The Owners of Kinship

Asymmetrical Relations in Indigenous Amazonia

By Luiz Costa

Foreword by Janet Carsten

The Owners of Kinship investigates how kinship in Indigenous Amazonia is derived from the asymmetrical relation between an “owner” and his or her dependents. Through a comprehensive ethnography of the Kanamari, Luiz Costa shows how this relationship is centered around the bond created between the feeder and the fed.

Building on anthropological studies of the acquisition, distribution, and consumption of food and its role in establishing relations of asymmetrical mutuality and kinship, this book breaks theoretical ground for studies in Amazonia and beyond. By investigating how the feeding relation traverses Kanamari society—from the relation between women and the pets they raise, shaman and familiar spirit, mother and child, chiefs and followers, to those between the Brazilian state and the Kanamari—The Owners of Kinship reveals how the mutuality of kinship is determined by the asymmetry of ownership.


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Review Quotes

A major contribution to anthropological theorizing, this impressive work quietly disposes of many conceptual assumptions abroad in anthropology, less through interrogating Western ideas (via other Western ideas) than through brilliant ethnographic exegesis.  The author follows through the consequences of ‘feeding’ as a signature of Amazonian ownership.  Observational and analytical sophistication aside, the result offers a kind of scholarly commensality that emphatically enhances the trenchant and radical consequences of the book’s achievement as the body-owner of the arguments it gives us.  If Kanamari taught the author this etiquette, we would not do so badly in finding we had a need for it.

— Marilyn Strathern (University of Cambridge), author of Before and after gender

Ownership without property, mastery without domination: this is the paradox explored by Luiz Costa in his brilliant analysis of the so-called master-subject bond among the Kanamari. This is a relation that plays a crucial role in indigenous Amazonian cosmopolitics, insofar as it is the primary generative force at work in the world. Beyond its insightful description of Kanamari sociality, this work thus sheds new light on the principles underlying kinship formation and political action in the Lowlands.

— Anne-Christine Taylor (CNRS, Musée du Quai Branly), author of An abuse of dreams: Kincraft and imagination in an Amazonian society (forthcoming)

This book is a paradigm shifter. That the distinction between sharing and exchanging (here, commensality and feeding) is as important to the understanding of reciprocity as that between the maternal and paternal descent lines is to the understanding of kinship has long been received knowledge in Melanesia. Unfortunately due to the influence of Lévi-Strauss, it has been missing from the canon in Amazonia. Thanks to Luiz Costa’s brilliant The owners of kinship, this oversight will soon be corrected.

— Roy Wagner (University of Virginia), author of Coyote anthropology

Published 2017
304 pages
ISBN: 9780997367591
Price: $35.00

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Table of Contents
Front Matter

by Janet Carsten


Chapter One: Making need

Chapter Two: Mastering agency

Chapter Three: On the child’s blood

Chapter Four: Tripartite history

Chapter Five: Old jaguars


References cited