Accepted paper:

"Tell your countrymen not to run, I have come to conquer them": an intersection of utopias in eastern Peru


Łukasz Krokoszyński (Warsaw University)

Paper short abstract:

An image of the external leader is a common theme in social thought and histories on the Lower Ucayali in Peru. It could be conjectured that the SIL Project in the area has been invited to embark on this idea, filling an important position in the community life.

Paper long abstract:

In 1955, a married couple of American missionaries arrived on the muddy banks of the Buncuya River, affuent of the Lower Ucayali. The family was invited to build a house and ended up living among the Panoan speaking Capanahua people for the next three decades. Histories on the Lower Ucayali are filled with tales of conquest of the wildness and taming of the savage by a strong outsider. It could be argued that they structure the default relation for local indigenous populations of establishing contacts with newly arriving strangers. This paper will explore the powerful outsider utopia's terms and their historical, social and personal depths on the Tapiche and Buncuya Rivers, home to descendants of the social project known as the Capanahua people. Now that stationed missionaries have been gone for another three decades, the position of the wealthy, powerful and knowledgeable fatherly figure seems to be an empty seat waiting to be filled. This absence is indicated as the reason of resurfacing problems regarding Capanahua people's incapacity to maintain satisfying social life in villages. I will probe the notion that acceptance of the 1955 couple in this location has been embedded in historical trajectories and the powerful, locally specific utopian imagery of the social space, and that it initiated a long-lasting negotiation of working misunderstandings produced by missionary and local social thought.

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