Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Landscape, Gender, and Community: Andean Mountain Stories

Academic journal article Anthropological Quarterly

Landscape, Gender, and Community: Andean Mountain Stories

Article excerpt

On the southern Bolivian altiplano the fight between a male and a female mountain peak marked the region in distinctive ways, defining physical space and humans' relationship to it. Considering landscape from the perspective of one community, we learn about the reworking of history and gender, and individuals' ability to use the story creatively. [storytelling, Andes, landscape, gender, mountains]

"Azanaques got married to a woman from the south named 'Munapa . . " (Braulio Choque).

" . . . Finally she came to rest by Thunapa, marrying him. Thunapa said that he would produce salt to make a living and so he did - he's there still . . . " (Francisca A.).

"She dug into the earth where she squeezed out her milk to leave for her child who was following. This place is now a small reddish salt pan" (Molina R., nd.: 48).

"Ecaco, 1. Thunupa: Nombre de uno de quinn los indios antiguos cuentan muchas fibulas: y muchos adn en ese tiempo las tienen verdaderas: assi seria, bien procurar dechacer esta persuasion6n que tienen, por embuste del Demonio . . . " (Bertonio, 1984[1612]: 52).


Arriving as an outsider to take up residence on the Bolivian altiplano, I did not realize that even the landscape was beyond my reach. What I initially saw was flat expanses of sandy pampa bounded by hills, some of them standing alone, the watery vision of Lake Poop,6 with its salty outline to one side of my new home, subtle changes in color from salt to desert sand to rusty browns. This initial impression of desolate beauty had little to do with how Condenos viewed this scene. Little by little, learning the "stories" or "legends" about the gods who animated this terrain, I was taught to identify the personages here and there and the marks of their relationships and disputes: that rock catapulted from a sling during a fight, this hill as a hat knocked off during a fight, this salt and sand a trail of breast milk and barley flour, this hill an abandoned child, those red rocks the blood of a wounded mountain/ god. But surprisingly this learning process did not result in the exchange of one vision of the landscape for another. Rather in the listening and looking I learned to apprehend always-unfolding possibilities for considering the scene around me, some of them contradictory. Stories about important mountains, overseers of Condeno communities, were recounted differently by various community members, not necessarily in conformity with each other. The telling of folk tales is influenced by the age and sex of the individual storyteller, as well as by the community affiliation of that person and which parts of the landscape are particularly important to him or her.

The aim of this article is to explore the ways in which people from San Pedro de Condo are able to position themselves and their community socially and politically and to negotiate relationships by focusing on their local geography - in this case through one particular story about it. This case has implications for the ways in which oral tradition is viewed by anthropologists in that here I show oral tradition as a reflection of immediate experience, but also as a way of shaping that lived experience. In this discussion I consider an example of Condeno oral tradition as capable of revealing multiple levels of communal and individual experience. I argue that part of Condeno storytelling about the landscape comes through their sensory experience of it (see Classen 1993b). Unlike a "neutral" landscape that serves as a backdrop for human activity, Condenos fashion their landscape creatively. They are "placemakers" in the way Basso describes for the Western Apache, for whom he argues that the activity of place-making "is a way of constructing history itself, of inventing it, of fashioning novel versions of 'what happened here' " (1996: 6). Recognizing that senses of place are "the possessions of particular individuals" (p. xv), Basso goes on to explore how people exchange information about places in order to invoke specific emotional states, often associated with stories everyone knows about certain places and how these places earned their names. …

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