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Session 3: Conducting Research with Indigenous Peoples in the Amazon

This session will focus on research with indigenous peoples from an anthropological, environmental and economic perspective, and present the challenges of conducting fieldwork in indigenous territories in the Amazon. Alíria Noronha will talk about happiness and good living among the Baniwa people (Amazonas/Brazil), looking at the relationship between the livelihoods of Western urban and consumer society and that of the Baniwa people. Carolina Comandulli will present the preliminary findings of her research with the Ashaninka people from Amonia River (Acre/Brazil) on their own ‘development model’ and struggle to sustain their way of living in spite of the pressures from the outside. Hernando Hecheverri-Sanchez will speak about the Putumayo (Colombia) shamanic medicine and about the medicinal plant trade, looking at local and global implications of it. Our presenters will also approach the ethical and methodological issues of doing fieldwork in these contexts, such as gender, language, conceptual, and logistical barriers.

Happiness and Living Well: working with the Baniwa people

Alíria Noronha (UFAM)

My research is about happiness and good living. It studies the relationship between the livelihoods of our urban and consumer society and that of the Baniwa indigenous people who live in the Amazon. The Baniwas have a complex way of living, based on a strong relationship with nature, sense community and belonging to their place, the Içana River. They host several celebrations throughout of the year and their religion mixes syncretism with Christianism. The Baniwa people reached a way of living that combines happiness and sustainability. While trying to enquire how much sustainable is individual happiness based on consumption and what can the Baniwas teach us in the way how to make a more sustainable world, my fieldwork has involved many challenges. For instance, the Içana River is located at least four days from Manaus, mainly by small boats, under dangerous conditions and at a very high cost. There is a strong bureaucractic process to obtain authorisation to enter in an indigenous land. There is a need to address the language gap (Baniwa-Portuguese) and mostly important, on how to approach a concept (happiness) that the Baniwas do not have without compromising the research with preconception. I will discuss some of these challenges, but also the pleasures of my research journey so far.



Graduated in Social Sciences by the State University of Montes Claros, in Minas Gerais, Brazil in 2000, Alíria Noronha has a Masters in Management from the Federal University of Lavras, also in Minas Gerais in 2003. Since then she has been living in the heart of the Brazilian Amazon, working in several institutions on themes related to rural and territorial development; family agriculture; riverine, extractivists and indigenous peoples; public policies; gender; and participatory management techniques. Alíria is a PhD candidate in Environmental Science and Sustainability, at the Federal University of Amazonas and she is currently a visiting scholar at the King’s Brazil Institute.

On a War Footing: Territorial and Cultural Protection in an Amazonian Frontier

Carolina Comandulli (UCL)

The Ashaninka people from Amonia River (Acre/Brazil) secured the right to their land in 1992, while struggling against logging invasions in their territory. Since then, they have built a series of strategies to protect their land and way of living which have been central to their endeavour in the pursuit of a ‘good life’ – in their own terms. This research looks at what is the Ashaninka from Amonia understanding of development and at their efforts in trying to achieve it despite the several barriers presented by the outside. To prepare for and overcome the number of obstacles they face, I claim that the Ashaninka people live in a particular state of readiness for war. In this presentation, I will briefly present the preliminary findings of this research and outline the methodological challenges I have faced while conducting fieldwork.

Carolina Comandulli


Carolina Schneider Comandulli is a PhD student from the Anthropology Department at University College London (UCL), and a member of the Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) research group, of the Centre for the Anthropology of Sustainability (CAOS) and is a co-founder of CLOSER.  She is doing her research in the Brazilian Amazon, with the Ashaninka people from Apiwtxa village (State of Acre – Brazil), looking at their own development model. Also, she is carrying a citizen science project with Ashaninka people using digital technology to support them in the protection of their territory. Before starting her PhD, she spent four years working for the National Foundation for Indigenous Affairs (FUNAI), which is the Brazilian governmental agency in charge of protecting and promoting indigenous peoples rights. There she occupied different positions, such as at the Indigenous Land Monitoring Department at the Sustainable Development Directorship.  She also holds an MSc in Anthropology and Ecology of Development from UCL, which resulted from an analysis of people-park conflicts in Brazil.

The Medicinal Forest: identity, ethnic revival and conservation in Western Amazonia

Hernando Echeverri (UCL)

This doctoral study is a multispecies ethnographic analysis on the trade of medicinal plant species in southern Colombia. Trade is the underpinning activity of an extensive web of relationships between traditional healers from different cultural, social and ecological backgrounds. In this extensive and complex system of beliefs, medicinal plants have an undeniable importance and their use is almost universal. For the purpose of this presentation, I will give examples on how working with medicinal plants, especially those that are considered sacred to indigenous communities has been challenging in a number of ways. Many of the medicinal plants that I have an interest on are subject to complex commodity chains that may or may not be illegal. Access to these chains was especially challenging. This is in part due to the fact that the Putumayo is one of the fronts for the civil war. Negotiation with the different actors and gatekeepers during my fieldwork proved to be fundamental and helped me accomplish this study. However this negotiation was never easy as malpractice by part of researchers has snowball into a scene of distrust for academics especially anthropologist who wish to work in this area.



Hernando Hecheverri-Sanchez is a PhD candidate in Anthropology from University College London, in his third year of the doctorate. Has done fieldwork in Colombia concentrating on the region of Putumayo. He completed his MSc in Anthropology, Ecology and Development in 2015. Has a Bachelor degree in Anthropology with a minor in Biology from Universidad de los Andes in Colombia. Has experience in working with the Colombian Amazon region, as well as the Caribbean, the Andean region and the Orinoco. He has specialised on working with Indigenous communities in these regions. Established socio-ecological initiatives and sustainable development projects in regions such as Vaupez and the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta. Is involved with the National Parks Institute and the Ministry of Environment on projects concerned with land recognition and advocacy of indigenous ecological practices.

Coordinators: CLOSER

Place: King's College London, Strand, Old Committee Room

Date: October 6, 2017

Time: 15:00 - 17:00

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