Staff at Department of Food and Resource Economics (IFRO) – University of Copenhagen

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Amazonian erasures: landscape and myth-making in lowland Bolivia

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Lisbet Christoffersen

Radical land-use changes are under way in Bolivia’s Beni Department. As a prelude to changes, tales of idle land and premodern peoples have emerged, resembling the Pristine Myth that accompanied the ‘discovery’ of the Americas. In this article, I revisit the history of this area to show that its landscape and people have been re-narrated over time in ways that resonate with political economic concerns. I describe three dominant historical landscapes of Moxos, and the transformations that took place in between them, and show how material and conceptual landscape changes fed each other and obscured previous systems. In reinforcing loops they thus allowed for the birth or rebirth of myths of empty landscapes and traditional peoples, myths then used to naturalise transformations. I argue that new variants of the myths once again will erase indigenous peoples and their management practices from the landscape, and I stress the importance of investigating history with all its complexity when negotiating development. We must pay particular attention to the dangers of myth; essentialised characterisations of indigenous peoples and their interests risk reducing the available space for them to manoeuvre politically – but also for us to understand the nuanced relationships between history, landscapes, its peoples and the wider world.
Original languageEnglish
Article number3
JournalRural Landscapes: Society, Environment, History
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-19
Number of pages19
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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