The Philosophical Problems of Space and Time: Ancestral Traditions within the Context of Modern Times (2014)

Monday, May 20, 10:30-12

Moderator: Georgette Dorn, Library of Congress

Rapporteur: Jennifer Osorio, UCLA


  • Across Indianities in the 21st Century: Treading on/in New Places, Creating New Spaces — Carlos Mamani, Gannon University
  • Heterodoxia Palikur: novas dimensões da cultura ameríndia — Carlos Shellard, Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro and Susan Bach Books and Alexia Shellard, Universidade do Estado do Rio de Janeiro
  • Pachakutism: An Andean Philosophy of Space and Time — Manomano M. M. Mukungurutse, Nomadic-Independent Researcher and Writer

Mamani’s paper addressed the following themes: 1) how traditional cultures (in this case, Andean cultures) innovate and continue to create in modern times and 2) how the continuity of these indigenous Andean cultures has endured despite the conquest. Going back to Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, Quechua chronicler known for Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno, indigenous cultures have been contesting the European narrative and presenting their narratives in a fight for historical space. For Guaman Poma, Nueva Corónica was the chosen method of resistance, but today indigenous artists and writers use technology such as YouTube to communicate with each other and create their own narrative.  In this way cyberspace becomes a new space inhabited by Andean culture. It is another instance in which instruments of western culture are used to continue and spread Andean culture. Prof. Mamani went on to show videos of several Andean musicians who post on YouTube and to quote a number of the comments on these videos, in support of  the argument that these videos were creating a network to reinforce Andean Culture around the world. In the comments, viewers thanked the musicians for representing their culture so beautifully and for allowing them to stay connected to it. In this way, the framing of their own narrative by indigenous people continues, but in new virtual spaces.

Shellard translated by Tim Thompson (University of Miami) presented a paper written in partnership with Carlos Shellard (not present). The paper is a case study on the different ontological possibilities of modernity and some of the conundrums that indigenous groups face while negotiating different configurations of modern culture. The example presented is that of the the Palikur people, an Amerindian group living in the Brazilian state of Amapá, on the border with French Guyana. The goal was to analyze different conceptions of reality vis a vis the idea of heterodoxy, contrasting the notions of time and space expressed in Palikur narratives with modern scientific reason.

The Palikur were one of the first groups to come in contact with European invaders, and this contact led to them forming a more distinct identity as a form of resistance and self-preservation. They were one of the last groups to adopt western cultural norms, but in the 60s and 70s they adopted Pentecostalism and this led to the need to redefine their cosmological visions and bring together these opposing world views. However, they converted to Christianity in the second half of the 20th century, and with this conversion, they changed their notion of cyclical, ahistorical time to one with a chronological vision of events. They rejected shamanism, which allowed for the possibility of accessing different cosmological dimensions, as diabolical and not compatible with the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yet, this rejection was not total. The Palikur have found new forms of resistance and new ways to reconcile their traditional beliefs with modern ones.

Shellard focused on two ontologies: naturalism (western science, reason is absolute and nature is an object which can be understood through reason) and animism (indigenous cosmology, which provides for multiple natures, but only one cultural perspective). An example of this is in the Palinkur cosmology, where the world is inhabited by different beings which take on a human form in their own plane/dimension, but take on a different form in the human part of the world. In the myth of the great serpent, the serpent is in human form in its own world, whereas on the human plane it is a monster.  Similarly, the jaguar perceives humans as monkeys and monkeys perceive humans as jaguars. Shellard cited examples of how modern Palinkur have rewritten their mythology to reconcile their history with the present-day beliefs. In large part, the mythic space was displaced to the realm of history, the past. The serpent was sent to the bottom of the ocean, but some figures from Palinkur mythology still inhabit the realm of the sky and new stories have been created to intertwine the two viewpoints.

Mukungurutse argued that Andean philosophy, which he calls Pachakutism, is central to the way the Andean people view themselves and study themselves. It is a ubiquitous idea that can also serve as the foundation for many philosophical traditions. Mukungurutse looked at the different philosophical traditions – classical, Asian, African, etc. – in order to establish Pachakutism within them and within the philosophy of space and time. It appeals to him because in the Andean tradition, space and time are always fused, not blended as they are in Western traditions. Central to Pachkutism is the concept of inversion. Inversion is central to human knowledge and since Pachakutism understood inversion earlier than any other philosophy (Mukungurutse cites Guaman Poma, centuries before Marx and Hegel),  pachakutism is the most central and all-encompassing of world philosophies.


Georgette Dorn (Library of Congress): The jaguar does not exist in the Andes, so what is the mythical animal of Andean cosmology? Mamani  answered that it would be the puma and that supposedly Cusco was built in the shape of a puma.

Vera Araújo (Susan Bach Books):  How did the Pentecostal get to Amapá?

Shellard responded that the Assemblies of God have numerous churches in the areas, as the Amazonian area of Brazil was a main and early focus for them. They have three churches on the Palinkur reservation, one large one and two smaller ones.

Georgette Dorn (Library of Congress):  How many Palinkur are there?

Shellard: About 2000.

There was also a question from Tim Thompson about Mukungurutse’s pointer, which turned out to be an Italian breadstick (Palo de pan) from Argentina.