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Church Affiliation and Meat Taboos in Indigenous Communities of Guyanese Amazonia

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Abstract

Using data from a three-year study of socioeconomic factors influencing hunting in 23 indigenous communities, we assess the influence of indigenous and Christian beliefs and practices on dietary taboos among Makushi and Wapishana peoples in the Guyanese Amazon. We found that members of Evangelical and established (Anglican and Catholic) churches do not differ significantly in terms of their adherence to dietary restrictions and members of Sabbatarian churches show a stronger tendency to adhere to dietary taboos than Evangelicals or members of established churches. Counter to expectations, we found no significant difference in avoidance of meat between households belonging to established and Evangelical churches. Furthermore, members of all church groups deviated in terms of dietary restrictions from indigenous norms as exemplified in dietary advice given by shamans. We conclude that, despite doctrinal opposition to shamanistic practices associated with indigenous taboos, there is continuity in terms of dietary practice among Makushi and Wapishana households that have converted to Evangelical and, to some degree, Sabbatarian forms of Christianity.

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Notes

  1. In addition to protected and indigenous lands, Amazonia includes timber concessions, agricultural land and state and federal lands under varying degrees of human impact.

  2. Due to the difficulty of evaluating hunting pressure around communities in close spatial proximity to others, seven predominantly Makushi and three predominantly Wapishana communities of the Rupununi region were not included in the study.

  3. Data were not available for shaman visits in two villages due to unreliable data in one community and reticence by villagers to be surveyed on the matter in the other. A third village in which a shaman was resident was not among the study communities.

  4. Overlap exists between categories and species. For example, the category “wild meat” encompasses the various forms of terrestrial and avian fauna. The category “fish, certain species” referring collectively to fish that fall into subsets of groups that partially, but not completely, overlap with “skin fish” and “all fish” categories.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank the Guyana Environmental Protection Agency, especially Indarjit Ramdass and Damian Fernandes and the Ministry of Amerindian Affairs for authorizing the study and for their attentiveness to permit extensions. The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development and the North Rupununi District Development Board acted as in-country partners and provided important logistic support. We thank the Makushi and Wapishana technicians whose hard work and dedication made the research possible, as well as the leaders and members of all our partner communities for their innumerable contributions to the project. The National Science Foundation (BE/CNH 05 08094) provided funding for this project. We thank the program officers and division leaders at the NSF who understood the complexities of working with politically charged socio-ecological systems and multiple academic institutions and provided excellent guidance throughout the project. Oskar Burger contributed to the statistical analysis components of the paper. We thank the graduate students, post docs, data transcribers, and volunteers who are not authors on this paper but who contributed essential work and ideas to the project, as well as Lisa Curran, Peter Vitousek, Rodolfo Dirzo for their logistical support at Stanford University. Dominique (Nickie) Irvine, Oskar Burger and Sean Giery provided insightful comments. Finally, we thank three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on a draft of this paper.

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Correspondence to Jeffrey B. Luzar.

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Luzar, J.B., Silvius, K.M. & Fragoso, J.M.V. Church Affiliation and Meat Taboos in Indigenous Communities of Guyanese Amazonia. Hum Ecol 40, 833–845 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-012-9521-4

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