2 May 2012

The Piaroa

The Piaroa [are] a highly egalitarian society living along tributaries of the Orinoco [whom the] ethnographer Joanna Overing...describes as anarchists. They place enormous value on individual freedom and autonomy, and are quite self-conscious about the importance of ensuring that no one is ever at another person’s orders, or the need to ensure no one gains such control over economic resources that they can use it to constrain others’ freedom. Yet they also insist that Piaroa culture itself was the creation of an evil god, a two-headed cannibalistic buffoon. The Piaroa have developed a moral philosophy which defines the human condition as caught between a “world of the senses,” of wild, pre-social desires, and a “world of thought.” Growing up involves learning to control and channel in the former through thoughtful consideration for others, and the cultivation of a sense of humor; but this is made infinitely more difficult by the fact that all forms of technical knowledge, however necessary for life are, due to their origins, laced with elements of destructive madness. Similarly, while the Piaroa are famous for their peaceableness—murder is unheard of, the assumption being that anyone who killed another human being would be instantly consumed by pollution and die horribly—they inhabit a cosmos of endless invisible war, in which wizards are engaged in fending off the attacks of insane, predatory gods and all deaths are caused by spiritual murder and have to be avenged by the magical massacre of whole (distant, unknown) communities.
-- from Fragments of an Anarchist Anthropology (pdf) by David Graeber

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