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Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru by Kimberly Theidon (review)

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 86, Number 3, Summer 2013
pp. 947-950 | 10.1353/anq.2013.0043

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Fausta looks down to her body and finds the potato she has put inside her vagina—a way to protect herself from rape and harm. She seldom speaks, especially to men—only talking to male relatives. She prefers to sing, and her sweet, soft voice embodies her sadness. Fausta suffers from a syndrome known as “the milk of sorrow.” The illness was transmitted from her mother who was sexually abused during the early stages of her pregnancy, and produces fear and difficulty in establishing relationships with other human beings.

Fausta, the main character of the Berlin Bear awarded film The Milk of Sorrow (2009), is inspired by a narration that appears in Kimberly Theidon’s book Entre Prójimos (2004). In Intimate Enemies (inspired by Entre Prójimos), Theidon talks to Salomé Baldeón from Accomarca whose testimony speaks to the Milk of Sorrow syndrome. Salomé describes the suffering she felt as soldiers came into her community and the massacre in nearby Lloqllepampa occurred. She says that her husband escaped to avoid being killed. She was pregnant and had to deliver the baby on her own. She tried to leave her baby in the mountains to die, but her cries were so loud that she returned to get her. Salomé continues: “That’s why I say my daughter is damaged because of everything what happened, and because of my milk, my blood, my pensamientos” (43). Salomé feels pain in her body for transmitting sadness and sorrow to her baby.

Intimate Enemies is a multisite ethnography carried out by Theidon with the support of local, young research assistants in seven Andean communities in rural Ayacucho, in the provinces of Huanta, Vilcashuaman, and Victor Fajardo. Her voice, her assistants’ voices, and those of the people she talked to intermingle in delicate tones to speak about life in war times, the fractures and their fragments, and the possibilities and limits of social repair. The research areas correspond to two distinctive parts of Ayacucho that were caught in different degrees of violence. Huanta corresponds to the Northern region of Ayacucho. Shining Path used to patrol and control the area, and late in 1982, the Navy arrived and brought terror with them. But as Theidon explains, in Northern Ayacucho what you saw was the destruction and resurrection of evangelical churches. In the central region of Ayacucho, which corresponds to Vilcashuaman and Victor Fajardo provinces, there was less infrastructural damage. There, most of the Shining Path members were lugareños—people born and raised in the same villages. People in those communities felt both remorse and resentment towards their relatives and neighbors.

The Central-South region of Ayacucho is where the Shining Path had its “Principal Committee”—revolution spread from Chuschi, a rural community located in Cangallo, in 1980. This Central-South region of Ayacucho is the place where Shining Path controlled entire villages since late 1982 and had gained support from the population in the initial years. In Intimate Enemies, there is an intention to show the particular local histories and relations that were established during the period of violence and how comuneros (peasants) responded to this violence.

It is in the body that human beings carry the layers and sediments of our memories. Memory is “achingly bittersweet,” says Theidon (40). And, llakis (songs) are embodied states of mind of sorrow and pain, private and yet collective. Llakis are pensamientos that speak about trauma, violence, deprivation, death, and pain. Privileging speech as an act, Theidon’s ethnography is about how people speak of terror—it is about the use of language and narrations, but also the use of the body as the carrier of memories. Trauma, she writes, is embodied, and people become ill after traumatic experiences.

Theidon asks “What do people suffer from? What aches and why? Whom do they hold responsible and what should be done with them? How do people talk about what is wrong with their world, and how might it be set right?” (36). There is no linearity in the narrations she collected; instead, there is a flow and intertextuality of voices. Criticizing the victim-centered orientation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (2001–2003) in Peru, she focuses on...

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