My Dissertation

Changing Forms of Identity and Political Leadership Among the Akawaio Kapon

PhD Dissertation: Cultural Anthropology.  Temple University 2007.

This dissertation examines forms of identity and political leadership as they have developed among the Akawaio Kapon of the Upper Mazaruni from the colonial era to the present.  While a Kapon ethnic identity probably long predates the colonial encounter, the violent process of colonialism, including involvement in commodity production, warfare, slave raiding, and predatory banditry, warped and distorted Akawaio social relations in ways that had long lasting and debilitating consequences.  During the latter half of the 19th century the Alleluia religion emerged as a movement whose leaders sought to revitalize the ethics of a kinship-based communal social formation, but during the same era, extractive industries, missionaries, and the state were moving into Guyana’s interior and setting into motion process which would once again have deleterious effects on Akawaio social life.  A new set of Amerindian elites have emerged whose power derives from their connections with the missions, mining, and the state, and it is this class of leaders who today are active in the political parties and the indigenous rights organizations.  The discourses of Amerindian identity which are put forth by these leaders exist in a sometimes uneasy tension with the claims about Amerindian identity that are made by the followers of the Alleluia religion.  Their discourses of indigenous rights and Amerindian political power also bring these leaders into open conflict with non-Amerindian “coastlander” miners who work in the Upper Mazaruni.

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