The Rain Stars, the World’s River, the Horizon and the Sun’s Path: Astronomy along the Rio Urucauá, Amapá, Brazil

Citation data:

Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America, ISSN: 2572-3626, Vol: 8, Issue: 2, Page: 3

Publication Year:
Usage 1001
Downloads 562
Abstract Views 439
Social Media 3
Tweets 3
Repository URL:
Green, Lesley; Green, David
Most Recent Tweet View All Tweets
article description
This article curates excerpts from astronomical narratives recorded in Palikur between 2000 and 2008 along the Rio Urucauá, in the Área Indígena do Uaçá on the border of Brazil and French Guiana. The material assembles around the seasonal cycle of stars associated with particular rains and seasonal changes in the landscape. Star maps of the major constellations are counterposed with wood carvings of the constellations. The curation of these narratives and carvings serves three arguments. First, the figures in this mythical cycle offer multiple references to Amerindian astronomies documented across lowland and highland South America. While the contemporary Palikur population knows its history as that of a federation of Amerindian groups and as one that has drawn Africans and Asians, slaves and settlers into its midst in relatively recent generations, the extent of the links that these texts offer to Amerindian astronomies elsewhere mitigates against representing this astronomy in culturalist terms as “Palikur ethnoastronomy”. Rather, we argue, the material augments the view that astronomical knowledge in the region affirms the history of a vast and extended network among Amerindian populations. Second, the material demonstrates that astronomical knowledge is strongly present in everyday practices and in narratives of residents along the Rio Urucauá. That it is spoken of very little in the everyday, we argue, reflects not so much the forgetting of oral knowledge – since the material has not been forgotten – but the complex choices people make on a day to day basis in navigating the rationalities associated with citizenship of wider collectives, including the global economy, the frontier towns of Brazil and French Guiana, and a range of church groups of which significant sectors readily render Amerindian astronomies as somewhere between maleficent and irrational. The third argument moves toward rethinking the representation of Amerindian astronomy with attention to the ways in which the memory of movement serves alongside the memory of star patterns to establish the references that make star positions predictable in the seasons. Yet while the memory of movement is translatable with reference to axes and lines, the ontology that gives them meaning is that of the movements of living beings: anacondas, ancestors, a tortoise, shamans, birds, with whom the elders had relationships. While the material is readily presented in the global language of information, to borrow from Bruno Latour (2010), the sorrow that accompanies some of the tellings speak of people’s loss of astronomy in the everyday as a loss of the language of transformation: a way of knowing that implies presence and relationality.