Chiefs, Scribes, and Ethnographers

Chiefs, Scribes, and Ethnographers

JAMES HOWE
Copyright Date: 2009
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/721104
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  • Book Info
    Chiefs, Scribes, and Ethnographers
    Book Description:

    The Kuna of Panama, today one of the best known indigenous peoples of Latin America, moved over the course of the twentieth century from orality and isolation towards literacy and an active engagement with the nation and the world. Recognizing the fascination their culture has held for many outsiders, Kuna intellectuals and villagers have collaborated actively with foreign anthropologists to counter anti-Indian prejudice with positive accounts of their people, thus becoming the agents as well as subjects of ethnography. One team of chiefs and secretaries, in particular, independently produced a series of historical and cultural texts, later published in Sweden, that today still constitute the foundation of Kuna ethnography.

    As a study of the political uses of literacy, of western representation and indigenous counter-representation, and of the ambivalent inter-cultural dialogue at the heart of ethnography,Chiefs, Scribes, and Ethnographersaddresses key issues in contemporary anthropology. It is the story of an extended ethnographic encounter, one involving hundreds of active participants on both sides and continuing today.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79347-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  5. ONE Introduction: Literacy, Representation, and Ethnography
    (pp. 1-21)

    The study offered here deals with one indigenous people, the San Blas Kuna of Panama, and in particular with three closely related aspects of Kuna engagement with the outside world: with writing and literacy; with representations of indigenous character and culture; and, most of all, with anthropology and its own characteristic form of textual representation, ethnography. Of necessity, I write as an outsider and an anthropologist, caught in the assumptions and practices of my discipline, and also as one of the book’s subjects, one of many ethnographers who have written about the Kuna during the last century. I have tried,...

  6. TWO A Flock of Birds: The Coming of Schools and Literacy
    (pp. 22-44)

    During the nineteenth century or perhaps even earlier, a handful of Kuna men may have learned to read and write a little; certainly, a good many spoke some Spanish, English, or French.¹ But literate men, whatever their numbers, did not pass on their learning, and schooling only began in earnest at the turn of the twentieth century, with a number of Kuna boys who were sent away to live with non-Indian families, most often in Panama City. Under this arrangement, which was found in many Latin American countries, a young Indian or peasant boarder would be fostered or raised(criado)...

  7. THREE Letters of Complaint
    (pp. 45-63)

    Over the course of the twentieth century, the Kuna turned writing to a variety of ends, public and private, from enforcing communal labor to codifying customary law (see Howe 1979, 1986). Most of these practices, however, took years or decades to develop fully. It was chiefs who first exploited the new technology, and then almost entirely for external communication. They wrote occasionally to the press, to lawyers, or to private parties, but most of all they sent letters to government functionaries with authority or influence over Indian affairs and the San Blas coast. Of these officials, those closest at hand...

  8. FOUR Representation and Reply
    (pp. 64-87)

    In the previous two chapters, emphasis fell on the active roles played by the Kuna, first in grasping or rejecting the opportunities presented by schools and writing, and second in turning literacy to political ends. The present chapter takes up the topic, central to the work as a whole, of writing as a tool of cultural representation. After briefly surveying the state of ethnographic knowledge of the Kuna at the beginning of the twentieth century, I consider the paradoxical ethnocidal program imposed on them between 1919 and 1925, paradoxical because government functionaries, rather than developing a systematic orientalist portrait of...

  9. FIVE North American Friends
    (pp. 88-116)

    The hostile depictions of the Kuna discussed in the last chapter had a much friendlier counterpart in English-language accounts of the Indians. This popular ethnographic literature, though it drew on some of the same sources as writings in Spanish, and though it, too, zeroed in on Kuna separatism and resistance to domination, differed radically in its sympathies and tone, as well as its implications for its subjects. Turn-of-the-century Anglophone writers, very few of whom had actually seen San Blas, treated the Indians first of all as objects of contemplation, metaphorical foils or parallels bearing on strongly felt questions in their...

  10. SIX The Swedish Partnership
    (pp. 117-139)

    In early 1927 the secretaries of Chief Nele of Ustupu received a newspaper clipping about a party of Swedish scientists who were in Panama to study the country’s Indians.¹ In late May or early June friends passed on word that the vessel carrying the Swedes had entered San Blas and was calling at the village of Kwebdi, or Río Azúcar, well to the west. A subsequent report advised them of the boat’s progress down the coast, and by June eighth it was at Ustupu itself.

    In this period, two years after the great uprising, the rebel Kuna had yet to...

  11. SEVEN Collaborative Ethnography
    (pp. 140-163)

    The alliance between the Swedes and the Kuna produced, in the words of Alfred Metraux (in Nordenskiöld 1932, 460), “material of a prodigious richness.” Before his death, Nordenskiöld published a travel narrative (1928b), two short monographs (Nele and Pérez Kantule 1928; Nele et al. 1930), several scholarly articles (1928a, 1929, 1932a, 1932b), and a number of popular sketches and articles. His successor, S. Henry Wassén, published two Kuna monographs (1938b, 1949) and a series of articles (1934, 1937, 1952). The linguistic material collected by Izikowitz and others was eventually turned over to a linguist, Nils Holmer, who published two grammars...

  12. EIGHT Post-Rebellion Ethnography, 1925–1950
    (pp. 164-189)

    During the quarter-century following the 1925 rebellion, the Kuna made their peace with Panama. In 1938, the National Assembly created a territorial reserve called the Comarca de San Blas (today the Comarca de Kuna Yala); in 1945 a constitution called the Carta Orgánica established a new system of governance uniting the wholecomarca,with three great chiefs(sagla dummagan), or caciques, and a semiannual council called the Congreso General; and in the early 1950s a law (No. 16 of 1953) officially recognized that system and established the fundamentals of Kuna autonomy in Panama. All of these reforms were promoted by...

  13. NINE The Ethnographic Boom, 1950–
    (pp. 190-213)

    From mid-century on, the ethnographic picture grew immensely more complicated, as improved access, amateur interest in native cultures, and the growth of anthropology as a discipline brought dozens of anthropologists and hundreds of aficionados of exotica into San Blas, turning Kunaology into a cottage industry. A growing fascination with mola blouses refocused attention on the work of indigenous women, in the process regendering ethnographic representations and moving the Kuna and their art to the center of Panamanian national iconography. An influx, first of Peace Corps volunteers and then of foreign anthropologists, added new strands to external alliances and dialogues, while...

  14. TEN Native Ethnography
    (pp. 214-244)

    This chapter takes up once again the story of indigenous self-representation—ethnography by as well as about the Kuna—in the years since Rubén Pérez Kantule’s trip to Sweden. I begin with a cohort of “birds,” or scribes, who mixed politics and salaried employment with uncredentialed but devoted efforts at recording and preserving their people’s culture and history, first among those scribes Rubén’s colleague, the long-term collaborator with Swedish anthropologists, Guillermo Hayans. The chapter then traces the growth of indigenous ethnographic agency, with the late-twentieth-century appearance of university-trained native anthropologists and historians and the evolution of their roles in research...

  15. ELEVEN Chapin’s Lament
    (pp. 245-252)

    Edward Bruner argues cogently that “ethnographies are guided by an implicit narrative structure” (1986, 139), and in particular that each ethnography presupposes an outcome, a fate anticipated for its subjects, whether assimilation and cultural loss or resistance and resurgence. In Chapter 8 I took issue with Bruner, at least concerning Kuna ethnographies written between 1925 and 1950, which, it seems to me, reveal a variety of interpretive viewpoints and frameworks, and indeed, basic disagreement and uncertainty concerning the character and fate of the Indians. But Bruner has a point. Ethnographic consensus, however partial, can emerge at various moments and eras,...

  16. NOTES
    (pp. 253-278)
  17. ABBREVIATIONS
    (pp. 279-280)
  18. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 281-320)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 321-342)