Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Being Kolla: Indigenous Identity in Northwestern Argentina

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Latin American & Caribbean Studies

Being Kolla: Indigenous Identity in Northwestern Argentina

Article excerpt

Abstract. Using a case study of the Kolla in Argentina, this paper considers how indigenous identity may be constructed, practiced, and imagined in Latin America. People in the northwestern highlands have only recently begun to reclaim an identity as "indigenous" people. Reimagining their identity has been highly contested by the larger society. Nationally, the image of Argentina as a "European" nation denies the inclusion of indigenous peoples. Moreover, many of the Kolla have found being identified as an "Indio" a source of stigma rather than of pride. The debate, shrouded in "scientific" jargon on language, archaeological sites, and historical migration, has immediate and material consequences: "indigenous" peoples are entitled to specific rights in the national constitution, rights which poor white peasants do not necessarily share.

Resume. A partir d'une etude de cas sur les Kollas d'Argentine, cet article explore comment on construit, pratique et imagine une identite autochtone en Amerique latine. Les habitants des hautes terres du nord-ouest de l'Argentine cherchent depuis peu a retrouver une identite autochtone, demarche fortement opposee par le reste de la societe. Le fait que l'Argentine se fasse d'elle-meme une image "europeenne" est incompatible avec l'inclusion de peuples indigenes. En outre, pour de nombreux Kollas etre considere comme un "Indio" est davantage une source de stigmatisation que de fierte. Ce debat, qui est enveloppe d'un jargon "scientifique" en matiere de langue, de sites archeologiques et de migration historique, a pourtant comme consequence concrete et immediate le principe que les autochtones ont des droits specifiques au sein d'une constitution nationale qui ne coincident pas necessairement avec ceux des paysans pauvres d'origine europeenne.

Introduction

After several months in the southern Andes researching economic development, local villagers I had befriended invited me to come along with them to a festival in a nearby village. The winter floodwaters had finally receded enough to make the route through the steep valleys passable, and a caravan consisting of a rickety bus, a couple of pickups, and a Jeep, all filled with Iruyans dressed in their festival best, headed out. Our ensemble was cheerfully greeted at our destination by kin and acquaintances, who good-humoredly helped to pry the bus from the river ford which, as it turned out, was not quite passable after all. Our group rapidly dispersed into the crowd, which included similar troupes from other small villages throughout the region, but notably few tourists. A few hours later, the festival officially began with an elaborate pachamama ceremony. Village officials and a couple of prominent invitees, provincial politicians, performed a lengthy ritual of making a sacrifice of alcohol, chicha (corn beer), and tobacco to the traditional spirit of the earth. Several older men stood in the background, directing the proceedings and instructing the less-schooled participants on the proper sequence and gestures of the ritual. Women from the host village circulated through the crowd, handing around cups of chicha to the spectators, who were thus also participants. Finally, the copla competition, the main feature of the festival, began on the athletic court near the main square.

Coplas are short songs, performed to one of only a few variations of a four-line melody. Some verses are "standards," widely known throughout the region. Others are "local," performed in a particular village or locale. Some of the most highly appreciated coplas are improvised, often as witty and slightly suggestive repartees between a male and a female singer. In northern Argentina, coplas are considered to be part of Kolla culture, icons of cultural and local identity. As the singing began, the group from our village coalesced to watch its competitors. Each village's participants performed local coplas, usually accompanied only by a drum. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.