Making and Unmaking Panará Beadwork—Or, How to Overcome the Fixity of Material Things



Glass beads in Amazonia are objects of value and desire. They “materialize” social relations through processes of acquisition, transmission, and destruction. Although beads provide the “raw material” for the making of ceremonial adornments, they are also subjected to constant processes of unmaking and remaking. They are most visible precisely during these moments, when Panará women sit together stringing beads or making ornaments, often to undo them again once they have served their ritual purpose. These moments of visibility of both beads and persons are moments at which persons make themselves intersubjectively available to one another, and contrast with the withdrawal and concealment of people who are in a state of unavailability. Just as intersubjectivity is a process constantly to be generated, so glass beads, as desired objects, must also overcome the fixity of being “made into a thing” and, thereby, be continuously remade. In this article, I reflect on continuity and process and the way in which the fluidity of beadwork allows for the making and remaking of intersubjective relations.