Opening the Waiwai ewto: indigenous social and spatial relations in Guyana
Oakley, Roy Elliott
This thesis presents an indigenous analysis of social and spatial relations in southern Guyana through the histories, perspectives and practices of people in Masakenyarï, considered by its approximately 250 residents to be a Waiwai village. It explores contemporary indigenous relations to the environment and environmental NGOs, the state, and various outsiders in Guyana. The chapters examine the multiple ways in which people in Masakenyarï understand and act within broader political and economic processes, which are analytically framed through Waiwai ideas about the desired and potentially dangerous relation between exteriority and interiority. Central to this account of social and spatial relations is the Waiwai ewto, the village or ‘place-where-people-live’. Masakenyarï became an Amerindian Protected Area in 2007, partnering with an international NGO and later with the Guyanese government. I show how for people in Masakenyarï making their ewto includes everyday household and communal processes but also establishing the protected area, seeking expertise outside the village, and building relations with the state. Themes such as leadership, gender, development, exchange, and identity are explored to elaborate interiority and exteriority as dynamic spatial but also conceptual relations. I pay particular attention to the ways that people in Masakenyarï frame their participation in environmental conservation and increased connection to the state as active and agentive. Taken together, the chapters demonstrate the persisting importance of the exterior – which includes state, NGO and other itinerant actors – as a source of value for Waiwai people for the village-based livelihoods that they desire. Rooted in the anthropology of Latin America and indigenous Amazonia, the thesis speaks to broader questions about indigenous ideas of living well, both in relation to village sociality and contemporary indigenous livelihoods amidst large-scale political and economic transformation.