Plant Kin: A Multispecies Ethnography in Indigenous Brazil (Paperback)
The Indigenous Canela inhabit a vibrant multispecies community of nearly 3,000 people and over 300 types of cultivated and wild plants living together in Maranhão State in the Brazilian Cerrado (savannah), a biome threatened with deforestation and climate change. In the face of these environmental threats, Canela women and men work to maintain riverbank and forest gardens and care for their growing crops, whom they consider to be, literally, children. This nurturing, loving relationship between people and plants—which offers a thought-provoking model for supporting multispecies survival and well-being throughout the world—is the focus of Plant Kin.
Theresa L. Miller shows how kinship develops between Canela people and plants through intimate, multi-sensory, and embodied relationships. Using an approach she calls “sensory ethnobotany,” Miller explores the Canela bio-sociocultural life-world, including Canela landscape aesthetics, ethnobotanical classification, mythical storytelling, historical and modern-day gardening practices, transmission of ecological knowledge through an education of affection for plant kin, shamanic engagements with plant friends and lovers, and myriad other human-nonhuman experiences. This multispecies ethnography reveals the transformations of Canela human-environment and human-plant engagements over the past two centuries and envisions possible futures for this Indigenous multispecies community as it reckons with the rapid environmental and climatic changes facing the Brazilian Cerrado as the Anthropocene epoch unfolds.
About the Author
Theresa L. Miller is an anthropologist working on environmental and social justice issues. She has worked at the Field Museum and Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, and is currently a Researcher at FrameWorks Institute in Washington, DC.
Fascinating...Plant Kin offers a glimmer of hope in the Anthropocene of the possibilities of alternative and sustainable engagements with plants and their ecologies.
Theresa Miller presents a thoughtful portrayal of shifting ideas about the human place both in the world and in relation to plants in our era of changing climate...Each chapter on its own could be read as a unique contribution; taken collectively, they convey what she calls a sensory ethnobotany perspective that is interdisciplinary in scope...Plant Kin pays careful attention to what Canela indigenous people say and do in order to survive in a changing world that has long seen both the people and their places as sacrifice zones to be scoured for resources to feed global wealth.
— American Ethnologist
[Plant Kin] contributes a thorough investigation of traditional ecological knowledge in a specific community and provides an in-depth example of the sociocultural processes that promote agrobiodiversity maintenance among a particular group and key group members. As such, it is a great resource for students of ethnobotany and related fields interested in relationships between cultural and biological diversity.
— Economic Botany
Plant Kin is a rigorously researched and carefully construed multispecies ethnography that focuses on the Indigenous Canela of the Brazilian Cerrado or savanna environment...Overall, the book is well-written and well-paced. The use of qualitative ethnographic material and testimonies from interlocutors interspersed with the author’s own prose make for a lively and captivating read.
— Journal of Latin American Geography
[Plant Kin's] introduction, five chapters, and short conclusion are rich with ethnographic examples, highlighting resilience, multisensory care and multispecies relationships...In Plant Kin, Miller provides a well-written ethnography...it would interest students and scholars in anthropology, ethnobotany, environmental studies, Indigenous studies, and Latin American studies.
— Environment and Society