Enawene-nawe ‘potlatch against the state’

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The Enawene are sustained by the Juruena river in central Brazil, where multiple hydroelectric dams are under construction and in planning. The Enawene are fishermen whose highly ritualised economic life centres on feeding the demonic owners of hydraulic resources. In this paper, Nahum-Claudel takes us through tense negotiations between the Enawene and the para-state hydroelectric company, observing the former’s adroit diplomacy as they repeatedly negotiate ‘wins’ of ever-larger hand-outs (motors, boats, petrol, money and even fish) in the lead up to what the company hopes will be a final compensation pay-out. In the era of hydroelectric ‘accumulation by dispossession’ (Harvey D. 2005. The new imperialism. Oxford: Oxford University Press), the Enawene enrol the state in paying the debt to the demon-owners, becoming – in a perspectival twist – themselves akin to these demons, engaged in an inflationary ‘potlatch against the state’. Diplomatic relations across this frontier are particular to the Enawene ritual economy, to the very recent onset of their relations with the state, and to the speed of resource capture in this region. Given the massive expansion of hydroelectric generation in Brazil, a nation currently achieving vastly accelerated growth, the analysis is likely to be of broader salience.
Original languageUndefined
JournalSocial Anthropology
Publication statusPublished - 5 Nov 2012

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