Ernst Halbmayer

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2015/2016
discipline Anthropology
University Professor Philipps-Universität Marburg

Research project

Amerindian Socio-Cosmologies of North-Western South America. Toward an integrated analysis across Chibcha, Carib and Arawakan language families.


This project aims to analyze the ethnographic and historic evidence of the variously transformed indigenous Chibchan, Cariban and Arawakan groups in north-western South America. In contrast to the recent anthropological focus on Arawakan and Carib-speakers, Chibcha groups, as an important link between Central and South America, as well as between the Andes, Amazonia and Mesoamerica have not yet been theorized and analyzed in terms of current anthropological debates. My current research focus aims to fill that gap and the here proposed project will contribute to this goal by focusing on the broader region of north-western Venezuela and north-eastern Colombia. It is a region of extreme ecological differences as well as of marked socio-cultural and linguistic diversity that to date is still difficult to define in more general terms.

The aim of the current research is to identify the specifics of the indigenous socio-cosmological logics in this heterogeneous area by applying three central strategies: (i) Conducting a comparison of the historical and contemporary ethnographic information of the mentioned southern Chibcha-speaking groups (ii) examining the forms and dimensions of the ‚Chibchaization‘ of contemporary Carib and Arawak populations in the region and (iii) establishing the basis for a future Pan-Chibcha comparison.

The main methods applied are case reconstructive and comparative analyses of ethnographic information from historical sources, ethnohistorical and ethnographic studies, as well as own field research among the Yukpa. The comparative analysis is aiming to identify the empirical variations and organizing principles of Chibchan socio-cosmologies in terms of kinship and social organization, the principles of spatial organization of house and territory, the forms of shamanism/priesthood, notions of death and burial rituals, and human-animal relations. It is assumed that local Arawakan and Carib groups adapted to and became transformed by the existing regional cultural Chibcha environment.

Comparative research on the Chibcha groups will fill the existing gap in understanding Chibchan socio-cosmological principles in relation to the already developed set of knowledge for Amazonia, the Andes and Mesoamerica. It will develop theories on the historical colonial and actual global transformations and the processes of ethnogenesis of contemporary Chibcha groups. It will provide much needed anthropological data to engage in intense interdisciplinary exchange with linguistics, archeology, history, globalization theory and even physical anthropology and genetic studies to develop a fuller understanding of this core region both in terms of culture history and human development in the Americas as well as in terms of the entangled and uneven processes of globalization and contemporary indigenous modernities.




Ernst Halbmayer is Professor for Cultural and Social Anthropology at the Institute for Comparative Cultural Research of the Philipps-Universität Marburg, Germany. He is head of the Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology and the ethnographic collection. He holds a Ph.D in Social and Cultural Anthropology from the University of Vienna and was visiting fellow and associated researcher the Department for Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Laboratoire d’Anthropologie sociale, Paris. He did extensive field-research especially among Amerindian groups of Venezuela and Colombia.  


His main research interests include Latin American Anthropology, the Anthropology of landscape, nature and environment and the Anthropology of conflict. He works on socio-cosmologies, myth and ontologies of lowland South American Amerindians and those of the intermediate area between Amazonia, the Andes und Mesoamerica. Thereby he focuses especially on Carib and Chibcha-speaking communities. Other interests and contributions include ethnographic methods and comparative anthropology; kinship studies and social organization; creolization and indigenous modernities.

Selected publications


‘The Return of Things to Amazonian Anthropology: A Review’, with S. Schien, Indiana, vol. 31, 2014, pp. 421-437.


'Indigenous Creolization, Amerindian Hybridity and the Invention of Authenticity', Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America, vol. 11, no. 1, 2013, pp. 29-34.


'Mission, Food, and Commensality among the Yukpa: Indigenous Creolization and Emerging Complexities in Indigenous Modernities', Tipití: Journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Lowland South America, vol. 11, no. 1, 2013, pp. 65-86.


'Securing a life for the dead among the Yukpa. The exhumation ritual as a temporary synchronisation of worlds', Journal de la Société des Américanistes, vol. 99, no. 1, 2013, pp. 105-140.


'Poder, sociabilidad y monstruosidad. Una mirada comparativa de rituales de hormigas y avispas entre los indigenas caribes', Coleccíón Estudios del Hombre, vol. 30, 2013, pp. 95-131.


Debating animism, perspectivism and the construction of ontologies, (ed.), dossier Indiana vol. 29, 2012, pp. 9-169.


Kosmos und Kommunikation: Weltkonzeptionen in der südamerikanischen Sprachfamilie der Cariben. 2 Vol., Facultas Universitätsverlag, Vienna, 2010.



senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2015/2016
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Geography
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2011/2012
Collegium de Lyon
discipline History
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Environmental Studies
senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2013/2014
Collegium de Lyon
discipline Anthropology