Domination Without Dominance

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Domination without Dominance:
Inca-Spanish Encounters in Early Colonial Peru

Gonzalo Lamana
2009, Duke University Press
287 pages

GONZALO LAMANA squares up with such bravado to the overarching colonial superstructure that has to date given form to Peruvian historiography that the cracks in its fragile edifice can be seen extending with every page the turns.

Domination Without Dominance is an eloquent commentary on the confrontation between the structures of meaning imposed by the Spanish colonisers and their Incan wards between 1531 to 1550 in an encounter branded upon Western interpretation as a statement par excellence of European cultural superiority.

The author aims to construct a new historical narrative that aims to move away from the colonialist cage of meaning in which accounts of what happened 500 years ago find themselves locked.

His is not, strictly speaking, an anti-colonial narrative, because such narratives have to take the conceptual framework of that which they oppose as terms of reference before inverting it. Lamana, by contrast, uses existing sources in novel and creative ways – not least by identifying revealing lapses in the conquerors’ accounts – and identifies alternative ones: “primary discourse” comprising, essentially, eye-witness accounts of contemporaneous events; probanzas or legal depositions; and native narratives that have often been dismissed.

He draws attention to the significance of the colonial narrative in ways that a reader might be forgiven for applying to the present day, to the weaknesses of past decolonial discourses and academic interventions, and to the lessons that we can learn from scrutinising these debates.

What current accounts aiming to challenge the colonial narrative have in common is the effort to restore agency to native peoples but, as Lamana points out, they do so by rendering all the actors cognitively Western, that is, they endow them with Western ways of interpreting their world.

Domination Without Dominance combines literary criticism, anthropology and history to offer an overgrown and nuanced detour for those scholars brave enough to leave the comfortable, linear highway which has given their peers a sense of direction in the journey towards an understanding of our shared past.

Modestly, however, the author concedes that what he has done is not original – it is what some of Peru’s native people set themselves to do 500 years ago by trying to identify what it was in how the Spaniards accounted for their reality that they could take, subvert and disable. – GO’T

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