Afterword: Andean identities: Multiplicities, socialities, materialities

Mary J Weismantel*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


This summer in Lima, two different Peruvians gave me some insight into what Andean identity looks like from the perspective of that coastal city. The first was a taxi driver who described himself angrily as "the last Limeño": A lonely survivor in a city full of immigrants from the highlands. "They drive like they're still driving llamas up in the mountains," he complained, and pretended to roll down his window and shout at the car ahead of him. "Hey, it's a car, not an alpaca!" A young sales clerk, the daughter of those same immigrants, spoke defensively of her trips up to visit the highland community where her parents were born. "It's nice there, beautiful," she said. "It's not like people say, you know, like there's nothing modern. People are the same there as here; they know how to tell time and everything like that." The authors of the chapters in this book move deftly between these two contrasting sensibilities. They know what the sales clerk knows: That the Andean region is indian but it is hardly timeless. Yet they are also aware that in the eyes of people like my taxi driver, there is an inherent incompatibility between the indigenous body and modernity. For the "natives" of the Andean nations, this dual awareness-which Krista Van Vleet (chap. 4) compares to DuBois' notion of double consciousness-is built into everyday existence, which demands both that they negotiate the complexities of life in the twenty-first century and navigate the deep and troubled waters of a racism that denies their capacity to do so. The six essays presented here explore this duality within six very different ethnographic and historical contexts; taken together, they provide a rich and finely nuanced view of contemporary Andean life. They also reveal how far contemporary anthropological understandings of identity have come. What we see here, rather than an essence rooted within the individual consciousness, is something constantly produced and reproduced through exchange. Andrew Canessa opens the book by quoting Michael Taussig, who says that identity takes its form not at the central core with its fantasied "satisfying solidity" (Canessa, introduction, citing Taussig 1993:151) but on the borders of the body and the self, through the "mutually implicating dyad of alterity and identity" (Canessa 2000). The essays that follow document this process of identity formation taking place in and through social intercourse. These Andean essays thus privilege social interaction as the site of identity production. The interactions may be informal and discursive: conversations actual or imagined, such as the taxi driver shouting about alpacas (but not so loudly that another driver might shout back), the sales clerk phrasing her statements in response to an invisible chorus of dismissive commentary about the highlands, or worried parents listening to their daughter talk about her teacher. Or they may be more formal performances: A concert or a ritual dance, official statements written by government employees, or the classroom presentations of a teacher charged with making backward indians into modern citizens. In each case, whether dancing together or talking to one another, the people in these essays create identity through processes that are inherently social and interactive. This process is symbolic, but also material: It takes place when bodies interact, and objects are made, bought, sold, and consumed. Identities are simultaneously formed out of ideas and beliefs, and constituted through physical media: voices and gestures, clothing and money. The physicality of these processes highlights their production within space and time-two especially significant dimensions that illuminate the multiplicity of social realities within which contemporary Andean actors move. The spaces involved include the actual physical locations where people meet and interact, but also metaphorical places: The symbolically charged landscapes of the Andes, with their strong racial and sexual connotations. The temporal dimension is equally complex: As the Lima shopgirl insisted, the highlands are a place where people know how to tell time-but in these essays, we see them telling several different kinds of time. At school and at work, indigenous people are as mindful as any others of what E. P. Thomson famously characterized as capitalist time, but Marcia Stephenson's essay, for example, deals with Aymara people who also reenact precapitalist temporal and spatial structures through the ritual of the chuqila. Both dimensions are brought together by bodies in movement through space and time, whether at work, in ritual, or at play. Hands, feet, and eyes move in distinctive temporal and spatial patterns when herding a llama or driving a car, putting on a poncho or a new pair of shoes, weaving an ancient textile pattern or learning a new kind of sex. Music, especially, moves the body to particular rhythms, each signifying a race, a region, and a moment in history: In song or in dance, people find themselves transported to the warm lowlands or the cold highlands, into indian bodies or metropolitan spaces. The identities encountered here, then, are not primarily singular, individual, and symbolic; they are also multiple, social, and material.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationNatives Making Nation
Subtitle of host publicationGender, Indigeneity, and the State in the Andes
Place of PublicationTuscon
PublisherUniversity of Arizona Press
Number of pages13
ISBN (Electronic)9780816506040
ISBN (Print)9780816530137
StatePublished - Jan 1 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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