A World Beyond Territory
Shipibo self-determination involves the reclamation of a world radically disabled by colonialism and constantly eroded by capitalist exploitation, and the regeneration of a new one. That world is Non Nete. Literally meaning our world, the Shipibo notion of Non Nete encompasses a set of relations in time. It is not a static geographical reference; rather, it denotes the interdependence of different lives, such as plant and human lives, and the mutual reliance of distinct worlds, notably the world of water (Jene Nete) and the world of ideals or spirits (Jakon Nete). In so far as it is always in relation to Jakon Nete, the world of ideals, Non Nete is also an aspiration, an attempt at ensuring that the relations between these realms move in harmony for the flourishing of life, or Jakon Jati - a term that is similar to what has been proposed in parts of South America through the notion of el Buen Vivir.
Non Nete also has a temporal dimension, as its other meaning is “day”, suggesting that everyday the world starts again, thereby referring to cycles of time and ecologies of regeneration. Non Nete is the totality of these many-worldly relations. Thus to reclaim Non Nete is not to reclaim an administratively delineated piece of land, but to reconstitute the interdependent ecology of these relations. Non Nete does not pre-exist the activities of life and the relations of the worlds. The activities and relations constitute Non Nete in its material, practical, conceptual and spiritual dimensions. This is aligned with a number of different global shifts that are recognizing the agency and rights of nature and the power of indigenous cosmologies and practices, and centering these in the struggle against climate change, capitalist exploitation and racist violence.
In the Shipibo language, territory as such has at least two specific notations. Non Mai, our land, is where the Shipibo work, live, create and coexist with animals and plants, what today goes under the administrative notion of a titled community, whilst Non Paro, our river, refers to a geographical dimension without boundaries, that is as vast as the navigable waters can take you in the different seasons, and conceived of as lying beyond any human constructions of political, administrative or legal borders. If in Western history, the commons relates to an area of shared resources, Non Paro may be thought of as a commonworld of activity, spirits, creativity as well as resources.
For the Shipibo-Konibo-Xetebo Non Nete spreads along the Ucayali River, the main affluent of the Amazonas, and its network of lakes and tributaries (Pisqui, Callería, Aguaytía, Pachitea and the great lakes of Imiria and Yarina), where Shipibo, Konibo and Xetebo people have been active across an extended territory of about 8.1 million hectares in the Amazon Rainforest. This is considered to be the territorio ancestral, of which approximately 75% is classified as bosque primaria, containing the highest levels of biodiversity and carbon capture. Its ambit is not limited to the state-recognized (or officially titled) communities, which break up and fragment a continuous ecology of forest and water management, social relations, human-nonhuman exchange, plant knowledge, and shamanic powers. Although some of these activities have been presently circumscribed by the state and by the encroachment of illegal settlers and extractivists, ‘development’ schemes, state-managed ‘conservation’ areas, and pollution from mining, oil spills, and plantations, the historical depth and geographical reach of Shipibo-Konibo-Xetebo cultural activity is evidenced by archeological analyses of Konibo ceramics in excavated burial sites dating as far back as 1200 years ago. The manufacture of urns and vessels requires raw materials - from resins, clays, and tempers to pebbles used to polish - that come from as far as 400 km away along the central and upper Ucayali. Thus Konibo pottery stands as a testament both of cultural contiguity and of historical and political-geographic presence throughout the extension of the region. Shipibo-Konibo-Xetebo ceramicists, who today continue to source primary materials far from where they live and work, do not simply make pots; they make a web of connections and are part of a far-ranging system of exchange between living and dead people, stories, soils, forest and water in Non Nete.
In Non Nete no being is a sovereign individual entity. Each has an owner in its “mother spirit”; and each exists in relation to other beings. Thus no being is simply itself, sovereign and bounded. Every being exists in ecological relation to other beings in the world. Accordingly, illnesses and other problems are considered and treated as social and ecological problems; similarly, when land is under threat, it is considered a communal threat, a call for care to be assumed collectively. Thus, the project of autonomia* in Non Nete is a matter of social and ecological healing and care based on environmental struggle, labor politics, a politics of reciprocity and redistribution, and a fight against the multitude of social ills stemming from social, racial, gendered and anthropocentric structures of inequality.
* we avoid ‘autonomy’ in order to elide the associations with individual choice and the sovereign self implied in the word’s liberal appropriation and prevalence in English.
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