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Acting Inca

National Belonging in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia

E. Gabrielle Kuenzli

Publication Year: 2013

For most of the postcolonial era, the Aymara Indians of highland Bolivia were a group without representation in national politics. Believing that their cause would finally be recognized, the Aymara fought alongside the victorious liberals during the Civil War of 1899. Despite Aymara loyalty, liberals quickly moved to marginalize them after the war. In her groundbreaking study, E. Gabrielle Kuenzli revisits the events of the civil war and its aftermath to dispel popular myths about the Aymara and reveal their forgotten role in the nation-building project of modern Bolivia. Kuenzli examines documents from the famous postwar Peñas Trial to recover Aymara testimony during what essentially became a witch hunt. She reveals that the Aymara served as both dutiful plaintiffs allied with liberals and unwitting defendants charged with wartime atrocities and instigating a race war. To further combat their “Indian problem,” Creole liberals developed a public discourse that positioned the Inca as the only Indians worthy of national inclusion. This was justified by the Incas’ high civilization and reputation as noble conquerors, along with their current non-threatening nature. The “whitening” of Incans was a thinly veiled attempt to block the Aymara from politics, while also consolidating the power of the Liberal Party. Kuenzli posits that despite their repression, the Aymara did not stagnate as an idle, apolitical body after the civil war. She demonstrates how the Aymara appropriated the liberal’s Indian discourse by creating theatrical productions that glorified Incan elements of the Aymara past. In this way, the Aymara were able to carve an acceptable space as “progressive Indians” in society. Kuenzli provides an extensive case study of an “Inca play” created in the Aymara town of Caracollo, which proved highly popular and helped to unify the Aymara. As her study shows, the Amyara engaged liberal Creoles in a variety of ways at the start of the twentieth century, shaping national discourse and identity in a tradition of activism that continues to this day.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Pitt Latin American Series


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pp. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The resources, friendships, advice, and training of colleagues, friends, family, and institutions on two continents contributed to the formation of this book. With respect to those in the United States, I thank my advisors at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Florencia Mallon, Steve Stern, and Francisco Scarano. ...

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Introduction: Indian Problems, Indian Solutions

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pp. 1-15

On March 29, 1899, in the midst of a civil war pitting the Liberals against the Conservatives, the Liberal Party supporter and Aymara indigenous community leader of Peñas, Juan Lero, received a letter from a neighboring Indian community leader. ...

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1. The Aymara in the Civil War of 1899: Enemy or Ally of the Liberal Party?

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pp. 16-55

From December 1898 through April 1899, Creole and Aymara indigenous forces allied themselves with the Liberal Party in an effort to seize leadership of the country from President Severo Alonso and the ruling Conservatives. On April 10, 1899, the Liberal Party defeated the army and took control of the nation. ...

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2. From Aymara Liberals to Exemplary Incas: Nation Building in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia

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pp. 56-85

In 1900 much of the Bolivian public suffered from a quotidian fear of the savage, vengeful Aymara cannibal, an image promoted throughout the war by newspapers associated with the Conservative and, to a certain extent, Liberal Parties. Indians were accused of having looted towns and murdered citizens following the Civil War of 1899, ...

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3. Incantations of Nation and the Theatrical Performance of the Inca Past

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pp. 86-120

La Paz intellectuals were not the only group needing to redefine Aymara identity following the civil war. In the post-1899 context, Aymara communities increasingly attempted to distinguish and disassociate themselves from the infamous and stereotypical image of their people as savage. ...

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4. New Stages in Defining Indian Identity: The Ethnic Politics of Caracollo’s Contemporary Inca Play

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pp. 121-145

Elite residents of Caracollo acted Inca in the early twentieth century to seek resonance within the liberal nation-building project and to avoid the stigma of being Aymara; in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, however, folkloric performers have created new images of highland Indian identity. ...

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Conclusion: Inca Play, Aymara Encore

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pp. 146-156

In Bolivia, the Civil War of 1899 still stands at the crossroads of fierce contemporary political and regional conflicts. The war has occupied a central space in Sucre’s historical narrative for over a century; that city’s historical claim as the first, and previously only, capital of Bolivia has been rekindled in the light of Evo Morales’s presidency ...


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pp. 157-180


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pp. 181-188


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pp. 189-194

Back Cover

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pp. 210-210

E-ISBN-13: 9780822978602
E-ISBN-10: 0822978601
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822962328
Print-ISBN-10: 0822962322

Page Count: 240
Illustrations: 16 b&w photos
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Pitt Latin American Series
Series Editor Byline: John Charles Chasteen and Catherine M. Conaghan, Editors See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 857799433
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Acting Inca

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Aymara Indians -- Bolivia -- Ethnic identity.
  • Aymara Indians -- Bolivia -- Government relations.
  • Aymara Indians -- Bolivia -- Politics and government.
  • Bolivia -- History -- Federal Revolution, 1898-1899 -- Social aspects.
  • Bolivia -- Politics and government -- 1879-1938.
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