The Andes and Amazonia have a long history of oral traditions. Even as native inhabitants engaged with Western writing, becoming more “lettered” since the time of contact, indigenous communities retained the art of storytelling and cultural production. Wisdom and meaning-making were and continue to be passed down from one generation to the next by way of practice, experience, and applied knowledge of the processes behind beautifully made things, rather than through conventional written texts. This exhibit presents some of the ways by which indigenous communities inscribe rich narratives of their cultural and historical experiences in tactile surfaces and performance traditions rather than on paper.
The cultural artifacts in the collection invite us to consider a variety of modes of documentation beyond alphabetic writing. They challenge us to engage in reading practices beyond conventional texts. These artifacts as texts in their own right present us with distinct literary and historical narrative forms, different types of textuality, and alternative literacies that provide a glimpse into the experience-oriented, embodied, profoundly dialogical, multi-dimensional and often coded nature of indigenous knowledge systems.
The collection as a whole extends an opportunity to think critically about the limitations of Western scholarly canons that privilege written and visual mediums. Indigenous epistemologies deliver progressive theoretical and compelling methodological approaches that bridge a much broader range of expression, inquiry and analysis. In this capacity, they highlight the urgency of acknowledging non-Western, alternative literacies and including them as valuable resources in our classrooms and our libraries.