Annotation: Turner, Terence. 1991. Representing, Resisting, Rethinking: Historical Transformations of Kayapo Culture

Turner, Terence. 1991. Representing, Resisting, Rethinking: Historical Transformations of Kayapo Culture and Anthropological Consciousness. In, Colonial Situations: Essays on the Contextualization of Ethnographic Knowledge. George Stocking (ed). Pp. 285-313. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

Turner’s work with the Kayapo of Central Brazil began in 1962. The author reflects on the transformations that have happened in the community over the 25 years of collaboration, such as their increased contact with other ethnic groups, Brazilians and missionaries. These changes, over which they have had no control, and which have been influenced by Western discourses of development, also include large infrastractural project and resource extraction operations conducted on the Kayapo’s traditional land. These have become a point of contention between the Kayapo and other ethnic groups. In light of these changes, the Kayapo started using the media as a means of representing themselves in new ways. Their control over technology, according to Turner, has become an important part of the Kayapo’s struggle for their “self-empowerment in the situation of inter-ethnic contact” (306). For instance, Turner writes about the Kayapo leader who requested to be filmed, and then have the videotaped message delivered to another tribe. The message was a critique of the other tribe’s exploitation of natural resources, and over-acculturation to Brazilian ways. This other community, meanwhile, were using technology to record their own ceremonies and encounters with the Brazilians. In the course of filming such increasingly contemporary situations and problems, he observed how the Kayapo increasingly started influencing, if not directing, his filming. Their plans for political action also considered how they might be represented in Turner’s films, and how they were portrayed by the news media. Turner recognizes that he no longer only documents the cultural changes, but that he has also become a “cultural instrument” of the Kayapo people. In these instances, as Turner writes, the anthropological filmmaker shifts from the mode of “participant observation” to “observant participation” (308). Thus, Turner and the subjects of his film “had become co-participants in a project of resisting, representing and rethinking…their ‘culture'” (311-2). His “theory,” meanwhile, had also become their “joint product.”

A video of a Kayapo leader talking about the destruction of natural resources.


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