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Reviewed by:
  • Gender, Indian, Nation: The Contradictions of Making Ecuador, 1830–1925
  • Robert L. Smale
Gender, Indian, Nation: The Contradictions of Making Ecuador, 1830–1925. By Erin O’Connor (Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2007. xxiii plus 261 pp. $49.95).

This study focuses on the gender dynamics of Indian-state relations during the first century of Ecuador’s republican history. O’Connor argues that Ecuadorian [End Page 499] politicians deployed gender stereotypes to buttress racial and class hierarchies that exploited native people. Between 1830 and 1857, government officials debated the abolition of Indian tribute payments—a revenue stream critical for the national budget but at odds with Liberal and Republican ideology. The leaders of the early republic envisioned the abolition of tribute as a means to elevate Indian men from the minority status they suffered during the colonial period—to make them men. The eventual abolition of tribute did little to improve the position of native people, and in many instances their economic conditions deteriorated. During Gabriel García Moreno’s dominance of Ecuadorian politics between 1859 and 1875, politicians justified the ongoing inequality by labeling Indian men as children and stigmatizing their barbarity and violence—especially their supposed violence toward their own wives. García Moreno tended to ignore the inequality and delegate Indian relations to local authorities. With the Liberal ascent after 1895, the exploitation of native people again became a major topic of national debate. Liberal leaders stopped blaming Indian men for their exploited position, but generally failed to redress Ecuador’s racial and gender inequalities.

Throughout her study, O’Connor continually contrasts two competing systems of patriarchy in nineteenth-century Ecuador: one linked to the country’s white-mestizo society and another associated with Indian communities. She labels this second system an “alternative patriarchy.” The term is modeled on Florencia Mallon’s concept of “alternative nationalism” from Peasant and Nation: The Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). The patriarchy of Indian communities was more flexible than that of government officials, allowing Indian women greater independence and influence. Marriages were more elastic than the legal norms of white-mestizo society, and Indian communities recognized and valued women’s economic activities and claims to property. Indian women generally preferred the patriarchy of the community to that of the state. O’Connor asserts that Indian women assented to community patriarchy out of solidarity with Indian men who suffered constant attack by government authorities. Despite the expanding power of the state and the occasional use of white-mestizo patriarchal norms by Indian men, the alternative patriarchy of the community survived well into the twentieth century.

O’Connor also compares gender norms on Ecuador’s haciendas with those of the country’s Indian communities. She concludes that Indian women suffered greater marginalization and stricter paternalism on the hacienda than in the Indian community. Hacienda hierarchy was highly gendered with the owner exercising significant paternal authority. Indian men on the hacienda, despite their subordinate position, still expected white-mestizo owners to respect their own paternal prerogatives. During much of the nineteenth century, Indian men had to tolerate the humiliations of the hacienda; with the dawning of the Liberal era in 1895, they exploited new state hostility toward the more backward aspects of hacienda life. O’Connor concludes that hacienda residence was especially disempowering for Indian women who, “lived under the triple patriarchy of peasant, hacienda, and state ideologies aimed at their subordination” (163).

O’Connor nests her study of nineteenth-century Indian-state relations within a consideration of the gender dynamics of contemporary indigenous activism. [End Page 500] This larger chronological framework is one of the book’s weaker facets. The attempted linkage is understandable. Ecuador’s indigenous movement has captured international attention, especially after its surprising participation in the 2000 coup alongside the military. Connecting O’Connor’s study with this contemporary movement might have been envisioned as a means to broaden the book’s potential audience. Additionally, the author is clearly supportive of contemporary activism; the book’s dedication makes this clear: “The indigenous women and men of Ecuador, whose struggles, past and present, have taught me so much. May they create...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 499-501
Launched on MUSE
2010-01-24
Open Access
No
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