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  • "EnCountering" Colonial Latin American Indian Chronicles:Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala's History of the "New" World
  • Ralph Bauer (bio)

If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are waiting for me on that nearby beach, I'm screwed.

Christopher Columbus, in Alejo Carpentier's El arpa y la sombra

Encountering Guaman Poma: A Critical Perspective

In 1908, the German anthropologist Richard Pietschmann discovered in an archive in Copenhagen an early-seventeenth-century manuscript consisting of nearly 1,200 pages of narrative written in Spanish, Quechua, and Aymara, as well as nearly 400 drawings. The author identified himself as Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (b. around 1535), son of Guaman Mallqui de Ayala, a person of prominence in the provincial Peruvian Yarovilca culture, and Curi Ocllo, the daughter of Tupac Inka Yupanqui, the tenth of the twelve rulers of the Inka dynasty. The text is entitled El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno [First new chronicle and good government] (see figure 1) and had apparently been written between 1587 and 1613. It is a history of pre-Columbian Peru, the Spanish conquest, and the subsequent colonial regime, presented in the Spanish tradition of the crónicas de indias (histories of America). Unlike most writers of Spanish chronicles about the conquest, however, the author indicts the abuses of the colonial regime and insists that America had a legitimate history before the conquest, only recorded, as it were, in another language. The author therefore announces that his sources were the quipos, the colored knotted chords with which the Inkas had recorded important events, as well as the contents of Andean oral traditions—the "memories and accounts of the old Indians" (I: viii).1 Pietschmann, aware of the significance of the manuscript, immediately began a modern edition of the text but unfortunately died before its completion. Nevertheless, Guaman Poma's "First New History" of Peru was subsequently published as a facsimile edition in Paris by the Institut d'Ethnologie in 1936 and has since been republished four times—in 1944 (La Paz), in two separate editions in 1980 (Caracas and Mexico), and in Lima (1993).2 [End Page 274]


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Fig. 1.

Title page, El primer nueva corónica y buen gobierno.

Unlike Anglo Americans, Spanish American literary historians have long counted texts written by Indians (or mestizos) among their national "classics," such as those of the Inka Garcilaso de la Vega, the mestizo son of a Spanish conqueror and an Inka princess, whose early-seventeenth-century works were [End Page 275] published during his lifetime in Spain and have since been regarded as pivotal texts in the emergence of a Latin American literary expression.3 Guaman Poma's chronicle, by contrast, which was not published during his lifetime despite the author's apparent wish to do so, was lost in the oblivion of the archive for nearly 300 years.4 Since its discovery in the twentieth century, however, this fascinating text has excited an enormous amount of attention from Spanish American literary historians, who have grown increasingly aware of Latin America's "postcolonial" and "subaltern" cultural heritage.5 In the United States, of course, students of Native American literature have hitherto altogether ignored Guaman Poma's counterhistory because of cultural, institutional, and ideological reasons. Thus, there had not been any English translations of Guaman Poma's chronicle until Christopher Dilke's drastically abbreviated edition published as Letter to a King: A Picture-History of the Inca Civilization in 1978, and it still awaits a complete scholarly translation to this day. Although Native Americanists have frequently been interested in texts that originated outside the national borders of the United States (mostly Canada) but were written in what today constitutes the anglophone world, we have generally not been very attentive to American Indian texts outside anglophone culture.6 This is partially due, of course, to the fact that most of us interested in Native American literature today have our institutional affiliations in English or American studies departments. Perhaps more importantly, however, there has been a lingering U.S. (proto)nationalist bias in our understanding of the idea of "America" when we are talking about "Native American literature."7 While...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-1828
Print ISSN
0095-182X
Pages
pp. 274-312
Launched on MUSE
2001-06-01
Open Access
No
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