Countering Development: Indigenous Modernity and the Moral Imagination

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So, that term [development] appears very complicated to me. That term is like a more schematic vision from outside. It's like we measure precisely the period of the Nasa, what's going to happen in the future, from now until these years the indigenous people will achieve such-and-such, within three, four, orfiveyears. But from inside, the indigenous people, we would have another way of knowing our future, which is ahead, our future which is behind, and our future which is ahead, it looks a little like the reason for existing on this planet Earth.

T h e Nasa have their o w n way of dunking a b o u t t h e past, t h e present, t h e future, and t h e continuities a m o n g all three. Pinacue argued that for t h e m t o think a b o u t t h e future in terms of projects lasting three, four, o r five years directly contradicted their life project, a way of thinking holistically a b o u t their long-term future. This discussion, and several others that w e had, were very m u c h conversations a m o n g intellectual equals.

T h e topic in question was o n e we had all t h o u g h t seriously a b o u t from various perspectives and a b o u t which w e all had strong opinions.

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Thinking about t h e future also raised larger questions a b o u t meaning a n d existence, w h a t she later referred t o as la mirada nasa the Nasa gaze a different way of looking at t h e world, with different responsibilities t o those w h o came before a n d those w h o will come after, writing in t h e present about t h e past and t h e future. She linked this t o her o w n intellectual project. I am diinking about who I am going to write for. We are always yielding to the past, but always thinking about the youth as well, drinking about those two parallels. Team meeting in January Perdomo shared many of Pinacue's opinions regarding development, and elaborated o n t h e idea of a Nasa gaze, pointing o u t h o w it had been severely affected by changing political and environmental conditions, as well as by encroaching development organizations: That forces us a little to look at how we are going to reorganize that gaze.


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This is like the crossword puzzle for me, in which perhaps David is [too] entangled to observe. So, what to do? It's true what Susana outlines, that we have a gaze, very special, our own way of measuring time. And our own way of advancing in space. But h e was also very aware of h o w easily the state and its surrogates could corrupt t h e cabildos with offers of easy money, which, reiterating Pinacue's earlier points, were directed at creating jobs for their friends. Although I always think that the way of measuring development is the other great problem. That we were told that development is to have this chair in this style, these walls in this style, or television sets, or computers, or cars, or all that.

So that is another of our errors, the indigenous communities, where we are trying to understand, with a completely false reference, from a view of development as a necessity, as a right, excuse me, as a right but with distinct needs. These and other comments obliged m e t o rethink w h a t I meant by development in t h e context of indigenous Cauca and realize that m y approach was t o o n a r r o w and t o o conventional. Their approach t o social change incorporated other elements, such as health, justice, and education, which they could control t o a greater extent.

While all three incorporate key aspects of Nasa culture and, hence, Nasa identity, they can also be viewed as part of the project of modernity, as elements of integration, incorporation, and acceptance o n terms established by t h e larger society. But with local control, they can also be used as sites of resistance t o d o m i n a n t discourses and practices. According t o Perdomo, the pursuit of bilingual education offered this potential: And now, thanks to Susana, I have become aware of this process of working on [our] own education, above all with CRIC.

But it hasn't been done only with C R I C. But also in other places, for example in Toez [Caloto], they are trying to do the same with the high school. And certainly it's a very different curriculum, but it also has the same type of justification.

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And this for me has various ramifications. It was a m o r e ambitious, radical project designed t o provide students with a better understanding and appreciation of their indigenous roots, while at the same time preparing t h e m t o be productive citizens. O u r differences, however, were n o t limited solely t o the meaning and practice of development.

A t the time of o u r collaboration, and for some considerable time afterward, I was wrestling with the meaning and significance of a n e w "actor" w h o had appeared o n the regional scene. Since its inception, La Maria has played host t o a series of workshops and meetings: workshops for w o m e n and other specific groups; the quadrennial congress of C R I C ; meetings of A S I Indigenous Social Alliance , the political party established by the Quintines, the demobilized members of the M A Q L , and C R I C in 1 9 9 1 ; and, m o r e recently, as a staging g r o u n d for organized, peaceful marches t o protest the assassination of indigenous leaders, the pervasive political violence, and the free trade agreement with the U n i t e d States.

M y argument was based o n close observation of the events organized there as well as the people w h o chose t o participate. W o m e n and y o u n g people were usually well represented. Pervading the events was a strong element of social solidarity, of people coming together t o struggle against injustices More Than an Engaged Fieldnote of various sorts, while at the same time proposing solutions, some m o r e radical than others. I proposed t o m y colleagues that t h e process under way was also helping strengthen and thicken civil society, a crucial element that has been severely debilitated b y Colombia's o n g o i n g armed conflict.


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Is it a place, a territory, a space? But it's much more than that. What is it?

Such arenas are n o t enclaves, since they seek t o disseminate their discourse t o other, broader publics. M y indigenous colleagues t o o k a different perspective which, while not totally debunking m y argument, added a m u c h m o r e grounded, more political interpretation. For Pinacue, La Maria served primarily as a political base a n d platform for those indigenous leaders, all male, running for political office at provincial and national levels.

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Workshops there h a d highlighted t h e importance of h u m a n rights in general and women's rights in particular, b u t she saw little evidence that w o m e n had gained any m o r e political space. T h e leadership did n o t encourage t h e participation of w o m e n , particularly if they were strong and assertive, and had, in fact, terminated C R I C ' S program for w o m e n.

But Pinacue also blamed t h e w o m e n themselves—and b y implication herself—for allowing this t o happen. She explained, "Why?

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Because there is an internal weakness a m o n g us as w o m e n in t h e face of that avalanche that w e have. S o t h e w o m a n simply exists in that space and our task is t o analyze those spaces a n d h o w t o enter a n d empower CHAPTER ONE ourselves with those public spaces, while these m e n present concrete proposals which reflect their interests" Team meeting in July 2 0 0 1. For Pinacue, t h e creation of La Maria had changed little, except t o provide yet another political platform for male leaders, and from which leaders w h o happened t o be w o m e n were effectively excluded.

While Perdomo agreed with Pinacue's analysis, h e chose t o place La Maria in t h e broader context of t h e political and cultural tensions that have historically divided the two major ethnic groups in Cauca, the Nasa and the Guambiano.

Countering Development: Indigenous Modernity and the Moral Imagination

Chronically short of land and surrounded by the Nasa, the G u a m b i a n o have been steadily and legally "colonizing" available adjacent lands. According t o Perdomo, t h e cabildo of G u a m bia does n o t allow a Guambiano family t o purchase land elsewhere unless there is land available in t h e n e w community for at least an additional five G u a m b i a n o families, thus ensuring a continuing b u t growing Guambiano presence.

T h e resguardo of La Maria is such a creation, which Perdomo viewed as n o t h i n g less than an expropriation of lands that traditionally had belonged t o t h e Nasa, b u t which t h e Nasa had s o m e h o w lost. For him, t h e key question was: W h y was La Maria established o n land provided b y a Guambiano resguardo, rather than a Nasa resguardo? If they chose t o leave, this identity w o u l d be diluted.

P e r d o m o worried about t h e implications for t h e Nasa. Because if t h e Guambiano become peasants, w h a t will happen t o us, t h e Paez [ N a s a ] , w h e n we arrive there and join forces, will we come o u t stronger o r m o r e confused? N o t only w o u l d their cultural identity be threatened, so More Than an Engaged. Fieldnote w o u l d their lands. T h e G u a m b i a n o of La Maria w o u l d steadily and inevitably encroach o n the lands of the neighboring Nasa. Perdomo, for his part, chose t o maintain his distance, at least in the early years.

While I respected m y colleagues' opinions, I did n o t share them, partly because I interpreted the processes under way differently, b u t also because t o accept their argument w o u l d have meant rejecting m y o w n , 9 something I was unwilling t o d o at the t i m e.

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Their skepticism helped temper m y waning romanticism, m y quest for the anthropological grail of t h e "moral community. W h a t maintained the mutual engagement was the continuing dialogue, n o t only about m y research and their research b u t also a b o u t other contemporary political events, a r o u n d which w e often h a d strong and sometimes differing opinions. For Pinacue and Perdomo, m y engagement with t h e m t o o k several forms. First, there was m y willingness t o read and c o m m e n t o n drafts of their work, comments which they sometimes chose t o accept and other times ignored.

T h i r d — a n d this is the least tangible b u t perhaps most important element—there was the realization and acceptance o n their part that n o t only did I take t h e m and their w o r k seriously, b u t that I also t o o k their history and their culture equally seriously. A n d in the process, of course, w e became friends.