restricted access Colonial Domination and the Subordination of the Indigenous Woman in Bolivia
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Colonial Domination and the Subordination of the Indigenous Woman in Bolivia
Translated by Christine Taff (bio)

Without question, Bolivia is a colonial society. Andean peoples, colonized since the sixteenth century by a group of Spanish invaders, have not yet gone through a process similar to that experienced by Asians and Africans; as yet, decolonization is a possibility barely visible over the horizon. Under these circumstances, social relationships, especially gender relations, are determined by a system of domination. In this article I will construct, in a preliminary fashion, a theoretical framework for understanding the domination to which indigenous women are subjected: a domination that subordinates them to a power expressed through racism, exclusion, and, at the same time, the sexism practiced by the men in their own society. The aim of this essay is to put forth an approach to the theory of colonial domination. In order to understand the subordination of women in the Aymara culture, I will study two fundamental concepts that reveal the roots of this inequality. Assessing the Aymara concepts of sullka (literally “minority”) [End Page 10] and mayt’ata (literally “on loan”) will serve as a guide to comprehending subordination in the Andes. However, if this study were to analyze the concept of domination only from the point of view of the Aymara culture, it would contribute nothing to understanding or resolving the problem. Therefore, the concept of p’iqi (head), a quality that determines the superiority or independence of a person, will be important to this inquiry. It is vital to consider the problem of domination through the categories of Andean thought that express an individual’s situation and status in society.

Colonial Domination and the Subordination of Women

In Bolivia, where multiethnicity is still not viewed in a positive light due to centuries of colonial domination, it is important to study the foundations of intolerance, socioethnic prejudices that the groups in power establish in their relationships with the oppressed, and the perception and attitudes of the latter. This intolerance, which characterizes relationships of dominance and discrimination, originated with the Spanish invasion that imposed upon the Andean society the supremacy of the conquerors as the head of the social pyramid. Colonial domination, founded on the principle of indigenous inferiority—shared by the State and the conquerors—constituted the ideological groundwork that, by subduing anticolonial rebellions and social transformations of a more general nature, still determines reality at the end of the twentieth century.

What is the secret of such longevity? As anthropologist Xavier Albó understands it, “the colonial horizon” and the persistence of this form of domination, constitute the “deep substratum of mentalities and practices that even today structure coexistence. From this come specific conflicts and behaviors linked to segregation (of ethnic or other marginalized groups) and to the ‘colonization of souls’ (today manifest in diverse ‘civilizing projects’)” (51). The persistence of colonialism in our country cannot be understood simply as a “horizon,” but rather as a reality that violates people’s most basic human rights. How is it that such conditions have not produced an organized movement toward decolonization as seen in other places? For Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, one of the authors of Violencias encubiertas en Bolivia, colonialism [End Page 11] is a “domination sustained by physical violence and the colonization of souls” (38). This longevity is explained by a resourceful politics of group fragmentation that, by means of armed force and the law, segregates and excludes the Indians. Those unlawfully controlling the ideological machine who preach love, Christian charity, and submission under the lure of sharing the prosperity of Western culture and civilization colonize the minds of indigenous peoples. Violence and indoctrination continue as part of the same matrix. Exclusion and inclusion are two sides of a Manichean form of domination, validating each other with surprising uniformity and currency, especially among intellectuals from the conquest to the present, including those who make efforts worthy of praise to understand the indigenous world. Exclusion is constantly reproduced in different spaces, both public and private, while inclusion is confined to symbolic and discursive arenas.

The current situation, not only of indigenous women but also of indigenous...