Historical reconstruction and cultural identity building as a local pathway to “Living Well” amongst the Pemon of Venezuela

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This paper tells two stories in one: a) the story of Kumarakapay, a small Pemon/Taurepan indigenous community from Canaima National Park and World Heritage Site in southeastern Venezuela, and its experience of confronting the strong power asymmetries that prevent intercultural dialogues about wellbeing between indigenous peoples and other actors, and b) to a lesser extent my experience of facilitating part of this process and observing its development over time.
In 1999, after feeling increasingly disoriented and concerned about their sense of loss of cultural identity, Kumarakapay took the lead in initiating a variety of processes of community-wide critical reflection on their history and processes of cultural change as part of the definition of the community’s Life Plan (Plan de Vida). The final aim of this process was to help the people from Kumarakapay clarify their views of a desired future and thus, strengthen their capacity to engage in dialogue and negotiations with other actors about the present and future management of their territories. This triggered a variety of processes of cultural reassertion, including the publication of a community-authored book about the oral history of the Pemon from Kumarakapay. It also had a knock-on-effect on how the Pemon now wish to define conservation and development agendas more broadly with external actors on their lands.
The most distinctive aspect of the way in which the Pemon reflected about their wellbeing is the attention paid to re-connecting with identity and with the past, an aspect of wellbeing that is not sufficiently accounted for, neither in western ways of conceptualising wellbeing, nor in more alternative ‘ethnic’ ways, such as Buen Vivir. In the former, culture is practically absent and in the second it is simply taken for granted.
The Pemon story serves as an example of how culture and its complexities could be more thoroughly integrated into the way wellbeing is being broadly conceptualised, but also, and perhaps most importantly, of how indigenous people themselves can take the lead in talking about wellbeing in their own terms. As will be shown, such a people-centered approach for conceptualising and thinking about wellbeing can have great impact, not only in promoting community reflexivity about their current situation, but also in doing something about it.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultures of Wellbeing. Method, Place and Policy.
EditorsSarah White, Chloe Blackmore
Place of PublicationHampshire
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-137-53645-7
ISBN (Print)9781137536440
Publication statusPublished - 2016

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