The Americas 61.2 (2004) 319-320
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This co-edited collection of essays defines and explores the implications of lo andino, a distinctive way of life and worldview presumed to be characteristic of the Andean highlands of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. The question posed by this book is the extent to which modern changes, including migrations and peasant and indigenous movements, have affected the utility of lo andino as a concept in development, ethnography, and the politics of identity. The editors are an anthropologist and a social geographer headquartered in Amsterdam, and the volume reflects this origin. Most of the essays are authored or co-authored by scholars based in the Netherlands, Belgium or Denmark. The authors generally show a familiarity with the relevant social science literature; however the relevant environmental resource [End Page 319] management literature is often slighted. Statements about the environment are rare and sometimes false, such as assertions that the Andean environment does not allow for high yields. The book is handsomely produced and well edited, but lacks maps; this is a significant flaw in a volume that explores spatial concepts.
Many of the essays provide helpful glimpses of local and regional processes. Paul Gelles and Rutgerd Boelens expertly discuss indigenous irrigation management in the Colca valley (Peru) and the central sierra of Ecuador. Willem Assies provides fascinating case examples of indigenous administration of justice in terms of the sometimes competing goals of group empowerment and individual liberty. Marten Brienen shows how the interests of indigenous people and the mestizo state have sometimes paradoxically converged, using as a case example the early twentieth-century education system of Bolivia. Ninna Sørensen and Finn Stepputat illustrate the challenges of creating an educated, regional Andean elite, through an analysis of university theses in central Peru. Xavier Albó describes the challenges facing the creation of a national indigenous political elite, with case examples from recent Bolivian history. Susan Paulson and Karsten Paerregaard discuss the role of festive events as providing intragroup and intergroup cohesion in southern Peru and Bolivia. Finally, the last two essays show how Aymara in El Alto, Bolivia, and Quichua in Otavalo, Ecuador, are enthusiastically pursuing economic opportunities and enjoying international popular culture, losing aspects of dress and language but maintaining social ties and a sense of distinctive (albeit more generalized and regionalized) identity.
Taken together, the topical essays prevent a compelling picture of local people adapting to changing circumstances, taking advantage of the social and environmental resources at their disposal and at times deploying ethnic claims to advance group interests. Most of these activities are at the local scale. The beginnings of a broader, regional and even national ethnic politics are documented in Bolivia (and are also taking place in Ecuador, although not particularly referred to in this book). However, is the concept of lo andino useful in this analysis, or is it excessively vague and broad? Nico vanNiekerk provides a lucid, well-organized essay reviewing recent social science research and activism in Peru and Bolivia; he argues that the focus on lo andino has had some salutary effects on drawing attention to local needs and empowering local groups, but has fallen short in reducing poverty or improving living conditions in the highlands.
As Gonzales de Olarte points out in his Preface, the analysis of lo andino has ultimately been a project of non-indigenous intellectuals that would not be possible without a history of colonization, migration, and urbanization. A number of the authors remark that this scale of analysis obscures regional details of cultural patterning. The Andes consist of a variety of cultural subregions, some of which no longer have indigenous character. Ultimately the analyses in this volume would have been crisper if the salience of scale, of intermediate and local scale geographies had been more consistently addressed.