There was a map. A map that covered the whole of the fourth wall of the Indigenous Organization’s office. A local community leader, based on this picture, described to us his peoples’ form of territorial domain. The scale vectorized distinct fluxes of rivers, affluents; it indicated communities with recent satellite internet signal capture towers that, during the COVID-19 pandemics, had arrived in the territory. We dived into it. One needs to learn to row, the leader whispered in our ears. He learned to speak our language. Not the Portuguese that is also his own. Masterfully, on the day after our first meeting, he introduced a workshop in Digital Care that we facilitated for his team. He talked about maps, georeferencing, monitoring, spoke also about the importance of security, of the network, of the internet. He made our language-code his own. And he invited us to know his language-code, which we were unaware of. He showed us, from his voadeira motorboat days later, his domain over the underground waterfalls that link up two much valued points in the map: a quasi-straight line between São Gabriel da Cachoeira and Santa Izabel do Rio Negro2.
Part of the around 200 young Guarani communicators, gathered under the canopy against the noon sun, spent their time producing smoke from their pipes of decorated wood. While they waited for the activity to start, they enjoyed the abundance of the available tobacco: we will smoke it to the end, one of them told us, we suppose, in his own language. But in the Guarani Indigenous Land where the Young Communicators’ Meeting was taking place, to which we were invited to facilitate a workshop also about Digital Care, there was no internet signal. The school’s and handcraft shop’s faint wi-fi signal, unlike the tobacco, was not available to them. But these young communicators carried in their purses, in addition to their pipes, their cellphones where they recorded everything. Or perhaps more than that.
São Gabriel da Cachoeira, considered the most intensely indigenous municipality in Brazil, is home to about 40 thousand inhabitants. Of every ten people, nine are indigenous. The region of the upper Rio Negro, where the municipality is sited within the State of Amazonas, is known as the “dog’s head”: the territory’s outline on the map is similar to the animal’s skull. The indigenous narrative places that portion of the country in continuity with Guanabara Bay, calling it the “Milk Lake” (cf. Diakara, 2021; Lasmar, 2005); it was along this itinerary that humanity began. This is the triple frontier between Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela. Many languages are spoken, Nheengatu, Tukano, Baniwa, Yanomami, Portuguese, Spanish etc. Walking through the streets of São Gabriel is like strolling in a babel tower, only the confusion is lacking. Different languages are whispered, shouted, heard. All seem to understand each other. Their cosmopolitics sounds cosmopolitan: it is not unusual for a single person to speak two or three languages. They mutually recognize the codes, the words, the gestures, the food. Uncommon is the starting point of building themselves as communities3.
An indigenist friend takes us outside the canopy for a private word in order to welcome and to situate us regarding the meeting, which had started a day before. A general concern loomed: the exercise to be carried out on these internet-less days, in contrast with the free access to the network that some of the youngsters enjoyed in their territories, would bring to the surface a series of controversies up to then not considered, at least not systematically, by such peoples. Spelling it out: what were we to do in face of the overexposure of these youngsters to the internet that had begun with the installation of antennae in the villages, as a policy of digital inclusion, a response to the imposition of quarantine by the COVID-19 pandemic? There is no limit, he told us, they use the internet signal to the end. There is no prohibition that could resist the technological sagacity of the indigenous youth: each password reinvented produces a hacker to break it.
In the streets of São Gabriel I saw many people with cellphones in their hands. Were they using the internet? Sending messages via Whatsapp, emails, navigating their Facebook or Instagram feed? Perhaps not. São Gabriel has no internet operator companies. It does not have an internet cable network. As in the forest, all internet used in the city is relayed by means of satellites. A technology that, regardless of being very expensive and complex, is still precarious. The low quality connection, however, was inversely proportional to the speed with which the young indigenous leaders learn to use the networks. One has to learn how to row, the leader’s voice resounds. To know fresh possibilities, to widen this domain, is to strengthen the indigenous movement. It is, and not only just, a mobilization tool. How to make an alliance with the internet without being devoured? How to become related to the code in an opening to the movement?
By means of this research effort we place along a line of encounters a few connections that start off from the connection between worlds, carried out with the groups and not for them4. In order to do so, we articulate two geographically opposed world-spaces in indigenous Brazil. One lies to the north of the country, in the Amazon region where internet signal is still faint, but which is spreading and thus giving the peoples who live there the possibility for its future management or control when the signal finally does arrive. On the other end are the indigenous peoples who inhabit the southern and southeastern parts of the country, where the internet signal is strong, is everywhere and has increased in use in the villages during the pandemic. It arrived unannounced and set itself up in their bodies. We carried out workshops-meetings about Digital Care with both groups, when we explored different readings on the internet, infrastructure, applications, cosmologies and so many other lines that would give us the opportunity for distinct ways of thinking about what this recent relationship could offer.
By way of inspiration for the set up of the stories narrated here, we will be guided by what Donna Haraway (2016) dubbed geostories in her book Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene. That is, we started off from the statement that we need to tell each other stories with E/earth and her guardians as a possible escape from the “infernal alternatives”5 placed by capitalism: an exit from the sorcery of capital that puts forward insurmountable choices towards an ineluctable end. In the case of the present article, we pursued stories of how to escape the prophecy that predicts: we are either consumers or producers; we are either users or developers.Further, this article’s methodology is fruit of a meeting between an anthropologist and a pedagogue intent on the exercise of learning and on the translation between different technologies, indigenous and non-indigenous, in the field of digital security, at the service of the defense of the forest and her guardians. In this translation exercise there is an effort of rendering symmetric concepts that are grounded on distinct cosmotechnologies. We are aware that this meeting does not take place without equivocation. That is, to use an image suggested by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (2002), we know that every translation is also a betrayal:
My point of view cannot be that of the native person, but that of my relationship with the native point of view. Which involves an essential dimension of fiction, because it is about placing in internal resonance two completely heterogeneous points of view. (Viveiros de Castro, 2002, p. 123)Our effort, therefore, does not seek the forge of a consensus, but instead an alliance between concepts. Thus, taking the equivocation, dissensuses and dissonances implicated in this meeting seriously, we are interested in thinking in what way the indigenous cosmologies appropriate the code, be it the digital code (machines’ and their programmers’) or the code of language (which allows for communication within and between species), in face of the new world opening up.
We usually start off activities with indigenous groups with the question: “How do you think the internet comes to us?” Then we offer paper and markers to each person or groups for them to draw and present their hypotheses.
Instigated by the question, young Guarani communicators divided into groups and drew with pens on paper a series of compositions of lived worlds. They presented fused worlds, intersectioned on F’s. In upper case, the F for Facebook and for the game Free Fire supported an image of a person with the head down, neck bent due to the overuse of cellular devices placed at chest level. The person was unable to see the following letter A or R, drawn in the form of a great tree. The proselytism of the imminent risk of a fall did not need to be drawn. Instigated to explain their compositions, a youngster remarked: the truth is that everyone plays games and I, who did not learn how to stop, ceased to eat, to sleep and I ended up with a debt of thousands of reais. Other stories followed, of many youngsters who, busy with games and social networks, ceased to seek the shamans who, in their turn, accused them of producing bad bodies for themselves.
On the other side, by the upper Rio Negro, we were told:
I made an antenna, it is a little crooked because the satellite signal is very strong. The creators of the internet cast the signal to the satellite who then sends it over to us down here. I made many paths because the signal spreads. It is just like the forest, it has many pathways.
I drew a satellite, which is casting the signal to the Wariró house [the indigenous handcraft shop], where people are trying to access e-mail, but they are unable to…
I drew it beautifully, I am selling this! When I started to use the internet I thought there was a rocket that launched the satellite upwards and it sent the network down to our computer, which was very big before… Now we have to climb on trees in order to see if the signal is coming to the cellphones!
In both cases, as we talked about the meanings presented about what the internet is and how it works, we realized that there is a vague and little explored idea regarding what might be the whiteman’s technology that supports the internet. This way, we reach the collective conclusion that part of this technology is made for us to behave as mere users of it, passive consumers of a commodity that comes from outside, from the world-beyond of the white people. The question of how it arrives, where it comes from, imposes a stalemate regarding the composition of these worlds in recent relationship.
Let’s consider clouds: we told them they do not exist – not the ones made out of internet signals, intangible nebulas where we place, just like magic, what we have produced as data (different from the smoke signals that roll out of their adorned pipes). Better said, in the world of the satellite internet, the existence of a physical cloud only proves that the other is part of a cosmopolitical imagination that is not theirs. In the friction between F’s, the cloud is a physical barrier that blocks the signal, which is physical itself, from reaching their devices in the villages in rainy days. It is as physical as the trees they have to climb on in order to capture the internet signal that comes from the sky, or those on which they trip as they get distracted while playing games in their cellphones. The internet is as physical as the transoceanic cables, antennas or computers6.
And all that made a lot of sense to the indigenous people, guardians of the forest. That is, the existence or not of a cloud while empirical materiality is unequivocal both to them and to us non-indigenous people. We know it is very probable that what they understand as a cloud exceeds that which we conceptually understand (i.e. a cloud is not just a cloud depending on the cosmological relationship that is established with it). Notwithstanding, it is also true that we all agree about what is a cloud when we point at it in the sky. In order to think about such differences, we followed the clues pointed at by Marisol de la Cadena (2018) in an article she wrote about the meetings and conceptual deviations among environmentalists and guardians in the struggle for nature safekeeping in Peru. For this, she distinguishes two distinct conceptual processes that share the same friction zone7: dissensus and equivocation:
I ground the idea on Jacques Rancière and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro to conceptualize it as a confrontation that contains a historical dissensus – Rancière’s term – about an equivocation – Viveiros de Castro’s term – about what a territory means and the relations that compose it. Together, these two concepts, dissensus and equivocation, may function in a way not possible to them in isolation (de la Cadena, 2018, p. 98, 99)
The equivocation, she says, from Viveiros de Castro, that
contains the “referential alterity between homonymous concepts” with which the entities that people Amerindian worlds communicate – or translate – between themselves. It is crucial for the concept of equivocation that, first, the fact that such entities – that we consider human or animal – consider themselves to be human and see their “others” as animals; and second, that what they are results from their point of view, which, in its turn, results from their bodies. […] The motive for the differences between points of view resides in their different bodies; the difference [therefore] is not conceptual.(de la Cadena, 2018, p. 99 – our italics)
One needs to highlight that, as stated, equivocation is part of a movement that has been called the “ontological turn”, especially after the writings by Eduardo Viveiros de Castro and Tânia Stolze Lima regarding Amerindian perspectivism, some of which have been collected in the book Metafísicas Canibais (2009). As an illustration, the most famous example given for the understanding of what perspectivism may be is the relationship established between humans and jaguars. That is, from the Amerindian point of view, the fact that humans and jaguars share the same concept of “blood” or of “beer”, does not stop the jaguar looking at human blood and seeing it, from its world, as beer – and devouring us. Equivocity speaks, thus, of the possibility that distinct worlds and their beings share concepts that, notwithstanding, often refer to different compositions of its matter. To speak in the author’s terms, in place of a “multiculturalism” of points of view, the Amerindian world deploys a “multiculturalism” in order to deal with an incessant struggle between perspectives that is only resolved by the consolidation of a perspective that is “human”.
Dissensus, in its turn, even if it may resemble equivocation, differs from the latter because it is about something of the order of the concept, of the validation of the understanding about a certain thing.
Rancière, philosopher of politics and of aesthetics, conceptualizes dissensus as “the conflict between someone who says white and the other who also says white, but who does not have the same understanding of it”. […] the misunderstanding that sparks dissensus (à la Rancière) results from “a dispute about what to speak means”, “a dispute regarding the object of discussion and regarding the capacity of those who make an object out of this”. Besides, as a political interruption that changes the conventional order and establishes disagreement regarding equality, it is a dispute that confronts those who have (to whom is conceded the capacity of) discourse and those who do not have (to whom is denied the capacity for) discourse – it is a dispute about the conventions that distribute capacities to define what and how it is. (de la Cadena, 2018, p. 99)
Both, therefore, refer to misunderstandings. While equivocation reports to a relation between equals (even if on ontological terms they are mutually other, for their bodies differ), dissensus emerges from the positions of subjects who, ontologically being the same, find themselves in sociological difference and, confronted with that, dispute in order to be in agency equivalence in the efficacious action in the in-relation worlds. In the terms that regard our discussion: in whose interest is that the internet is thought of as a nebula-cloud and not as a bundle of wires (and also of satellites and antennae) that overcodify the mercantile routes of world geopolitics? That is, we know that, as much as physics, the internet is both political and a right: the materiality of the equipment is operated by disputing people, interests and powers. This questioning was part of our conversation in the meeting-workshop with the indigenous people8.
Or further, if we take clouds seriously, what does this discussion has to do with the correlation between distinct technologies, ours, non-indigenous digital, and theirs, guardians of the forest stretching from the north to the south of Brazil? What does the dissensus between clouds causes as droughts in the routes of the flying rivers, which carry in the skies waters from the Andean-Amazonian watersheds to the rivers of southern portion of the continent?9 Or, to use concepts closer to theirs, to what measure do these clouds coincide with those clouds that hover above the “dog’s head” and flow into the Guanabara Bay’s Milk Lake according to rionegrense mythology – and then follow on to feed the paraná-rivers on whose margins the Guarani indigenous relatives dwell?
In our workshop by the Rio Negro we told a story10.
Suppose I come here one day to the house of Ms. D and she offers me some tea, a very nice cuppa brewed from many ingredients that strengthen the immunological system. I tell her I gladly accept, but also that I have a restriction regarding cinnamon. If I drink or eat something with cinnamon. I may end up in hospital! So she tells me chirpily that in her tea’s recipe there is no cinnamon. So I ask her for the recipe so I can confirm the information. Still chirpily, she smiles and tells me: ‘I can’t give you a list of ingredients, because the recipe is a family secret’. So what should I do? Trust Ms. D as I risk ending up in a hospital bed? What would you do?
The group was intrigued. We followed on saying that the open or closed source operational systems work in a similar manner; in open source, the developers open up the “recipe”, the codes are visible for any person to know how they are made and what is in it. But the proprietary source (closed source) systems do not open up the “recipe”, as well as they may contain ingredients or mixtures that do us harm. Proprietary source works as if we just had to trust, by convention, its recipe-mechanism. Because, even if we can’t read it (or that, ultimately, we are unable to read it), there is someone who can – and so proprietary source deliver us the ready-made product as a commodity. All that is left to us, therefore, is to be consumers of cups of tea and of programs. In face of this and from a dialogue with Amerindian cosmologies, we suspect that, in the end, perhaps it is not us consuming them, but it is they – in their unknown parts – who are devouring us.
“Should we or should we not trust?” This is, we think, a false dilemma. Or perhaps it is a problem that is not well put, because it is grounded on a morality alien to the other-than-not-indigenous cosmologies. From the start, the Amerindian formulation would emphasize the transitional content of the verb: trusting is only possible in a relationship implicated with other subjects. In Portuguese, the verb is transitive and indirect, there are prepositioned subjects in it. We have trust in something or in somebody – provided the subjects share one same perspective, human-to-itself, about the world. That is, what we argue is that in a world where things do not exist per se, isolated and individual, even the open-source-recipes are only worthy of trust (i.e. they are recognized in their efficacy) if they start from an in-relation community, in perspectivist resonance about the world.
In this sense, we invite the reader to a brief overflight of a few theories of indigenous thinking about the compositions of worlds, which takes place by means of the production of bodies, of their transformations and of what they eat. Let’s go back to the food analogy. The young Guarani’s addiction to the game Free Fire led her to stop eating and sleeping, and she stumbled on debt. She modified her body, which no longer sought cure with the Shamans. They, in turn, accused her (and all who behaved in the same way) of producing a bad body for herself.
In the article titled “Outras Alegrias…”, Guilherme Heurich (2015) studies the use of cachaça (Brazilian sugar cane spirits, a kind of coarser rum) in a Mbyá-Guarani community in the country’s south. The joy of cachaça differs from the one offered by the use of tobacco. While the latter brings them closer to relations with divinities, the former drives relatives away: “cachaça has no brothers, has no family. Cachaça has no relatives” (p. 534), his interlocutors told him. This is, then, in the formulation of the author, an anti-kinship vector. The state of addiction to cachaça causes the social isolation of a person, making him or her lonely, angry, bringing the individual closer to a conduct reputed to be of the dead. They who, in longing, seduce us to forget living life well in order for us to join them in death.
The Guarani eschatology says that as the body is a “bundle of affections” (Pierri, 2013, p. 216), its composition starts both from a physiological diet and from conducts that bring it closer of the divinities’ bodies. We should emulate the “light” diet of the gods who, avoiding foods that rot, and together with rituals, play, dance, finally composes the aimed at state of the divinities’ bodily imperishability. The bad body, on the contrary, is but a body-for-death, a body that can no longer belong to that human quality. It groups, so to speak, with bodies other-than-human, which include the dead body.
In an essay-article bringing together ethnographic findings of several indigenous peoples of the Amazon region, Carlos Fausto (2002) argues that it is possible to think eating less as the production of “an undetermined physical body, and more like a device for the production of bodies related by kinship” (p.8). In other words, the act of eating with or like someone makes all the difference in the composition of such Amazonian Amerindian sociabilities that are in continuous transformation. The opposition between one acting by predation (the domain of hunting and war) and one acting by commensality (the domain of domesticity and kinship) becomes, in the author’s argument, faces of a continuous process of familiarization.
Predation is, then, intimately linked to the cosmic desire of producing kinship. Every appropriation movement detonates another process of fabrication-familiarization, which consists in giving body to the exterior principle of existence and making it interior. This means to give it the characteristic dispositions of the captor’s “species” and, thus, make him or her a relative. The sharing of meat and commensality not only marks relations between relatives, but also produce them. To eat like someone and with someone is a strong vector of identity, like abstaining for or with someone. The sharing food and of culinary codes make up, therefore, people of the same species. (Fausto, 2002, p. 15)
But what all this has to do with our conversation? What we have argued is that the sharing of recipes is carried out among commensals, those with whom one eats, who are, substantially, those who are not the prey (relatives or non-edible animals) or those with whom one does not start a war against (potential relatives, friends). In short, in the Amerindian universe, hunting is war in an interspecific variable. And, even in hunting and in war, mechanisms for the production of kinship are agencied: it is necessary to transform, by means of the ingested food-code, the portion of enmity of the other as a force of familiarization. The anthropophagic rites emphasize this premise: in the case of the death of a human, if caused by a warrior of the same species, it is usual that part of his flesh is offered to those who did not participate in the predatory event. While the ingestion of the victim by the killer can poison him, bringing the killer too close to a world that is not his own, if the victim is consumed by others, these will absorb the qualities of the dead person and at the same time as they help him join his new world. Thus, given the dangers and risks that such transformations bear, these cannot be made without a series of restrictions and cares, practices often translated by ethnographers as “policies of resguardo”11. (cf. Belaunde, 2016)
On the side of non-indigenous free software community programmers, it can be said that trust in a given open source program is less a matter that regards knowledge about it (i.e. whether we know how to read it or not), and more of a possibility to access it. In olher words,, even if we do not know how to read a specific code, its openness allows that, if there is a harmful part, it can be, sooner or later, revealed and denounced, since its public scrutiny is available to anyone. On the side of the indigenous apprentices, what we have argued is that, for them, there is no “one” who is anyone; the subject’s position is relative to the world in which he lives. This is why the openness to other codes is not carried out before making sure we keep ourselves safe from the risks inherent to capture by the perspectives of other worlds.
In other words, in order to become a relative of a specific even-if-open-code, one has to establish a kinship with it, with the recipes and its makers. In such conditions it is possible to have tea and programs together, even if we don’t know exactly how or what they are made of. That is, we are talking less of about a dispute on epistemological terms, of the order of knowledge, and more about a dispute on ontological terms, of a position of the subject who is always relative to the world in which one lives. In simple terms, the ingestion of the recipe-code, the anthropophagization of others people’s code in order to render it one’s own, even if it is built on an open format, can only take place when there is a community.
But what community we are talking about?
In our workshop-meeting by the Rio Negro we emphasized that the open source, grounded on the allegory of the opening of the recipe and its modes of preparation, is something very important for the choice of system, of app and of platform, because it brings us security, protection.
Our group of women uses Signal a lot more than Whatsapp. Because it is safer, we were told. Is Signal open source too?
One of the participants asks us, the very Ms. D of the tea recipe story.
We noticed that to present a difference between the apps that feature open source or not is central for us to advance in the idea of a free and participatory internet. The internet is a network and its applications work in the same way, in network. A person tells another that is using one social network, or that a certain communication app is better, and then an extended tissue in common is increasingly constituted. Strong, well woven, a point to consolidate truths that only exist there. Would Ms. D be confabulating the creation, the reacommodation of a recipe to be shared among the women at that very moment? Or at least, it seems to us that she felt more at ease, protected, with this code-recipe in order to weave pathways with the group of women of which she is part.
When this possibility was launched, we noticed a change in the attitude of the participating people as we instigated in the group of indigenous peoples the need for carrying out an internet project that rendered viable the use of protective technologies by open source, closer to what the indigenous peoples aim for and need. The leader in charge of the group took heart:
We do want the internet, but we need to take care of it, get training for it in order to have it in the territories, because youth is abandoning the culture because of the games, because they want to post pictures of the girls.
We had to be swift, to act with cunning.
We need a cable here in São Gabriel for the internet to be quicker. I was told the cable was coming, but that only the military and the hospital would get it.
Indigenist movements, indigenous women’s movements, indigenous youths movements in an alliance with us, non-indigenous activists, confabulating manners of articulating, under protection, in face of the advance of the predatory internet, whose ways underline the geopolitical trails of power – only the military and the hospital will get it. In this game of alliances, of conjunctions between groups who have interests in common, but that are not the same interests, is where the idea of the community that we are pursuing resides. An alliance between indigenous people, women, youngsters, activists; but also between pipes and smoke, clouds, flying rivers, cables, antennae, satellites. Not denying with this that there are differences between the parts in composition, precisely, with its dissensuses and equivocations.
Such alliances are complex, though. Occupying the same space (that cannot be mapped in terms of a single set of three-dimensional coordinates), heterogeneous forms (universal nature, environment, water that resist translation into H2O, earth that is an object and is not, entities I call ecologized nature – or nature insubmissive to universality) converge in the network by means of agreements that do not exclude differences. (de la Cadena, 2018, p. 19)
That is, what the proprietary source programmers and their merchant network call the internet-cloud is not the same that we, indigenous and non-indigenous activists, understand: at this stage we all agreed that the recipe-code should be open and that it should provide communication in favor of the protection of the forests and of the peoples. We also know that the very idea of a cloud-forest possibly differs among us, network of activists, depending on the relation that is established with it. However, this does not stop us from carrying out a translation process between terms, of exchanging recipes, because we will drink together the same tea of transcelestial waters, even though the tea and the way of drinking it may differ – as well as the quality of the clouds over our heads. This composition of alliance, of agreements between guardians and activists-environmentalists in distinct cosmologies, Marisol de la Cadena calls “incommunities”:
Notwithstanding, both cases contain the possibility of an agreement that, instead of converging to identical interests, would be supported by “incommunities”: interests in common that are not the same interest. This agreement speaks of the possibility of an alternative alliance, which, together with the coincidences, can include a divergence constitutive of the parts: they can converge without becoming the same. This agreement could include a discussion about the single world as an ontological condition that the participants of the alliance do not share homogeneously and that, consequently, can be a source of friction between them. (de la Cadena, 2018, p. 19 – our italics)
But, which recipe? How to produce incommunities also with programmers, henceforward developers, and their open sources?
Let’s return to the map.
The leader who took us around the rivers and streets of the Rio Negro region is someone in transit, in constant physical and also subjective displacement. He pays attention to everything that is new. Swift as a paca in movement and thought, he nimbly digests the information and uses it in a cunning, strategic way. He knows the territory like the palm of his hand, he knows the perils in the rapids, the risks that the rivers impose, as well as the forest animals and their mysteries. He showed us, on the map, the more than 50 internet spots recently set up with the support of the Federal Government. This leader is aware that the government is interested in exploiting the region for its ore, for everything that has been and still is appropriated from the forest as resources, but he keeps the firm idea that it was the indigenous peoples who arrived here before everybody else. It is them who have the best tactics to survive and to secure the territory.
The recently installed internet program in the headquarters of a few indigenous associations, via satellite, was described to us as very poor. The internet basically connects Whatsapp for audio and text messages, sometimes loading photos and documents, but almost never videos. It is a limited resource, set up so that they could communicate during the isolation period of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the leader is aware that it is more than this. The ease with which he navigates the Rio Negro rapids, where he has domain, is not the same with which he navigates the digital world. This is still an unknown universe, which does not inspire safety so that it can be used or inhabited by the whole of the indigenous population. One needs to learn how to row. And, in order to do so, it is necessary to establish a relation of domain with this world.
In another workshop about Digital Care, when we asked the indigenous organization group to think of a word that summarized the way in which they felt safe, protected, a leader from the west Amazonas sentenced: I feel safe when I have domain. But what exactly are the indigenous people saying when they speak of domain?
In the field of IT, the term domain refers to a set of computer addresses, a sum of the IP’s (Internet Protocol address), which in turn works as a kind of postcode, or generic label, linking a device (computers or cellphones, but not only) to the worldwide computer network. Without the domain, we would have to memorize a very long sequence of numbers, rendering infeasible the navigation of the network for non-specialists. In synthesis, in the digital field, when we speak of a domain, we refer to the name of a website, the address we want to access. This is a conceptual shortcut, a trail in a knot of pathways between devices that will lead us to our final destination.
As we then argued, such concepts do communicate, even if what these leaders are telling us when they speak of domain is of another order, one not exactly of the referent in use in the digital field – or, so to speak, of another nature. Or at least they should. Both refer to dispositions between a subject and the localities he or she navigates, to a relationship with a certain space and to possible ways that lead us to a destination. This will be our argumentative bias in this section of the text. In order to do so, through dissensuses and equivocations placed by the term “domain”, we will problematize the relation between conventions of what has been called “user” (those who use certain programs, networks etc) and “developers” (those who elaborate, their creators).
We highlight three conceptions present in Portuguese language dictionaries about the term “User”. It is defined as something or someone 1. who makes use of something, who has the right to use, but not the property; 2. who serves or that which is proper for our use; 3. was said of a slave of whom one enjoyed only the use, but not the property. That is, the term “user” is intimately related to others as “use”, “property”, “service”. Notwithstanding, the same Portuguese language usually links such terms to the meaning of words like “owner” or “master” that, according to the translation by ethnologists, is in its turn related to the term “domain”. These three terms bear dense meanings in indigenous languages and cosmologies.
For the Suyá, kande; for the Yawalapiti, wököti; for the Kuikuro, oto; for the Tupi-Guarani, jar; for the Araweté, ñã; for the Sharanahua, ifo; for the Kanamari, -warah. With differences between one people and the other, such terms designate what we translate as owner, master, chief, body, trunk, main river. Instead of an exhaustive list of terms and their translations, what we want to underline here are precisely their relational variations. This because, as we return to Carlos Fausto (2008) in an article about domain/mastery in the Amazon region, these are terms (here subsumed under the formula domain/mastery) that engender kinship technologies permeated by relations that, when not directly specialized, are transferred to other worlds that are always in risk of derivation.
According to a large part of the Amerindian mythology, each existing domain originated in a primordial mythic disposition, a ground zero for the cosmos, able to contain “all plurality of the different singularities virtually existent” (Fausto, 2008, p. 332). The relational kinship method for the domain, suggests the author, is one of “adoptive affiliation”, which, in its turn, is built from what he called “familiarizing predation”. One owns that which one has fabricated (affiliation), but also that which one took for oneself (hunted, conquered, adopted). The predator recovers from its prey capacities inherent to certain domains foreign to him – which can be very dangerous. However, if well ingested, the prey’s parts counter-effectuate inside a familiar body, constitutive of a new (in)community. This was what we tried to demonstrate in paragraphs above when we wrote about code-recipes shared in openness and under protective policies.
Having said this, let’s go back to the space, its masters and the map.
It is said about the Amazonian Amerindian universe that everything, in principle, has or can have an owner: “the forest, the animals, the rivers and lagoons, but also an animal species, another plant species or further that bamboo grove, that bend in the river, a certain tree, a particular mountain” (Fausto, 2008, p. 340). Such domains, one has to stress, are not configured as discrete sociospatial units, portions separated in territorial discontinuities that can be detached, sold, bought. Which means to say that “the owner of a river” is not the same as stating that “the river is the private property” of this owner. We are talking about distinct cosmologies. In the Amerindian case, the owner establishes a relationship of domain in relation to something or someone. Before “having”, the owner is given “a capacity to ‘contain’ – to appropriate – people, things, properties and [thus] to constitute domains, niches, groups” (Sztutman apud Fausto, 2008, p.335). It is proper to the owner-master to answer for something, to be responsible for it before an in-relation collective, and, perhaps more importantly, modulate worlds in continuous transformation.
Hence to speak of property is not very appropriate, since what is proper to the owner is to be changed. The multiple and fractal character of the domain relations requires internally composite people, “different from themselves” […]. The model of the agent is not, thus, of the proprietor who annexes things to an unchanging Self, but of the master who contains multiple singularities. (Fausto, 2008, p. 341)
Indigenous peoples belong to a world with which they relate, with which they are in action, in movement with. They are not merely users, spectators of the things of the world and they do not wish to have its private property.
This is an important debate, because the fact that indigenous peoples in Brazil oppose the idea of private property of the land and of the natural elements that form the Earth explains why they are the main agents in the actions against climate change. In their own terms they also act in defense of the freedom of coming and going, of a world without enclosures. In this sense, we connect the struggle of the indigenous movement to the internet freedom movement and defense of the free software community, as well as the practice of engaging proprietary source – which is opposed to open source. Here we bring in the idea of the uncommons: a space where things and people of distinct order and nature (who have interests in common but that are not the same interests) may share one same world, without the need for having control over it as property grounded on a compartmentalization within limits controlled by external forces, such as the State’s.
The community has open sources precisely so that everyone may contribute to the system’s improvement and, at the same time, have it closer to the people who make up this community. The open codes are like forest trails, the tracks that are opened so as to allow other people to get in, to hunt, to gather food in safety. The codes are like the forest knowledges, of complex reading. Every crossing is dangerous, especially if one is unaware of who our companions are. In a village there are people who know the plants, who talk with them, who are able to extract different medicine for the cure of ills. The shamans also know well the herbs that can kill. Programmers are also like that: they can manipulate codes so that life, creation, take place. But they also know codes that can paralyze, manipulate, addict, monitor, survey the bodies, bring about the experience in a bad way. In free software, open source is a trail in the thick forest that cannot be expropriated. In order to cross it, we must protect ourselves with a good management of tools and companions. But which tools, companions and management are we being told about?
We asked the indigenous youngsters of the Rio Negro to draw, again. This time we divided the group in two halves, by gender. The bodies of a man and of a woman were traced on brown paper on the floor and the outlines were to be equipped with everything the participants considered necessary for a safe journey. Next to the outlined woman, indigenous women drew a helmet, a cellphone, a watch, a backpack, shoes, and also garlic, lipstick, eyelashes and wide open eyes. The drawn man, in his turn, got from other indigenous men, a cellphone, a straw hat, a machete, a lighter, a hammock and a purse, as well as bodily paint, cigarettes and wedding rings for those who were married.
They told us:
Here we take along a lot of stuff. In our pockets we always carry tobacco. In order to protect ourselves, we indigenous people, need this kind of protection. Here the money, tattooed, if the guy has nothing, if he is frisked, it’s on his arm!
Here the package is complete: machete, rifle… I wanted more time in order to add flour, pepper, salt. The jungle is like that, unpredictable.
Let’s carry on in conversation with Viveiros de Castro (2008). According to the author, in the indigenous universe there is an approximation between the concepts of meeting and of event. The latter takes place when one is alone in the jungle, devoid of good thoughts and feelings. Solitude, mourning, depression, anger, these are dangerous affections that can lead to bad encounters in the jungle. As an example of event-meetings, he quotes the Nambiquara people, their necklaces and spirits, as well as the correlation they make with our identity cards.
For the Nambiquara, the large amount of black bead necklaces they make holds a metaphysical link with the spirits: “these necklaces are like your ID cards. If we loose the necklaces, if a spirit steals the necklaces, we are nobody. If they are stolen from us, the spirits can do anything they want to us” (Viveiros de Castro, 2008, p. 236). The comparison between the whitemen’s ID card and the Nambiquara necklaces bring us elements for the inclusion in a specific space. The necklace, more than a mode of identification, is a protective object. The identity card or a passport in a non-indigenous society is determinant for one’s survival: without it there is a big likelihood of a bad encounter with the police, for instance.
Still on the elaboration of quasi-events, Viveiros de Castro warns us that
True deaths by spiritual accidents are rare. In the encounters with spirits in the jungle, nearly always nothing happens; but something always nearly happens. This is the ‘point’ of such encounters: the jaguar nearly caught me… I almost answered… I almost stayed forever in the underground world of the peccaries… I nearly laid with that snake who resembled a woman… they nearly ate me. The supernatural is not the imaginary, it is that which almost happens in our world, or, [something that happens] to our world transforming it into a nearly-another world (Viveiros de Castro, 2008, p. 238)
This concept may back us when we observe the relations and the meeting of the indigenous peoples with the internet and its in-opening paths, grounded on the statements above. If necklaces are a form of identification and of protection in facing the worlds in the forest, what if the ID card or passports are elementary for entering the world of the internet? Which necklace, which clothes, which armor the peoples of the upper Rio Negro and the Guarani will wear so that the encounter with the internet is a good encounter and not an almost-death encounter?
Once in an encounter, this time a virtual one with the Guarani people, a community leader expressed such concern: The Guarani made the world. The Juruá (non-indigenous peoples) arrived, and we taught them to live here and they stayed on living with us. Now they (the Juruá) created another world, which is the internet. The Guarani have to learn to live in it.
The drawings that some Guarani brought in to the workshop with young communicators show a bad encounter with the internet. These were lonely encounters, depressive and unprotected, producing bad bodies. Notwithstanding, even there, we can identify the “almost” that anthropology tells us about through the Nambiquara. If it is true that there is addiction to games and to social networks, it is also true that they were there, in the community, telling this story. The drawings by the people of the Rio Negro reveal another line of the “almost”: not like a limit-story, an ineluctable end, but as an incomplete story. Like someone who is still in the forest trail, gathering protective objects, helmets, lipsticks, hats, hammocks, wedding rings, making necklaces in order to face the new world.
What they told us was that in order to leave the condition of mere user one has to know, to have domain over the internet technology. To know with whom we walk, how to enter and how to exit, how to unlock, to escape, know the codes, their manner of preparation, in order to change the destinations of the navigation, to manage walking the trails and even opening fresh tracks. This is the developer’s task. Now, if the condition of the user is averse to indigenous thought and the position of the developer demands a domain that our leaders do not yet have, it seems to us more profitable to blur such outlines and occupy the space in-between, where the potency of the encounter is established.
But how to establish such between-domain zones? How to make the domain that the indigenous worlds speak of converse with this one put forward by the digital world? We saw that the community leaders in the region of the Rio Negro aim to enter other worlds, render real the virtual potency that crosses the extension of their domains, in their terms. They want to be heard, they want to participate in the internet’s entry process and in the new communication and monitoring technologies in their territories. They want to be users and, why not, also developers; their transformational culture allows them to be more than one at once. As strategy, it is necessary to anthropophagize the code: devour, eat knowledge and digest it so that the struggle gains in strength. It is necessary to establish incommunities, encounters, with non-indigenous activist developers and programmers. But not only.
The idea of an end accompanies Guarani eschatology. The idea of something finite, that is enclosed in a self-contained and delimited unity, the “one”, apart from every outward relation and that links it to the “more than one” is considered bad. Here its apocalyptic prophecy: “Things in their totality are one: and for us who do not wish this, they are bad”, in the words of an old Guarani shaman (Clastres, 2015, p. 185). This “one” would be the state, writes Pierre Clastres, the absolute instance, a non-negotiable position by definition. It is against the prediction of a single world that indigenous societies organize. They seek the Land without Evil, where the multiple presents itself as an arrow and bow in the confrontation against totalization. We will smoke the tobacco to the end. Will we use the internet to the end? But against who, what for and how?
Launched in 2016, the project Guarani Map12 aimed at systematizing the Guarani people’s territorial information, including both those dwelling in Brazil and those present in Bolivia and Paraguay. The data was produced chiefly by a network of researchers at the Indigenist Work Center (Centro de Trabalho Indigenista – CTI) and the Federal University of Greater Dourados (Universidade Federal da Grande Dourados – UFGD/Raíz), featuring mappings carried out since the 1970’s in the southern and southeastern regions of Brazil, but also by other researches originated in the Guarani Continental (Projeto Guarani Continental) project of 2008.
The idea was to relate information on the Guarani indigenous lands with information about the demarcations, archaeological sites and connect them to the collection of the Guarani library available at the CTI. A monitoring tactics, by counter-mapping, of their territory. Like the Rio Negro community leader showing us the map that covered the fourth wall of his office, the Guarani were able to scrutinize their domains from a digital cartography. At the same time as the map helps them visualize the status of the Indigenous Territories’ demarcation processes, it also allows them to monitor, by contrast, the preservation of their forests. That is, even if their villages are localized in much deforested areas of the Atlantic Rain Forest, in comparison with the surroundings, it is clear that the areas with the highest concentration of preserved forest are to be found precisely within their territory.
The Guarani Digital Map was created in a collaborative manner, allowing for its decentralized update, fed by indigenous people and by indigenists, who share information about villages, population and demarcation of the territories. The database includes georeferenced points in the villages and Guarani indigenous lands shapes. It features open source and was developed in partnership with the Hacklab13 collective. An incommunity between indigenous people-indigenists-programers was set up then. For the establishment of between-zones, workshops to learn the program’s use were carried out.
Notwithstanding, even if the researchers network carry on feeding information, the digital development of the map remains paralyzed. There is no funding and one of the greatest challenges is to keep the data and code updated, for this work depends on the collaboration of programmers and developers. As Silvio Rhatto explained in the interview that is included in this research dossier, where he talks about the perishability of equipment and the updating incompatibility of their programs, somehow, the Guarani Map entered the “Rottenocene” era. It has ceased to form incommunities: developers and programmers interrupted the feeding of their map-machine.
Among the elements of the devouring circuit, perhaps it is necessary to invite also the funders to the code banquet. Even if on the familiarizing predation mode, it is necessary to make them kin, to share with them not only the codes, the ingredients of the recipe, but also the manner and the time necessary for preparation. That is, the sharing of the open code-recipe among indigenous people, indigenists and programmers has not been enough to keep the Guarani Map food chain in movement. In this cosmopolitical round dance, we need to bring on the funders to the dance, so that we can weave agreements about time cycles together, in their inexorability and duration. We know that as with any recipe, if we leave the cake too long in the oven it burns, if too briefly it flattens. Without these technologies shared in the time-space, without the places for learning and for continued exchanges, communities are not made – least of all those leaning on heterogeneous alliances between uncommon elements.
An experience of other possible alliances is the Rede Baobáxia, a community network to which quilombos, Afro-Brazilian religious centers, favelas e urban peripheries converge, together with developers and researchers of the Projeto Siwazi Rowaihuuze Auwe (a Xavante people information network: connectivity, data management and appropriation of the internet by indigenous peoples). The latter is another collaborative network bringing together the Wede’rã village, Rede Mocambos and the Museology, Archaeology and Anthropology Center Laboratory at UNESP (Laboratório do Centro de Museologia, Arqueologia e Antropologia/ CEMAARQ da UNESP14. Rede Baobáxia15 was born from this alliance, a collective of researchers of a São Paulo university funded by a state-owned organization. Baobáxia is a constellation of baobabs, of shared memories of territories in the same galaxy, under baobabs, which offers a possible route for the creation of the methodology and technology to escape the almost-death encounters related by the Nambiquara.
It kicked off in the Federal Government Culture Points program (Pontos de Cultura), that Rede Mocambos carried out using audiovisual material, with content produced by the communities and shared during the training sessions, by means of pendrives. In such occasions, the communities realized the need to create a technology that involved drumming, collections and communication, bringing in as a symbol the ancestrality of the baobab. The aim was to keep the memories in the territories themselves and facilitate the exchange between the villages, by means of technology at the service of their freedom and protection. A free software technology, made out in layers. Instead of a P2P technology, Git is used: a files structure informed by a logic of copying into wherever one wants – the metadata is shared and then the copies can be managed. From the partnership with Siwazi, the Baobáxia technology continues to be in movement and weaving a community.
At the end of the workshop, we went to the lake next to the Guarani Indigenous Land to refresh our bodies. An artificial lake, made by the flooding of part of the territory with the waters from the Itaipu Hydroelectric Plant dam. Guarani youngsters and children swam with ease in the midst of a series of submerged trunks, sections of the trees that once composed the local pampas landscape. Diving from the top of what had been trees before, they jumped in pirouettes into the violently pacified waters.
Earlier, while we borrowed the wi-fi signal from a local school, a non-indigenous teacher told us about the local handcraft, interested as he was in what he called the “tree of life”. Looking at the animals perched on the branches of the mythological tree, he told us that this was so because the animals found shelter from imminent death by drowning sitting on the trees, thus producing the possibility of life. Curiously, the drawings by indigenous individuals in workshops and, as we saw not only by the Guarani who accompanied us, indicate that it is from treetops that they access the faint internet signal reaching their villages. The tree is an antenna, a portal to the new world that opens up. Because for each world that ends, another one is born.
Animals, indigenous children and youngsters have retaken the domain over and under the waters. They have mapped the trees and their submerged trunks, which they have converted into springboards. Lagging behind, non-indigenous indigenists and digital security activists followed a little clumsily the traces of the route-trails opened by the skillful swimmers, to the smile of the onlooking children. An alliance between the uncommons within the same “political ecology”, a concept that Isabelle Stengers (2018) formulated in order to deal with a paradigm she denominates “eto-ecological”, a union between the oikos (space/environment) and the ethos (behavior) of the beings who inhabit it, whose movements, between one and the other, produce effects that are always indeterminate.
The Guarani experience diverges in time and space from that of the indigenous peoples of the Rio Negro. There is no way one can tell if they will reach the end, because the end, as the Guarani say, never ends. There is no limit, our indigenist friend alerted us, they use the signal to the end – and for each reinvented password, there is hacker to crack it. Here the indigenous narrative hacking: the retaking in their domain of the digitized domain – they are always producing the oars that Tupã has given them the intelligence to create. But how to enter other domains without producing a bad body for oneself, a body for death – how do we learn to row?, insists the upper Rio Negro community leader. The answer, they teach us, is to relate as kin – and for that one needs not only to know which part of the other should or should not be devoured, but also who and with whom to devour. Security, before anything else, is resguardo, safekeeping.
The political ecology that Stengers speaks of places the meaning of the term political side-by-side with the cosmopolitical. Every translation effort between worlds and domains that this article brings up originates in this effort, among dissensuses and equivocations. Open and non-proprietary sources, recipes, teas, clouds and flying rivers are grounded on agencies that, being so diverse, cannot be negotiated presuming the idea of a parliament where everyone would be equal, neuter and blind to difference. Finally, in order to avoid the sky and its smoke clouds falling over our heads, what we argue is that the opening to a common world is only possible, even if in open-recipes-codes, if they start off from an in-relation community. In a word: from an incommunity.
1. We borrowed the term “narrative hacking” from the “hackeo cultural” project, defined by their creators as: “To make the common sense out of the radical. Open source insurrectionist narratives. Defend life and the territory. Dismantle the systems of oppression one meme at a time. Live free culture and kitten GIFs”. Available at https://hackeocultural.org/ (accessed on September 16 2022). We thank Andreia Ixchíu and Fede Zuvire for this meeting of narratives. (Back.)
2. Our first visit to the region of the upper Rio Negro, in the State of Amazonas, took place in the month of November 2021, when the COVID-19 virus showed signs of abating and all those involved in the expedition had been vaccinated. In March 2021, we established first contact with community leaders in the region, organized in a set of associations, with more than twenty indigenous peoples involved in the development of its economy, in climate and territorial monitoring, in the territorial governance carried out by the indigenous peoples themselves and in the strengthening of the community-based associations. We carried out interviews with four of these leaders, focusing on internet use and the circulation of information in the indigenous territories in the context of the pandemic. (Back.)
3. In this bundle of peoples, there is strong military presence. A border municipality, it is permeated by a logic of state surveillance and security. The Catholic Church is present with Salesian missions. They are huge buildings containing schools, where many indigenous children have been taught to forget their culture in order to consolidate the colonizing project. Hence the success and cunning of the indigenous people who learned the whiteman’s language and culture very well, but who also knew how to preserve their culture, which remains alive. (Back.)
4. As a resource to mark the different narratives that we built with the Guarani and the uper Rio Negro peoples, we will use three distinct typographic fonts: one for the Guarani, another one for the upper Rio Negro peoples and, finally, one for us. Speech in free direct discourse will be marked in italics, in their respective fonts. (Back.)
5. In order to ground her proposition about the Capitalocene, Haraway was inspired by the book by Isabelle Stengers and Philippe Pignarre (2005), La Sorcellerie capitaliste: Pratiques de désenvoûtement. (Back.)
6. In order to visualize the distribution of the underwater optical fiber see, for instance, https://pt.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cabo_submarino (accessed on September 15 2022) (Back.)
7. Here we allude to what author Anna Tsing (2004) dubbed friction: a concept deployed to explore environmental policies in defense of the Indonesian forests in the context of globalization, grounded on different agents in zones of attrition. On one side, mining companies, loggers and resource-grabbers; on the other, indigenous peoples and environmentalists. Friction is, therefore, a key concept to understand the cosmopolitan knowledge about nature, local and global, be it lay or scientific. (Back.)
8. Brazil’s Federal Constitution secures to all people the fundamental right to freedom of information. Article 5, item XIV, states that “access to information and source confidentiality are secured when necessary to the exercise of the profession”. Item XXXIII of the same article states: “everyone has the right to receive from public institutions information about one’s own private interest, or of collective and general interest, which will be provided within the lawful period, under pain of responsibility, except when secrecy is absolutely necessary for the safety of society and of the State”. Brazil boasts one of the most modern internet regulatory legislations, Law no. 12.965/14, commonly known as the Internet Civil Landmark, which regulates the Right to Access to the Internet and establishes it as a general right and essential to the exercise of citizenship. It also defines the technical terms usual in the life of all of us, people connected to the network. (Back.)
9. About flying rivers see, for instance, https://riosvoadores.com.br/o-projeto/fenomeno-dos-rios-voadores/. (Accessed on September 8 2021) (Back.)
10. This is a story told since very long ago by members of the open source community around the world. A quick search in websites gives us hundreds of options, such as, for instance: https://www.itproportal.com/features/open-source-kitchen-a-recipe-for-security-success/ [accessed on September 4 2022]. The practical approximation between the elaboration of an open source code and the baking and selling of a cake, for instance, allows for a learning image in people’s daily life. In the light of the aims of this article, and that we are talking about indigenous group in their territories, founded on mercantile relations, we will resort to this particular use of this plot. (Back.)
11. These are mechanisms for the protection and safekeeping of the body, with severe food and sex restrictions. This is so that the body, in a vulnerable state regarding other worlds, does not cease to belong, by a regime of transformation and capture, to the world of its relatives. (Back.)
12. See https://guarani.map.as/#!/. Accessed on September 8 2022. (Back.)
13. See https://github.com/hacklabr/mapaguarani. Accessed on November 6 2022. (Back.)
14. See https://siwazi.fct.unesp.br/. Accessed on September 8 2022. (Back.)
15. See https://mocambos.net/tambor/pt/baobaxia. Accessed on September 9 2022. (Back.)
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