Dr Margarita Huayhua

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Dr Margarita Huayhua (Rutgers University, USA) ‘The Indian as a Problem in the Andes’ (2012-2014)

This research studies how the image of “the Indian as a problem” is constructed to justify the exploitation of indigenous people and to maintain their subordination in the southern Andes. With the fellowship I am documenting the life experiences of Quechua-speaking people who were servants in the haciendas of Bolivia and Peru. The Bolivian hacienda system was dismantled in 1953, and the Peruvian one in 1969, but in the latter case some former servants are still living and have vivid memories of this era. These former servants are the last elderly people who remember the haciendas; soon their memories will disappear and with them about a sense of “the structures of feeling” of life on the haciendas. The narrative histories constitute first-hand accounts of how Quechua speakers were enslaved in everyday bases within the haciendas. Such narratives illuminate the conflicts that took place in the early 1950s, and the late 1960s, allowing us to understand the relationships that today are framed as the “Indian problem.”   

In addition, these memories, intertwined with narratives on the contemporary assault on indigenous peoples’ land by mining corporations, enlighten how Quechua speakers conceive the world, including what entities exist and constitute the world and the interactions that take place among these entities. For instance, in the constituted world of villagers of northern Potosi not only humans exist, but particular places exist as social beings. Hence, the importance of documenting narratives; coming generations can learn their grand-parents and parents struggles and will be able to appraise and re-create their ancestors’ knowledge and social values and practices. Because these values and practices are fully emplaced, as villagers are being pushed out of their lands by mining transnational corporations, there is considerable likelihood that younger generations won’t have the chance to keep their ancestors’ practices.