Accepted paper:

The intangible wealth of partible persons


Vanessa Lea (University of Campinas)

Paper short abstract:

The immaterial wealth of the Central Brazilian Mẽbêngôkre is analyzed via Strathern´s insights concerning the relational aspects of the person: a unique composite generated by a network of relationships. The detachability of names and prerogatives renders them fitting as extensions of persons.

Paper long abstract:

Strathern´s work, initially instrumental to me in de-essentializing gender and shedding new light on the public versus private dichotomy, also provides insights into the immaterial wealth of the Mẽbêngôkre of Central Brazil. This panel provides me with the opportunity to systematize how her writings help to forge a novel perspective on personal names and heritable prerogatives as partible aspects of the person. Strathern´s writings have dissolved the dichotomy between persons and things, and in the context of my research the insistence on not confusing adornments with ornaments is noteworthy. Names and adornments are extensions of persons as relational entities. They connect the living to the ancestors, generating individuals as composite, unique constellations, via the network of each person´s maternal and paternal relatives. The men circulate in marriage, returning their property to their natal houses, taking with them usufruct of their sisters´ names for their daughters. There are some uncanny, inverted analogies between Strathern´s material on the patrilineal Hageners and my reading of the matrilineal Mẽbêngôkre. The latter have an elaborate system of intangible property that is systematically lent out, returned, stolen and quarreled over. People have usufruct of wealth inherited from paternal relatives, enjoying dispositional rights only concerning the legacy of their matrilineal relatives. Strathern has emphasized the distinctive nuances of property, ownership and possession, but her writings have also enabled me to appreciate the usefulness of the notion of the properties of persons, in terms of the detachable and hence relational elements with which they are constituted.

panel P17
Anthropological relationships as appropriations and investments: ASA-sponsored panel in honour of Marilyn Strathern