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Fertility in Amazonia: Indigenous concepts of the human reproductive process among the Ye’kwana of southern Venezuela

Fertility in Amazonia: Indigenous concepts of the human reproductive process among the Ye’kwana of southern Venezuela
Matthew Taylor Lauer

2005

Department of Anthropology, University of California, Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA 93106, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

ABSTRACT

This thesis is a study of human fertility, comparing how demographers, anthropologists, biologists and other scientists have theorized it and how the Ye’kwana, an indigenous group who inhabit the Guiana Shield region of Northern Amazonia, conceive of the process. Ye’kwana ideas call to question scientific models of human reproduction that analytically separate ‘natural’ aspects of human behavior from ‘social’ or ‘psychological’ aspects. During 26 months of fieldwork, detailed demographic, economic, sociological and ethnographic data were collected which cast doubt on the validity of the ‘natural fertility model’ normally applied to non-industrial populations such as the Ye’kwana. Careful scrutiny of indigenous understandings of life processes (conception, pregnancy, birth, child rearing, aging, dying, producing, consuming, dwelling) as they are expressed in the myths, ceremonies and everyday activities of the Ye’kwana reveals a much broader view of ‘fertility’ than is encompassed by our scientific notions. Rather than focusing narrowly on the capacities, actions and decisions of childbearing couples, Ye’kwana see the growth of the human body and the human community as a single, concerted, long-term social activity. The thesis concludes by spelling out the analytical and practical relevance of this non-dualist, socio-centric, and temporally more extensive understanding to our own scientific interpretations of fertility.