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Beyond the Lettered City

Indigenous Literacies in the Andes

Joanne Rappaport and Tom Cummins

Publication Year: 2012

In Beyond the Lettered City, the anthropologist Joanne Rappaport and the art historian Tom Cummins examine the colonial imposition of alphabetic and visual literacy on indigenous groups in the northern Andes. They consider how the Andean peoples received, maintained, and subverted the conventions of Spanish literacy, often combining them with their own traditions. Indigenous Andean communities neither used narrative pictorial representation nor had alphabetic or hieroglyphic literacy before the arrival of the Spaniards. To absorb the conventions of Spanish literacy, they had to engage with European symbolic systems. Doing so altered their worldviews and everyday lives, making alphabetic and visual literacy prime tools of colonial domination. Rappaport and Cummins advocate a broad understanding of literacy, including not only reading and writing, but also interpretations of the spoken word, paintings, wax seals, gestures, and urban design. By analyzing secular and religious notarial manuals and dictionaries, urban architecture, religious images, catechisms and sermons, and the vast corpus of administrative documents produced by the colonial authorities and indigenous scribes, they expand Ángel Rama’s concept of the lettered city to encompass many of those who previously would have been considered the least literate.

Published by: Duke University Press

Series: Narrating Native Histories

Title Page, Copyright

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About the Series

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pp. ix-x

Narrating Native Histories aims to foster a rethinking of the ethical, methodological, and conceptual frameworks within which we locate our work on Native histories and cultures. We seek to create a space for . . .

List of Illustrations

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pp. xi-xiv

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pp. xv-xvi

The research on which we base this study was funded by a Senior Collaborative Research Grant from the Getty Grant Program in 1995–96, permitting us to engage in interdisciplinary discussion and interpretation, . . .

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pp. 1-26

From 1574 until his death in Madrid in 1590, Don Diego de Torres, the hereditary chief or cacique of the Muisca town of Turmequé, near Bogotá, fought a legal battle to regain the rights to his . . .

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1. Imagining Colonial Culture

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pp. 27-52

Andean peoples appropriated European representational forms within a colonial context that was more than a mere backdrop to their actions: it came to be an integral component of their worldview. . . .

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2. Genre/Gender/Género: “Que no es uno ni otro, ni está claro”

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pp. 53-112

Género is, by its etymological nature, a multifaceted word. When employed, it works to define, to distinguish, and to categorize so as to bring into proper focus social and cultural specificities. This . . .

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3. The Indigenous Lettered City

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pp. 113-151

The Spanish colonial social formation, writes Ángel Rama using a stunningly apposite metonym, can be best comprehended as a “lettered city,” a baroque edifice dedicated to the civilizing mission, . . .

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4. Genres in Action

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pp. 153-190

Up to this point we have only touched upon the conditions surrounding the production of legal documents. However, it is in the conditions of their transmission, reception, and subsequent use . . .

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5. The King’s Quillca and the Rituality of Literacy

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pp. 191-218

On 30 May 1613, two Muisca caciques, Don Francisco and Don Diego, wrote to King Philip II from their communities of Tuna and Suba, just a few leagues from Bogotá (agi/S 1613). They informed . . .

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6. Reorienting the Colonial Body: Space and the Imposition of Literacy

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pp. 219-250

Literacy, whether alphabetic or visual, is an intimately physical practice that involves the human body in a series of learned, though largely unconscious, activities: the position in which the reader . . .

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pp. 251-258

In one of the early seventeenth- century Jesuit annual letters, a Muisca woman recounts a telling vision to her confessor. Twenty years earlier she had been seriously ill and sought the services of a . . .


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pp. 259-261


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pp. 263-315

References Cited

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pp. 317-351


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pp. 353-370

E-ISBN-13: 9780822394754
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822351283

Page Count: 392
Illustrations: 67 illustrations, including 9 in color
Publication Year: 2012

Series Title: Narrating Native Histories