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  • Introduction:Andeans Articulating Colonial Worlds
  • Alcira Dueñas (bio)

Whether they be the painted walls and highly ‘dressed’ altars of Andean churches, or the collective knotted strings and litigation proceedings housed in locked chests in local Indian municipal councils, artifacts conjure up cultural interstices instrumental for discerning the “fine grain” of Spanish colonialism in the Andes. After the early years of the Spanish presence, the Andes became a mosaic of multifarious articulations of indigenous, European, and African ways of thinking, living, and weaving a social order that continued to change over time and across the geographical space of the viceroyalty of Peru.

The complex amalgam of articulations that characterizes the important interventions of colonial indigenous actors defies simplistic views of the Spanish Empire as a system of institutions that Spain swiftly transplanted to the New World and managed to expand and consolidate by its own impetus alone. This special issue is devoted to illuminating various spheres in which native Andeans stood at the liminal space between the legal and religious domains of the Spanish empire and their fellow indigenous inhabitants of Andean America—the purported receivers of imperial programs. Looking at early modern empire building from the ethnohistorical perspective of indigenous colonial agents operating in such interstitial spheres allows for a nuanced understanding of both transatlantic colonialisms and the everyday workings of colonial cultures.

As they performed their work at the lower echelons of state and church bureaucracies, as notaries, interpreters, litigants, artists, artisans, or in varied combinations of such roles, indigenous cultural brokers’ mediations took place in both urban and rural settings. Instead of treating each role as discrete, with its own set of actions and circumstances, the articles in this issue attempt to explain how Andean intermediaries became agents of colonial culture and history, [End Page 3] producing rarely acknowledged representations and agendas. As they did so, they devised and conducted alternative cultural practices of social networking that would mold colonialism in uniquely Andean ways.

This essay collection is based on the understanding that a critical look into the substance of Andean cultural brokering requires a close reading of the textual and visual sources, attending most especially to the historical events that surrounded these brokers’ actions. Scholars should be mindful also of the circumstances of production of the texts, with the understanding that archival and visual sources are not only what we can readily see but are also products whose manufacture articulated cultural assumptions and bore a political purpose. The authors have come to understand, as they pursued varied paths, that indigenous intermediaries, because they possessed valuable local knowledge and had been exposed to the religious and legal culture of the colonizers, acted as cultural translators of colonial law and Christianity, both to and from their communities and to and from Church and state authorities. In other words, they recreated, modified, and somewhat ‘Andeanized’ the formation and daily expression of the Spanish empire at the local level.

Thus, this issue offers an ethnohistorical perspective on empire-building, going beyond the ways in which Spain sought to modify the social and cultural landscape in the Andes. As indigenous cultural translators contributed to the communication and implementation of systems of justice based on Spanish law and legal culture to their own communities, they crafted notions of justice that responded to Andean concerns with local autonomy and expressed them through Andean media in colonial courts. In the church, native painters and artisans also intervened in the structuring of liturgical spaces and devised aesthetic forms that conveyed the doctrinal message of the Catholic Church to indigenous parishioners, while also producing local idioms of expression in the realm of the sacred.

A Review of the Ethnohistorical Scholarship

In the last three decades, the field of ethnohistory has produced burgeoning scholarship that recognizes colonial indigenous peoples as social agents in capacities that supersede essentialized identities as tributaries, servants, or even slaves.1 The figure of the indigenous intermediary began to come more [End Page 4] sharply into scholars’ focus after Rolena Adorno’s seminal scholarship on don Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. She established the centrality of indios ladinos as a useful category of analysis for approaching the articulation of the...


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