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Beeld: Konrad Rybka

Manioc and Amazonian Prehistory: Veni grant for Konrad Rybka

How did manioc, a poisonous root, become the staple of Amazonia and change the lives of prehistoric Amazonian peoples? Veni grant recipient, Konrad Rybka aims to unravel this mystery using a variety of research methods across different disciplines.

Amazonian scale, Guianan perspective

The main focus of investigations will be the material and immaterial culture related to manioc. By investigating museum collections, ethnographic literature and language data across the continent, this project aims to understand patterns of linguistic and cultural change in indigenous Amazonia. The study of relevant collections will at the same time help reintegrate endangered linguistic and cultural heritage benefiting the Lokono and Kari'na communities in the Netherlands and in the Guianas, who are an integral part of the project. 

‘For me, the project is a great opportunity to connect several lines of research that I have been pursuing for the past years, notably linguistic documentation and description of indigenous languages of the Guianas and the study of the patterns of linguistic contact in past and present Amazonia. It will also allow me to explore new interdisciplinary bridges by focusing on indigenous material culture,’ says Rybka. He adds, ‘as a foodie, I am also extremely excited about the fact that this project will allow me to explore Amazonia ‘through the kitchen’ so to speak.’

By studying the similarities and differences in how the tools used in manioc processing are made and handled, including associated vocabularies, Rybka will reconstruct their spread and understand the socio-cultural consequences.

Interdisciplinary project

Konrad Rybka will be working together with colleagues from the Leiden University Centre for Linguistics (LUCL) and a number of other universities (University of Texas, University of California and the University of Brasília). Other partners include Naturalis Biodiversity Centre and the National Museum of World Cultures. Historical linguists, Amazonian language specialists, experts on contact linguistics, ethno botanists, archeologists, and representatives of indigenous populations and specific museum collections will be working together in reconstructing Amazonian prehistory all in the context of manioc.

Next steps

The project will kick-off with a 2-day symposium in early 2020 hosted by Leiden University.

NWO Veni

A total of 25 young researchers from Leiden have received a Veni grant. Each year, NWO awards the Veni grants to young researchers, many of whom have recently obtained their PhDs. They receive a maximum of 250,000 euros for curiosity-driven research. Together with Vidi and Vici, the Veni is part of NWO's Innovational Research Incentives Scheme.

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