Thursday, October 24, 2019
Title: When Pachamama is Left Hungry: Healing and Misfortune in the Atacama Desert
Abstract: Culture helps humans visualize the ties between their health and the environment and is closely tied to the adaptations they consequently employ. This talk explores strategies adopted by Atacameño indigenous people to attain health and protect themselves from misfortune, in the mining city of Calama in northern Chile. My interest in documenting Atacameño understandings of healing and misfortune was triggered by several fieldwork experiences (2007, 2014, 2015 & 2017) in which some of their stories were documented. Their narratives centered on the theme of events involving the death of a loved one, a serious illness such as cancer, or inability to get pregnant, to name a few, and how those women or men rarely searched initially for help from a medical doctor as their only option. Most of the narratives pointed to the Atacameño people’s attempts at protecting themselves with the help of traditional indigenous healers, locally called Yatiri. A Yatiriis a ritual specialist that knows how to use medicinal plants. She or usually he is also a visionary able to see through the reading of coca leafs. My work for a number of years has emphasized Atacameño understandings of the environment and its resources. In addressing the new question of ritual failure in this research, I imagined I might be moving in a new direction. Yet, just when I thought I was moving away from the environment as my core unit of analysis, I found myself back there again. Health and wellness among Atacameños is not attained by exercising 150 minutes per week, eating organic food, doing yoga, and meditating. Rather it’s secured by being mindfully aware of your obligation to reciprocate with nature or the earth-beings and give them due respect through regular ritual payments or pagos. So, what can these stories teach us about well-being, misfortune and the environment among Atacameño indigenous peoples? At the very minimum,Atacameños’ view of nature is a reminder that other societies do not center their attention on the dominant Western view that privileges human dominance over nature (implying an artificial human-nature divide), but on the contrary, they recognize nature’s influence on human existence, and the role of culture in the balance of nature and social relations.