In Decolonizing Indigeneity: New Approaches to Latin American Literature, Thomas Ward, working with deep erudition and sharp analysis, questions the paradigm we have inherited for the teaching of Latin American literature. He argues that both the canon and methods in use privilege a Eurocentric approach that not only leaves out the indigenous past and present civilizations of Mexico, Peru and Guatemala but foments the massive erasing and forgetting starting with and by the Conquest. In trenchant chapters that push to the fore Indigenous thought past and present, Ward restores indispensable representations of Indigenous cultures and inverts the standing paradigm. He outlines a new intellectual organization that pulls the rug from under the hegemonic organization of knowledge of Spanish departments as well as departments of Modern Languages. Required reading for all scholars interested in deep historical cultural formations and curricular reorganization, globalization and the future of knowledge relative to the world’s demographies.
In Decolonizing Indigeneity, Thomas Ward both engages with and puts into practice a compelling decolonial methodology regarding colonial and contemporary writings by and about Amerindians.
Understood in terms of the colonists’ historiography, religion, and science, portrayals of indigeneity are in great need of correction. Ward’s book decolonizes such depictions of indigeneity by viewing Mayan and Andean peoples in their own terms, identifying colonizing mechanisms, and countering present-day readers’ colonized classification of knowledge that conditions their critical analysis of texts.
Chapter 1 outlines three varieties of the colonial force (outright colonialism, intracolonialism,
and neo-colonialism), which provides the theoretical backbone of the book. These varieties can also be understood as the successive stages of colonization in Latin America: the
Spanish invasion, domination and exploitation; the internalization of colonizing mechanisms by original colonists’ descendants; and the current economic dependency on the United States and other world powers. Ward contends that the enduring effects of colonialism can be approached through an analysis of the coloniality of the mind. Intra-colonialists, neo-colonialists, and the colonized reveal their coloniality of mind by (un)consciously repeating outright colonialists’
cultural paradigms. These cultural paradigms can be observed in the ways Amerindians were and are still denied nationness and coevalness. Spanish chroniclers not only referred to diverse
Amerindian ethnic communities with the nationnes-negating term “Indian” but also assigned them a time different than their own.
In chapter 2, Ward’s decolonial analysis of the Popol Wuj both foregrounds its Mayan epistemology related to space and time and recounts its sociopolitical and literary meanings in many post-Independence settings. Popol Wuj views society as temporally unified and uses a numerical base and a geometric conceptualization of space. Its worldview has a binary formulation.
For instance, dualities organize people into moieties, and the pairs of moieties turn into quadriccentric forms of social organization. Also, in the late twentieth century Popol Wuj served as the foundation of a sociopolitical movement by Guatemalan Mayans who embraced it in their claim for a political space and rights to live according to their native culture in Guatemala.
Chapter 3 focuses on the mind-set of Agustín de Zárate, author of Historia del descubrimiento y conquista del Perú (1555). Ward contends that Zárate’s psychological coloniality
grounded in a specific philosophy of his timeblocked out indigenous information and shaped a conceptual vindication of the Spanish empire. Zárate manipulated information mainly by analogy. For instance, the chronicler interpreted and explained the origin and culture of the
Inkas by comparing the Tawantinsuyo with the Atlantis from Plato’s Critias. Zárate could not view the Andeans as his contemporaries; he pushed them back in time and considered them primitive people. Ward states that not only Zárate but other letrados dismissed the notion of
Andean non-alphabetic historiography, such as the khipu. However, the critic’s affirmation is not completely accurate because by the mid-1550s Andean leaders were allowed to use khipus as evidence in their claims before Spanish judges. As Kathryn Burns and Carmen Loza have pointed out, Andean leaders, aided by lettered Andeans, became adept at the use of legal petitions to defend their communities’ resources.
In chapter 4, Ward both foregrounds the civilization status of the Acolhua-Chichimeca nation as portrayed by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl and regards the defense of his people as colonial Indigenism. Ward’s method uses Bartolomé de las Casas’s inversion of the Sepulvedan paradigm of justifications to wage war against barbarians. Las Casas’s six traits indicative of civil life are prudence, virtuousness, learnedness, nobleness, respect for the law, and spirituality. These traits constitute a model for evaluating society in Historia de la nación chichimeca (ca. 1625).
Alva’s decoloniality resides indeed in the depiction of pre- and post-contact Nahua peoples as societies who highly valued the same attributes of civilization that the Spaniards did. One civil trait analyzed in an enlightening way is spirituality, which Ward breaks down into cosmogony,
sedentary religiosity, and monotheism. Like the Popol Wuj, Historia coincides with standard
Mesoamerican abstractions in which the number four configures space and time. However,
unlike the Popol Wuj, Historia ignores a multitude of the elements typical of Mesoamerican cosmogonic formation and creates a confusing mix of entities and periods (123). Alva’s Indigenist and pro-Catholic depiction of his Chichimeca civilization reveals his mestizo identity.
Chapter 5 compares Manuel González Prada’s Indigenist essay “Nuestros indios” (1904) with
Rigoberta Menchú Tum’s Indigenous expressional testimony “Me llamo Rigoberta Menchú y así
me nació la conciencia” (1985). Both texts share a main concern regarding the subordinating mechanisms of the hacienda in their respective Andean and Mayan communities. Ward delineates the four thematic issues related to the coloniality of the hacienda criticized in both texts:
(i.) the ethnic subordination of people by means of the role of the caporal, (ii.) the damaging effects of alcohol, (iii.) the status of the Spanish language in the education system, and (iv.) the continuation of acts of violence against the descendants of Amerindian peoples and their reaction to such acts. In addition to a careful evaluation of each Indigenist writer’s insightful depictions of and prescribed antidotes to the hacienda system, there is a suggestive critique of González Prada’s stance on indigenous education. Ward decolonizes the Peruvian essayist’s idealized conception of modernity as an end to be reached by a Western-stylealthough non-Catholicsystem of education. Ward finds his posture a “culturally insensitive pedagogical position” (160). Unlike
González Prada, Menchú Tum was not interested in modernity. She believed in a type of education that would not only be conducted in Amerindian languages but also have as its main goal the preservation of traditions.
Decolonizing Indigeneity derives from, and further develops, the decolonial methodologies carried out especially by Aníbal Quijano and Walter Mignolo. Its adaptation of Quijano’s theory of “coloniality of power” and its application of Mignolo’s concept of “coevalness” in the analysis of foundational texts provide an enlightening contribution to decolonial and postcolonial studies. Indeed, it allows us to resist the colonial force that has distorted our understanding and appreciation of Amerindian civilizations in all their complexity since the colonial period. This book is a required reading for students and scholars of Latin American literature.
Hispania, Volume 101, Number 3, September 2018, pp. 466-468 (Review)