Ethnogenesis and representations of history among the Zápara of Amazonia: objects and dreams, memory makers and memory aids.
Status: Visiting research fellow at the University of Western Australia (Perth, Australia), Post-doctoral Lavoisier scholar of the Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (2008-2009)
E-mail address: agbilhaut(at)hotmail.com
Area of research
Amazonia, Oceania, dreams, intangible heritage, indigenous museums, indigenous identity movements
My thesis, written at Université Paris X – Nanterre (2007) under the direction of Jacques Galinier, deals with the dream-related production of heritage of the Zápara Indians of Upper Amazonia (Ecuador/Peru). I received a doctoral grant from the musée du quai Branly (2006-2007) to complete it. I then got a research contract from the centre of the EREA of the Ethnology and Comparative Sociology Laboratory of Nanterre, as the winner of the Bernard-Lelong Grant (CNRS). Thanks to this grant I have been able to develop a new research project on indigenous museography which I am undertaking in a comparative manner with Australia. In order to do this, I am undertaking a doctoral course in the Berndt Museum of Anthropology of the University of Western Australia during which I have had the opportunity to work on this theme with researchers from several Australian universities.
Lastly, I am an associate of the EREA centre of LESC (CNRS), a member of the editorial committee of the Journal of the Society of Americanists and an associate researcher of FLACSO (Ecuador).
Waking the intangible
In my doctoral thesis, I dealt with the dream processes through which the Zápara Indians (Ecuador/Peru) reconstruct their tradition. I described the techniques and mechanisms of learning dreams which proved to be an intersubjective means of communication between the dream transmitter (which is the dream interlocutor, either human or non-human) and the dreamer. To demonstrate it I proposed a typology of dream interlocutors. Also, the visual retrogressions carried out by certain indigenous leaders in order to “meet history” were analysed. These allow for continuity in the communication and learning about ancestors, the guardians of a memory which can be reached in dreams. Memorial spaces other than dreams were studied. For this, the school and ethnography made by the Indians themselves were examined. These enable us to get a better grasp on how archives are produced and formed and introduce us to indigenous museographic thinking.
Indigenous museography. A transcontinental approach (ongoing research)
With this research into indigenous museography, I wanted to determine what they consider should be remembered, to observe what they do with these elements and how they form conservatories. It is a question of exploring and analysing the manner in which indigenous peoples display and put their tangible and intangible culture on show. Using comparative surveys in Amazonia and then in Oceania, I want to examine the relationship between museums, memory and indigenous people through ethnomuseography, and return to the feelings and affection attached to objects. Several different focus points of are considered in this proposal: the relationship between self and others, memory systems, the appropriation of knowledge and culture into the heritage industry, the political processes at work in making tradition. In this way this research projects aims to explain the indigenous system of tradition in a resolutely contemporary way by comparing particularly contrasting locations, like that of the Amazonian Zápara or the Australian Aboriginals.
This research is based on the data resulting from my field-work in Upper Amazonia (Peru, Ecuador) among the Zápara Indians, on the visit made by two Zápara leaders to the Quai Branly Museums and their discovery of old pieces originally from their people which were brought back to France in the 1880s by the French diplomat Charles Wiener, as well as on an ongoing study on the keeping places of Australia.
Moreover, by producing collections of cognitive aid objects from the past, the Zápara are a salutary example of how a people that is disappearing chooses to preserve its heritage; how it decides what constitutes its heritage and how best to display it, thus becoming archivists and museographers in the process.
“The Zápara Indians: the Consecration of an Endangered People”, Museum International, 2003, 218 (vol. 55, n°2), Paris, UNESCO: 25-30.
- “‘Soñar, recordar y vivir con eso’. Los sueños de los Záparas en la construcción del pasado, Amazonia Ecuatoriana”, Estudios Atacameños, 2003, 26, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile: Universidad Católica del Norte, Instituto de Investigaciones Arqueológicas, Museo R.P. Gustavo Le Paige S.J.: 61-70.
- “Biographie d’un esprit au corps brisé. Les pierres magiques des ancêtres zápara d’Amazonie : des sujets du passé”, Journal de la Société des Américanistes, 2006, 92 -1et 2 : 237-254.
- “Les mots du corps. Une ethnographie des émotions des soignants en cancérologie”, Ethnographiques.org, Institut d’ethnologie de Neuchâtel, 2007, n°14.
Contributions to collective works
- La connaissance dans le corps. L’usage du minéral chez un guérisseur d’Iquitos (Amazonie Péruvienne), in Ph. Erikson et M. Lenaerts (dir.). Idées à bouturer. Ethno-écologie amazonienne, Nanterre, Commission Européenne, Université Libre de Bruxelles, Laboratoire d’Ethnologue et de Sociologie Comparative, Labethno, 2002 : 259-270.
- L’adieu aux Zápara, in Ph. Erikson (dir.). La pirogue ivre. Bières traditionnelles en Amazonie, Saint-Nicolas de Port : Musée Français de la Brasserie, 2006 87-90.
To be published in 2008