Cashinahua perspectives on functional anatomy: Ontology, ontogenesis, and biomedical education in Amazonia

by Cecilia McCallum

Read Article

By Cecilia McCallumFull Article:

Ontological dimensions of encounters between Brazilian biomedical Cartesianism and Amerindian perspectivism come into sharp focus in an intensive course in functional anatomy offered to trainee indigenous health agents in Acre state, Brazil. After presenting the biomedics’ rationalization of the course, which centered on the supervised dissection of a cadaver, I look at Cashinahua students’ accounts of their participation in the training and consider the broader implications of this particular engagement between two profoundly different philosophical traditions from the angle of the ontogenesis of meaning. I contextualize the students’ views of the cadaver through discussion of Cashinahua phenomenology of the body and cumulative personhood. Rather than revealing a confrontation between distinct “cultures,” as suggested by the term interculturality, analysis supports a focus on the interplay between ontology and epistemology within historically specific ontogenetic processes.