Tag Archives: historical memory

Ejercitando la Mirada Ch’ixi. Cuatro Semanas en La Paz, Bolivia.

Posted by Guillermo Severiche – MFA Student at Creative Writing in Spanish at NYU

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La función más efectiva del colonialismo, según Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, ha sido la de hacer que las palabras no designen, sino encubran. Los discursos públicos se han convertido, dice también, en formas de no-decir ya naturalizados; y esto luego estalla en actos colectivos violentos e incluso irracionales (pienso en las diferentes manifestaciones que ocurren en el mundo con sus consecuentes muertos y heridos, por ejemplo). Es por eso que las imágenes merecen ser consideradas como fuentes cognoscitivas de alto valor teórico e histórico respecto a su tiempo de producción, ya que pueden decir cosas que las palabras no alcanzan o no tienen permitido presentar. Pero este tiempo no permanece aislado ni ajeno al bagaje de lo que muchos otros hicieron en el pasado: vivimos en un presente poroso, atravesado espontánea y también sistemáticamente por los resabios de los actos benévolos, rebeldes, violentos, opresivos y egoístas de la historia que perviven en lo que vamos haciendo y atestiguando día a día. El presente, dijo Silvia en un encuentro, es una superficie sintagmática en la que los diferentes horizontes políticos y sociológicos vuelven a aparecer todos juntos, apelmazados a veces, contradictorios también.

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Material Remains of a Modern Project

Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student.  Media, Culture, and Communication. NYU

A conversation that lingered in the background during most of my fieldwork period in La Chorrera was a traditional dance that was going to take place in one of the malocas located in the nearby communities. The particular characteristic of this event was that it was going to be a “pisada” dance (literally, a “step-over” dance). Uitoto communities celebrate this kind of dance as a way to inaugurate a new maloca (a religious and communal place of gathering). A maloca’s inauguration is always linked to the passing down of the tradition of building and taking care of this kind of construction. In this case, however, the “pisada” dance was planned for a new maloca built by an old abuelo that, instead of passing down the tradition to one of his heirs, decided to start all over with his own quest for knowledge and leadership. The reactions to this unorthodox proposal had varied tones, but amidst all the different critiques or expressions of support, a very important fact stood out to me about the requirements and implications of building a maloca: it is a heavy load for the leader in charge. And, contrary to the common place, that load is linked in a more meaningful way to practical rather than spiritual responsibilities. To be more clear, the religious practices depended in this case on the social ability and the economic capacity of the “maloquero” to actually bring together the community around the construction project and the constant maintenance duties that having a maloca entails.

The practice of building malocas and houses is very similar when it comes to this constant need of maintenance. They both are made of the same materials: wood for the structure (and walls in the case of the houses) and puy leaves (Lepidocaryum tenue) for the roof. This means that, every five or six years, the roof needs to be changed entirely, because leaves start to fall or they break, leading to rainwater leaks. The structure needs to be renovated too in case it rots. Malocas and houses are inevitably built and rebuilt once and again, which means that they are not thought as long-lasting places for generations to come (like it might happen in the case of Western structures such as museums or other places of social interaction). In spite of the great significance of malocas as centers of cultural, political and religious activities, material structure is fleeting and it is not thought in terms of temporal permanence.

House

traditional house (front) and small size maloca (back)

 

 

 

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“Let’s Go Back in Time, Ladies and Gentlemen!”

Posted by Angela Arias Zapata – PhD student.  Media, Culture, and Communication. NYU

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Douglas DC-3

It was a rainy Friday morning in San José del Guaviare when I boarded the old Douglas DC-3 that would take me to La Chorrera, in the Colombian Amazon region. The DC-3 is an American made cargo airplane, famous for its role during the Second World War. A member of the aircrew inaugurated our flight with the words “let’s go back in time, ladies and gentlemen!”, in a gesture of complicity with nervous passengers like me. He was clearly referring to the old aircraft we were in, but, looking at them in retrospective, his words also spoke about the nature of my fieldwork in La Chorrera.

As a first year doctoral student at the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at NYU, my research interests include state violence, official discourses and counter-discourses of memory in the context of endemic violence and war, as well as community based practices of memorialization and resilience. This Summer, I will be doing fieldwork in Colombia, with the intention of exploring the tensions between local and national discourses and projects of memorialization. Reflecting on collective memory goes beyond the historical reconstruction of violent events. It is, indeed, revisiting the past, but it is also understanding how that past is defined by its social functions in the present. In that sense, the old airplane was taking me in a journey to the past but also to a quest to understand the meaning of said past for the present inhabitants of La Chorrera.

I’m interested in the site known as Casa Arana, the center of the rubber boom expansion that took place between the 1900s and the 1930s in the Amazon. As a place where a genocide was coordinated and carried out —approximately 40,000 Uitoto, Bora and Andoque natives were enslaved and murdered there—, this construction has a particular history and, after the genocide ended, it has played many unexpected social roles. After the rubber boom, the place was used as an orphanage run by Capuchin monks, as the regional headquarters for the National Bank for Agrarian Development [Caja Agraria], and as a High School by the Salesian monks. Today is a public school run by the indigenous local population, known as House of Knowledge [Casa del Conocimiento]. Continue reading

Rescuing Historical Memory in El Salvador

 

Memorial at El Mozote

How can the Salvadoran community rescue historical memory when there is such a divide in national/political identity? Focusing on how historical memory post civil war has affected the post-war generation, one begins to realize there has not been a clear practice to create historical memory in El Salvador.

The governing party that held power after the civil war ended, ARENA, made neither an effort to preserve the memory of the civil war, nor have a dialogue about what occurred during that time. Since the left-wing FMLN party came into power with the election of Mauricio Funes in 2009, the same issues have remained. The government has failed to integrate education about the war into school nation-wide, and teachers are not required to discuss in the classroom what happened during the civil war. However, there is a program in which the government provides transportation for students throughout the country to visit museums, whether regarding the civil war or not, in order to promote historical memory.

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