Being a Good Person: Give and Take among the Tacana of Northern Bolivia

Document Type

Conference Presentation

Conference Title

Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America Fourth Sesquiannual Meeting


Santa Fe, NM

Conference Dates

January 12-14, 2007

Date of Presentation



In this paper, I explore the social value of theft as a leveling mechanism in the assertively egalitarian Tacana community of Santa Rosa, Bolivia. First, I examine the material basis for Santa Rosan egalitarianism. Then I turn to the social enforcement of egalitarianism by both overt and covert means, including theft. Third, I look at egalitarianism as a value, tied to Santa Rosan ideas of what makes someone a good person. Finally, I link this material, social, and moral order to the conflicted relationships between Santa Rosans and outsiders with whom they interact, outsiders whom, in the eyes of Santa Rosans, often act like bad people. The actions and reactions of Santa Rosans and their neighbors to governmental and humanitarian aid are rooted in this interrelated social, cultural, and material universe, which provides a basis for their understanding of these interventions.

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