Accepted paper:

Comparative utopias in the conquered Bolivian lowlands


Francis Ferrié (St Andrews & UPO Nanterre)

Paper short abstract:

This ethnohistorical paper questions competing colonization utopias in the lowlands between Bolivian Andes and Amazonia. The multi-ethnic Missions followed by the rubber boom during the Republic allow us to understand ethnic reconfigurations and highlight contemporary ethnical resurgences.

Paper long abstract:

Between Bolivian Andes and Amazonia, the indigenous Leco were considered vanished in the XXth century. However two groups reappeared independently from each other at the beginning of the XXIth century. Can we relate this resurgence of two different groups to two different kind of evangelizations? This would make sense, given that the contemporary Leco of Apolo live in the area of the former Franciscan Missions of Apolobamba, whereas the Leco of Guanay occupy the former Augustine Missions of Larecaja. This paper argues that XVIIIth and XIXth centuries missionary machine produced ethnicity, by pushing back to the lowlands a border between wilderness and civilization. Within it, new identities arose from internal political projects. What was the utopia of the multi-ethnic Missions about ? How did architecture and urbanism, teaching (languages, schooling, religion…), and economy (agriculture, trade…) transformed "natives" into "Christian citizen" ? A boundary between "New People", baring the names of Missions, and wild Indians remained effective after the Independence waves resulting from the spread of Enlightenment ideas to South America. During the Republic, extractive industries competed against Missions. A new "utopia" of progress under feudalistic rules led to the agonies of indigenous peoples denounced by a few like Sir Roger Casement, displaying "the colonial mirror which reflects back onto the colonists the barbarity of their own social relations, but as imputed to the savage or evil figures they wish to colonize" (Taussig 1984 : 495). This ethnohistorical paper questions competing colonization utopias and highlight the recent ethnic resurgences.

panel P64
The failed utopia: 'enlightening' the contradictions of christianisation, secularisation and civilisation in the Americas