers such as Ramón Grosfoguel and Walter Mignolo. Broadly speaking, such an approach advocates a system of meaning that is located in Indigenous forms of knowing that are independent of imperial ideology. This paper is a unique opportunity to consider the relation between the Latin American ‘decolonial’ and the Anglo ‘postcolonial’.

Dr María Elena Lucero is Director of CETCACL (Centre of Critical Theoretical Studies of Art and Culture in Latin America), Universidad Nacional de Rosario. She is the author of many publications on Latin American art movements and artists, including Eugenio Dittborn, Cildo Merilles and Adriana Varejão. She has also written widely on pre-Columbian cultures. María Elena Lucero is coming to Australia exclusively to speak at the Southern Perspectives series at the IPCS.

An anything but silent night about Melanesia

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Kirk Huffman and Sana Balai

Given the unseasonably cold weather, it was a strong turn out at the Institute of Postcolonial Studies for the ‘Silence must be heard’ discussion about Melanesian culture. A large contingent from Papua New Guinea ensured a lively discussion following about the relative benefits of development in the region.

Sana Balai began with a haunting account of her childhood experience in Buka Island listening to waves at night for a sign of the chief’s passing away. She recounted many fascinating incidents she has experienced as a curator at the National Gallery of Victoria, dealing with stories from the region that she knows are not permissible for her to hear.

Kirk Huffman compressed his extraordinary experience working in Vanuatu for nearly 40 years, defending the traditional way of life against development. In one remarkable story, he spoke about the taboo associated with the chief’s voice and the interlocutor who cancelled any accidental hearing of the chief by use of a wooden instrument. He also recounted the Vanuatu traditional view of the ‘world of steel’ represented by Westerners, and the village that refused to speak any more after the white men had captured their words in recording devices.

This event planted the seed for a future symposium that might fully explore the politics of silence in our region. Many questions were raised:

  • How does the Western crusade against secrets, such as Wikileaks, engage with societies whose traditions are based on knowledge restrictions?
  • Can silence be seen as a positive action, rather than a withholding?
  • How does this compare to the place of silence in Western culture, such as ‘the right to remain silent’ and ‘a minute’s silence’ of respect?
  • Are there protocols for Westerners who are working with Melanesian societies that builds trust in confidentiality?
  • How can knowledge be understood as the protection of secrets as much as spread of information?

There is clearly much more to learn from Melanesian culture. There is now the prospect of a future event where peoples of the region can share the understanding, commitment and sounds of silence.

When Silence Must be Heard: Knowledge in the Pacific

A dialogue with Sana Balai and Kirk Huffman

Thursday 12 May October 2011 7:30-9pm, Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North Melbourne

‘Knowledge wants to be free’ is a mantra of the information revolution. The concept of enlightenment is based on the assumption that knowledge is a good in itself, and that any limit on its access is a feudal barrier that fosters prejudice. The recent rise of Wikileaks continues this campaign of liberation through transparency.

But should all knowledge be publically accessible? The Indigenous Fijian Vanua Research Framework advocated by Unaisi Nabobo-Baba contextualises knowledge in the interests of Pacific peoples. Within this framework, knowledge is exchanged with the same kinds of obligations as other gifts. There are times, when silence is the most appropriate form of expression.

In the region, museums play a key role in presenting traditional cultures to the broader public and the western gaze. So how do museums negotiate their public mission to put other cultures on display with opposing Indigenous protocols to control knowledge by ritual means.

Two speakers with extensive experience in putting Melanesian culture into museums will reflect on how to negotiate across knowledge systems.

Sana Balai

Sana Balai

Sana (Susan) Balai was born on Buka Island, Autonomous Region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea. An applied science graduate, Sana spent more than 13 years working for Bougainville Copper Limited (CRA/Rio Tinto subsidiary) in the Analytical, Environmental Research and Development Studies Laboratories (Bougainville, PNG), Pilbara Laboratories Niugini Limited (Lae, PNG), and PNG Analytical Laboratories (Lae, PNG). Sana began her museum career in the Indigenous department at Melbourne Museum, 1997-2002, which led to her employment at the National Gallery of Victoria in July 2003. A member of Pacific islands’ Advisory committee to the Melbourne Museum, 1994-99 and a member of the planning committee of Pacific Islands’ festival held in association with the 2006 Commonwealth Games. Sana is an active member of the Papua New Guinea community in Melbourne; she was recently appointed Community Liaison (Victoria) for the Board of Australian Association for the Advancement of Pacific Studies in April 2010. Sana is an assistant curator of Indigenous art/curator of Pacific art with the National Gallery of Victoria.

K.Huffman pursued studies in anthropology, prehistoric archaeology, and ethnology at the universities of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Oxford and Cambridge in the UK. Beginning with fieldtrips into parts of the Maghreb, and the northern and western Sahara, he has concentrated on working with traditional cultures in Vanuatu since 1973. From 1977 until the end of 1989 he was Curator (National Museum) of the Vanuatu Cultural Centre, and still returns regularly to Vanuatu, where he has so far spent just over 18 years working with the peoples and cultures. He has also worked with traditional cultures in parts of South America, the Solomons, and with peasant cultures in the western Mediterranean. Based in Sydney, he is currently Honorary Curator, Vanuatu Cultural Centre, Vanuatu; Member, Scientific Committee, Museum of Tahiti and the Islands, Punaauia, Tahiti (French Polynesia); Corresponding Member, Institute of Advanced Studies, (university of ) Nantes, France; Research Associate, Australian Museum (Sydney), and Honorary Associate, Macleay Museum, University of Sydney. He has published and lectured widely in several languages, and has been involved in the production of numerous cultural radio and television documentary programmes from the 1970s to the present day.

Lorenzo Veracini on settler colonialism

‘Here from Elsewhere: Settlerism as a Platform for South-South Dialogue’
Discussion Roundtable, Institute for Postcolonial Studies, Melbourne, 21/10/10
Participants: James Belich, Lorenzo Veracini, Kate Darian Smith

Lorenzo Veracini

1) Settler colonialism as a compound category is an antipodean-developed paradigm. This origin makes it an important platform for South-South dialogue.

Actually placing “settlers” and “colonialism” in the same analytical field required overcoming a number of conceptual blockages. It took decades. The nineteenth century – the century of the “settler revolution” (see Belich 2009) – did not think that they could be compounded. Indeed the settler revolution had cleaved the two apart: Marx, who engaged extensively with Wakefield (see Pappe 1951), thought that the settler colonies were the only “colonies proper”; Mill, who wrote extensively on colonisation and colonialism kept them rigorously separate (see Bell 2010). Archibald Grenfell Price was probably the first, in 1929, to theorise a particular form of colonial activity distinct from other colonial endeavours. Settler-driven colonialism – “independent” settlers – had been more effective colonisers than other metropole-directed groups (Price 1929). He was explaining South Australian specificities in the context of Australian diversity; and yet, he did not propose an exceptionalist account. On the contrary, his outlook was systematically comparative, proof that paradigmatic shifts are often grounded in parochial concerns.

I have elsewhere followed the development of “settler colonialism” as a concept since the 1930s (Veracini forthcoming). In the context of this trajectory, the notion that settler colonial settings were fundamentally different from both metropolitan and colonial contexts was recurrently proposed from the “South”. The settler themselves said so (the Algerian, Rhodesian, and south African settlers, for example, all at one point or another claimed a local version of southern exceptionalism), and the scholars, even if their agenda differed dramatically from the settlers’, confirmed it (i.e., Donald Denoon’s outline of settler capitalism in the southern hemisphere [1983], the “staple theory” of economic development that turns into a staple “trap” at the antipodes [see Schedvin 1990], Patrick Wolfe’s emphasis on the fundamental inapplicability in the specific conditions of settler colonialism of the master slave dyad typical of colonial studies [Wolfe 1999], and James Belich’s discovery, even if he does not use these terms, that settler colonialism is primarily about reproduction, not production, and that settler colonialism is immediately autonomous from the colonising metropole [2009]). Whether at the level of practice or theory, the notion that settler colonialism should be seen as a distinct formation came from the South.

That this was an original development and that only recently this notion has become better received in the northern hemisphere should be emphasised. On the contrary, scholarly traditions have consistently understood settler colonial phenomena either as colonial or metropolitan ones, not as an autonomous formation (alternatively, parochialising exceptionalist paradigms have been put forward). Marx and Engels, as mentioned, thought that settlers and metropole were part of the same analytical field. Lenin, and twentieth century Marxisms, on the contrary, conflated colonial and settler colonial forms and considered all colonialisms part of the general process of imperialist appropriation. Imperialism, it was argued, reorganised precapitalist economies anywhere, and integrated all peripheries into the world capitalist economy – the settler was, in Ronald Robinson’s words, the “ideal prefabricated collaborator” of imperialist endeavours (Robinson 1972). Likewise, anticolonial “Third Worldism” routinely collapsed the settler locales and the colonising metrople within the “global North” category, while only some within postcolonial studies preferred to include the settler colonies within the bounds of the “postcolonial” experience (even though this remained contentious and it was acknowledged that settler postcolonialities should be considered a specific subfield [see Ashcroft, Griffiths, Tiffin 1989]).

2) Even if it remains an antipodean-developed paradigm, the applicability of settler colonialism has recently been expanded. Indeed, the indigenous/settler divide is now seen informing locales and experiences way beyond the settler Angloworld (see Belich 2009). This flexibility makes it a privileged platform for South-South dialogue.

Influential historians of Africa and Latin America Mahmood Mamdani and Richard Gott, for example, have convincingly deployed a settler colonial paradigm (Mamdani 1996, Mamdani 2001, Gott 2007; for a call to look for settler colonial phenomena beyond the “colonies of settlement”, see Edwards 2003). Both macroregions are generally considered as typically non-settler colonial. Africa and Latin America did not have the sustained economic development and political stability that settler colonialism, in marked contrast against colonial underdevelopment, would produce. Moreover, Africa did not have locales where white settlers constituted the majority of the population, and Latin America was inherently “hybrid”, it did not have the ethnic and racial homogeneity that typically characterises settler colonial formations.

Nonetheless, Mamdani extensively demonstrated how the postcolonial condition reverses but does not supersede a colonially determined relationship between “native” and “settler” (he defines a “settler” anyone who doesn’t have an ancestral homeland or lives outside his ancestral homeland). He outlined how in many postcolonial contexts dominated by nationalist regimes an indigenous ascendancy is enforced to the detriment of variously defined exogenous alterities (and how many of the intractable conflicts of postcolonial Africa depend on the inability/unwillingness to move beyond this dichotomy [Mamdani 2002, Mamdani 2009]).

Similarly, Gott noted how genocidal attacks against indigenous people in Latin America actually followed independence, not Spanish colonisation, and how recent political developments in the region can be interpreted as an indigenous renaissance in opposition to established settler colonial political orders. He thus proposed to fundamentally upturn received historical narratives of latin America: settler colonialism, not independence or neo- or informal colonialism followed the end of formal colonial subjection.

3) But there is another way in which reflection on settler colonialism as a distinct formation can facilitate an original approach to South-South dialogue. Even if they prefer to imagine themselves operating in an empty setting, settlers inevitably displace indigenous peoples. Relatedly, even if they would like to free themselves from settler imposition, indigenous peoples operate within settler colonial orders. Settlerism and indigeneity coconstitute each other.

Francesca Merlan (2009) has recently proposed in an essay published in Current Anthropology a history of the emergence, consolidation and eventual internationalization of a global category comprising all indigenous collectivities since the 1920s (see also Niezen 2003). “International indigeneity”, she noted, emerged in Scandinavia and in the Anglophone settler colonies and only eventually, indeed only very recently, became a truly global phenomenon. However, the “establishing” settler states did not support the ultimate institutionalization of indigeneity in international affairs, and voted as a bloc (CANZAUS) in 2007 against the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (see also Allen, Xanthaki 2010). This, Merlan argued, is a paradox that can be explained by reference to these countries’ liberal democratic political institutions. The “establishing” countries’ rejection of the Declaration “is consistent with the combination of enabling and constraining forces that liberal democratic political cultures offer” (303), she concluded. Liberal democratic political cultures allowed for the expression of indigenous political activism but eventually what could be construed as indigenous demands for special status clashed with a generalised reluctance to recognise the special claims of a particular constituency.

And yet, there is an alternative explanation beside Merlan’s sophisticated argument. If we define indigenous peoples as the “original inhabitants” of a particular locale, and considering that all polities are one result of one type or another of different processes of military and demographic expansion, the permanence of indigenous peoples is a possibility that equally characterises metropolitan, colonial and settler colonial contexts. However, only if we realise that “indigeneity” has its roots in settler colonialism, that “indigeneity” is a relational category that acquires its full meaning when it is paralleled by its dialectical counterpart – the non indigenous settler (Fanon famously noted that “it is the settler who has brought the native into existence and who perpetuates his existence” [1967: 36]) – we can better understand why it was the settler polities that voted against the Declaration. Only in the context of what I have elsewhere defined as the settler colonial “situation” there is a permanent distinction between an indigenous and an indigenising exogenous collective (see Veracini 2010).

Metropolitan and postcolonial polities could more easily accommodate the Declaration’s terms than settler polities whose current sovereign dimension is fundamentally premised on the original dispossession of indigenous peoples. Crucially, if the colonial relation fundamentally defines both metropole and colony (and their postcolonial successors), it does so in terms of externality: colonialism is something done somewhere else (i.e., the colonies), or by someone else (i.e., exogenous colonizers). In the metropole and in the colony, it is this externality can ultimately sustain a claim to indigeneity (if colonialism is extraneous to the polity, and if colonialism can be defined as a form of intergroup domination characterised by an exogenous ascendancy [as Ronald Horvath had proposed in another Current Anthropology article in 1972], the polity is indigenous by definition). However, this claim is impossible in the case of the settler colonies/societies, where colonialism is performed on the spot and by the settler, and where in any case there is no specific moment inaugurating a post-settler colonial predicament. Thus, whereas the Declaration is a largely irrelevant text in metropolitan and postcolonial settings, these can comfortably claim to be indigenous polities, it constitutes a potential challenge to the sovereign order in settler colonial contexts. Despite its cautious formulation, as it protects indigenous peoples’ rights above settler prerogatives, the Declaration constitutes a powerful anti-settler manifesto. Contra Merlan, I would conclude by noting that it wasn’t a bland statement, but the unresolved settler colonial character of the settler polities, and that it isn’t only a matter of liberal democratic political cultures and their constraints. It is settler colonialism (indeed, focusing attention on liberal democratic institutions may imply a neglect of the unresolved dynamics of settler colonialism).

Thus, reflection on the dynamics of settler colonialism can help understanding a multiplicity of situations: what in one of the founding texts of what should consolidate into “settler colonial studies” Alan Lawson defined the (settler) “Second” world (Lawson 1995), as well as what are generally referred to as “Third” and (indigenous) “Fourth” worlds. Settler colonialism ultimately contributes to South-South dialogue by proposing that settler and indigenous experiences should integrate traditional understandings of the binary relationship between North and South. I propose these three insights, and the suggestion that the distinction between colonialism and settler colonialism should be regarded analytically and not geographically (that is, that it is a distinction between separate forms and not between “colonies of exploitation” and “colonies of settlement”), as a preliminary framework for developing “settler colonial studies” as a genuinely global and transnational paradigm.

References

Stephen Allen, Alexandra Xanthaki (eds), Reflections on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Oxford, Hart Publishing, 2010.

Bill Ashcroft, Gareth Griffiths, Helen Tiffin, The Empire Writes Back: Theory and Practice in post-Colonial Literatures, London, Routledge, 1989.

James Belich, Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2009.

Duncan Bell, “John Stuart Mill on Colonies”, Political Theory, 38, 1, 2010, pp. 34-64.

Donald Denoon, Settler Capitalism: The Dynamics of Dependent Development in the Southern Hemisphere, Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1983.

Penny Edwards, “On Home Ground: Settling Land and Domesticating Difference in the ‘Non-Settler’ Colonies of Burma and Cambodia”, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, 4, 3, 2003.

Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1967.

Richard Gott, “Latin America as a White Settler Society”, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 26, 2, 2007, pp. 269-289.

Ronald J. Horvath, “A Definition of Colonialism”, Current Anthropology, 13, 1, 1972, pp. 45–57.

Alan Lawson, “Postcolonial theory and the ‘settler’ subject”, Essays on Canadian Writing, 56, 1995, pp. 20-36.

Mahmood Mamdani, Citizen and Subject: Contemporary Africa and the Legacy of Late Colonialism, Oxford, James Currey, 1996.

Mahmood Mamdani, “Beyond Settler and Native as Political Identities: Overcoming the Political Legacy of Colonislism”, Comparative Studies in Society and History, 43, 4, 2001, pp. 651-664.

Mahmood Mamdani, When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda, Princeton, NJ, Princeton University Press, 2002.

Mahmood Mamdani, Saviours and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror, London, Verso, 2009.

Francesca Merlan, “Indigeneity: Global and Local”, Current Anthropology, 50, 3, 2009, pp. 303-333.

Ronald Niezen, The Origins of Indigenism, Berkeley, CA, University of California Press, 2003.

H. O. Pappe, “Wakefield and Marx”, The Economic History Review, 4, 1, 1951, pp. 88-97.

A. G. Price, “Experiments in Colonization”, in J. Holland Rose, A. P. Newton, E. A. Benians (eds), Cambridge History of the British Empire, 7, 1, London, Cambridge University Press, 1929, pp. 207-242.

Ronald Robinson, “Non-European Foundations of European Imperialism: Sketch for a Theory of Collaboration”, in R. Owen, B. Sutcliffe (eds), Studies in the Theory of Imperialism, London, Longmans, 1972, pp. 117-140.

C. B. Schedvin, “Staples and Regions of Pax Britannica”, Economic History Review, XLIII, 4, 1990, pp. 533-559.

Lorenzo Veracini, Settler Colonialism: A Theoretical Overview, Houndmills, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Lorenzo Veracini, “Constructing ‘Settler Colonialism’: Career of a Concept”, Portal: Journal of Multidisciplinary International Studies, forthcoming.

Patrick Wolfe, Settler Colonialism and the Transformation of Anthropology: The Politics and Poetics of an Ethnographic Event, London, Cassell, 1999.

‘Here from Elsewhere’–settler-colonialism with a southern horizon

James Belich, Lorenzo Veracini, Kate Darian-Smith

James Belich, Lorenzo Veracini, Kate Darian-Smith

Here from Elsewhere was the final in this year’s Southern Perspectives series at the IPCS. The series began with Raewyn Connell’s outline of ‘southern theory’ as a counter-hegemonic argument against the concentration of knowledge in the metropolitan centres. It set the scene for speculative propositions about forms of knowledge particular to the periphery, which included developments in indigenous theory, tidalectics and humid thinking.

One of the obvious points of connection between countries of the south lies in the settler-colonial experience. But recent developments in settler-colonial studies disturb the comfortable opposition between centre and periphery, north and south. The Imperial/Settler binary is counterbalanced by the Settler/Indigenous divide. While it might seem possible for those who cast themselves as ‘southern’ to join in solidarity against the metropolitan centres, there remains the historical conditions that continue to split these nations along colonial lines.

New Zealand historian James Belich (Victoria University, Wellington) began by outlining the argument in his recent book Replenishing the Earth. He articulated the three phrases of Anglo settlerism: incremental, explosive and re-colonisation. In the discussion that followed, Belich’s concept of the ‘re-colonisation’ was seen as implying that the flow of influence from Britain had ebbed before it was re-kindled.

Specialist in settler colonialism Lorenzo Veracini (Swinburne University, Melbourne) provided an analytic account of the distinction between colonialism and settlerism. He argued that settlerism was a distinctly southern phenomenon, emerging from the periphery. The discussion questioned the qualitative difference in relations with indigenous between colonial and setter. Veracini gestured the difference as one between the colonist addressing the indigenous with ‘You, work for me!’ (colonial), or ‘You, go away!’ (settler).

Historian Kate Darian-Smith (University of Melbourne) reflected on her own research, particularly in the circulation of objects related to reconciliation around the Pacific rim. In discussing the significance of objects such as the brass gorgets, Darian-Smith pointed to the active ways in which settlers proceeded to make their claims on the new land. She also implied a gender dimension in analysis of settlerism.

The following discussion continued the spirited contestation and defence of the settler-colonial paradigms that were presented. In terms of ‘southern perspectives’, it raised some important questions:

  • What is the substantial difference between the settler-colonialism experienced in Australasia and that of the United States?
  • What is the prognosis for the condition of settler-colonialism? Is it an original sin beyond redemption?

Clearly, the notion of a southern perspective must critique the manufactured forms of solidarity that elide the violence of colonisation. Settler colonial studies provides a powerful argument to expose facile alliances.

But settler-colonial studies also provides a powerful enabler of south-south dialogue by exposing exceptionalism as a common condition. In the case of Australia, the concept of the ‘great southern land’ encourages the narrative of a lucky country with singular promise. Through the settler lens, we see the way other countries create parallel forms of exceptionalism, particularly from the booster narratives of explosive colonisation. This applies not just to Anglo cousins, but across the latitude to Latin America and southern Africa.

So the challenge now awaits to use this platform as a way of journeying out beyond the familiar forums into south-south conversations. This notion of south is not the ground we stand on, but the horizon towards which we can gaze.

Here from elsewhere: Settlerism as a platform for south-south dialogue

Thursday 21 October 2010 7:30-9pm

Institute of Postcolonial Studies, North Melbourne

James Belich, Kate Darian-Smith, Lorenzo Veracini

The southern question is figured as a struggle by colonies to liberate themselves from metropolitan centres in order to realise their own destinies at the other end of the world. This includes taking up the challenge of co-existence with peoples originally displaced by the process of colonisation. But what remains of the relation between metropolitan centre and periphery? Is there evidence of exchange between oldland and newland that offers a more reciprocal arrangement? What does this mean for potential solidarity between countries of the periphery?

Professor James Belich is at the Stout Research Centre, University of Wellington. His two volumes on New Zealand history, Making Peoples and Paradise Reforged, are considered comprehensive and engaging. His recent publication Replenishing the Earth: The Settler Revolution and the Rise of the Angloworld, 1780-1930 is described in the TLS as ‘one of the most important works on the broad processes of modern world history to have appeared for years.’

Professor Kate Darian-Smith is Professor of Australian Studies and History at the University of Melbourne. Kate has written widely on Australian history and on the British world. Her works include, as co-editor of Britishness Abroad: Transnational Movements and Imperial Cultures, Melbourne University Press, 2007 and Text, Theory, Space: land, literature and history in South Africa and Australia, Routledge, 1996. She is currently working on an ARC-funded project (with Penny Edmonds and Julie Evans) on Conciliation Narratives in British Settler Societies in the Pacific Rim.

Dr Lorenzo Veracini is a Senior Research Fellow at Swinburne University and holds a Queen Elizabeth II Fellowship. He joined the ISR in early 2009 and has studied history and historiography in Italy and the UK before moving to Australia in the late 1990s. He is the author of Israel and Settler Society (Pluto Press 2006) and What is Settler Colonialism? (forthcoming). He is currently writing a global history of settler colonialism and is on the editorial board of the new journal, Settler Colonial Studies.

Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne
Victoria 3051 Australia (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members.

Our Williams–Ross Gibson and Tony Birch

Tony Birch and Ross Gibson

Tony Birch and Ross Gibson

The recent dialogue between Ross Gibson and Tony Birch demonstrated the kind of thinking that might be revealed through a southern perspective.

At the opening of the series, Raewyn Connell laid down the challenge to broaden our theoretical references beyond the metropolitan centres. In the discussion that followed, there was a sense of concern in abandoning the reassuring authorities, particularly European theoretical figures. Would this be to forgo critical thought – to drift away from the main action in transatlantic universities? Connell countered with a democratic image of a thousand boats that would criss-cross the south-south axis.

Gibson and Birch pointed in an alternative direction. They both looked back to iconic figures in the early history of European colonisation. Gibson considered the life of William Dawes, a scientist who explored different ways of engaging with Indigenous hosts in Port Jackson at the time of the First Fleet. And Birch looked from the Victorian end at the biography of William Barak, a Wurundjeri leader who traversed the Indigenous and settler worlds. While Dawes and Barak would not be considered theoretical sources, their actions in their time provided models for ways of thinking today.

Gibson looked at Dawes’ attempts to understand the local language. His notebooks reveal that he moved away from a nominalist approach to an increasingly contextualised grasp of their language. This is in part thanks to his intimacy with a local woman, Patyegarang, who helped him appreciate the profoundly relational nature of Indigenous language. Gibson talked about Dawes as a ‘littoral’ person, a marine adept at working in the space between land and sea. His notebooks show a man navigating a shifting world, ‘always in conversation with oneself and other people.’

For Birch, Barak also negotiated between the white man (namatje) and Wurundjeri. Rather than a passive figure, Barak was always navigating a path as a political strategist. An important component of that was his relationship to the first manager of the Aboriginal mission in Coranderrk, John Green. Birch could see echoes here of his own collaborations with namatje such as the artist Tom Nicholson.

Other Australian writers have also recently depicted the first encounters between white and black worlds, such as Inge Clendenin and Kate Grenville. But it is not only in Australia that this interest has emerged. The Argentinean writer Walter Mignolo has written about the Inca historian Guaman Poma, who tried to tell his people’s side of the story in a book The First New Chronicle and Good Government (1615). Poma tried to identify how the best of European and Inca cultures might be combined. In doing this, he used a map dividing the world into four quarters, rich and poor, moral and barbaric.

In modern terminology, civilization and barbarism distinguished the inhabitants or the two upper quarters; while riches and poverty characterized the people living in the lower quarters. On the other hand, the poor but virtuous and the civilized are opposed to the rich and the barbarians. In a world divided in four parts, subdivided in two, binary oppositions arc replaced by a combinatorial game that organizes the cosmos and the society.
Walter Mignolo The Darker Side Of The Renaissance: Literacy, Territoriality, And Colonization Anne Arbor: University of Michegan Press, 2003, p. 252

The next step would be to gather together scenes of first encounter as they are currently being rehearsed across the South. In these tentative experiences of contact, there is sometimes a brief flicker of dialogue before the full force of colonisation is finally applied. A glimpse of these proto-colonial scenes can speak to those countries where the tide of colonisation is now ebbing in the other direction.

Suvendrini Perera: An Insular State

An Insular State

Thu 02-09-10, 7:30pm

At least since Thomas More’s Utopus founded his ideal state by carving it free, by the use of forced labour, from the continent to which it was bound, the topos of the island, organised by an ontologised division between land and sea, has been central to the geopolitical imagination of western modernity. In his 1998 Boyer lecture David Malouf described island-Australia as the product of an entirely new and uniquely European act of envisioning: When Europeans first came to these shores one of the things they brought with them, as a kind of gift to the land, was something that could have never existed before; a vision of the continent in its true form as an island … And this seems to have happened even before circumnavigation established that it actually was an island … Aboriginal Australians, however ancient and deep their understanding of the land, can never have seen the place in just this way … If Aborigines are a land-dreaming people, what we latecomers share is a sea-dreaming, to which the image of Australia as an island has from the beginning been central (my emphasis). For Malouf island-Australia is the fulfilment of a European (more specifically, English) desire that completes a teleology of colonial desiring: a gift. Reciprocally, insularity is the distinctive gift the colonisers bring to the land: an opening of previously unimaginable ways of seeing and being. This paper explores what is at stake in insularity as a gift of form, at once a topographic and imaginative figure and a political programme, for Australia, the island-continent.

Suvendrini Perera is Associate Professor of Cultural Studies at Curtin University. She completed her PhD at Columbia University, New York, and her B.A at the University of Sri Lanka. Her most recent book is Australia and the Insular Imagination (New York: Palgrave, 2009). A co-edited volume, Enter at Own Risk? Australia’s Population Questions for the 21st Century is forthcoming in 2010.

Institute of Postcolonial Studies
78-80 Curzon Street
North Melbourne
Victoria 3051 Australia (map)
Tel: 03 9329 6381
Admission – $5 for waged, $3 for unwaged, and free for members.