Inventing nature: Christianity and science in indigenous Amazonia

Aparecida Vilaça


Based on long-term ethnographic research among the Wari’ Indians from Amazonia, this essay aims to analyze the ontological and moral changes related both to conversion to Christianity and to schooling. I aim to show that although in Christian culture knowledge is still intrinsically moral, the dissociation made by the missionaries between the heart (the Wari’ previous site of knowledge, cognition, and morality) and the brain turned into mind (an unmarked body part for the Wari’), constituted the fundamental step toward an idea of knowledge stripped of its moral components introduced by schooling. I will take as my central example the translation of the Wari’ word xika’pe, whose central meaning is lonely, with a marked negative value, to the mathematical number one, taken in this context as a neutral entity.


Wari’, Amazonia, Christianity, mathematics, schooling

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/703795