During the most recent chaotic political upheaval in Ecuador, which led to the fall of President Lucio Gutiérrez in April 2005, representations of indigenous peoples as a dangerous rural group whose presence in the city was to be feared could be found among the discourses that permeated Quito. The declarations of former subsecretary of social welfare Bolívar Gonzales that he would "bring out his Indians" (sacar a sus indios) against antigovernment forces seemed rooted in the idea that indigenous peoples were feared throughout the nation and that therefore their sole mention should be enough to frighten those who were opposing the government. Such representations of indigenous peoples are the scions of previous social constructs around which Ecuador's current national identity is being built. Mercedes Prieto's book adds to an important body of work that tries to decipher the puzzle of Ecuador's identities by analyzing those sociohistorical constructs. [End Page 204]
Straddling the theoretical fields of anthropology and history, Prieto traces how the idea of indigenidad was built in Ecuador through the discourses of liberalism from 1895 to 1950. She argues that through the interaction of political, scientific, and public discourses, indigenous people came to be understood as rebellious and nomadic, with unique racial characteristics, and well able to hide their individualism. They were, therefore, a feared group. The fear that indigenous people aroused, however, had to be reconciled with the liberal rhetoric on which Ecuador was being built.
One underlying argument in Prieto's work is the idea that the liberal discourse of the 1895 revolution remained prevalent in Ecuadorian society until 1950. Her research, based on governmental, scientific, and media articles of the era, convincingly shows that liberal ideas of equality, liberty, and citizenship were being expressed throughout this period. In each of her chapters, Prieto dissects debates of the era to understand how this liberalist rhetoric was reconciled with the construct of "the indigenous," or even how it was used to build this construct.
Prieto's first chapter looks at disputes that took place between 1895 and 1924 over the value of the concertaje system. These disputes were sparked by liberal attempts to change the constitution so that it would offer special protection to indigenous peoples. It was argued that this protection contradicted the ideal of equality, giving special privileges to indigenous peoples. The concertaje system came under fire as an institution where protection of indigenous peoples could be visibly pursued (p. 48). Several leading figures argued that this coercive system was pernicious to the development of indigenous people, who would benefit from exposure to the free market, while others believed that concertaje provided necessary protection for indigenous peoples through the hand of the landowners.
The question of whether the state or landowners were responsible for the well-being of indigenous peoples was a recurring theme in this era. Both views, however, assumed that indigenous peoples were unable to defend themselves, whether because of the degenerative effects of concertaje and the conquest of their race or their innate racial deficiencies. Indigenous peoples, therefore, were understood as a separate race. Conflating indigenous peoples with jornaleros, or rural workers, moreover, supported the construction of indigenous peoples as rural people. According to Prieto, this construction of indigenous peoples as a rural, underdeveloped race informed the decisions of liberal leaders.
Chapter 2 traces how the idea of a defeated race was developed through academic debates in Ecuador. While indigenous peoples were sometimes divided into social categories based on their residency––concertaje, communal lands, or private ownership––Prieto argues that race was still the dominant variable through which these people were understood. [End Page 205] Academic disciplines that were just emerging in Ecuador provided research that, while seeking to understand indigenous peoples, fomented the view that they were part of a different race. In sociology, for example, studies attempted to determine whether a particular "indigenous psychology," either innate or caused by environmental influences, could be identified. Archaeology, on the other hand, sought a definitive...