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Exchanging Words

Language, Ritual, and Relationality in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park

Christopher Ball

Like human groups everywhere, Wauja people construct their identity in relation to others. This book tells the story of the Wauja group from the Xingu Indigenous Park in central Brazil and its relation to powerful new interlocutors. Tracing Wauja interactions with others, Ball depicts expanding scales of social action from the village to the wider field of the park and finally abroad. Throughout, the author analyzes language use in ritual settings to show how Wauja people construct relationships with powerful spirit-monsters, ancestors, and ethnic trading partners. Ball’s use of ritual as an analytic category helps show how Wauja interactions with spirits and Indian neighbors, for example, are connected to interactions with the Brazilian government, international NGOs, and museums in projects of development. Showing ritual as a contributing factor to relationships of development and the politics of indigeneity, Exchanging Words asks how discourse, ritual, and exchange come together to mediate social relations close to home and on a global scale.

2018. 256 pp., 10 halftones, 1 map, 2 charts, 4 tables, 6 x 9

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Exchanging Words is a strong work of ethnography that offers an innovative look at the intersections of language, religion, and economy and their implications for the politics of indigeneity in Latin America and beyond. The later chapters are especially good at highlighting imbalances of power that can make intercultural exchanges particularly fraught for indigenous people. As Ball notes, taking to heart Wauja insights into the variegated ways communication, exchange, and ritual are mutually implicated in both local and transnational encounters invites us to be ever mindful of the ethical entanglements our research implies.”
—Eric Hoenes del Pinal, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, The Latin Americanist, June 2019

“In this elegantly written and theoretically sophisticated ethnographic monograph, Christopher Ball demonstrates the centrality of discourse and linguistic interaction to systems of exchange and ritual among the Wauja people of Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park. Each chapter presents a deeply contextualized and well-argued analysis of wonderfully rich data, illuminating how discourse and language practice operate as forms of ritual exchange that mediate relationships between Wauja and powerful others at various interconnected levels of scale. Ball effectively draws out the broader theoretical implications of the Wauja case, showing how self-identification and alterity are mediated and managed through discursive and ritual interactions. Exchanging Words: Language, Ritual, and Relationality in Brazil’s Xingu Indigenous Park makes major ethnographic and theoretical contributions the ethnography of Lowland South America, Linguistic and Social Anthropology, and discussions of indigeneity. The ethnography is splendid; analysis in each chapter—and the analysis taken as a whole—is sophisticated and insightful. This brilliant book is certain to have tremendous impact.”
—Laura Graham, professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Iowa, author of the award-winning Performing Dreams: Discourses of Immortality among the Xavante Indians of Central Brazil


Chapter One. Introduction

Chapter Two. Chief’s Speech: Wauja Ancestors, Political Authority, and Belonging
Chapter Three. Bringing Spirits: Ritual Curing and Wauja Relations with Spirits

Chapter Four. Kuri Sings: Intergroup Rivalry and Alter-Centricity
Chapter Five. Inalienability: Possession and Exchange in Intergroup Relations

Chapter Six. Interdiscursive Rivers: Protesting the Paranatinga II Dam
Chapter Seven. Pragmatics of Development: Asymmetries in Interethnic Exchange
Chapter Eight. Taking Spirits to France: Wauja Identity on a World Stage
Chapter Nine. Conclusion: What We Owe

Appendix. Wauja Inalienable Nouns


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