"Indigenous Performance"

Tobias Reu

Resúmen: "lo indígena en el folklore Boliviano"


Hoy en día, practicamente cada ciudad Boliviana tiene por lo menos una fiesta anual grande, en honor de un Santo Patrón de una de las parroquias de la ciudad. Casi todas esas fiestas comienzan con una llamada 'Entrada Folklórica' en la que hasta 15 mil personas bailan vestidos de Diablos, Reyes Morenos, Caporales, Incas, o - en las últimas décadas cada vez más - también de indígenas de una u otra zona del país. Cabe constatar que incluso los que bailan de indígenas generalmente no se entienden como tales en sus vidas extra-ceremoniales ya que en su gran mayoría son estudiantes universitarios y profesionales urbanos, y 'lo índigena', por lo menos tal como se presenta en los mismos desfiles, se entiende como una cosa explícitamente ajena al ámbito urbano. Por lo tanto, el folklore de las Entradas Folklóricas no es simplemente una pervivencia y adaptación de costumbres culturales ancestrales, sino una referencia explícita - política y socialmente situada - a una 'cultura andina' o 'indígena' producida por actores con intereses propios. Al mismo tiempo, no cabe duda de que dentro del mismo ámbito hay una dinámica marcada no solo por un crecimiento de todo el fenómeno de las Entradas durante el medio siglo pasado, sino también por vertientes distintas y mutuamente contestatarias.
Las preguntas que propone este ensayo son las siguientes: ¿Cuáles son las diferentes maneras en las que se está haciendo uso de motivos de 'lo indígena'? Sociológicamente, ¿quiénes son los que participan en la una u otra vertiente? ¿Dónde hay convergencias de las diferentes vertientes y dónde hay desacuerdo?
Sin poder dar una síntesis contundente de todo el ámbito, este ensayo propone tres vertientes principales dentro de lo que constituye el fenómeno de las Entradas Folklóricas en su totalidad: Como Thomas Abercrombie (1992) analizó, el Carnaval de Oruro a mitades del siglo XX fue apropiado por el nacionalismo indigenista de las élites de la ciudad quienes usaron el evento para establecer lazos orgánicos con el territorio, pero al mismo tiempo distanciarse de la "plebe" indígena. Este distanciamiento se logra hoy en día, y en la práctica, mediante el extremadamente alto costo de participación en el desfile, el cual para un segundo grupo participante de las Entradas constituye uno de los motivos centrales de participación. Más conspicuamente en la Fiesta del Señor del Gran Poder de La Paz, migrantes recientes a la ciudad usan la incorporación teatral de motivos de 'lo indígena' para demostrar su bienestar económico y distinguirse de la condición más característica para los indígenas: la pobreza. Una tercera vertiente va por el camino de 'la reivindicación de lo autóctono' y se destaca por su insistencia en el realismo etnográfico; y aunque falten estudios detallados de esta vertiente y sus integrantes en particular, se sugiere que desde su perfil social y sus aspiraciones es algo parecida a lo que Marisol de la Cadena describe en su libro sobre los 'Mestizos Indigenas' del Cuzco (de la Cadena 2000). Es decir, probablemente se constituye en su mayoría por jóvenes universitarios culturalmente algo marginalizados por las élites, que mediante su participación en la puesta en escena del patrimonio cultural nacional buscan la mejora de su posicionamiento social. A diferencia de los Reyes Morenos del Gran Poder, en este caso no se busca a través de la presentación de su poder económico, sino a través de la reivindicación cultural.

Abstract: Indianness in Bolivian Folklore
In present day Bolivia, virtually every major town celebrates at least one annual Fiesta, generally in honor of a Patron Saint of one of its parishes. Practically all of these Fiestas commence with a so called 'Entrada Folklórica' (folkloric pageant) with up to 15,000 participants dancing clad as Diablos (devils), Reyes Morenos (black kings), Caporales (foremen), Incas, or over the last decades also increasingly as indigenous people of one or another region of the country. It is noteworthy that even those who dance as indigenous people do not habitually consider themselves as such in their extra-ceremonial lives. In their overwhelming majority, they are urban university students and professionals, and 'Indianness' - at least as put on stage in their dances - is quite explicitly characterized by its remoteness from anything urban. Hence, the type of folklore performed in the pageants does not simply perpetuate some sort of ancestral costum, as it were. Rather, it consists in explicit references to an 'Andean' or 'Indigenous Cultural Heritage'; references which are produced by social actors with genuine interests and from distinguishable sites of enunciation. At the same time, the entire field of folkloric pageants is characterized not only by a dynamic growth since the middle of the 20th century, but also by distinct and at least potentially antagonistic currents and interests.
This essay addresses the following questions: Which are the basic distinguishable ways in which use is made of motifs of Indianness in urban folkloric pageants? What are the sociological characteristics of people having a stake in one or another way of making use of Indianness? Where are convergences and divergences between the different basic types of relating to Indianness through folklore?
Providing a rather cursory overview, this article proposes three basic and distinct types discernible within the realm of folkloric pageants as a whole: As first analyzed by Thomas Abercrombie (1992), the Carnival of Oruro has been co-opted toward the middle of the 20th century by the indigenist nationalism of the town élites who used the event to establish organic links with the territory and, simultaneously, to distance themselves from the indigenous 'populace'. At present, and from a pragmatical point of view, this distancing is arguably mainly achieved through the high costs of participation in the Carnival as well as in the other pageants. The high costs, in turn, may well constitute the central motivation for a second group of participants: Relatively recent and comparatively affluent migrants to the cities and suburbs who use the theatrical incorporation of motifs of Indianness - most conspicuously in the Fiesta del Señor del Gran Poder of La Paz - to display their relative wealth and differentiate themselves from the condition most typically associated with the indigenous population of the country: That of utter poverty. Yet another type of participation in the pageants pivots on discourse concerned with 'cultural vindication' and 'valoration of the autochthonous' and distinguishes itself through its insistence in ethnographic realism. As of today, there are no studies available regarding participants subscribing to this kind of discourse, but there is some reason to believe that they might actually come quite close to the 'Indigenous Mestizos' of Cuzco studied by Marisol de la Cadena (2000). Quite possibly, this latter group of dancers is mainly constituted by culturally somewhat marginalized university students who through their participation in the mise en scène of the national cultural patrimony strive to position themselves more favorably within society at large. As opposed to the Reyes Morenos of the Gran Poder, the latter group's strivings then dwell on motifs of 'cultural dignity', rather than on the display of material wealth.
'INDIANNESS' IN BOLIVIAN FOLKLORE
Tobias Reu, New York University, Department of Anthropology

As the national soccer team performs poorly, folkloric festivals, particularly the pageants which accompany virtually all of the many urban and sub-urban patron saints festivals, constitute beyond any doubt one of the most conspicuous instances of collective representation in contemporary Bolivia. They draw quite impressive numbers of participants and spectators; they are televised by the national TV networks, sponsored by the most important national industries, and attended by the political class. Bolivian folkloric pageants are held in Buenos Aires and Virginia, USA, and several groups of Bolivians living in various parts of the European Union gather several times a year to represent their home country in the various Carnivals and Cultural Carnivals European cities organize to put on display their cosmopolitan qualities.
This year's line up for Berlin's Cultural Carnival, for instance, which took place in early May, saw three Bolivian folkloric groups: One of them was listed as performing Tinku a dance which, according to the program of the pageant, references 'a meeting, a confrontation between two groups of a community, whereby the ritual has the aim to diminish conflict and disagreements, so that harmony can be established'; the second group danced P'ujllay, 'an important part of the Indian festival Tata Pukara, which is a feast of abundance and strength and is held on the same day on which, in 1816, the community of Yampara defeated the Spaniards in the battle of Jumbate […] The feast is a socio-religious event which ensures communication between the wholeness of nature and the Andean population'; eventually, the third group danced Tobas, 'which remembers the highland Indians who were resettled by the Inca king Tupac Yupanqui […] into the eastern lowlands'.
Remarkable about the Bolivian performance at the Berlin carnival, quoted here only because it is accompanied by a particularly explicit discursive framing, are certainly many different things. Suffice it for the purposes of this paper to assert two of them: Firstly, all of the three Bolivian contributions make it unmistakably clear that what is performed is essentially indigenous, more precisely Andean Indian, or at least an act of remembering essentially indigenous feats, concerns, and rituals. Secondly, until three years ago, there was only one group which annually attended the event, and this group danced Caporales, a dance with a decidedly different aesthetics, at least in terms of the costumes used, which makes direct reference not to any actual or imagined Indian ritual performance, but to the little group of Bolivians of African descent living in the Yungas of La Paz, and is quite probably derived from the Morenada of the Oruro Carnival.
That there are more Bolivians (and friends of Bolivia) in Berlin performing folklore now then there were five years ago may find several explanations, among which for instance the fact that the Berlin Carnival as a whole is still a rather young event. Yet, I would like to point to the fact that there is quite evidently a certain proliferation of a specific type of folklore, namely one which puts heavy emphasis precisely on motifs of Indianness, authenticity, and the glory of an Indian, decidedly anti-Hispanic past bearing forth into the present. One may expect that this proliferation importantly responds to the conditions, valuations and discourses as they constitute the field for folkloric performance in Germany. Yet, I would argue, it also mirrors to some extent a few tendencies which, over the last two decades or so, have transformed folklore and folkloric pageants in Bolivia itself:
There are now, to begin with, far more folkloric pageants than there were 20 years ago, and within these pageants, Tinku, P'ujllay, Llamerada and similar dances occupy ever more important spaces. What Thomas Abercrombie (1992) has identified as the relatively recent 'ethnorealistic' part of the entire folkloric repertoire - the part more closely identified with actual Indigenous populations and their actual or imagined cultural manifestations - has significantly gained ground, notwithstanding the fact that the other part of this repertoire - Diablada, Morenada, Incas and Caporales - have certainly not vanished. And according to my appreciation, the presumed authenticity of these ethnorealistic dances is very much a dimension on which people draw when evaluating the merits of different dancing performances.
The question, then, is whether the increasing relevance of those dances associated with a high degree of 'Indianness' does, in fact, parallel an increasing participation of Indigenous populations in the production of folklore and the society which represents itself through it. Or, to put it the other way round: Who are the people for which authenticity - or the realistic mise en scène of Indigenous cultural manifestations in the context of grand scale folklore - has become a value in and of itself? Why has it become a value? And with what societal and political projects and developments does it potentially correspond?
Within the configuration of modern day political systems and discourse in many parts of the world, and most certainly in Bolivia and the Americas at large, a publicly proclaimed 'identity' is beyond any doubt an asset - if not even sometimes a pre-condition - when it comes to claiming political or societal participation and rights. For people conceived as 'Indigenous', this identity is par force a 'cultural' identity, this is to say one which can be instantiated in a set of cultural practices. And more forcefully so, if these cultural practices can be put on stage as in folkloric performance. Quite regularly, a connection is posited between the existence of 'cultural authenticity', 'cultural diversity', 'cultural resistance' and Otherness from main-stream 'Hollywood' culture on the one hand, and the potential for social, political and economic equity on the other: Where there is culture, and where people retain their authentic culture, there is at least hope for social and political development. Indigeneity becomes a value in and of itself, and questions regarding the conditions, processes and relations governing the production of the type of performance relevant for the assessment of degrees of Indigeneity - cultural Otherness put on display - tend to slip into the background.
Such a position, I would argue, clearly resonates for instance with the UNESCO's efforts to strengthen cultural diversity and the 'cultural heritage' of particular peoples and humankind at large. In Bolivia, as in fact in quite a few South American countries, the 1990s brought about constitutional amendments and legal dispositions which very much rest on these precepts as well: Bolivia, so their tenor, is going to be a more democratic and more equitable country once it realizes the fact it is 'pluriethnic and multicultural' in essence, as the first Article of the amended constitution declares.
In this sense, the increased visibility of Indianness - or of what is perceived as such - in Bolivian folklore may be read as a hopeful sign: As one which hints at an increasing societal and political participation of those whose cultural heritage it supposedly is: Of 'indigenous' peasants and, perhaps, marginal urban sectors which are to some degree associated with Indianness.
As anthropologists, I guess, we would be suspicious anyway as we have lived through a painstaking critique of our very own techniques of 'Othering' and how they relate to the workings of colonizing power. On a more general level, and leaving aside for a moment those disciplinary concerns, I would believe that there is plentiful evidence that a closer look at the dynamics which bring 'Indianness' to the fore might reveal that, in this particular context, it is, in fact, not that pristine and unproblematic essential quality removed from societal power relations which only has to be safeguarded so that popular participation may flourish, but rather a motif and a discursive strategy on which people draw to make certain claims as well as to individually and collectively position themselves within society.
There is, for a start, little doubt that many, if not most of the people performing Indianness in dance at the urban folkloric pageants are not 'Indians' by any more or less coherent standards - at least not in the sense their very performance defines Indianness: As something as decidedly as spectacularly Other than the urban realm through which the dancers - in many of the pageants typically university students - move in their everyday lives. 'Indigenous cultural heritage' is quite regularly used as something external, something that pertains to other places and other times. And although there is certainly no reason whatsoever to morally discard any particular appropriation of Indianness on the sole ground of lacking 'authenticity' or originality, this may illustrate the disjunctures and complications there are between Indigenous bodies and their potential for societal participation on the one hand, and the performance of 'Indian cultural heritage' on the other.
Thus, the main point I would like to make here is the following: While Folklore (with a capital 'F' as it is explicitly named and negotiated as such) in present day Bolivia cannot be understood any longer as the unilateral outcome of processes of patrimonialization effected by the state and national (and nationalist) elites, it would be at least as equivocal to believe that it is an unreflected, perennial product of the cultural faculty of an Indigenous people which could be gauged in terms of 'authenticity'. There is hybridity in the sense Nestor García Canclini (1989) suggests: The mutual intersection and cross-conditioning of perhaps formerly more clearly seperated spheres of culture; there are Arjun Appadurai's economic, cultural, ideological and migratory flows (Appadurai 1990) shaping the conditions for the production of folklore; and there are individuals engaged in the production of it and bringing to bear on it the concerns, interests, and standards condtitioned by and associated with their social subjectivities and individual strivings. Folklore in present day Bolivia, so my argument, is an utterly dynamic and complex field of cultural production.
It is, furthermore, a field of cultural representation; this is to say one in which Bolivians come to a paradigmatic understanding of who they are in terms of cultural, social, and ethnic/racial characteristics, as a national collective as well as in relation to one another. And last but not least, it is a field in which Andean Indianness as the most conspicuous signifier turns up in quite distinct shapes and is constantly resignified, very much in accordance with broader societal currents, as well as with such which transcend the national realm of production of meaning.
In what remains, I shall briefly sketch out what I regard as the three main types - ideal types one might say in Max Weber's terms - of participation in the folkloric pageants. This very rough typology of mine cursorily correlates social characteristics of participants with ways of relating to Indianness through participation in the urban folkloric pageants. Needless to say that reality is infinitely more complex, and more precisely that many people's participation may well fall into more than one of my types or out of my frame altogether. The following may, therefore, be understood as a very rough approximation which does not claim to describe the phenomenon at issue in its full complexity.
Folklore as National Patrimony
The model for all the urban folkloric pageants which take place in present day Bolivia is beyond any doubt the carnival of Oruro, the oldest and most prestigious of the events of this sort which earned its city the official epithet of 'Capital of Folklore' and is one of the first 19 'Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity' proclaimed by the UNESCO in May, 2001. As Thomas Abercrombie has laid out, the Carnival experienced its big rise in the middle of the 20th century, in conjunction with the social processes leading to the nationalist revolution of 1952 (Abercrombie 1992). Local elites, so Abercrombie, appropriated the format of the carnival pageant for the performance of their version of Andean cultural heritage which is essentially in tune with what is known all over Latin America as 'Indigenism': As Abercrombie points out, the nationalist carnival of the second half of the 20th century dramatizes the promises and perils of Andean Indianness for criollos who use it to assert their genuine connection to the territory of the nation they strive to construe, yet must retain an unequivocal distance to it if they want to avoid putting into jeopardy their position of social superiority. Hence, the Indianness they perform is temporarily and spatially confined to the carnival pageant. And the criollos' 'postcolonial predicament' - as Abercrombie puts it -, or the attempt to assert cultural belonging to the territory while retaining distance to its most evidently 'native' populations, is resolved at the end when the dancers take off the masks of Andean demons they sported during the parade and kneel down before the local advocation of Virgin Mary in whose honor the entire event takes place.
The dances most typically pertaining to the Carnival of Oruro are Diablada, Incas and Morenada. As Nathan Wachtel (1971) has argued, Diablada and Incas belong genealogically quite evidently to what turns up in various forms all over Latin America as 'Dances of the Conquest'; they are dances which dramatize the defeat of the Incas or the Devil and the Seven Sins respectively and may have arisen as the Andean versions of the performance genre of 'Christians and Moors' which the Spaniards spread early in the history of colonization to make people celebrate their own submission to Crown and Church . Yet, people are little aware of these aspects of the dances and would generally take them instead as celebrations of the Incan cultural heritage and the Devil/Tío as the awe-inspiring lord over the subsoil and its minerals.
So, both dances reference Indigeneity (or lo indígena) not so much as something present in any actual population, but as an abstract part of history (in case of Incas) or as a socially rather unspecific set of telluric forces - as they say - as something which quite literally resides in the soil the dancers appropriate through their performance. Additionally, these dances, and even more so Morenada and Caporales contain quite explicit manifestations of colonial desire in that the female participants sport hyper-sexualized versions of the outfit typically worn by Cholitas, women retaining stylistic Otherness from Western society within the markets, middle- and upper-class kitchens, and Chicherías within which they mostly move.
Without going into much more detail, I would like to emphasize that this particular version of folklore - be it called the nationalist Indigenist version - relates to Indianness in a twofold and ambiguous way: It explicitly draws on motifs of Indianness and an Andean cultural patrimony and appropriates them for the performance, but at the same time, it posits an unmistakable distance between the dancers and Indianness as manifest in actual populations: The costumes do not mirror any dress style used by Bolivia's more narrowly 'Andean' people rural or urban - and where they allude to it - as in the female cholita-like costume - they do so in a rather grotesque way, disposing of any sense of realism and putting on stage female Indian bodies as mere inventions of the lustful criollo gaze; the Oruro carnival takes place as an homage to the Virgen de la Candelaria, and even though this advocation of Virgin Mary is frequently identified with the Andean Pachamama in an 'idols behind the altar' style argument, there is not the slightest doubt that the necessary conditions for participation in the pageant - at least ideally - are an unequivocal Catholic faith and a committed devotion to the Virgin.
On a more pragmatic, and perhaps even more unmediated level, the separation between this particular display of Andeanness and the condition of actual 'Andean' populations hinges on economic grounds: In present days, a male Morenada costume, for instance, easily amounts to 200 US Dollars. It is, in other words, far beyond reach for most Bolivians, and expensive enough for those who can somehow afford it to serve as an item of conspicuous consumption, as something which instantiates the dancer's remoteness from the pitiful poverty which characterizes the country's most unequivocally 'Indian' populations.
Folklore as individual de-Indianization
Where the nationalist qualities of the criollo Carnival of Oruro very much hinge on the patrimonialization of motifs of Andeanness, it is precisely this economic dimension, the utter costiness of participation in folkloric pageants, which consitutes the main element within a second group's engagement with folkloric parades: As Xavier Albó and Matías Preiswerk (1986) have analyzed, the pageant of the Fiesta de Nuestro Señor Jesús del Gran Poder of La Paz is mainly constituted by migrants of rural descent to the city of La Paz. The pageant's most typical dance is precisely Morenada, the most fastuous and expensive of the various dances, and I believe it is pretty safe to say that this is by no means coincidential: Gran Poder most notoriously, but other instances of folkloric dancing as well, provide an arena in which individuals publicly display their economic ability to participate in this type of activity, their upward mobility if they are recent migrants from rural areas or even dwellers of provincial towns, or just their general belonging to a social class with certain financial assets.
As economic standing and racial/ethnic identification in present day Bolivia are intimately linked to one another, as a certain financial affluence stands as a marker at least of distance to the - once again - most unequivocally 'Indian' sectors of the society, folkloric dancing in this dimension is an appropriate means of distancing oneself from Indianness, the performance of Andeanness a form of socially whitening oneself at an individual level.
In highlighting the economic dimension involved, this particular form of folkloric performance takes up the disjunctive element of folklore in the nationalist paradigm of the Carnival of Oruro: Dancing is a form of signifying social distance to those sectors of the population most explicitly identified with Andean culture: Rural Indians. The dancer by virtue of his or her ability to participate in the pageant steps out of the social condition of Indianness, and - at least in the festival of Gran Poder - this stepping out is perhaps the most significant motive for people to actually participate in the performance. The other dimension of the nationalist Carnival - the patrimonialization of 'Andean culture' is of lesser importance, although it may actually come up in conjunction with neo-populist, 'cholo' politicians' contestation of criollo claims to social legitimacy and power (cf. Albro 1999).
Folklore as cultural revindication
A third aspect of present day folklore in urban Bolivia and the use of Indianness it makes reflects, as to my appreciation, relatively recent societal phenomena: Since the beginning of the 1990s approximately, and perhaps with the symbolic starting point of the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the Americas, attempts at promoting and recuperating something like the 'true and realistic essence of Andean culture' have been gaining ground, in folkloric pageants most notably with the rise of 'ethnorealistic' dances such as Tinku, P'ujllay, Tarqueada and so forth. These dances follow an aesthetics which is decidedly different from the one of dances of the Diablada and Morenada type in that they explicitly model their costumes on dress styles pertaining to regionally specifiable peasant populations. Now, it is certainly not the case that these 'ethnorealistic' dances would not allow for the display of individual economic well-being. After all, dancers still have to pay quite elevated participation fees to the entities organizing the pageants, and it is common practice for the fraternities performing these dances to differentiate themselves from others through the embellishment of the basic dress style, based on woollen and cotton fabric as it is in opposition to the richly embroidered silk and velvet of Diablada, Morenada and Caporales. These dances do certainly not subscribe to a cult of poverty, as it were, but nevertheless, they are equally certainly far less marked by the aspect of conspicuous consumption which so much characterizes the other dances mentioned above.
As of today, there are no detailed studies focussing on people performing this particular 'ethnorealistic' type of folklore within the urban Bolivian pageants, but it is my impression that, upon a closer look, one might actually find conditions and relations similar to those analyzed by Marisol de la Cadena for what she describes as 'Indigenous Mestizos' in Cuzco (de la Cadena 2000). According to de la Cadena, the group of people with whom she worked - typically university students in a marginal position due to their rural background - strive to position themselves through highlighting their rootedness in Andean culture, while on the other hand distancing themselves from rural 'Indianness' by reference to educational achievements. Thus claiming to be 'indigenous' culturally and 'mestizos' - i.e. non-'Indians' - as part of the educated, modern Peruvian society, their claim at social recognition rests on the positive valuation of abstract 'Indianness' as effected by elitist Indigenism and turns it to their advantage, thereby perpetuating rather than undermining what de la Cadena calls the 'hegemonic consensus' which consists in the essential marginalization of rural 'Indians'.
Conclusion
If my impressions regarding the last of my three basic types of participation in urban folkloric pageants in Bolivia is right, there is one common denominator pertaining to the entire field as far as it is covered by my three types: Folkloric dancing would be a means of improving, or at least ascertaining positions within society. In a society where the cultural condition of 'Indianness' is very intimately linked to marginalized peasants, and where an elevated social status and a high degree of 'Indianness' are therefore - and individual exceptions not withstanding - virtually exclusive of one another in any single person, social positioning to a high degree consists in gaining distance from peasants and 'Indianness' in its manifest form. The performance of motifs of 'Indianness' in all the three forms sketched out here, far from achieving a better integration of peasant populations into the national society, does, then, work toward creating a disjuncture between living peasants and 'Andean culture', past or 'authentic', making the latter available for societal projects of various sorts and the types of individual strivings lined out above.


References cited
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