Lost and found: Contesting isolation and cultivating contact in Amazonian Ecuador

Casey High


In May 2003 a group of Waorani men in Amazonian Ecuador led an attack against their “uncontacted” Taromenani neighbors, resulting in a massacre that has fueled ongoing debates about the rights of indigenous people living in “voluntary isolation.” In this article I consider how Waorani understandings of the attack point to indigenous formulations of alterity that challenge what Lucas Bessire (2012) has described as the contemporary politics of isolation. I draw on recent discussions of kinship as a form of mutual belonging that extend beyond common substance (Sahlins 2013), and consider how, in the aftermath of the killings, many Waorani came to see spatially distant others as kinsmen who became disconnected from Waorani in past times. Understood by Waorani as kin of victims, the Taromenani have become both a source of desired relations and a potent image of indigenous strength and autonomy in the context of social and economic transformation.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau3.3.009