Beyond orality: Textuality, territoriality, and ontology among Amazonian people

Michael A. Uzendoski


Drawing on narratives and images related to mythology, I explore the relationships between textuality, territory, and ontology among Amazonian cultures, and specifically the Napo Runa of Amazonian Ecuador. My argument is that the Napo Runa, as well as other indigenous peoples in the Americas, have developed their own complex theories of textuality in which cosmology is inscribed within the body, the social, and the surrounding territorial world. Drawing on the theory of Amazonian perspectivism, I analyze the Aycha Yura or “Tree of Flesh” myth and its underlying aesthetic, geographic, and ontological qualities. This macro-myth intersects with local mythologies of particular trees, species, and spirits, forming a complex shared narrative world of local differentiation, self and other transformations, and experiences of territoriality. An engagement with the ethnographic realities of so-called oral cultures shows the untranslatable ontological contours of their textual worlds, worlds that are distorted and reified by Western notions of orality and literacy. (With supplementary sound files)

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau2.1.005