Introducing the Indigenous Women
of Latin America
This book describes the history of indigenous women in Latin America. It treats them as active agents, instrumental in shaping the region's history. Neither house-bound nor passive, native women have responded to many challenges—demographic, economic, political, and social—over the past millennia. What my research in both primary and secondary sources ranging across the fields of archaeology, ethnohistory, and ethnography repeatedly demonstrates is that indigenous women have a long history of performing productive labor, contributing to familial well-being in a variety of ways, and being politically active. In responding to the forces of change, whether resisting or embracing them or seeking to control the rate and impact of change, women became creators of change and have served as transformative agents.
I began this project thinking it would be interesting to compare Mesoamerican and Andean women across space and time. Along the way the book turned into something bigger—more unwieldy, yet more useful—as I pondered how to tell the stories of women and cultural change across thousands of square miles and years. If every region and group cannot be covered, I nonetheless attempt to include a wide variety of areas and peoples. The book retains some focus on Mesoamerica and Andean South America, in part because these have always been the areas of densest native populations. This focus also reflects the English- and Spanish-language literatures' concentration on these areas, with the depth of these writings helping to shape the selection of peoples. But Weaving the Past also discusses women of the Caribbean, Central America, the tropical lowland cultures of Brazil and northern South America, and the northern border area encompassing parts of Mexico and the southwestern United States.
Across these areas, many factors influence the way that cultural transformations influenced women's lives past and present, as well as their activities