Decolonizing and Recentering Indigenous Specialists: Knowledge and Practitioners in the Americas and the Indian Ocean

AHA Session 166
Saturday, January 8, 2022: 8:30 AM-10:00 AM
Rhythms Ballroom 2 (Sheraton New Orleans, 2nd Floor)
Martin A. Nesvig, University of Miami
Martin A. Nesvig, University of Miami

Session Abstract

This panel includes four papers that explore Indigenous specialists and their knowledge in the United States, Mexico, and the Indian Ocean. Despite covering different centuries and areas that are distant to each other, these research topics are all interconnected by their zeal to decolonize Indigenous history. All four scholars use diverse methodologies and theories to center their studies on Indigenous people and their beliefs. Josefrayn Sanchez-Perry’s paper uses archeological evidence from temples and households to shed new light on Late Postclassic (1200-1521 CE) Nahua ritual specialists in Central Mexico. Sanchez-Perry’s paper explores how male and female youths functioned in ritual spaces in precontact Mexico. His work demonstrates the intricacies of material culture production and their close ties to ritual networks in Tenochtitlan. Moreover, Sanchez-Perry contends that after the Spanish invasion of Central Mexico, ritual networks continued because of their innate connection to the home. Similarly, Edward Polanco explores the ways in which Spaniards created nefarious charlatans out of Nahua titiçih (healing ritual specialists). Polanco’s paper decolonizes Nahua healers by using sources written partially or entirely in Nahuatl (the languages of the Nahuas of Mexico) to highlight the terms and descriptions Nahuas used for their healers and their practices. Likewise, Carey McCormack uses an Indian Ocean world history approach to reveal how early nineteenth-century Indigenous people in India, Borneo, and the Malay States created botanical knowledge that British settlers extracted. McCormack shows that British authorities used Indigenous knowledge to fracture local trade networks and extirpate traditional agricultural practices. Her research highlights the often-overlooked Indigenous knowledge production, and unearths the ways in which Indigenous people understood the plants around them. John William Nelson’s research brings us back to North America where he studies eighteenth-century accounts of Main Poc, an Anishinaabe spiritual leader in Chicago. Euro-American sources describe Main Poc as a “juggler” or “prophet.” Nelson shows that by taking these accounts and sources at face value scholars have missed the nuances of Main Poc’s Anishinaabee-specific movement. Nelson’s paper offers a new and sophisticated understanding of the pluralities and diversity of eighteenth-century Nativist movements in North America. All four papers focus on Native people and unearthing new perspectives that offer a more complex understanding of the past.
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