[Home] [Current Tables of Contents]

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Volume 53 / Social Sciences


South America: Highlands

JOANNE RAPPAPORT, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

THE COMING OF AGE of a new generation of Andeanists at a time of deepening political crisis, growing economic insecurity, and burgeoning ethnic protest in the Andes has inspired new research questions and novel ways of answering them. Andean ethnology has, like its sister disciplines in the social sciences, turned its sights toward the analysis of such pressing issues as violence and resistance, borrowing liberally from historical methodology. The very question of what constitutes Andean culture has come under scrutiny in a world characterized by migration, wage-labor, and growing access to means of communication. Finally, Andeans themselves have begun to write about their culture and history, opening the possibilities of a fruitful dialogue in the years to come.

A number of major monographs have appeared in this biennium. While they are all anthropological in nature, they demonstrate a growing preoccupation with the theory and methodologies of other disciplines. The reflexive mood prevalent in contemporary anthropology is represented in the Andes by Julia Meyerson's 'Tambo (item bi 91003013), in which a growing empathy with the people of an Andean village is narrated against the backdrop of everyday life in rural Peru. Regina Harrison combines anthropology, linguistics, and literary theory in Signs, songs, and memory in the Andes (item bi 92000824), in which she deciphers the symbolic dimensions of gender and ethnic identity through an evaluation of the difficulties inherent in translating Quechua women's songs. Gavin Smith's Livelihood and resistance (item bi 93010196), Joanne Rappaport's The politics of memory (item bi 92015467) and Gary Urton's The history of a myth (item bi 93010222) are all attempts at engaging historical methodology for a reevaluation of how Andean people define themselves and their relationship with the State; Smith focuses on the history of resistance and migration in the refashioning of a sense of community in Highland Peru, while Rappaport and Urton trace the historical development of mythic charters for the Colombian Páez and the Incas, respectively. A careful wedding of geographic methodology to the traditional social and cultural emphases of anthropology marks David Guillet's Covering ground (item bi 93010043), in which the structure of water management provides a medium for explaining community-State relations.

Certainly worthy of highlight among the books of this biennium is Rodrigo Montoya and Luis Enrique López's ¿Quienes somos? el tema de la identidad en el Altiplano (item bi 92015457), a collection of short essays in which Andean authors wrestle with the various components of their cultural and national identities, lending a new significance to the notion of ethnic boundaries. Also to be singled out is Gerardo Reichel-Dolmatoff's Indios de Colombia: momentos vividos, mundos concebidos, a virtual photographic archive documenting almost five decades of dedication to the study of Colombian ethnic groups (item bi 93010358).

The brutal realities of Shining Path in Peru, narcoterrorism in Colombia, and civil strife in Venezuela have not gone unnoticed by anthropologists. Starn's highly controversial 1991 article, "Missing the Revolution," places the blame for anthropology's inability to analyze national problems on the community studies of an earlier era which emphasized the autonomy and the specificity of Andean culture (item bi 93010205). Starn's critics, such as Mayer (item bi 93010085) and the authors of the 1992 Allpanchis special issue La guerra en los Andes (item bi 93010901) are themselves highly critical of those who simplify and isolate cultural traits that seem Andean; Poole and Renique (item bi 92015422) point out that drawing firm boundaries around Andean culture has also hindered political scientists from comprehending the nature of Shining Path. Uribe's use of symbolic analysis of body mutilation in rural Colombia during the 1950s (item bi 93008691) and Coronil and Skurski's interpretations of the historical roots of official discourse surrounding recent massacres in Venezuela (item bi 93011688) stand out among what Colombians call violentólogo or "violentologist" writing (for more on this unique field of study, see HLAS 52, p. xix). They demonstrate how a combination of anthropological interpretation and sensitive historical research provides a powerful means of analyzing the impact of national events upon local realities. Conversely, the work of Degregori on the organization and ideology of Shining Path demonstrates the power of locally-based ethnographic research techniques for elucidating the cultural dimensions of political ideologies (item bi 93010038).

The past three years mark a period of heightened political organizing by Andean Indians, especially in Ecuador and Colombia. Anthropologists have turned their attention toward analyses of the origins and motives for the 1990 Indian Uprising of Ecuador (items bi 93010247, bi 92016240, and bi 93008937), more general historical studies of the development of indigenous organizations (items bi 93008575, bi 93010512, and bi 91005545), and evaluations of strategies for ethnic mobilization on the local level (item bi 93008729). As Indians increasingly become interlocutors with the State, the paradigms we use to comprehend their place in the broader society must invariably be transformed. Andeanists are beginning to investigate the complex relationship between class, gender, and ethnicity as it is expressed in villages, in the workplace, in the marketplace, and in language (items bi 90013812, bi 91009049, bi 93009898, bi 92015082, and bi 93011029). Articles published in this biennium also demonstrate a more sophisticated appreciation of how ethnicity is transformed by migration and capitalist development (items bi 91005552 and bi 91009044). This marks the development of an anthropology able to explain the emergence of Indians as political actors in the national arena without recourse to sterile and mechanistic arguments of cultural authenticity.

Along with a growing indigenous political consciousness comes the emergence of Indian authors. This biennium has seen a number of excellent examples of ethnographic analysis by Aymara and Quechua-speaking writers, especially in Bolivia (items bi 93008255, bi 91005507 and bi 93008436) and Ecuador (items bi 92015465 and bi 92015464), demonstrating a range of appropriations of European written conventions as well as an array of techniques for incorporating Andean modes of oral narration onto the printed page. Indirect authorship is also in evidence through the appearance of published interviews with a broad range of narrators. The power and the pathos inherent in the new genre of testimonial literature is eloquently demonstrated by the publication of indigenous life histories (items bi 91005550 and bi 91005510), personal reminiscences of peasants who lived through periods of violence (item bi 93008614) and experiences of young urban assassins in Medellín (item bi 93008686).

While the weight of current events has influenced the nature of ethnographic scholarship, a large number of serious studies of the cultural, historical, and political contexts of expressive culture have also been published in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including interpretations of the culture of love in Peruvian tablas (item bi 93010116); analyses of the cultural specificity of indigenous maps (item bi 91009045); studies of the incorporation of historical knowledge into choreography (items bi 90004922, bi 93010934, and bi 93010947); and descriptions of the influence of State policy in the Andean recording industry (item bi 93011567). Many of these studies of material culture are historical in emphasis, looking in particular at how art and writing represent the ambiguities of cultural boundaries in Andean society. Anthropologists also continue to study cosmology. Most notable among recent publications are Dover, Seibold and McDowell's anthology examining the dynamic process of maintenance and change that characterizes Andean cosmologies over time (item bi 93007237), and Bastien's Drum and stethoscope (item bi 93007539), a personal narrative of the possibilities of combining traditional Andean healing practices with Western medical technology in Bolivia. Also significant are Valderrama and Escalante's careful documentation of ritual and myth surrounding an irrigation system in the Colca Valley of Peru (item bi 91005553) and McDowell's compendium of Colombian Ingano divinatory sayings and native exegesis (item bi 89016162). Finally, the late Ann Osborn's El vuelo de las tijeretas (item bi 93010356) demontrates the promise of using mythic narrative in the location and study of archaeological sites.

I cannot close my first contribution to HLAS without remarking on the high quality and intellectual breadth of recent Colombian contributions to the ethnographic literature. As Andeanists turn toward a study of the dominant culture, of the relationship between indigenous communities and the State, and of violence, Colombian anthropologists have more and more to contribute to the Andean dialogue. Especially significant are Correa's analysis of the cultural roots of the Indian policy of the Colombian State (item bi 93008517); anthropological contributions to the analysis of political decentralization that has accompanied constitutional reform in Colombia (items bi 93010277); and reflections on regionalism and regional culture as an alternative to descriptive studies of isolated communities (items bi 93010327). I hope that the addition of a Colombianist to the roster of contributors in ethnology will expand the boundaries in HLAS coverage of the Andes.

Go to the:

Begin a Basic Search | Begin an Expert Search

[ HLAS Online Home Page | Search HLAS Online | Help | FAQ | Comments ]

Library of Congress
Comments: Ask a Librarian (12/29/04)