The Intersubjective Life of Cassava among the Waiwai



Most accounts of cassava cultivation in Amazonia interpret the indigenous assertion that “plants are persons” at a purely symbolic or metaphoric level. On the basis of my fieldwork with the Waiwai of Southern Guyana, this article offers an alternative interpretation, namely that Waiwai womanhood and cassava can be seen as fractal images and divergent embodied forms of a common intersubjective being, one that is holistically represented in the mythic figure of Cassava Mother. In this interpretive stance, it is argued that womanhood and cassava acquire their meaningful specificity within Waiwai sociality through their aligned capacities, affects, and perspectives, as much as through their differences in scale and form. This foregrounding of modes of alignment and fractal similitude provides an analytic space for considering the embodiment of intersubjectivity across the ontological divide we frequently insist on between “human” and “nonhuman” realms. Waiwai mythic narrative and agricultural practice suggest that, while differences in scale and form are significant, they are often eclipsed by an emphasis on aligned capacities and affective stances that are self-similar across scales and forms.