The Cracks, Bumps, and Dents of ‘Culture Collecting’: Examples from the Study of South American (Fire) Fans


  • Konrad Rybka Leiden University


Palabras clave:

colección, abanicos para fuego, planicies de Sudamérica


Ethnography, a means of representing the culture of a people graphically and in writing, as well as ethnographic museums, institutions devoted to conserving, contextualizing, and displaying indigenous heritage for wider audiences, strive to portray cultures adequately and on their own terms. However, given that the ethnographic enterprise has virtually always been carried out by and within non-indigenous scientific structures, its products are at a high risk of being tinged by the Western lens, in particular Western scientific theory and practice. This article focuses on the ethnographic record of South American fire fans – defined by ethnographers as tools for fanning cooking fires – to demonstrate how such biases can be removed by taking stock of the entirety of the relevant ethnographic heritage and analyzing it through the prism of the documented practices in which such objects are enmeshed, including the very practice of ethnography. In the light of such practices, the ethnographic record of fire fans deconstructs into a corpus of historical documents revealing the momentary, yet meaningful, technological choices made by the indigenous craftsmen who produced the objects and exposing Western categories, Kulturkreise mentality, and culture-area schemata imposed on them.