owners of kinship

owners of kinship.png

(2017) by Luiz Costa [https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Luiz_Costa16]


intro’d via David Wengrow:

(@davidwengrow): Or Amazonian groups where hunting and capturing other people to make them “pets” is a basic way of establishing power relations – my friend Luiz Costa has a great new book on this called “The Owners of Kinship.”


Through a comprehensive ethnography of the Kanamari, Luiz Costa shows how this relationship is centered around the bond created between the feeder and the fed.

imagining – if we all were part of the feeding.. so that all are fed (which .. 1\ all aren’t fed today 2\ if all part of feeding.. less feeling obliged to ie: bs jobs .. in order to pay the feeder)





my career in anthropology owes everything to carlos fausto, who has encouraged me since day one at the museu nacional. he has remained my most important critic, supporter, and collaborator. this book exists because he insisted that i write it and then commented on everything i wrote.


Researches with indigenous peoples in the Amazon since 1988, focusing on themes such as kinship, war, ritual, shamanism, art and memory.

(with Luiz Costa) “Feeding (and Eating): Reflections on
Strathern’s ‘Eating (and Feeding)’. “Cambridge Anthropology. 31: 156-162, 2013. 

forward – janet carsten


an anthropologist and professor currently employed at the University of Edinburgh


what does it mean to be obligated to another?.. the owners of kinship shows us how the kanamari tackle these questions


The Kanamari call themselves tukuna, a term which means ‘people’ and which they extend to all other Katukinan-speaking Amerindians. In spite of the turmoils which the twentieth century brought them, in particular the increasing and violent presence of non-Amerindians, the Kanamari nonetheless managed to maintain their language, an extensive mythological tradition and their rich ritual complex.

The Kanamari are an intensely mobile population, and undertaking a census among them is incredibly difficult. At any given time their villages are full of people visiting, others who are staying for some time, some who are leaving and so on. The wide area in which they live makes the task even more complicated. Census of the Kanamari counted 1.654 people in 2006. In 2010 this total rose to 3.167 people. 

obligation ness.. i’d prefer ‘interconnectedness‘.. or ie: bishop freedom law

obligation sets up a whole supposed to mindset .. that messes with us big time


babies.. after birth, are considered not as close relatives of their parents but as alters…

alterity: the state of being other or different; otherness.

pregnancy and birth itself threaten the well being of a baby’s parents thru premature aging, and costa shows how kanamri couvade rituals are aimed at protecting a baby’s close kin. this danger is materialized in the child’s blood, which not only encapsulates the soul but is particularly dangerous, because the child has not yet been made the subject of feeding.

? has been the subject of feeding when in mother’s body.. no?

the newborn’s blood is therefore as alien as the blood of an enemy, and blood in general encapsulates danger and alterity. thru feeding, first w breast milk and subsequently w food by their mothers, babies and children are gradually turned into kin w whom relations of commensality are established..  in turn, this feeding is predicated upon ideas about dependence, hierarchy, and ownership..t

– principles that also underlie relation’s w local chiefs who are conceived as the sources and owners of the food that kin of one locality share..  significantly however it is not w relations between mothers and children that costa begins his exposition of kanamari kinship but, rather, w relations between women and pets..

pet feeding. like child rearing converts what is foreign and exterior ..not something familiar and interior.. though pets never develop into kinship..  pets may never be eaten.. instead, they may be items of exchange w white people..  white people are regarded as cannibals insofar as they eat the animals they rear..



body, owner, and chief are in kanamari language.. one concept


how is owner equally a body?  what does it mean to be an owner of kinship..?


kinship: blood relationship; ..a sharing of characteristics or origins.


In anthropology, kinship is the web of social relationships that form an important part of the lives of all humans in all societies, although its exact meanings even within this discipline are often debated. Anthropologist Robin Fox states that “the study of kinship is the study of what man does with these basic facts of life – mating, gestation, parenthood, socialization, siblingship etc.” Human society is unique, he argues, in that we are “working with the same raw material as exists in the animal world, but [we] can conceptualize and categorize it to serve social ends.” These social ends include the socialization of children and the formation of basic economic, political and religious groups.


Broadly, kinship patterns may be considered to include people related by both descent – i.e. social relations during development – and by marriage. Human kinship relations through marriage are commonly called “affinity” in contrast to the relationships that arise in one’s group of origin, which may be called one’s descent group.

this book is an ethnography of the kanamari that shows how the ‘social fabrication of kinship’ is dependent on a bond of ownership at once elementary and indispensable..

if kinship is everywhere ‘the mutuality of being’ then for the kanamari , mutuality is preceded by *dependency. if we can speak of a ‘principle of kinship amity’ then kinship amity here is preceded by ownership asymmetry

rather *interdependency.. ie: interconnectedness..

holmgren indigenous law

by the notion of precedence i refer to two related facts: first in terms of life cycle people are initially embedded in relations of ownership before being distributed in other relationships; and second, in terms of kanamari conceptions of kinship, ownership is a precondition of and for mutuality.. ownership generates the space within which the intersubjective qualities of kinship are lived;..t..  there are no kinship relations that are not derived form ties of ownership..

? i don’t know


since i can’t discuss all the ways (ownership determines kinship) .. i limit myself to how kinship is articulated thru the distinction between two ways of distributing food..

1\ thru unidirectional provisioning..  which i call feeding.. in kanamari.. ‘feeding’ is a relation that generates an ‘owner’ and a ‘body’ and implies unilateral dependence of the fed person on the feeder

2\ thru food sharing between people who can produce food for themselves.. which i call ‘commensality’.. implies reciprocal interdependence of those commensal w each other..

commensality: eating and drinking at the same table – is a fundamental social activity, which creates and cements relationships. It also sets boundaries, including or excluding people according to a set of criteria defined by the society.

feeding, in sum, involves the differential capacity of one party to provide for another, while commensality involved diff but complementary contributions toward food production, distribution and consumption..

what the distinction establishes is this: where relations of commensality are id’d, they can be traced back to relations of feeding; where kinship persists, it does so w/in the purview of an owner..

so feeding or ownership..?


the owner always projects a relation of ‘ownership’ typically characterized by an asymmetrical bond involving control, protection, dependency and care.. t.. this bond is often expressed in an idiom of *filiation, specifically in terms of the parent child relation, although it interconnects in complex and ethnographically variable ways w native conceptions of kinships – fausto

filiation: the fact of being or of being designated the child of a particular parent or parents.. the manner in which a thing is related to another from which it is derived or descended in some respect.

until the start of the 21st cent, discussions of ownership were basically limited to ethnographic works that described the figures known as the: owners, masters, fathers, mothers.. of animals, typically characterized as monstrous or hyperbolic forms of the species over which they have control.. and with which, in many cases, they establish relations of filiation..

rather than investigating the vertical relations that bind the masters of animals to their ‘children’ ethnographies have traditionally privileged the horizontal relations of transspecific diplomacy – that is  those between two shamans, one an animal or spirit, the other human

the prominence given to symmetrical relations between peers at the expense of the asymmetrical relations between masters and their creatures is revealing.. t..

as fausto points out, one of the factors that inhibited more robust comparative studies of mastery relations is precisely the recurrent and ingrained image of amazonia as province of equality and symmetry, particularly when contrasted to the andes, mesoamerica or the old world. *this image led to an almost exclusive emphasis on horizontal relations, including those internal to local groups, where we find a philosophy of social life marked by informality and the absence of regulating social structures or coercion..t

as well as those external to local groups, where symmetrical ties between diff collectivities, typically formulated in the idiom of symmetrical or ‘potential’ affinity, structure supralocal systems..

*this seems good..? preferable.. more natural.. more antifragile.. more entropic?


as a result, mastery was demoted to a subsidiary role, ..t..

whether by theoretical approaches that stressed the ‘conviviality’ of the everyday as an antidote to the grand western narratives of society.. or by ‘exchangist’ approaches strongly influenced by structuralism.. fausto


while warfare had once been mostly studies as a form of symmetrical exchange – as an exchange of ‘aggressions’ ‘souls’ or ‘lives’ – it became increasingly clear that amazonian warfare operated in disequilibrium.. a death never restored a state of balance but rather, projected violence in the future as further deaths were envisaged and planned…  hence.. fausto proposed that *reciprocity, which restored equilibrium,

*did/does it?

should be distinguished from warfare predation, which determines the direction in which a relation between two subjects becomes resolved: ‘when predatory interaction is established between two persons – a metarelation is created in which one of them occupies the agent positions and the other occupies the patient position..

warfare thus always contained a residual element that resisted any easy assimilations of symmetrical schemes..  .. it was above all, thru a focus on the relationship between the killer and his victim, and between the captor and his captive, that amazonian ethnology began to conceptualize mastery as a relational schema


to feed is to contain what is fed; to be fed is to be put into relation w an owner..t

to me.. this begs we all work the soil..


when feeding and commensality are distinguished as diff ways of relating to others, there remains a tendency to dissolve the asymmetry of feeding into the symmetry of commensality  as an all purpose dispositif for creating, sustaining, and perpetuating kinship ties..

mccalum: the principal means of making kinships is the act of feeding’..

the kaxinawa equate the concept of feeding w generosity.. to be ‘generous’ or ‘kind is to be duapa.. the root of this word, dua, also composes the term dua va, which mccallum glosses as ‘making oneself responsible for a person‘.. which has the wider meaning of ‘to help, to satisfy a desire, to treat well, to look after, to *domesticate‘..

*ugh to domesticate

also used to describe the process of familiarizing a wild animal., of making it into a pet.. .. feeding well and looking after is a process that makes someone or some animal closer, more like oneself, kin’ – mccallum

the prototypical model for feeding is the parental relation. parents look after their children, just as generous men and woman look after others, which means ensuring that they are well provided for

cool.. as long as there are not strings/agendas.. ie: domesticating/civilizing.. et al

the chief in turn is a ‘summation and intensification of the notion of adult person’ – maccallum.. a magnified father to the community, just as his wife is a magnified mothers..  kaxinawa chief elias ‘in this way you become a leader. feeding people is becoming a leader, whereas a miserly man, who eats alone, can never become a leader’


the kaxinawa term that mccallum translates as ‘leader’ is xanen ibu.. the term ibu can also be used to designate ‘parents’ and mccallum adds it ‘encompasses both possession and legit authority’

? no possessions.. no authority.. no legit ness

things that are owned are parts of the person who owns them.. food and things are owned absolutely while land involved ‘connotations of ownership’.. however mccallum claims that ‘something of this attitude spills over in the relationship between parents and children; but relations between people are in no way comparable to relations between persons and things’

? – so far.. not feeling this book/thinking

in an ethnographic setting where ownership is a relation integral to persons. mccallum nonetheless claims that it is unsuitable for describing interrelations between them..

there is little doubt that relations of feeding generate and sustain ibu as a filial bond..  parents are owners of the children they feed and these children are an integral part of them; chiefs are owners of the people they feed, calling them ‘my children’ and it is the ownership (thru feeding) of many people that magnifies the chief into an amplified ‘father’.. feeding generates ownership, so if feeding is the principle means of making kinships among the kaxinawa, then ownership is the basic kinship relation..


while acknowledging that consubstantiality created thru food sharing is a common feature of amazonian societies, this book turns to how the diff ways of producing and transferring food as well as the means of its production, create the conditions for kinship relations to thrive

for purpose of this book – kinships defines two overlapping qualities that the kanamri consider integral to the relations between those who are kinspeople (within) to each other..


the first is coresidence.. amazonian anthropology has long recognized the centrality of coresidence in determining kinship relations

coresidence is alway sabout sharing intimate space, working together, mutual care, and in some cases, as consubstantiality created thru commensality..

what defined kinship in the ‘generative culture’ of lowland s america is thus living and eating in close proximity, established in a social environ in which a stress on the informal and mundane aspects of daily life affords a degree of leeway in defining who is or is not a kinsperson, when, and in what context

has to be all of us.. no?

coresidence defines relations between people w whomnonritual interactions are ongoing..

equally basic to kanamriideas of kinship is the conept ofityonin tikok.. ‘to know th eland’..  ‘a state of communal well being’.. – people who know th eland are those who live togetherharmoniously thru love/beauty/happiness..

the book


1\ by stressing the vertical relations of metafiliation, the horizontal relations fo meta affinity are pushed in to the background. this is an intentional move. the aim is not to stress metafiliation at the expense of meta ffiinity bu, rather, to draw attention to an axis of amazonian social life that tends to be downplayed in regional syntheses

2\ focus on act of feeding and relations and categories tha tit generates, to the detriment of its complementaryterms – namely, the fed or the dependent..


of course, i shall have much to say about how feeding generates dependence and how th eagency of the feeder is augmented by thte containment of the fed..

i describe how feedin gis able to contain the power of what was previously a predatory agen, and which now becomes relatviely passive vis a vis the feeder


as an ethnography of the kanamari, this book accordingly focuses on the owner more than on the owned, w/o thereby claiming that this is how an ethnography of amazonia ownership must necessarily proceed..


1 – making need


people always translated it (ayuh-man) to me as dar comida (to give food) although it literally means ‘to make/cause need’

what does ayuh man cause in another (man makes it causative)


to cause another to eat i a method for causing a need in the fed person in relation to he person doing the feeding. the kanamari call this need naki ayuh in which naki is equiv to the english preposition ‘in’.. naki ayuh is literally an ‘internal need’ or ‘urge.’ ..  since naki ayuh is always oriented toward whoever is feeding, it can be glossed as a ‘dependence on [the feeder]’.. what is meant is univocal and unidirectional dependence of the fed on the feeder.. what is conveyed isa constitutive, at times vital, need that follows from feeding (i used ‘depend and internal – and though literal meaning.. kanamari never explicitly emphasized any ‘internal’ quality of the induced needs.. my impression is that to the internal.. doesn’t refer to an intimate aspect of the dependent individual)

feed is not an act that cancels out a previously existing need (ie: hunger) but one that instills or perpetuates a needs.. .. ie: they cause eating.. and a need/dependence..t

begs we go deeper in our taking care ness – ie: almaas holes law; missing pieces

none of the verbs containing ayuh describe the satisfaction of a need but rather, its underlying sway over those caught in its grip..t

yeah.. we gotta let go


causing another to eat by giving them food emerges as the prototypical instance of a more general asymmetry that involves one participant making available to another something that was previously unavailable.. thereby creating or furthering the latter’s dependence on the former..


feeing is a positive relation, a transcontextual asymmetry w highly variable ethnographic manifestations..  feeding here is absolute: it pre exists and overwhelms any other possible interpretation of the nature the relations between two parties

the paradigmatic, unmistakable instance of the feeding bond is the relationship between a woman and her pet


when directly asked ‘what is ayuh man?’ many respond that it refers to when a woman chews some food, takes it form her mouth, and places it in the mouth of a pet that she is raising..

other acts of feeding that would immediately and incontrovertibly be id’d as such include: breastfeeding or giving food to weaned children ‘ feeding a familiar spirit w tobacco snuff; supplying others w physical means to obtain food for themselves.. (ie: distributing rifles, fish hooks )..

2 – mastering agency


merchandise is a visible aspect of the magnification of the whites, one that can have equally dazzling effects on amerindian societies.


for the kanamari, the easy access that whites have to industrial goods and their knowledge of how they are used or operated is a source of awe, on the partly accounts for their amplified agency: their ability to quickly clear large tracts of forest, to build sturdy homes and public buildings, and to operate fast motorboats, cars and airplanes..

merchandise.. one of the things that makes white people into .. warah.. one of the manifestations of their creativity/power


the kanamari thus see merch as part of the power of the whites, but do not understand the relational dynamic that sustains this power

the only thing closely associated w the whites that is not counted as warah is livestock.. yet having livestock is very clearly one of the ways that the whites constitute themselves as body-owners..


what i’ am claiming is that livestock are analogous to the raw materials obtained form the extractive econ, in the sense that they are things that the whites desire and do not have and which the kanamari have but do not desire..

while the body ownership of pets enables the magnification of the kanamari, the body ownership of livestock enables the magnification of the whites


the kanamari obtain animal children thru predatory activities of male hunters who bring infant animals back to the village and transfer them to women who raise them.. white men traditionally obtained livestock thru breeding, and their wives helped them rear these animals for slaughter.. the diff relation sin which these animals are obtained and raised, as well as their divergent destinies, are what the kanamari find most disturbing about the whites..


the very existence of livestock makes white people’s society a challenge to kanamari society because these animals embody the paradox of a predatory form of kinship.. the adoption of livestock by the kanamari thus runs the risk of introjecting the cannibalism of the whites into their own social universe..  to prevent this from occurring, kanamari refuse to feed livestock…. instead they rear them on behalf of their true owners in exchange for western merch..


the fact that the only aspect of white people’s magnification that the kanamari can decipher reveals their cannibalism raises a number of suspicions concerning the true nature of the relation linking the whites to their merch..


by possessing livestock that are (body) owned by the whites, the kanamari screen their own relations of body ownership and kinship from white people’s cannibalism, of which livestock are living proof

3 – on the child’s blood


my intention is to show that the mother child bond results from the feeding relation and is not therefore a natural or direct filiation but an adoptive filiation

how so.. if baby feeds off mother in womb..?

in this sense the parent child bond must be interpreted as a determination of the same process of converting predation into kinship thru feeding that i have described in earlier chapters


to demo this, i will analyze the kanamari post natal seclusion practices that they call ‘to lie on the child’s blood’

i will analyze the kanamari couvade alongside post homicide rites, another moment of seclusion, in  order to show that the birth of a child is not the emergence of a new kinship relation but, rather, and event that throws existing kinship ties into disarray.. birth ‘is a way of publicly confirming, denying or creating classificatory relationships, or rearranging the cognatic universe in the idioms of substances.. rather than extending kinship relations, brith immediately requires their protection



only when the neonate suckles at its mother’s breast, when she feeds it, does it com to have a body owner..



suspension fo sexual activity after a belly becomes visible results in miscarriages, stillbirths, or children who are too feeble to survive. since ‘making a child’ requires repeated acts of intercourse.. the kanamari often say.. that this involved ‘hard work.. for men

no word for fetus.. they refer to an unborn child simply as ‘child’..  demand that parents and close kin ‘be careful’.. surroundings, food, pregnant women eat alone..


(on pregnant women being kept separate).. moreover, the mere physical proximity of pregnant women can cause the fetus to directly harm others.. particularly young children.. people say that an unborn child wants others for itself..  this translates into a interdiction of prepubescent children, who must stay away form pregnant woman lest the fetus ‘tug’ at their hair, taking it for itself and making its victim bald..


one of the most common fears during pregnancy is premature aging..  ie: graying, balding, wrinkling.. can afflict not only future parents but everyone in village who is not ‘careful’ w their actions/diet whenever a coresident woman is pregnant..


lying down in newborn’s blood, burning placenta.. cleaning floor w soap till no more blood.. parents lie still in hammock, don’t eat.. blood is spirit and soul.. killing someone.. blood gets into killer


kanarmari prenatal rites also make it difficult to agree w levi strauss’ general claim that in the couvade.. the father plays the part of the child.. for the kanamari, both father and mother ‘play the part of’ the killer, since all have their bodies awash w blood.. lines more paradigmatic, determined by generic relations of flesh and body owner to blood and souls..


live births pose a problem that stillbirths and homicide seclusion do not: something does, indeed, remain that needs to be incorporated, for the child-enemy must be made int a kinsperson

? whoa


child-enemy until breastfed.. then announcements made.. ie: not child is born.. but boy/girl has been fed.. mother not id’d as mother until baby has suckled


the transition from a child dependent on parents to and adult who feeds children is negotiated during adolescence, when teenagers become virtually homeless – or, rather, become at home in any house or village.. this is the age at which dependence on parents become significantly lax.. as young boys travel from village to village looking for girlfriends..

young children and pets not able to get food for others.. and have to eat off other’s plates

fosterage.. others raising kids.. often living in same coresidence


for the kanamari, who do not capture enemies but give birth to them, only breastfeeding.. creates a dependent and paves the way for the development of love. since every child is an enemy, every birth is an adoption by capture, and every relation of fosterage celebrates the existence of the kinship relations that successfully defused the threat posted by birth capture…  it would make little sense of fosterage to dissolve or eclipse the relations that made it possible, since it is an institution that exists to reverberate their resounding success..

4 – tripartite history

the  subgroup

5 – old jaguars


indeed, it could not be otherwise, since the jaguar’s paradoxical predatory ownership of the world enables the regeneration of the forest. this, of course, has its risks.. the kanamari remember many cases in which large jaguars resulted in deaths or injuries, as occurred to kanore in the inevitable price of living w kinspeople and being fed by a chief in a world that converges *predation/ownership..t

rather.. has *them at all



everyone must be fed, everyone must have an owner, everyone must be unilaterally *dependent on another..t

rather .. *interdependence sans ownership

ai humanity needs.. augmenting interconnectedness

as it could be..


shamanism and ritual are evidence that feeding itself is only possible in a world that is extracted form violence, in which the global parameter is predation…

my ethnography of feeding began w a description of pet keeping, the paradigmatic and inexorable feeding bond. appropriately enough, it concluded w the subgroup chief’s feeding of his children thru ritual.. which is the less vertical and more mediated extreme of the same bond..

standing before the people of his subgroup, the chief must conduct others in *singing the songs that regenerate the forest.. thereby ensuring that commensality and kinship can be sustained..

rather.. *your own song ness


there are no settlements w/o chiefs and no kinships w/o settlements


the feeding relation is only possible in a world that has extracted itself from primordial enmity and from the predatory relations that constituted it..  if feeding is a necessary but insufficient condition for kinship, then predation is a necessary but insufficient condition for feeding..  what i have described is how the kanamari act to ensure that predation becomes feeding and that feeding becomes kinship..


one of the underlying causes for all of these movements – of village downriver and of people into town – is the kanamari’s newfound access to govt cash transfer programs.. by 2015, all kanamari had birth certs and id cards,..t

and most qualified for one govt program or another..  instead of house open.. i found a number of houses build in the regional style, boarded up and divided into numerous closed off rooms.. instead of being woken by axes chopping wood.. now to rumbling of chainsaws.. gas and diesel were easy to come by, everyone had motors, and a few even had tvs and dvd players.. regularly featuring combat films

no one told the stories any more.. no one wants to listen..t

instead of listening to the stories, villagers watched late night tv.. instead of jaguar songs, regional pop music..

schooling the world ness to whales in sea world.. graeber f&b same law

(although much of the book was hard to grok..  ie: already manufactured whales..?


as the state becomes a hyperprovider, the jaguar fades away..  feeding.. now an absolute value, seemingly self sufficient and inexhaustible. i cannot be certain that the jaguar has disappeared once and for all. i don’t know if this is something the kanamari would want, nor can i guess how they can proceed w/o it..

while this book has shown that feeding is basic moment in the creation of the world, it can offer no answers as to what a world made exclusively of feeding would look like..