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Decolonization and healing practices in the Bolivian Andes: Earth beings and Ukamaw knowledge

Grant number: 18/04426-6
Support type:Scholarships in Brazil - Master
Effective date (Start): April 01, 2019
Effective date (End): October 31, 2020
Field of knowledge:Humanities - Anthropology - Indigenous Ethnology
Cooperation agreement: Coordination of Improvement of Higher Education Personnel (CAPES)
Principal researcher:Marina Vanzolini Figueiredo
Grantee:Brett Alan Buckingham
Home Institution: Faculdade de Filosofia, Letras e Ciências Humanas (FFLCH). Universidade de São Paulo (USP). São Paulo , SP, Brazil


Aymara yatiris (known as curanderos or maestros in Spanish) and their apprentices (soldados) have occupied a prominent place in the public debate in Bolivia over the meaning of decolonization, asserting that colonialism be understood as a type of spiritual illness and decolonization as its cure. This project departs from the necessity of taking seriously the native claim that this form of healing constitutes a practice of decolonization, investing in an ethnographic study of how Aymara yatiris and soldados understand and relate to entities central to their healing practices, "earth beings" (de la Cadena 2015), which meet the Western eye as elements of the physical landscape, such as mountains, stones, and lakes. It is suggested that this analysis permits us to understand the relational act of decolonization as a cosmopolitical practice (Stengers 2010). Prompted by the centrality of earth beings in these healing practice and by the articulation of the notion of decolonization with that of mayisthapita, which refers to the experience of being connected to other-than-humans, this research, which is grounded in previous fieldwork experience undertaken during my undergraduate career, is conceived as an investigation of a conception of politics explored through the Aymara conceptualization of knowledge. The latter is based in the distinction between conceptual knowledge (siwsawi), acquired through language, and experiential knowledge (ukamaw), acquired through active participation in ancestral teachings and healing practices.

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