chapter  10
Conclusion: The Pedigree of a Contradiction
Pages 30

Amazonian “high culture,” as Max Schmidt (1917) called the ancient Arawak peoples, fell short of what Western society considered civil society (civitas) in the early 1900s. Most ethnologists, in fact, had already fully come to expect that Amazonia was one of those world areas, like the Pacific Islands or the sub-Saharan Africa, dominated wholly by primitive peoples, what Karl von den Steinen (1894) called “naturvölkern.” The greater and lesser American civilizations, the states, kingdoms, and chiefdoms so prominent in the archaeological and early historical records, had been reduced to obscurity through, as Lévi-Strauss (1961: 42) put it, “the cannibal instincts of the historical process.” Even the giants of pre-Columbian world systems, great Native American empires like the Inka and

Azteca seen firsthand by the interlopers, were forgotten, casualties of a nineteenth-century evolutionary rhetoric bent on measuring the progress and major limens of human history according to the yardstick of Western historical experience (Chang 1989). Many of the great temple centers of Mesoamerica, Peru, and the southeastern United States were only discovered between the mid-1800s and early 1900s. There is more to it, however, than just scholarly ignorance, since the Western intellectual tradition has tended to neglect, if not degenerate, ancient Amerindian societies that cannot be described as “primitive,” “simple,” or “uncivilized” by any stretch of the imagination, civilizations, as Alice Kehoe (1998) so aptly puts it, that remain “hidden in plain sight.”