Beyond the Lettered City: Indigenous Literacies in the Andes [NOOK Book]


In Beyond the Lettered City, the anthropologist Joanne Rappaport and the art historian Tom Cummins examine the colonial imposition of alphabetic and visual literacy on indigenous groups in the northern Andes. They consider how the Andean peoples received, maintained, and subverted the conventions of Spanish literacy, often combining them with their own traditions. Indigenous Andean communities neither used narrative pictorial representation nor had alphabetic or hieroglyphic literacy before the arrival of the ...
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Beyond the Lettered City: Indigenous Literacies in the Andes

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In Beyond the Lettered City, the anthropologist Joanne Rappaport and the art historian Tom Cummins examine the colonial imposition of alphabetic and visual literacy on indigenous groups in the northern Andes. They consider how the Andean peoples received, maintained, and subverted the conventions of Spanish literacy, often combining them with their own traditions. Indigenous Andean communities neither used narrative pictorial representation nor had alphabetic or hieroglyphic literacy before the arrival of the Spaniards. To absorb the conventions of Spanish literacy, they had to engage with European symbolic systems. Doing so altered their worldviews and everyday lives, making alphabetic and visual literacy prime tools of colonial domination. Rappaport and Cummins advocate a broad understanding of literacy, including not only reading and writing, but also interpretations of the spoken word, paintings, wax seals, gestures, and urban design. By analyzing secular and religious notarial manuals and dictionaries, urban architecture, religious images, catechisms and sermons, and the vast corpus of administrative documents produced by the colonial authorities and indigenous scribes, they expand Ángel Rama’s concept of the lettered city to encompass many of those who previously would have been considered the least literate.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Beyond the Lettered City is a landmark study. It expands our understanding of colonial Andean culture by focusing on areas at the margins of pre-Hispanic Inka control (present-day Colombia and Ecuador). Even more important is the authors’ approach to cultural analysis. Examining the intersections of genres of cultural expression, including writing, painting, architecture, and performance, Joanne Rappaport and Thomas Cummins suggest that participation in literacy involved a great deal more than learning to read alphabetically inscribed texts and produce images according to European regimes of pictorial representation. Rappaport and Cummins show that native literacies were crucial arenas in which colonial culture was created, negotiated, and contested.”—Carolyn Dean, author of A Culture of Stone: Inka Perspectives on Rock

Beyond the Lettered City is a major contribution not only to South American colonial studies but also to broader debates about literacy and visual culture. It reveals the complex and varied interactions among European alphabetic writing, indigenous literacy systems, and the spoken languages of both the colonizers and the colonized. It also shows how indigenous actors engaged Castilian knowledge and literacy and turned them into their own decolonial advocacy.”—Walter D. Mignolo, author of The Darker Side of Western Modernity: Global Futures, Decolonial Options

The Latin American Review of Books EC

“In this interesting contribution to the study of colonial expression, the authors take a novel approach to analysing culture by combining anthropology with art history. The result is an original perspective on how colonial domination at the level of meaning took place….The authors provide striking and dramatic examples of how the natives engaged with and internalised this new visual culture.”
D. L. Heyck

This ambitious, detailed volume radically extends the concept of literacy as set forth in Angel Rama's classic The Lettered City (Eng. tr., 1996) to include visual representation as well as alphabetic. . . . A carefully researched contribution to Latin American native studies and colonial discourse. Highly recommended. Graduate students, researchers, faculty.”
Hispanic American Historical Review - Carlos Damian
Beyond the Lettered City reveals the complexity of Andean society, the challenges of new administrative procedures, and the interaction between Spaniards and the indigenous peoples who were able to become their own advocates.”
Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Anthropology - Frank Salomon
“A richly researched work of mature, broad-reaching scholarship, Beyond the Lettered City is at the same time an experiment in innovative historiography. It is likely to intrigue art-oriented and letter-oriented readers for a long time to come.”
Ethnohistory - Noble David Cook
“The collection of such a vast set of visual images is alone a momentous task. The breadth of scholarship is impressive. Text and image blend effortlessly in the fine narrative. Many forms of literacies are explored. I am certain that others, as they read and reread sections, will be stimulated as I am to explore further.”
Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America - Gary Urton
Beyond the Lettered City is an exceptionally important, path-breaking contribution to the study of the transformations of society and culture in the northern and central Andes from the time of the Iberian invasion until the early 18th century.”
The Latin American Review of Books - EC
“In this interesting contribution to the study of colonial expression, the authors take a novel approach to analysing culture by combining anthropology with art history. The result is an original perspective on how colonial domination at the level of meaning took place….The authors provide striking and dramatic examples of how the natives engaged with and internalised this new visual culture.”
Catholic Historical Review - Richard L. Kagan
Beyond the Lettered City represents an important, innovative, and interdisciplinary study that should be mandatory reading for anyone seriously interested in the art, history, and culture of colonial Spanish America. More broadly, it deserves an audience among scholars of other colonial and postcolonial societies where the issues of artistic cultural adaptation and transfer also are topics of major concern.”
Journal of Anthropological Research - Paja Faudree
“This book is a seminal text, an important addition to scholarship not only on the history of the Andes and colonial Latin America but on the semiotic, material, and meaning-making dimensions of colonial encounters generally. The book’s argument for a radically expanded notion of literacy is made with riveting force and precision. Received ideas about literacy and the domination of the written word have rarely been attacked through such a richly evocative analytic framework."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822394754
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 12/30/2011
  • Series: Narrating native histories
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 20 MB
  • Note: This product may take a few minutes to download.

Meet the Author

Joanne Rappaport is Professor of Anthropology and of Spanish and Portuguese at Georgetown University. She is the author of Intercultural Utopias: Public Intellectuals, Cultural Experimentation, and Ethnic Pluralism in Colombia, also published by Duke University Press.

Thomas Cummins is Dumbarton Oaks Professor of the History of Pre-Columbian and Colonial Latin American Art at Harvard University. He is the author of Toasts with the Inca: Andean Abstraction and Colonial Images on Quero Vessels.

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Read an Excerpt


Indigenous Literacies in the Andes

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5128-3

Chapter One

Imagining Colonial Culture

Andean peoples appropriated European representational forms within a colonial context that was more than a mere backdrop to their actions: it came to be an integral component of their worldview. The transculturating nature of colonial indigenous life problematizes the neat distinctions we have traditionally made between native and European worlds in our historical treatments of Latin America. Here are colonial indigenous figures, such as Don Diego de Torres, who defy radically polarized interpretations. Don Diego exemplifies the mestizo of noble native rank, living in a world in which such appellations were not necessarily intrinsic to individuals, but were highly contingent, given that movement across ethnic categories was fluid in this period, mediated by class distinctions and by gender (Kuznesof 1995; Schwartz 1995). Don Diego's intimate participation in the "lettered city" and in the world of Christian notions of morality and history (Adorno 1986) were part of the privileges accorded to the nobility. However, the ethnic and political basis of his claim to noble status came from the fact that he served as cacique of Turmequé and traced his chiefly privilege through his maternal line. These ambiguities and contradictions belie the stereotype of a hermetically sealed and unchanging colonial indigenous sphere. How are we to make sense of such a multifaceted individual who moved within a social space in which cultural codes and practices were disputed and contested by native people and Europeans alike? How can we contextualize Don Diego's cultural discourse within a colonial system that was not characterized by primordial and discrete cultural categories, but where ethnic classifications were explicitly recognized as operating simultaneously as tools for domination, as modes of accommodation, and as vehicles of resistance? To what extent can we capture the ethos of a world in which, like our own, people lived radically multicultural realities that at the time were not noted as at all remarkable or "hybrid" (Dean and Leibsohn 2003)?

Studies of the colonial Andes have, until recently, tended to classify cultural groups into two isolated "republics," following the model of the administrative division of the Spanish colonial world into the two republics of the Spaniards and the indios, without paying attention to the intricate connections and interfaces bridged by celebrated individuals such as Don Diego de Torres, as well as less well- known folk such as the testators Juana Sanguino and Don Andrés, the cacique of Machetá. It is only in the past decade that scholars have begun to publish texts which reject the analytical utility of this Spanish juridical arrangement, focusing instead on the emergence of a colonial culture in which the two republics were not so much closed worlds, as they were critical scenarios within which representations and, ultimately, power, were wielded by colonial administrators and indigenous agents alike. In this view, the two republics are not so much an analytical model, as a hinge for interpreting systems of inequality within which indigenous subjects strove to consolidate newly structured native communities.

A good example of this perspective is the work of the art historian Carolyn Dean (1999), who argues—in her study of a seventeenth-century series of paintings of Corpus Christi processions in Cuzco—that these depictions of colonial hereditary lords in Incaic regalia represent not so much a resurgence of Inca iconography providing ethnographic evidence on pre-Columbian lifeways, as they proclaim the triumph of Spanish Christianity and embody indigenous alterity through costume. Corpus thus served as a stage for the Christian profanation of Incaic cosmology and, on a secular level, functioned as an arena in which Andean symbols could be deployed to consolidate an indigenous power structure under the guidance of the Crown. For Dean, the seemingly Incaic components of colonial culture cannot be taken at face value, but must be reevaluated within the colonial administrative and religious system. Thus, Dean suggests, colonial culture is best comprehended as a complex process of "relexification," in which Andean syntax was used to frame European utterances (1999, 127, 168).

Colonial Culture and Mestizaje

Under such circumstances, it becomes difficult to separate the threads of colonial culture into discrete culturally marked bundles. The weave can be better appreciated as a series of "entangled objects" (Thomas 1991), in which the voices of numerous cultural actors from different historical periods are inextricably intertwined. Instead of visualizing the process of cultural contestation as the confrontation of two opposite poles, we hope, after Serge Gruzinski (1999, 213), to look at it as a "series of modulations" that unfold over time, as much among Europeans as among native Andeans, both of whom belonged to heterogeneous social constellations marked by a multitude of cultural, racial, occupational, and gender identities that could be altered by administrative petition. As Laura Lewis (2003) so elegantly demonstrates in her study of the negotiation of caste in colonial Mexico, the interaction of Spaniards, indios, Africans, mulattos, and mestizos involved the cross- fertilization of discourses and practices, ranging from European law to indigenous witchcraft and African ritual. Cultural forms moved in all directions, mediated by the colonial status hierarchy and the European legal framework that bolstered it. However, members of subordinated castes were not without recourse to their own sources of power over those hailing from the dominant categories; they countered colonial power with ritual practices that drew upon all of the cultural traditions, but focused on the potency of indigenous witchcraft. Indeed, systems of power and of representation were entangled in the Spanish colonial world.

The end result is a complex colonial culture, which in current language might be called "hybrid." Hybridity has come to substitute for mestizaje—the process of becoming mestizo—in much contemporary writing. Commonly, it has not been seen as a process, but as a moment of confrontation and mixing (García Canclini 1989; Rosaldo 1995). This sort of approach produces a kind of "ethnographic present in the past," which has not been useful for studying the longue durée of cultural change that unfolded over the centuries of Spanish domination (personal communication, Claudio Lomnitz-Adler). In order to avoid this difficulty—and in an attempt to sidestep the biological metaphor embodied by the notion of hybridity, which implies sterility—we will choose to speak instead of "colonial culture."

There is a concrete date from which we can begin to speak of colonial culture in the Americas—1492. However, the sedimentation and interpenetration of diverse cultures has much deeper roots that antedate the Spanish colonial empire. The political administration of cultural heterogeneity and the ways in which individuals assumed identities within the colonial social hierarchy were not only proper to the Spanish domination of America. Such institutions as the encomienda (a grant made to conquerors for control over the tribute of subject populations), the doctrina (the village-level structure of Christian indoctrination), and the requerimiento (the proclamation read to military rivals requiring them to submit to Christianity or die in war), were all appropriated from the Reconquista, or Reconquest, the centuries-long process whereby the Catholic kings of Castile seized control of the Iberian Peninsula from the Moors (Fletcher 1992; Garrido Aranda 1980; Seed 1995). In other words, the cultural entanglement at play in the Americas emerged on the back of previous and ongoing Iberian experiences, resulting in institutions whose meaning is considerably more complex than can be accounted for by the polarity of Spanish versus indigenous or by a notion of hybridity that privileges initial contact.

Individuals such as Diego de Torres, Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, and Diego Muñoz Camargo, all mestizos who politically and culturally identified themselves with their maternal aristocratic roots, personally experienced this tremendous heterogeneity upon landing in Seville, the port of disembarkation from the Americas. There, they wandered the mazelike pathways of the medieval city, unlike the accustomed grid of intersecting straight streets that characterized the spatial organization of the colonial urban communities in which they were raised. As they roamed through the city, they encountered Spanish Christian culture superimposed on Roman, Visigothic, and Islamic foundations. The mosques of Seville and Córdoba had long ago been converted to cathedrals, and the Alhambra of the Nasarid dynasty in Granada was recently transformed by its juxtaposition with the Renaissance geometry of Charles V's palace. How this phenomenology played out in the minds of these colonial figures, perhaps expanding their awareness of cultural, social, and political complexity, is not easy to gauge. But at the very least, they did not feel alone or unique. Rather, they felt connected to a larger enterprise in which at times, their world in America was a projection of desires or plans—architectural, political, and social—not realized in Spain. They might be said to have a double vision: they possessed the grounds for a comparison that constituted both the inverse of the terms employed by the Spaniards who migrated to the New World, and a conceptual vantage point molded by the asymmetrical political and social relations in which their daily lives transpired. We do not assume, therefore, that colonial cultural mixing is a neutral or unilateral process. Instead, our view of colonial culture incorporates the notion that in ethnically stratified Spanish American society, the appropriation of cultural elements and the production of colonial identities must be approached through the close consideration of the workings of power, both of the colonizers and of the colonized (Bhabha 1994, 50). For Homi Bhabha (1994, 2), writing about British colonialism of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, cultural hybridity—his terminology, not ours—arises from the fluidity of place and identity brought on by the tremendous movement of peoples throughout the world, which was initiated by European colonialism. In a sense, he is reimagining the imagined community of Benedict Anderson (1983), so as to allow for the differences that punctuate the creation of global communities. In each context, culture is rearticulated in relation to the political, economic, and social roles of the different actors. In Bhabha's view, the tradition of the colonized is not something that "survives" from the past; instead, it is continually "reinscribed" as it intersects with the transformative power of the culture of the colonizer. This means that for Bhabha, "cultural hybridity" is all about articulating difference through negotiation in concrete situations of social asymmetry, and not about the fusion of primordial traditions.

This process of the reinscription of tradition within a dominant culture is something embedded in modernity and the rise of European global domination, whose beginnings are apparent in the Spanish colonial project (Mignolo 2000). It is something recognizable both in the Andes and in Mexico. The mid-seventeenth-century Inca nobility of Cuzco displayed their alterity in the paintings of Corpus Christi by wearing colonial Inca clothes and symbols. Guaman Poma claimed legal right to the territories of Chupas by drawing the portraits of his ancestors, thereby forcing the viewer to acknowledge his legitimacy by appeal to profound cultural difference located temporally before the Spanish conquest. However, other native nobles, such as the northern Andean caciques with whom we are concerned, claimed their new "traditional" rights by emphasizing their cultural and political integration within Spanish norms. Such claims were already scripted as responses to questions in the formulaic presentations of probanzas de meritos (service reports), such as were presented by the Bolivian native functionary Don Fernando Ayra de Arritu, principal cacique and governor of Copoatá in 1639. One of the questions related to the activities of Don Fernando Chinchi, his father:

If they knew that Don Fernando Chinchi was a person that with his great diligence, industry and care, as being a very devote in the worship of God, had made and built in the pueblo de Copoata one of the most sumptuous and best churches that there is in the entire province ... because he was a good, God-fearing Christian obeying the instructions of the magistrates, [and was] very intelligent and able and that he always conducted himself and his person with great luster and as such he always appeared in the dress of a Spaniard and carried offensive and defensive weapons with the permission and license of the lord of Monteclaros, who was Viceroy at that time. (AGI/S 1634, 8v)

Rather than pointing out the cacique's alterity, this passage emphasizes his success at conforming to Spanish dictates and mores.

Like Don Fernando Ayra de Arritu, Don Diego de Torres's cultural identity is that of someone who seeks his traditional chiefly authority not by wielding signs of tradition, but by their apparent absence. His legal briefs and other documentation surrounding his struggle to retain his cacicazgo do not point to the ways in which his behavior varied from that of Spaniards (AGI/S 1576, 1590); to the contrary, they enhance his resemblance to Europeans. He states in his briefs that he had a European-born servant, Luis de Quero, whom he took with him when he returned to the New Kingdom of Granada in 1579 (AGI/S 1579, 215); in fact, he also had a European wife (Rojas 1965). Don Diego emphasizes and values his Spanish descent and his Christianity in his documents, while his adversaries accuse him of being an idolater (Hoyos García 2002, 101–2). The absence of a discourse of alterity on the part of Don Diego is true as much in the visual evidence he submits, as it is in his writings. His maps display no traces of his own juxtaposed identities, in contrast to indigenous maps from Mexico (Gruzinski 1999; Leibsohn 1994, 2000; Mundy 1996). The representation of place is not inscribed by local iconic forms, but in cartographic conventions that are completely within European terms. Don Diego submits his evidence in the form of geographic maps, in which the salient topographical features are not indicated by indigenous symbols, as occurs in Mexican and a few early Peruvian maps; nor are indigenous terms provided in written form. Instead, simple cursive lines outline mountains and major bodies of water. The area described by the map is outlined and areas lying outside the periphery are indicated by Spanish names, such as llano, a term used today to refer to the low plains that extend seemingly without end toward Amazonia and the east. Stylized hands point toward salient features, such as major towns or important waterways. Moreover, the two maps perform in relation to each other as ever-reducing areas of administrative geography. The first map demarcates the province of Santa Fé, centered by the provincial capital, Santafé de Bogotá. The second map focuses the viewer more closely upon the Spanish city of Tunja, just north of Santafé, and the towns under its regional jurisdiction, among which Turmequé belongs.


Excerpted from BEYOND THE LETTERED CITY by JOANNE RAPPAPORT TOM CUMMINS Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


ABOUT THE SERIES....................ix
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS....................xi
1. Imagining Colonial Culture....................27
2. Genre/Gender/Género: "Que no es uno ni otro, ni está claro"....................53
3. The Indigenous Lettered City....................113
4. Genres in Action....................153
5. The King's Quillca and the Rituality of Literacy....................191
6. Reorienting the Colonial Body: Space and the Imposition of Literacy....................219
REFERENCES CITED....................317
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