Antidomestication in the Amazon: Swidden and its foes

Manuela Carneiro da Cunha


John Locke never acknowledged the existence of any agriculture and hence of property in the Americas. Yet, one can say that in Amazonia, cultivation not only existed among humans but was a capacity shared with almost every living being and with spirits. While Amazonia is presently recognized as a major center of plant domestication, one can argue that indigenous agriculturalists did not conform to a proper definition of domestication. One is tempted to say that they resisted absolute domestication of plants as well as of themselves, as they avoided losing the ability to survive as foragers. Swidden agriculture was no “subjection of the land” (as Locke would have it) but a science of both cultivation and forest producing in which humans shared rights with other beings.


Amazonia, swidden agriculture, property, domestication, plants, animals, fallow, rights, subjection

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/703870