Wellcome Unit Seminars, 02/12/13

The last seminar of the term…

Coffee is available from 2.00pm – Seminars begin at 2.15pm prompt

‘Structures of Medical Knowledge’
Conveners: Drs Erica Charters and Elise Smith

Week 8 – 2 December
Vanessa Grotti, University of Oxford
Sociality and Healing within the Medical Missions among the Trio of Suriname and Brazil
Based on historical documents and ethnographic data such as autobiographical narratives, this paper retraces the history of the establishment of two medical missions among an Amazonian people, the Trio, who live straddled across the Suriname-Brazil border. I will compare and contrast the early history of the two missions, which were run respectively by Franciscan brothers in Brazil and by North-American Protestants in Suriname, and analyse the forms of social relations that Amerindians and missionaries developed and nurtured in and around the health post.

Vanessa Grotti is a social and medical anthropologist with field experience in South America and interested in the history of contact, sedentarisation and change among native Amazonian populations, with a special focus on the body, personhood and wellbeing. She has been working with Central Carib populations living in Suriname, French Guiana and Brazil for over a decade, and has published on a range of topics covering shamanism, conversion to Christianity, trade and objects, primary healthcare, extractive industries and human security.

Her current project, funded by the Wellcome Trust, is a comparative history of Protestant and Catholic medical missions among the Trio (Tiriyó) in Suriname and Brazil (1959-1994). The principal aim of this project is to reconstruct the histories of two primary healthcare systems in Amazonia by comparing their activities among a single transnational indigenous group. Among the Trio, whose territory straddles the border between Suriname and Brazil, health posts were established independently in each country from 1959 by Catholic and Protestant missionary organizations. Both systems were later secularized and incorporated or taken over by the State. The impact of this research will be to provide insight into different approaches to primary healthcare in Amazonia, where both missionary and secular agencies continue to contact isolated peoples.

She also manages a John Fell OUP Research Grant (2011-2014) on ‘Giving birth in an Amazonian gold rush: a survey of indigenous motherhood and healthcare practices surrounding pregnancy and birth among the Wayana (French Guiana and Suriname)’. This smaller project is a survey of the experience of childbirth among indigenous Wayana mothers on the headwaters of the Maroni River, which forms the border between French Guiana and Suriname. Its purpose is to document the native point of view on the design and provision of antenatal and neonatal care, and the ways in which biomedical healthcare practitioners interact and communicate with indigenous expecting mothers, in both village and hospital environments.


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