Anthropological Quarterly 77.1 (2004) 191-195
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Benjamin Orlove has a long list of publications in anthropology and Andean studies, dating back to the seventies. He also has shown great versatility, including experiments in non-academic narratives, such as his father's biographical memoirs, In My father's Study. In his most recent book, Lines in the Water, the memoir tone and the novelistic narrative make the volume unusually accessible and will interest readers beyond the Andean anthropological arena.
This book emerged out of a revision of his old field notes, as he intended to synthesize his intellectual evolution over twenty years of work in the high Andean plateau. The volume weaves two texts in one. The first is reflected in the title's metaphor, the theme of lines as paths. Lines trace the pathways of the shore populations along Lake Titicaca and in history. These symbols also mark the directions Orlove walked as a researcher, professor, and writer. Along these interwoven lines Orlove analyzes the changes and continuities in the relationship between the settlers and their environment in the shape of environmental "living history" memories. Orlove wants to listen to the requests people made as they gave their farewells. "Don't forget me," they repeated. While the author seeks to situate these recollections in the present, we are invited to accompany him through his retrospective of the interaction between the lake and its people. [End Page 191]
Since this book also synthesizes Orlove's professional paths in the high Andean plateau, it illustrates how ethnographic writing has evolved in the last decades as well. Orlove's evolution as an ethnographer and writer shows the impact of some crucial and recent disciplinary debates on environmental anthropology. Orlove recognizes that his initial works were more oriented towards a neo-Marxist position focusing on "class" rather than "ethnicity." More recently, he has tried to develop a synthesis of these two foci. This tendency is well exemplified in his preference for using the term "villager" instead of "peasant" or "indian", when referring to the local fishermen. Orlove argues that the "indian" category implies cultural distinctions, sometimes exoticism, while "peasant" refers to national economic relations of inequality. The category "indian" has re-emerged in anthropology due to a renovated interest in ethnic identities. The author prefers the term villager because it points to space, the local dimension of interaction, closer to the way fishermen refer to themselves using place-based labels more than expressions related to class or ethnicity. Another feature that Orlove tries to incorporate is a more historical perspective, closer to what is nowadays known as historical ecology and environmental history. Over the last decades, ethnologists have explored ethnographic literary style with experimental writings that were still considered as falling within the boundaries of the discipline. The book's tone of fieldwork memoirs, plenty of metaphors and even imaginary trips (like the visit to the museum in Chapter 5) have benefited from this new freedom for anthropologists to experiment as writers.
In Orlove's account, Lake Titicaca is a space of sustenance and memory, a story of changes and permanencies. The 21st century finds the lakeshore villagers in almost the same situation as they were in the previous one, marked by a marginal position with respect to the Peruvian state, fighting everyday for sustainable subsistence. This is a common script in the history of the Andes, where communities remote to the state apparatus services complain of being forgotten. Simultaneously, this border position has protected these villages from the economic swings of urban life, like inflation in the prices of manufactured products. Living at the edge of the state sometimes allowed freedom from governmental regulations in taxes and their resource management, balancing the excess of population with constant emigration to cities.
The book does not follow a rigid chronological scheme. Instead, it suggests a winding path towards the high Andean plateau, a journey that reflects on old data and different personal experiences. This path...