Engaged Anthropology Grant: Jacob Sauer

Poster created for presentation in Santiago

While a doctoral student at Vanderbilt University, Jacob Sauer received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant in 2008 to aid research on ‘The Creation of Araucanian Anti-Colonial Identity During the Contact Period, AD 1552-1602,’ supervised by Dr. Thomas Dalton Dillehay. In 2013, he received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Presenting the Archaeological Past to Mapuche Communities and the Public in South-Central Chile,’ 2014, Chile.

It was fortuitous that my presentations in Chile to fulfill the Engaged Anthropology Grant took longer than I expected to carry out (I blame my daughter being born), as it happened to coincide with the month celebrating the country’s cultural patrimony. My Wenner-Gren funded research was carried out in the area of Pucón-Villarrica in southern Chile, along the western flanks of the Andes Mountains. I excavated a site known as Santa Sylvia, which had four different occupations, dating to AD 900, 1100, 1585, and 1850. The 1585 occupation included a Spanish “fortified house” that had been previously excavated by Chilean archaeologist Américo Gordon, who focused on the Spanish occupation of the site. My aim was to examine any previous occupations of the area by the Mapuche culture, to see what sort of changes came about in that culture before, during, and after the Spanish arrival.

The Mapuche are Chile’s largest Native American culture with a population of nearly 2 million living primarily in the capital city of Santiago and in an area traditionally known as the Araucanía between the Bio Bio and Bueno Rivers, as well as on the other side of the Andes in the Argentinian Pampa and Patagonia. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the Mapuche lived as sedentary agro-pastoralists, growing maize, potatoes, peppers, and other domestic plants and raising llamas. Later, they adopted the horse and started growing wheat and barley while continuing to live in small communities based on close family relationships that remain to the present. Between 1550 and 1604 the Mapuche fought the Spanish in what is colloquially termed the “War of Arauco,” in which the Mapuche were victorious and maintained control over their traditional territory. Not until the late 19th century were the Mapuche placed on reservations by the Chilean military, a longer span of cultural independence than any other indigenous group in the Americas.

Presenting at the Pontificia Uniersidad Catolica de Chile

I argued in my dissertation and subsequent book The Archaeology and Ethnohistory of Araucanian Resilience that how the analysis and presentation of Mapuche-Spanish interactions from 1536 to 1820 and Mapuche-Chilean interactions since 1820 has done a disservice to the archaeological and ethnographic data and has adversely affected the Mapuche today. Primarily, historical research has argued that the modern-day Mapuche exist as a result of Spanish arrival and virtually ignores any pre-1536 information. This has led to the Mapuche losing land rights and standing before the Chilean state, further codified in Chilean law drafted in 1990. My research, and that of other colleagues, demonstrates that the Mapuche have a long and complex history that predates Spanish arrival by centuries, and that despite Spanish efforts the Mapuche were never colonized and managed to maintain strong cultural continuity, limiting the changes to their traditional culture while avoiding the hybridization and syncretism that affected many other Native American societies.

My first presentation on this research was to the Anthropology Department of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Santiago, a growing department with several colleagues who research the modern Mapuche. The presentation had been advertised several weeks prior, with some students coming from as far away as Concepción to listen. About 40 people total came, and the presentation was relatively well-received, though some colleagues took issue with my arguments during the question and answer period, but we are continuing to discuss the points I made.

Two students from the Universidad de Concepción traveled to Santiago to hear my presentation, and afterwards I mentioned I would be in Concepción later in the week. They asked if I would be willing to give a presentation to the Department of Anthropology and Sociology, which fortunately I was able to do. The turnout was also very good, made particularly welcome by a number of Mapuche students in the audience who were intrigued by my presentation. We had a good discussion afterwards, which will hopefully lead to student collaborations in the very near future.

Poster for the presentations at the Museo Regional de la Araucania in Temuco

I then travelled to the area of my research, Pucón-Villarrica, to present at the satellite campus of the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile in Villarrica. Fortunately the volcano did not erupt while I was there. I had hoped to be able to meet with several of the Mapuche communities in the area, but the timing did not work out due to some political unrest, but plans are already in the works to meet and present later in the year. In Villarrica, my presentation was attended by students from a nearby High School, the majority of whom are Mapuche. They asked numerous thought-provoking questions (“Wait, you can make a living as an archaeologist?”) and made me rethink some of my arguments related to the development of the Mapuche today.

The final presentation came at the Museo Regional de la Araucanía in Temuco, where the materials from Santa Sylvia are currently housed. I started a series of presentations on the topic of “Dialogues about Mapuche Identity and Resistance” as the last in a series of events celebrating Chile’s cultural patrimony. I presented alongside several Chilean luminaries, including National History Award winner Dr. Jorge Pinto Rodriguez, which was somewhat intimidating. It was well-attended, mostly by members of the public. Several audience members liked the archaeological side of things, which they said is rarely presented to the public in this manner, and also that I emphasized the Mapuche perspective over the Spanish which is often how things are presented in their history books and the media.

Presenting in Temuco

In all, it was an excellent trip and a marvelous experience and served to highlight the need for interdisciplinary approaches for investigating Mapuche culture. The histories as written often lack the complementary (and critical) anthropological information that can deepen our understanding of the long-term development of cultures worldwide, and how those cultures continue to develop today. Many of my Chilean colleagues were impressed that the Wenner-Gren foundation offers the Engaged Anthropology Grant program, and more so that Wenner-Gren funds the research of investigators living outside the United States. Hopefully there will soon be an increase in the number of applications from Chile! Many thanks to the Wenner-Gren Foundation for generously supporting this research.

 

 

Engaged Anthropology Grant: Chelsey Kivland

Image courtesy Chelsey Kivland

 Chelsey Kivland is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Dartmouth College. In 2008, while a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, she received a Dissertation Fieldwork Grant to aid research on ‘Of Bands and Soldiers: Performance, Sovereignty, and Violence in Contemporary Haiti,’ supervised by Dr. Stephan Palmie. In 2014, she received the Engaged Anthropology Grant to aid engaged activities on ‘Slam Tambou: Building a Peace Movement through Poetry and Performance,’ 2015, Haiti.

 

The Haitian term angaje issues a stronger meaning than the English engaged. Its referent moves beyond becoming involved or participating to suggest moral judgment and political commitment—in short, taking a stance. To meet the Haitian standard for engaged anthropology, then, is to embrace what Nancy Scheper-­‐Hughes calls “militant anthropology.” This entails a turn away from politically disinterested and socially distanced research. A militant ethnographer would make herself “available not just as friends or as ‘patrons’ in the old colonialist sense but as comrades (with all the demands and responsibilities that this word implies) to the people who are the subjects of our writings, whose lives and miseries provide us with a livelihood.” A first step in this process is to share your findings with your collaborators in the field. A second, more difficult step is to be open to the changes in analysis that this sharing might entail. And a third, even more challenging step is to join in the struggle to usurp the detrimental power dynamics revealed in the analysis.

It was toward this end that I returned this past summer to Port-­‐au-­‐Prince to diskite (discuss)—to share, debate, and revise—the findings of my dissertation research, “We Make the State”: Performance, Politick, and Respect in Urban Haiti. Much of my research has explored the urban youth groups—known locally as baz—that act as de facto political chiefs of their urban blocks. The baz are often dismissed as “gangs” in policy and media literature in Haiti and abroad. Yet, as I argue, they are better understood as an emergent form of democratic politics that seeks to provide political representation and control over public resources for an area that has been both neglected by state institutions and targeted by politicians and aid workers alike as the ticket to political success. Despite their noble aspirations, however, bazes become involved in competitions over state and NGO resources, which incite rivalries between them and often lead to violent conflict. A main contribution of my research has been to reveal how this violence is related to the contradictions of democracy—namely, how democratization promised a more egalitarian society and inclusion in the state but has instead lead to greater inequality and the evisceration of the public sector. While my collaborators in Bel Air might not phrase it in these terms, they often identified the same dynamics in their discussions about disrespect. In Haiti, the notion of “respect” (respè) is the social value used to gauge proper human relations and democratic society. My commitment to articulating my analysis through the idioms and sentiments used by informants is the goal of my research, and it formed the cornerstone of my engaged anthropology grant project.

Image courtesy Chelsey Kivland

I organized a two-­‐part presentation of my research at a newly opened cultural center in Bel Air. The first part of the series was a lecture in which I revealed my novel finding that acts of baz aggression are tied to the multifaceted ways in which disrespect is made manifest in the lives of the urban poor, as well as how peace can be envisioned as a world imbued with respect. In particular, I offered four key forms of disrespect that precipitate baz violence: disparaging authority, injuring another, leveling threats, and accumulating wealth in a dishonest or selfish manner. I then illustrated how all of these precipitants reflect failure to uphold the principle of respect, which encompasses the right to be recognized as a consequential subject, to lead a dignified life, to speak and be heard, and to live in an egalitarian society. The lecture unfolded amid long awaited parliamentary elections, which resulted in clashes between residents, politicians, and poll workers at voting offices throughout the neighborhood. Consequently, much of the conversation revolved around  the interconnections between politics and violence, and the perpetual frustrations baz face when they are treated as pawns in the fight for state power. In fact, a novel point raised during the conversations was that being treated with disrespect over and over again can lead to powerful feelings of frustrations that motivate aggressive actions against those deemed responsible, whether political or personal rivals. Overall, participants reiterated their need and desire for less politicking and more governance, or in other words, a robust and responsible state that provides basic services and a degree of opportunity to the citizenry. This was a response I have grown accustomed to hearing, but it was particularly powerful in the context of chaotic elections, proclaiming enduring aspirations for a truly democratic future.

The second part of the series featured a multimedia presentation of residents’ ideas about how to build a more peaceful society. It centered on showing a film I directed with Haitian filmmaker Moïse Pierre about the annual fête patronale Festival of Our lady of Perpetual Help. The film demonstrated how despite a history of political conflict and interpersonal strife all factions of the neighborhood come together to celebrate the “Mother of Bel Air.” Those who represented these different sectors in the film were in the audience, including religious leaders from different faiths, area leaders of different baz, and notables working in the education, development, and political sectors. Another seventy-­‐five residents joined as well, forming a diverse public of men and women, children and adults, employed and unemployed, politicians and citizens. The film showing was accompanied by a poetry slam that featured four youth poets rhyming about the challenges of building peace and security in a highly unequal world. As well, two local rara groups, the name for Haiti’s politicized street bands, entertained the audience, before, during, and after the slam. The rara groups, one comprising all women and the other all men, provided an electric beat, bringing the audience to its feet and inciting people of different faiths, ages, and political persuasions to commune together in celebration.

The film was well received, with audiences commenting on how it offered another image of the neighborhood from commonplace portrayals of violence and dysfunction. Still, others appreciated how it put the problems that do exist in context so that the actions of residents, and especially baz leaders, are seen as tied to daily struggles of poverty, frustration, and disrespect. The conversations started at the showing continued well after the event. When I finally returned to the hilltop shack where I have made a second home, I found a moving scene. My longtime host had borrowed the baz’s collective television set and was showing the film on it for area children and others who missed the earlier showing. It ran on an endless loop far into the night, with new residents joining at each showing and others watching it over and over again. Amid the celebration, I visited a local “notable” who figured largely in the film. A longtime resident, neighborhood leader, and former teacher, whom residents affectionately address as Mèt, he complimented me on the event, and offered some criticism. The event, he said, would have benefited from more discussion of the historical connection between art and politics in the zone. The point was well taken.

But he then told me that he was very pleased, mainly because I had come to understand something fundamental to Bel Air. As he put it, “Bel Air is place few people understand. But that if you spend time here, with people in the street, you can begin to see that it is not what people think. Li pa yon zòn bandi se yon zòn rabel. (It is not a zone of bandits but a zone of rebels.) That’s a big difference!”

This pithy comment reminded me again of how a truly angaje anthropology is to present your research to your interlocutors in formats that are accessible so as to foster rigorous, opinion-­‐changing debate.