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Pathways of Memory and Power

Ethnography and History among an Andean People

Thomas A. Abercrombie

Publication Year: 1998

Pathways of Memory and Power crosses the disciplinary boundary where anthropology and history meet, exploring the cultural frontier of the colonial and postcolonial Andes. Thomas A. Abercrombie uses his fieldwork in the Aymara community of Santa Barbara de Culta, Bolivia, as a starting point for his ambitious examination of the relations between European forms of historical consciousness and indigenous Andean ways of understanding the past. Writing in an inviting first-person narrative style, Abercrombie confronts the ethics of fieldwork by comparing ethnographic experience to the power-laden contexts that produce historical sources. Making clear the early and deep intermingling of practices and world views among Spaniards and Andeans, Christians and non-Christians, Abercrombie critiques both the romanticist tendency to regard Andean culture as still separate from and resistant to European influences, and the melodramatic view that all indigenous practices have been obliterated by colonial and national elites. He challenges prejudices that, from colonial days to the present, have seen Andean historical knowledge only in mythic narratives or narratives of personal experience. Bringing an ethnographer’s approach to historiography, he shows how complex Andean rituals that hybridize European and indigenous traditions—such as libation dedications and llama sacrifices held on saints’ day festivals—are in fact potent evidence of social memory in the community.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-7


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pp. vii-x


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pp. xi-xiii

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pp. xv-xxviii

Like peoples and the writings we call histories, scholarly projects also have a past. The research that gave rise to this book, for example, did not start out as a study that could have produced the information and arguments I now advance. A brief survey of the transmutations that led from graduate...

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1. Introduction: From Ritual to History and Back Again, Trajectories in Research and Theory

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pp. 3-25

Around the year 1520 (a year in which the commoners of Castile's towns rose up against Charles V and burdensome aristocrats and, in the Caribbean, Cortes pursued his conquest of Mexico), the following story unfolded: An Aymara mallku named Inca Colque, hereditary lord of the...

Part One. An Ethnographic Pastorale: Introduction to K'ulta and the Local Sources of History

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pp. 27-57

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2. Journeys to Cultural Frontiers

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pp. 29-51

In June of 1979, some six months after arriving in Bolivia, I set off from La Paz with my wife and fieldwork companion, Mary Dillon, on a journey to a small rural town. My destination in that journey from La Paz was Santa Barbara de Culta, a small and out-of-the-way town, to...

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3. The Dialogical Politics of Ethnographic Fieldwork

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pp. 52-81

Where the highway winds east from Cruce, it drops a bit and almost immediately enters a broad pampa. One can see several hamlets nestled in sheltered spots in the foothills around the plain. The settlement that I reached on my way to Santa Barbara was a hamlet on the road,...

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4. Structures and Histories: K'ulta between Gods and State

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pp. 82-125

It is today almost a commonplace in ethnographies such as this to dwell on the imbalance of power in the ethnographic situation. With research permissions, ties to the Bolivian government (in permissions and affiliations), U.S. passport, money, and valuable goods, I was in a relative...

Part Two. Historical Paths to K'ulta: An Andean Social Formation from Preinvasion Autonomy to Postrevolution Atomization

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pp. 127-157

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5. Pathways of Historical Colonization: Stories of an Andean Past from the Archives of Letters and Landscapes

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pp. 129-212

One of my purposes in this chapter is to plumb the Spanish documentary social memory of archives and chronicles for what they might tell us about K'ulta's past.* At the same time, however, I aim to sketch what forms social memory has taken in the Andes. I do so, at least, to the limited...

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6. Colonial Relandscaping of Andean Social Memory

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pp. 213-314

Both Spaniards and Andeans may have likened Tunupa or Viracocha to a Christian apostle, but neither was completely reducible to Santo Tomas or San Bartolome. As long as the full range of significance of the stories about European apostles and Andean creator deities remained inaccessible...

Part Three. Social Memory in K'ulta: A Landscape Poetics of Narrative, Drink, and Saints' Festivals

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pp. 315-345

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7. Telling and Drinking the Paths of Memory: Narrative and Libation Poetics as Historical Consciousness

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pp. 317-367

In part 2, I traced the outlines of a history that, since it is drawn from writings emanating from and addressing non-K'ulta frames of reference, we might call a history of K'ulta but not a K'ulta history. I have sought to illustrate the profound impact of colonial policies and of incorporation...

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8. Living on Tatala's Path: Uses of the Past in Sacrifice and Antisacrifice, Saints' Festivals, and Sorceries

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pp. 368-407

In the previous chapter we saw that the forms of houses and hamlets and constructed architectural spaces are built from the stuff of meaningful social activity. As gendered persons and social groups like patrilines construe themselves in alignment with Tatala's path through the heavens...

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9. Conclusion: Ethnography and History of Social Memory and Amnesia

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pp. 408-422

I have sought in this book to bring about a cohabitation (if not a marriage) of historical and ethnographic sources and methods, so as to write a history of K'ulta and also account for K'ultas' history. Using the concept of social memory, I have also aimed to question tacit assumptions...

Documentary Appendix

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pp. 425-442


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pp. 443-515


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pp. 516-521


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pp. 522-558


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pp. 559-603

E-ISBN-13: 9780299153137
E-ISBN-10: 0299153134
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299153144
Print-ISBN-10: 0299153142

Page Count: 632
Illustrations: 41 figures, 20 photos
Publication Year: 1998