The University of Arizona

Political ecology of movement: trekking and territoriality among the Kayapó

Laura Zanotti

Abstract


One key strand of political ecology inquiry draws attention to different scalar aspects of territorial control and environmental governance, especially as they relate to inequity, power, and marginality in the rural South. Simultaneously, in the past several decades scholars have argued for a more meaningful engagement with space and place, as global forces of capitalism and geographies of difference make and unmake places in surprising and often violent ways. In this article, I interweave political ecology and anthropology of space and place approaches to territorial practices in the Brazilian Amazon to demonstrate how multiscalar politics of territorial retention and use are layered alongside local, spatial practices. In the Brazilian Amazon, indigenous rights are closely linked to the territorial demarcation and protection of federally defined Indigenous Lands. To that end, a general pattern has been observed across Amazonia that colonization and state-making agendas regarding territorial control have coincided to an increased sedentism of indigenous peoples. This narrative elides the present and ongoing importance local ideas about territories and place have for indigenous communities. Ethnographic data from research with the Kayapó, an indigenous group in Brazil, is presented to draw attention to the complexities of the local responses to the past several decades of change that have resulted in a federally defined territorial homeland and shifting spatial practices within those lands. The Kayapó response is a particularly well-suited case study for this type of analysis, as the tribe is known ethnographically for their fissioning and trekking patterns. I show that movement, mobility, and travel still figure into everyday practices in meaningful ways. While far from homogenous, movement through the landscape is part of responding to current demands to their ways of life. I also argue that travel also affirms the Kayapó notions of knowing (kukradjà), beauty (mê), and strength (tycht).

Keywords: political ecology, Amazonia, travel, territoriality, space and place


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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2458/v21i1.21127