restricted access 5 Ethnic Politics and the Control of Movement
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5 · Ethnic Politics and the Control of Movement Not long before I came to Quirpini, the major political role of its kurajkuna, apart from ritual duties, was performing menial services for officials in San Lucas. Most of the kurajkuna had to go to town weekly for tasks like sweeping the mayor’s patio, taking eggs to town authorities, or gathering their firewood. A commonplace in the political anthropology of the Andes is that it is central to the roles of communal authorities to represent the community to outsiders, particularly neighboring communities and elements of the dominant Hispanic society and government (Abercrombie 1998; Rasnake 1988). Seen in this way, the services the kurajkuna provided to San Lucas officials were much more than perquisites enjoyed by the central town’s Spanishspeaking elite. They represented Quirpini’s subordination to San Lucas. By performing menial tasks and giving minor tribute, authorities repeatedly enacted Quirpini’s submission to the regional center. By traveling to town, as did the kurajkuna of other communities, they underlined the key spatial element in regional political hierarchies: Quirpini is peripheral; San Lucas is central.Thiswasthepolitico-spatialimportofauthorityvisitstotownduring Carnival, Christmas, Easter, and other fiestas. That is how things stood until a new priest, Juan Miranda, was assigned to San Lucas in the early 1980s. He began a program aimed at reducing campesino communities’ subservience, and key to this was putting an end to the kurajkunas’ services to town authorities. In Quirpini this change took 168 · From Quirpini place through an attack on the kurajkuna itself as it then existed. According to the then head of the communal peasant union, Justiniano Cruz (my main source about these events), the official leader of the community (at the time called the cacique) was ineffective. With Miranda’s support, the union got the community to remove the kurajkuna, including the cacique, and to institute a number of changes in their functioning. Each new official would be chosen by popular vote at a meeting, rather than by his predecessor, as in the past. Whereas each authority used to change on a different date, according to the cycle of fiestas, now all the kurajkuna would be chosen together, and take office together.1 And, finally, the community unilaterally declared that the kurajkuna would no longer perform services for town authorities. These reforms radically altered the way the kurajkuna represented Quirpini . Up to the 1980s Quirpini authorities mostly represented their community to others by embodying its subservience to San Lucas. When this relationship ended, the kurajkuna’s political role became unclear. The reader might be suspicious by now of what looks like a familiar trope: indigenous people trapped within a changeless situation until a white cosmopolitan instigates historically transformative, liberating action. This is the basic theme of stories such as the classic tale of cold-war developmentalism , The Ugly American (Lederer and Burdick 1958), not to mention a major rhetorical justification of colonialism.2 Although better than Whitman ’s consignment of “aborigines” to a receding past, this certainly was no endorsement of indigenous people’s capacity for action. I argue that, in fact, these events, including how they happened and their aftermath, are emblematic of the political reality prevailing in the San Lucas valley at the time. If it seems at times that Quirpini campesinos were without historical agency, it is because the ethnic-political order of the region was devoted to achieving precisely that condition. If “aborigines” are outside history, it is because they are kept out. By looking at the various political structures purporting to govern Quirpini and by interpreting several actions Quirpinis were able to take together, this chapter reveals the severe, although nearly invisible, constraints on historical action under which Quirpinis operated, both individually and collectively . Many of these constraints depended on the elite’s control of space— how people, goods, and even information could move, and particularly how people could come together to extend their own actions across the terrain. Ethnic Politics and the Control of Movement · 169 Quirpini was full of political institutions and authorities that appeared to do something but in practice did very little. The kurajkuna were the most glaringexample:universallyinvokedasthe“politicalauthorities”ofthecommunity ,theywerenotableforbeingunabletotakeorinitiatecollectiveaction on their own that might transform the community’s situation in the long term. Taking them as the first of several examples, I show how the conditions under which they were able to act consistently left them dependent on some faction or other of the Spanish-speaking elite of San Lucas. The very basis on which the...