Identity theft

JAN Acting Inca COVERActing Inca: National Belonging in Early Twentieth-Century Bolivia
E Gabrielle Kuenzli
2013, University of Pittsburgh Press
194 pages, paperback, plates

THIS fascinating study explores an area that has been lost in the scramble to examine indigenous identity in states that have long constructed their sense of nationality, often by glorifying highly fictionalised aspects of pre-Columbian antiquity. Gabrielle Kuenzli has decided to focus on the role played by indigenous people themselves – in this case the Aymara in Bolivia – within the national-building discourses of the modern era. She examines documents from trials that followed the civil war of 1899 in which the liberals were victorious, with Aymara support, but then turned on their erstwhile allies in an effort to ensure creole hegemony. Creole liberals developed a narrative that positioned the Incas as the only group worthy of inclusion in the national historiography, effectively “whitening” them in order to exclude the Ayamara from politics. It worked, and the Ayamara endured another long period as a group marginal to national politics. However, they fought back, and Kuenzli examines the attempts of Aymara intellectuals to promote their own contribution to the Incan past in order to carve their own “acceptable” space in more contemporary progressive politics. Acting Inca makes a valuable contribution to the study of identity construction and, more importantly, the role played by indigenous people in Bolivia in building national narratives. The author shows how inidgenous intellectuals and activist often endeavour to create a discourse that makes their marginalised ethnic groups politically acceptable.