Crafting Wounaan Landscapes
Identity, Art, and Environmental Governance in Panama's Darién
Panama’s Darién is a name many conservationists know. Renowned for its lowland tropical forests, its fame is more pronounced because a road that should be there is not: environmentalists have repeatedly, and remarkably, blocked all attempts to connect the Americas via the Pan American Highway. That lacuna, that absence of a road, also serves to occlude history in the region as its old-growth forests give the erroneous impression of a peopleless nature.
In Crafting Wounaan Landscapes, Julie Velásquez Runk upends long-standing assumptions about the people that call Darién home, and she demonstrates the agency of the Wounaan people to make their living and preserve and transform their way of life in the face of continuous and tremendous change. Velásquez Runk focuses on Wounaan crafting—how their ability to subtly effect change has granted them resilience in a dynamic and globalized era. She theorizes that unpredictable landscapes, political decisions, and cultural beliefs are responsible for environmental conservation problems, and she unpacks environmental governance efforts that illustrate what happens when conservation is confronted with people in a purportedly peopleless place.
The everyday dangers of environmental governance without local crafting include logging, land grabbing, and loss of carbon in a new era of carbon governance in the face of climate change. Crafting Wounaan Landscapes provides recognition of local ways of knowing and being in the world that may be key to the future of conservation practice.
On one level, this unique resource is a groundbreaking work in historical ecology (also ethnology) about a small group of Indigenous people in Panama’s Darién region. In a broader sense, it is an exemplar of how such scholarly work should be conducted.’—Choice
‘A significant—indeed unique—contribution to the literature on lowland South America. Velásquez Runk’s conclusions will define the future of development, conservation, and cultural ecology studies.’—Norman E. Whitten Jr., co-author of Histories of the Present: People and Power in Ecuador
‘A completely unique work about a people that are nearly unknown in the literature about Latin American indigenous people.’—Les Field, co-editor of Challenging the Dichotomy: The Licit and the Illicit in Archaeological and Heritage Discourses
‘The author’s serious commitment to provide the Wounaan with a voice is served by her longitudinal and ethnographically sensitive approach… Everyone interested in contemporary Darién – or seeking a model of collaborative research – should read this book.’ – Dimitrios Theodossopoulos, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Julie Velásquez Runk is an associate professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Georgia and is affiliated with the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute, Center for Integrative Conservation Research, and Institute of Native American Studies. She is also a research associate at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama.
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