Colombia’s Forgotten Frontier

Colombia’s Forgotten Frontier: A Literary Geography of the Putumayo

Volume: 3
Copyright Date: 2013
Edition: 1
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    Colombia’s Forgotten Frontier
    Book Description:

    Coming to prominence during the tropical booms of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Putumayo has long been a site of mass immigration and exile, of subjugation and insurgency, and of violence. By way of a study of literature of and on the Putumayo by Latin American as well as US and European writers, Colombia’s Forgotten Frontier explores the history and enduring significance of this Amazonian border zone, which has been visited both physically and imaginatively by figures such as Roger Casement, José Eustasio Rivera, and William Burroughs. Travel writing, testimony, diaries, letters, journalism, oral history, songs, photographs, and ‘pulp’ fiction are all considered alongside more conventional forms such as the novel. Whilst geographically peripheral, the Putumayo has played a central role in Colombia and beyond, both historically and, crucial to this study, culturally, producing a literature of extreme experience, marginality, and conflict.

    eISBN: 978-1-78138-093-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  5. A note on translations
    (pp. ix-x)
  6. Introduction: Colombia’s forgotten frontier
    (pp. 1-18)

    ‘Todo es inmenso en esa región, empezando por nuestra ignorancia respecto a ella’ [Everything about that region is immense, beginning with our lack of knowledge about it].¹ Little seems to have changed since this observation was included in Luis Antonio Toro Osorio’s 1960s book on the Putumayo.² Today most people outside Colombia are more likely to associate the Putumayo with the popular multicultural record label than the Amazonian region which lends it its name.³ Nevertheless, the Putumayo figures significantly in Colombia and beyond, politically, socially, economically, and culturally. The 1,000-mile long Putumayo River (the Iza in Brazil), which rises in...

  7. Chapter One Geographies of violence: war reporting, 1990–2012
    (pp. 19-45)

    In a 2010 article, ‘Colombia’s Violence: The Mythical Curse of Geography’, Pablo Rojas Mejía contested the widespread view of geography as one of the principal causes of unrest in Colombia:

    Mountains, hills and rivers divide the country into many regions with distinct identities and some historians argue that this fragmentation has stood in the way of efforts to integrate the country. In the long run, the argument goes, geography has also contributed to Colombia’s turbulent and violent history. This is indeed a tempting argument. Colombia is topographically complex, has one of the world’s highest homicide rates and its ongoing armed...

  8. Chapter Two Green mansions to green hell: travel writing, 1874–1907
    (pp. 46-73)

    Representations of the Amazon in travel writing, literature, journalism and, more recently, photography and film draw on narrowly circumscribed and often contradictory terms.² Pristine and pestilential, a place of escape and imprisonment, a tropical paradise and a green hell, the visual and written portrait of this vast and varied river and its environs is remarkably homogeneous – a semantic continuity which extends over place as well as time, effacing not only the changes which have been wrought in the Amazon during the last five hundred or so years, but also the differences between the particular regions and landscapes that constitute...

  9. Chapter Three No-man’s land: testimonial literature of the rubber boom
    (pp. 74-101)

    And under a native hut in Peru, in the forests between the rivers Caraparana and Igaraparana, an Indian was dying. He hoped he would die quickly, because the pain was unbearable. ‘Sirete,’ he moaned softly as his life flowed out, ‘Sirete! I have pains!’ […] That morning they had come. They had tied him to a tree, wrapped paraffin-soaked rags round his legs, and made a fire of dry leaves under his feet, burning them into charred, black stumps. They had beaten him with the butts of their Winchesters between his legs until only a bloody pulp was left where...

  10. Chapter Four ‘Exotic strangers’: the native body in text and image, 1911 and 1969
    (pp. 102-131)

    The appendix of Whiffen’sThe North-West Amazons: Notes of Some Months Spent Among Cannibal Tribestabulates the physical characteristics of the principal indigenous communities of the Putumayo in minute detail. Categories include the colour-analysis of hair and of exposed and unexposed parts of the body, depilation, and stature. Some twenty individual measurements of the body are given, with particular attention to the head (including the nose, chin, and ears). Whiffen’s resulting anatomical descriptions range from the scientific (‘prognathism […] very slight’) to the less-scientific (‘plump’, ‘fat’, ‘very plump’).² Although he would be called upon by the Foreign Office to answer...

  11. Chapter Five Frontier fictions: La novela de la selva, 1924 and 1933
    (pp. 132-158)

    In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Putumayo generated a wealth of writing, from travelogues and ethnography to the testimonial accounts of the rubber boom. While Colombian travel writing on the region can be related to attempts to inaugurate a national literary tradition, especially one which could accommodate the tropical areas at the boundaries of the nation, it was only from the 1920s that explicitly literary representations of the Putumayo began to emerge. Two landmark Colombian novels of the 1920s and 30s, José Eustasio Rivera’sLa vorágine(1924) and César Uribe Piedrahita’sToá: narraciones de caucherías(1933), are...

  12. Chapter Six The front line: war writing, 1933
    (pp. 159-182)

    Colombian anxieties about national sovereignty in the Putumayo – one of the driving concerns of bothLa vorágineandToá– came to a head in 1932, the year in which Uribe Piedrahita’s novel was written. In September 1932 Peruvian rebels occupied Leticia, a small Colombian port ceded by Peru just two years earlier under the terms of the Lozano–Salomón Treaty.² The invasion led to a war which, during the first five months of 1933, was fought along the Putumayo River, then, as now, the border between Peru and Colombia. The war reignited tensions that had simmered between the...

  13. Chapter Seven ‘Fragments of things’: the aesthetics of yagé
    (pp. 183-209)

    Ayahuasca, caapi, dápa, mihi, kahi, natema, pindéare all vernacular names for a powerful hallucinogen known in the Putumayo asyagé.² Used throughout the Amazon, it is traditionally employed by indigenous people for the purposes of divination, healing, and sorcery.³Yagéis a drink which consists of the vinebanisteriopsis caapicombined with one of a number of psychoactive plants, especiallypsychotria viridis.⁴ In combination, they lead to gastrointestinal purging and intoxication and produce spectacular visions which have been a fundamental part of indigenous Amazonian visual and oral expression for around 8,000 years.⁵ The first detailed account of the drink...

  14. Chapter Eight Oil and blood: pulp fiction of the twenty-first century
    (pp. 210-233)

    ‘It is a horror to go to the Putumayo. I should prefer to go to hell.’ One hundred years after this sentiment was cited in Hardenburg’s book on the rubber boom, the Putumayo continues to generate horror.³ For the past twenty years or so left-wing guerrillas, right-wing paramilitaries, and the army have all played a part in consolidating the region’s reputation as one of the poorest and most dangerous places in Colombia. The Putumayo has been a stronghold of the FARC since the early 1980s and more recently has seen the influx of paramilitaries, leading to frequent armed clashes and...

  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 234-251)
  16. Index
    (pp. 252-262)