New Native Leaderships and Forms of Power in Amazonia

New Native Leaderships and Forms of Power in Amazonia -project is funded by Academy of Finland.

Project leader: Dr Pirjo Kristiina Virtanen, pirjo.virtanen(at)

Duration of project: 2010–2014 (incl. two years in maternity leave)

In Latin America indigenous peoples have turned into significant political actors. This project examines how the new forms of indigenous leaderships connect to the questions of power, and consider how they are interpreted from a native point of view. The studied groups are two Arawak-speaking groups living in Western Amazonia, Brazil. In looking at the way these two groups view their spokespeople and create new political, cultural, and economic partnerships, the aim is to explore the Amerindian way of producing different bodies, authority, and agency. The research also addresses historical changes of leadership as part of other social and political processes in the past and present.

The main research questions are the following:

1) What are the new forms of leadership in Amazonian native communities?
2) How can acting in new interethnic networks be understood as a new type of human-to-human relation in Amazonian sociocosmology?
3) How have social roles hold by the young indigenous people changed their communities?
4) What are the differences between young female and male native leaders?
5) How have Amazonian leaderships changed taking into account environmental changes, economic, political, social, and legal processes?

The two studied groups, Manchineri and Apurinã, were chosen for this research, since their representatives have been active in indigenous politics at local, regional, and state levels. The Manchineri number some 1,000 persons and the Apurinã some 8,000. Their dwelling places have been influenced by increased urbanization, access to state education, cattle ranching, "development" projects, and the exploitation of natural resources such as logging. Their current means of organizing their groups differ from each other a great deal, both in the forest and urban settings. Therefore, their comparison is significant, and gives to the analysis a better understanding of what is the impact of the state politics, indigenous agency and economic transformations affecting native groups' ways to act in the global world.

The research is carried out at the Helsinki University and the Centre EREA - Enseignement et Recherche en Ethnologie Amérindienne/CNRS, Université de Paris Ouest - Nanterre la Défense, France

Keywords: Leadership, indigenous groups, Amazonia, knowledge, relatedness, pespectivism, embodiment.

Previous publications>>

Previous research project: Cultural Systems, Folk Religion and Modernization in the Amazon (AMACULT), University of Turku and University of Helsinki. For further information, please visit the project website >>