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Constructions of Tacana indigeneity: regionalism, race and indigenous politics in Amazonian Bolivia

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:31 authored by Esther Lopez Pila
This dissertation is based on eighteen months of field work in Amazonian Bolivia, and situated in the discourse around the construction of indigenous identity in a neoliberal state. It focusses on a lowland people and their historical and contemporary relationship to the state which is aligned to the contemporary indigenous movement. It does this through an ethnographic and historical study of Tacana people, members of an indigenous group who originate in the tropical piedmont of the Bolivian Andes. A central focus of the work is on the relationships which Tacana people have built with different ethnic, social and political groups in their territory. This focus helps to elucidate the overarching issue at the centre of the thesis: the tensions between the Tacana and other indigenous groups, namely highland Aymara and Quechua who have migrated into the region (colonos). The relationship between Tacana and colonos has become increasingly conflictive since the advent of Bolivia's first indigenous president, Evo Morales, which emphasizes its origins in Bolivia’s strong highland-lowland regionalism. This thesis therefore also examines the strong regionalist sentiments found in Bolivia, as expressed in the contrasting concepts of camba (lowland) and colla (highland) which are themselves further tied to more recent efforts to forge local identities, such as an Amazonian identity. The thesis shows how these efforts, which transgress local, historical and racial boundaries, entail an implicit criticism by lowland populations of the government in the Andes. A related point is that constructions of race and mestizaje have developed differently in the highlands and lowlands. Through a close analysis of such racial relationships the thesis shows how lowland groups such as the Tacana more readily align with lowland mestizo people than with other indigenous groups, especially those who originate in the highlands. Democratization processes and neoliberal policy changes have created spaces for tensions to take shape here and become clearer by discussions around identity, heritage and belonging, brought up by the indigenous movement and heavily informed by NGOs.


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