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Volume 60 / Humanities

HISTORY: ETHNOHISTORY


South America

SUSAN E. RAMÍREZ, Professor and Neville G. Penrose Chair of History and Latin American Studies, Texas Christian University


THE BOOKS, ARTICLES, AND CHAPTERS REVIEWED HERE represent an ongoing, progressively constructed discourse about context and meaning. Each generation of scholars, while overlapping and building on the past, finds its own ways of defining and looking at the lives and times of indigenous South Americans. New questions asked of well-known sources and new examinations of accepted interpretations, together with standard questions asked of new "finds" contribute to a constant dialogue and the evolution of ethnohistorical understandings (item #bi 98012415#). The selection of current research reviewed for HLAS 60 updates our existing knowledge of the field.

Some traditional studies tease out new insights from standard sources by applying the tools of other or related disciplines (items #bi 98002215#, #bi 99004394#, and #bi 97017256#). An article by linguist Cerrón-Palomino exemplifies such work (item #bi2001000948#). He reinterpreted the text of a song found in Juan de Betanzos' early chronicle. His analysis of the lyrics and the translation of one word suggest native ideas about victory and defeat in war and the status of women that had not been readily apparent to previous readers. Such investigations are important because they suggest that philology and knowledge of indigenous languages are indispensable tools for doing anthropological history (items #bi2002000080#, #bi 98016151#, #bi2001000056#, #bi 00001839#, #bi 97016255#, and #bi 98004280#).

Other authors have found new sources to elucidate and complement the old (item #bi 99009228#). Some of these sources have been found in local archives, which continue to be rich and underutilized repositories (items #bi 97007502#, #bi 98000122# #bi 97012404#, and #bi 98006617#). In local documentation, one can most readily find the native voice. A few other unknown sources uncovered in studies reviewed here are located in private collections, where access is restricted (item #bi2001002287#). The most notable example is the "Naples" document that, among other things, suggests that Felipe Guamán Poma de Ayala, a Hispanized native, did not write the Nueva corónica y buen gobierno, one of the longest and most accessible of the early 17th-century texts (item #bi 97011411#). This "discovery" and the debate over its authenticity remind scholars of the importance of questioning the manuscripts, contextualizing them, and knowing the author(s) (items #bi 98014350# and #bi 98010111#). By extension, anonymous, undated documents are less reliable than those with provenance.

Still other ethnohistorians have sought new types of sources to complement the paper trail of the past (items #bi 97016021#, #bi 99000578#, and #bi2001007628#). Architectural remains are proving to be one source of new information (item #bi2001000143#). Niles' book (item #bi2001000067#) and Isabel's article on Incan and earlier ruins show how they reflect state cosmology and served as a stage for state theater. Analogously, on the borders of what is now Paraguay, Brazil, and Argentina, the remains of the reducciones demonstrate how the church helped the state colonize space and the indigenous imagination (item #bi 99001618#). Such resettlement patterns, meant initially to aid conversion, also affected social relations, culture, production, and the indigenous peoples' sense of their past and themselves.

The interpretation of signs and symbols and ritual analysis are also gaining popularity (items #bi2001000080#, #bi 98011654#, #bi 00005863#, #bi 98008147#, #bi2001002285#, #bi 99005582#, #bi2001000154#, and #bi2001000057#). Ritual and ceremonial paraphernalia served as pedagogical devices to reiterate fundamental principles of indigenous cosmology. Viewing state (or local) pageantry and theater, like the Inca-sponsored dramas, no doubt bolstered acceptance of the reigning politico-religious myth and helped forge identities. Songs (e.g., the so-called taquies of the Incas), to the extent that lyrics can be found (e.g., in chronicles by Betanzos and Guamán Poma), are a possible related avenue into the thoughts, values, and lives of indigenous peoples (item #bi 98013058#).

A cautionary note regarding the interpretation of architecture, signs, symbols, pageantry, and ritual, without an accompanying and explicating text, is that the interpreter will impose his/her own culturally mediated meaning onto the object. Thus, the challenge is figuring out a way to decenter our understandings. Special attention in these endeavors must be given to provenance, carefully identifying the object of attention according to when (precontact, early, or late contact), under what circumstances, and for what purpose it originated in order to understand more clearly representational significance and meaning. Similarly, where there is a textual guide, investigators must remain cognizant that indigenous peoples had to explain their cultural axioms to their colonizers in a language that was not their own, either directly or through an interpreter. To truly understand what indigenous texts were trying to convey, one must investigate how the speakers expressed concepts without exact Spanish or Portuguese equivalents and remain suspicious of translations. Comparing the written word with the material record and/or the behavior of the actors is one method of verifying meanings and establishing confidence in today's interpretations.

With due caution, architectural remains and iconographical and ritual analysis represent ways of seeking the indigenous voice outside of the written record. These alternative resources help to overcome the fact that most history is written by the victors, and to decenter the dialogue that is the historical process (items #bi2001007167# and #bi 98006617#). In practical terms, no one person can be expected to command the disciplines of history, anthropology, archeology, architecture, art history, and linguistics. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the practitioners of our discipline to: 1) familiarize ourselves and our students with the rudiments of additional disciplines; 2) present our findings so that they are accessible to nonspecialists; and 3) further communicate, collaborate, and cooperate among ourselves and our public (items #bi 98008109# and #bi 98003650#).


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