Human and non-human primates in the Neotropics




Trincheira-Bacajá Indigenous Land

Missione in corso

Since 2018


The research aims at investigate the diverse relations with non-human primates in Neotropics, focusing on how these are experienced by Indigenous people and primatologists. The research will be realized using an interdisciplinary and integrate approach between anthropology and primatology.

Results will let to discuss topics such as human-animal relations, multispecies ethnography and primate conservation.

Detailed description

The project focuses on human-animal associations with special attention to human and non-human primates relations, studying the controversial debate between “indigenous” and “scientific” knowledge.

Empirically, it concentrates on two case study: primatologists working with Cebus spp. and the Mebengokré people of the Trincheira-Bacajá Indigenous Land.

Both these groups present specific processes of primates socialization, and particularly of capuchin monkeys.

Primatologists engaged in researches with these primates highlight social learning, the development of new skills, tools uses and abstract knowledge among these primates. In specialized literature, they present an image of these primates as merged in a social, cognitive and relational environment similar to humans’ one. Moreover these primatologists produce specific forms of practical and cognitive relations with non-human primates. These relations make of Cebus both objects and subjects of scientific research practices.

The Mebengokré are an Indigenous people of the Jé linguistic family. They produce multiple relations with Cebus spp. These are experienced in daily life, sharing domestic and forest spaces. Moreover they are present in cognitive processes, such as in mythical narratives, in ritual masks, and other knowledge practices. In both cases non-human primates, and specially the Cebus spp., occupy a preeminent position in defining pragmatic, symbolic and cognitive experiences of human-animal relations.

In this direction, the ethnographic enquiry will produce original data in order to contribute to the on-going debate about human-animal relations, both in anthropology and primatology; it will develop an effective interdisciplinary dialogue, with the involvement of researchers of both disciplines; and finally it will contribute to the development of effective conservation strategies for these non-human primates starting from the dialogue between indigenous and primatological knowledge, as well as taking into account local cultural dimensions and the recognition of the agentivity of non-human primates.