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The hearer, the hunter, and the agouti head: Aspects of intercommunication and conviviality among the Pa'ikwené (Palikur) of French Guiana

The hearer, the hunter, and the agouti head: Aspects of intercommunication and conviviality among the Pa'ikwené (Palikur) of French Guiana
Alan Passes


Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AJ, UNITED KINGDOM.


The thesis is in the broadest terms an anthropological exploration of intercommunication; it concerns concepts and practices of speech and hearing among a Lowland Amazonian people, the Pa'ikwené, concentrating particularly on the community of Deuxième Village Esperance in southern Guyane (French Guiana). A significant aspect of the subject is the axiological one, i. e., the moral and aesthetic values attaching to proper dialogic, and consequently social, relations - or what Ingold describes (1986: 141) as the "conversation that is social life".

Revealing the speech of ordinary people to be as `powerful' in its way as that of chiefs, the study addresses the instrumentality of speaking and hearing in the creation and maintenance of sociality. Essentially, I argue that intersubjective communication does not so much `imply' Pa'ikwené society (Levi-Strauss 1973: 390) as construct it as a sociable, pleasurable and egalitarian entity; that it is, in short, one of the fundamental `tools for conviviality' (Illich 1973).

While the role of language in the process of society has long been recognised by anthropology, and comprehensively investigated, that of listening to it seems, perhaps because of the more `private' nature of the act, not to have enjoyed the same level of sociological interest. Given this imbalance, special emphasis is laid on native audition as embodied by the cultural phenomenon of "Tchimap", "to hear-listen-understand", and its use in three key spheres, the political, economic and magico-religious.

One central issue deals with the agency and perceived value of "good hearing" in the generation of good relations between humans, and of productive ones between humans and non-humans. Another major theme, of relevance to the ongoing theoretical debate on 'individualism-collectivism', involves the efficacy of "Tchimap" as a performative means of personal autonomy, within and as part of, rather than in opposition to, the group.