vrijdag 15 oktober 2010

First contact drawing & writing in the Amazon

These are a small number of recorded reactions of people of Amazonia to their first contact with drawing-on-paper and writing. The first question is: what do adults who have never drawn  (and who perhaps have never seen pen and paper before and are illiterate) draw and what does it look like? 
Here is my collection...

Awi (2000) collects the photos of Michel Pellander, drawings by indians from various tribes and an accompanying text, in Dutch, by Marion Hoekveld. The book does not offer explanations to individual drawings, but one can guess. The following discussion has several noteworthy observations. The  translation is mine, the images that follow are wonderful. 

Do indians from the Amazon, when they put pen or pencil to paper for the first time, draw like children? The intense concentration and curiosity to make something appear on paper is similar. The differences lay in experience of age and the experiences of a different environment. Indians usually have no concept of a horizontal line, nor do they have the habit of looking from left to right as you do when reading, nor do they have a concept of top and bottom. 
In the first drawings of the Arara the beginning is often the centre, from which the paper is filled circling from the inside to the outside. A picture they can study with similar intent while they keep it upside down; the rotation of the image does not seem to make a difference. The straight line is the first thing they learn.
To draw is to communicate. To capture an animal on paper is to draw everything which is there in reality, to give him two eyes even when he is drawn sideways. De Arara sometimes make a kind a X-ray drawings. They draw that what can't be seen, the bones inside an animal. The Yanomami draw their spirits, the upper world, the nether world, the rain, the thunder, but also the goldminers. They also draw sky maps, stars, and the moon. Stars are actors in myths of origin and they offer clues on time, direction, seasons, on agricultural cycles. Slowly Waiwai draws his territory. In his mind he follows rivers and tracks. De leaders of the Waiapi can draw cartographic maps; they have been involved in the demarcation of their territory and know every minute detail of it.
They also draw decorative motives: butterflies, turtle shields, snakes, fishbones, They have become abstracted. Ornament always refers to nature, they always have meaning. They are turned into patterns, on the skin, on earthenware pots, on wooden benches. In this way drawing has meaning.
Slowly but concentrated Kamaratxia Awa is drawing on paper, his thoughts seem to run through his felt pen, his hand freely above the paper. When he begins to draw, only after he has examined the pens very carefully, a world starts to appear which suggests am enormous ordered and controllable space. A world which is created from scribbles and dots.
By Karhitxia Awa

By Karhitxia Awa

By Werena Waiapi

Amazonian 'First Contact Drawings' first became prominent with Levi-Strauss' Tristes Tropiques, read the quote below, the pictures of Caduveo face paint are forever etched into every one who has ever seen them.

That the Nambikwara could not write goes without saying. But they were also unable to draw, except for a few dots and zigzags on their calabashes. I distributed pencils and paper among them, none the less, as I had done with the Caduveo. At first they made no use of them. Then, one day, I saw that they were all busy drawing wavy horizontal lines on the paper. What were they trying to do? I could only conclude that they were writing or, more exactly, that they were trying to do as I did with my pencils. As I had never tried to amuse them with drawings, they could not conceive of any other use for this implement. With most of them, that was as far as they got: but their leader saw further into the problem. Doubtless he was the only one among them to have understood what writing was for. So he asked me for one of my notepads; and when we were working together he did not give me his answers in words, but traced a wavy line or two on the paper and gave it to me, as if I could read what he had to say. He himself was all but deceived by his own play-acting. Each time he drew a line he would examine it with great care, as if its meaning must suddenly leap to the eye; and every time a look of disappointment came over his face. But he would never give up trying, and there was an unspoken agreement between us that his scribblings had a meaning that I did my best to decipher; his own verbal commentary was so prompt in coming that I had no need to ask him to explain what he had written. 
And now, no sooner was everyone assembled than he drew forth from a basket a piece of paper covered with scribbled lines and pretended to read from it. With a show of hesitation he looked up and down his list for the objects to be given in exchange for his people s presents. So-and-so was to receive a machete in return for his bow and arrows, and another a string of beads in return for his necklaces and so on for two solid hours. What was he hoping for? To deceive himself perhaps: but, even more, to amaze his companions and persuade them that his intermediacy was responsible for the exchanges. He had allied himself with the white man, as equal with equal, and could now share in his secrets.

The following drawings are from Portuguese paper called 'ONISKA: A poética da morte e do mundo entre os Marubo da Amazônia ocidental' (PDF-link) which looks really worthwhile and I wish I could read it. The drawings are probably representations of Marubo cosmology. 

The following images were used as illustrations in "Xingu, the Indians, their Myths", a  1970 book of Amazonian myths collected by Orlando and Claudio Villas Boas. The drawings are made by Wacupia. Kenneth S. Brecher in the foreword to the English edition tells us many relevant details about this First Contact Drawing-maker
The drawings which illustrate this book were done by a Waura tribesman called Wacupia, who using pen and paper for the first time, produced a fascinating record of the animals, spirits, and material culture of the Alto-Xingu. The drawings were done over a period of several months and in secret, as Wacupia feared they they might be interpreted as witchcraft by the rest of the tribe. The Xingu tribes paint their bodies and certain material objects in highly symbolic geometrical patterns, but they would have no interest in or occasion for drawing as a means of record or pleasure. The Waura do frequently resort to witchcraft, and I believe that Wacupia was very interested to see if he could [...] employ drawing as a means of reviving the dead or gaining control over the spirit of the object in question.

The following images are from the Xikrin, (Kayapo village) and were provided by malokeletrika.blogspot.com, who add "Xikrin women are responsible for body painting application to adorn men and women bodies, adults and children, with specific designs depending of sex, age group, ceremonial groups, etcetera. When women are solicited for paint in paper sheets, they reproduce the drawings in the paper sheet, as if that were the human skin. Xikrin men, when  asked to draw, produce a large array of spontaneous shapes, from the most figurative to most abstract."

There is little for me to say about these Mehinaku spirit drawings, they are screenshots from Carla D. Stang's  'A walk to the river in Amazonia: ordinary reality for the Mehinaku Indians'.

The First Contact Drawing image below is one of my favourites. It belongs to the following passage from Algot lange's "The lower Amazon; a narrative of explorations in the little known regions of the state of Pará, on the lower Amazon" (1914). What I like about it is that it is a map, so it should go here.

The sun now is setting; not a sound is heard in the maloca except some japlm birds chirping around their suspended nests, and a couple of arara parrots which are roosting in the tall Brazilnut tree at the end of the maloca. Otherwise all is silent. I am pleased to see for the first time a couple of these parrots at rest and "at home."
I find this is the best hour to record my observations of the day as only the old chief has enough patience to sit by my hammock to bother me. He watches intently the movements of the pencil over the paper and now and then he points at some word, looks at me grinning, and says something. I give him the pencil and my note-book. He seizes the pencil awkwardly and after some minutes returns it. He has tried to imitate handwriting and feels proud (sec page of note-book). Then he asks smilingly for the book again and draws some more, shows me the drawing, and ejaculates Kari Katu Kuyamhira (Good white relative). This is the figure marked "A" on the right of the illustration. The scrolls represent his idea of the surrounding forest. Old Tute also joins in these attempts at writing longhand and his effort is presented on the same sheet.

Joe Kane observed the following on First Contact Drawing by the Waorani but gives no example in his book 'Savages':
Miniwa spoke no Spanish, but he was, as near as I could tell, absolutely without fear. His gaze was so penetrating, so intense, that whenever it came to settle on me I felt very much as if he intended to "hunt you like a wild pig." ... One day he reached down, yanked my pen out of my hand, and, gripping it like an ice pick, drew on the page. He made a series of half circles, opening first one way, then the opposite way, back and forth. When he finished he pointed to one of them and said a whole lot of things, of which I caught only one word: Menga. It would be weeks before I understood that Miniwa had drawn a map. The half circles represented watersheds, with creeks and rivers running one way, then another. In the middle, at the biggest divide, we would find Menga: still on the ridge, still, for all intents and purposes, beyond contact.
Dan Everett adds the following on the Pariha in his book 'Don't sleep there are snakes':
The Pirahas would 'write stories' on paper, which I gave them for this purpose at their request. These inscriptions consisted of a series of identical, repetitive, usually circular marks. But the authors would 'read' their stories back to me, telling me something about their day, about someone's sickness, and so on - all of which they claimed to be reading from their marks. They might even make marks on paper and say Portuguese numbers, while holding the paper for me to see. They did not care at all that their symbols were all the same, nor that there are such things as correct and incorrect written forms. When I asked them to draw a symbol twice, it was never replicated. They considered their writing to be no different from the marks that I made. In classes, we were never able to train a Piraha to draw a straight line without serious 'coaching', and they were never able to repeat the feat in a subsequent trials without more coaching. Partially this was because they see the entire process as fun and enjoy the interaction, but it was also because the concept of a 'correct' way to draw things is profoundly foreign.

There is of course only one proper art of the Amazonia and that's bodypaint, all are taken from this excellent French blog.

1 opmerking:

  1. When you say:
    "adults who have never drawn" - do you mean the drawings that count as drawings for you have to involve pen and paper? These adults have always drawn things in their bodies and in other surfaces (which you can see in your own photos!), why is this 'drawing' not recognized in your statement? The same applies to calling them illiterate - perhaps you meant they did not have 'alphabetic literacy' (i.e. they could not recognise or communicate using alphabetic symbols) - perhaps in the same way that you are illiterate in their symbols and cannot read their writing in the patterns they have always drawn... The book 'The spell of the sensuous' by David Abram and research by Linguistics Prof Lynn Mario de Souza (University of Sao Paulo) on multi-literacies can help you address these foreclosures.