Accepted paper:

La sifilización: modernity and the Andean ayllu


Jonathan Alderman (University of London)

Paper short abstract:

This paper will be an examination of the meaning of civilisation for the Kallawayas, traditional healers in the North of Bolivia, and the effect that the social organisation of the state-imposed peasant union has had on the relationship between the Kallawayas and the ancestor spirits in the ayllu.

Paper long abstract:

Using ethnographic research in Kallawaya communities in the North of Bolivia, I shall examine what the concept of civilisation means in the context in changes which modernity has brought within the traditional Andean form of social and territorial organisation, the ayllu. The Kallawayas are well-known in Bolivia as being healers, who maintain a strong ritual relationship with their ancestors in the natural environment around them. They believe that the cause of illnesses can be found in a failure to maintain reciprocal obligations with their ancestor spirits. I will examine a Kallawaya interpretation of modernity as a disease - "sifilisation" - which disturbs their observation of reciprocal obligations to their ancestor spirits within the ayllu. I will make reference particularly to the consequences of changes in social organisation following agrarian reform in Bolivia in 1953, which created peasant union, part of a state policy of "civilising" the Indian. The union turned the authority structure of Kallawaya communities on its head, with the shaman who fed the community shrines and communicated with the ancestor spirits relegated in importance behind more political authorities who communicated with the state and other outside institutions. I will examine the effect this change in the balance of the social organisation, along with alphabetization and increased contact with the cities, had on the relations within the ayllu as the communities became "sifilised".

panel P64
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