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  • Making Ecuadorian Histories: Four Centuries of Defining Power
  • Derek Williams
Making Ecuadorian Histories: Four Centuries of Defining Power. By O. Hugo Benavides. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2004. Pp. x, 231. Illustrations. References. Index. $50.00 cloth.

In his path-breaking article a decade ago, Andrés Guerrero demonstrated the political effectiveness for Ecuador's post-1895 Liberal state in constructing the image of the "miserable" Indian. "Speaking for" the Indian became a key strategy in the fledgling state's claim to national leadership, while structuring the semantic terrain upon which indigenous subjects could make legitimate claims. Focusing on the contemporary (neoliberal) moment, Making Ecuadorian Histories is conceived [End Page 659] in a similar vein, innovatively highlighting the importance of official representations of the Indian past for the hegemonic project of the nation-state. Yet, if indigenous voices once were heard only through a "political ventriloquy," a century later Ecuador's indígenas now directly respond to their former puppet masters, actively shaping the discursive field of play. Indeed, as this provocative and sophisticated book reveals, the production of historical knowledge in Ecuador today is highly contested, an unstable site for competing claims to identity and power.

Benavides is interested in the ways in which archeological and historical knowledges are produced and become crucial resources both for the state and a variety of social actors. His analysis centers on Cochasquí, a well-known archeological site north of Quito, a rich source of competing narratives of history and identity. Cochasquí offers a revealing doorway onto how historical production shapes national political domination in Ecuador. Benavides not only examines state attempts to lay claim to the site's archeological patrimony, but poses—drawing on his fieldwork (carried out in 1997)— alternative narratives. The research is rounded out with considerations of prehispanic historical discourses produced by other nonstate actors, such as prominent colonial and nineteenth-century historians, mainstream Ecuadorian journalists, and the leaders of the influential indigenous organization, CONAIE.

Benavides' Introduction offers a theoretical framework on nationmaking, one that foregrounds both its cultural dimensions and the vulnerability of the state's hegemonic project to alternative politics from below. Chapter 1 examines how "national" understandings of the past are informed by discourses of class and race—particularly the coexistence of a whitening ideal with a romanticized, ancient Indian past. Benavides looks in part to historians Juan de Velasco and Eugenio Espejo, and their thoughts on prehispanic history, to explore the Ecuadorian variation on the familiar Latin American theme of mestizaje. The next three chapters, grounded in his ethnographic study, explore the complex interrelations between history, heritage, gender and race. The second chapter provides a historical overview of Cochasquí, a site of resistance to (and occupation by) both the Inca and Spanish empires. Benavides shows how discourses, expressed by local guides and in official histories, successfully situate Cochasquí both as "Ecuadorian" and as culturally "authentic"—a preferred locale for displays of folklore and shamanic rituals. Chapter 3 examines the process thorough which the state-sponsored Programa Cochasquí effectively synthesized the site's official "script." This involved the painstaking arrangement of (often conflicting) archeological interpretations into "national logics" of territory, heritage, race and gender—while disqualifying potentially disruptive evidence, such as evidence of human sacrifice. The following chapter innovatively links popular narratives of ancient male harems (enchaquirados) to the heteronormativity and racism encoded in the patriarchal national project.

Benavides then moves beyond the confines of Cochasquí to examine the production of historical knowledge within Ecuador's extraordinary CONAIE movement [End Page 660] (and its limited successes at disseminating a counter-hegemonic history), and in the national print media. The chapter on the 1993 newspaper coverage of the disputed relocation of Saint Biritute (a prehispanic icon) provides a jumping in point to reflect on the ambiguous and indirect relationship between the multivocal presentation of the past in the press and the state's singular historiographical aims.

With its multiplicity of approach, the book reads better as a series of interrelated essays than an integrated whole. The chapters on CONAIE and San Biritute are outliers (though both stand alone quite well), and somewhat divert from the absorbing focus on Cochasquí as a contested site for national...


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