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  • Gregorio Condori Mamani and the Reconceptualization of Andean Memory in Cuzco, Peru
  • Emilio Del Valle Escalante (bio)

Every place you walk, you have to have a story.

So you know where you come from; and know where you are; and see where you are going.

Edward Johnson

In the struggle for dignity, there is an apparent turn to the past, but, and this is fundamental, the final horizon is the future.

Subcomandante Marcos

In the chapter “Stories from Jail” from Andean Lives, Gregorio Condori Mamani talks about how he is falsely and unjustly incarcerated for nine months for eating a stew made with meat of a stolen cow (60). In his experience in jail, he not only learns how to weave ponchos, blankets, and shawls to survive but also learns mythical stories from other runas or Quechuas that explain the origins of his people, the land, and the relationships between humanity and Mother Earth. The image of jail in this chapter is a powerful one. For Indigenous peoples, jail has been the place where the repression of our most dignified liberties has historically taken place. Jail has served to reorganize and regulate the Indigenous body to make it function under the institutional and societal structures implanted by colonialism.1 Yet, while jail is supposed to be a place of punishment and repression, for Condori Mamani, ironically, it becomes a school, a space where Andean knowledge is constructed, exchanged, [End Page 1] and distributed among runas. He says: “we’d keep on working the wool, laughing without a worry, listening to the storytellers spin their tales. I’ve never heard so many stories as there in jail, and even now I can still remember some of them” (61). Storytelling, as we see here, becomes a political act that reveals the ways in which the violence of colonization has continued and the efforts of those who have experienced it to reimagine the world in alternative ways.

This essay explores Gregorio Condori Mamani’s testimonial narrative in Andean Lives. It will particularly focus on his mythical stories in order to show the narrator’s critique of Western modernity. I argue that Condori Mamani’s stories represent an “everyday form of resistance” (Scott) where we identify a politics of memory that challenges the triumphalism and historical hegemonic discourses of Peruvian society in order to reclaim, reconceptualize, and articulate an alternative Andean worldview that proposes decolonization. Indeed, Condori Mamani’s experience highlights the activity of Indigenous peoples who have consciously had the purpose of effecting change in their conditions of existence by appealing to or applying pressure on a dominant order, whether it is government or other forms of power such as capital, the media, or public opinion. His narrative grounds a struggle over interpretation and representation in which he poses a challenge to academic scholarship that is framed in terms of who owns the past, whose history is it, who has the right to tell it, and on what grounds can and should it be told.

For those not familiar with Andean Lives, the text includes the testimonial narratives of Condori Mamani and Asunta Quispe Huamán, who are Indigenous Quechua speakers from southern Peru. According to Jill Wightman (17), their narratives were recorded in the mid-1970s by Peruvian anthropologists Ricardo Valderrama Fernández and Carmen Escalante Gutiérrez and published in 1977 in a bilingual Quechua-Spanish edition. Condori Mamani, who was in his sixties at the time his story was recorded, was working as a “strapper,” someone who transports goods on his back through the markets and streets of Cuzco like a human pack animal. He talks about his life, starting with his childhood as an orphan forced into servitude; he then speaks of a short period in the army, nine months [End Page 2] in jail for eating a stew made with meat of a stolen cow, the death of two wives and a son, folktales and cosmological beliefs, work in a textile factory, and finally his life in Cuzco with Quispe Huamán, his third wife. Quispe Huaman’s narrative, on the other hand, talks about violence at the hands of family, employers, and husbands—including Condori Mamani—and...


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