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My Land is Cayambe:

The Roots of Ecuador's Modern Indian Movement

Marc Becker
Book Prospectus


This book examines changes in ethnic identities class consciousness within rural movements for social change in Ecuador during the twentieth century. I explore how popular organizations engaged class and ethnic ideologies in order to influence strategies of political mobilization among Indigenous and peasant peoples. Although ethnicity has come to dominate current Indigenous political discourse, I have discovered that historically the rural masses defended their basic class interests, especially those related to material concerns such as land, wages and work, while simultaneously embracing an ideology of ethnicity. My research challenges traditional and commonly held interpretations which contend that urban leftists and class politics are inimical to the goals of rural Indigenous peoples. I demonstrate that in the 1920s and 1930s rural and urban social movements in Ecuador shared common interests, and these interactions helped determine the nature of ethnic organizational strategies today. Rather than being contradictory, ethnic and class analyses converged in the construction of new forms of Indigenous identities which were necessary to confront critical issues in twentieth-century Ecuador.

This interpretation of intersecting forms of identity is grounded in a case study of historical developments in the canton of Cayambe in the northern Ecuadorian highlands. Beginning in the 1920s Indians in Cayambe began to understand that fundamental structural changes in society were the only way to improve their situation. Cayambe became a staging ground which influenced political strategies and identities throughout Ecuador and the rest of Latin America. Moving from narrow, local revolts to broad organizational efforts for societal change represented a profound ideological shift which marks the birth of Ecuador's modern Indian movement.

An examination of how these early movements developed and operated elucidates the emergence of subsequent Indigenous organizations. I trace this history from the formation of the first Indigenous sindicatos (peasant unions) in Cayambe in 1926, through strike activity in the 1930s, the establishment of the Ecuadorian Federation of Indians (FEI) in 1944, and constant agitation which finally led to the passage of an agrarian reform law in 1964. Finally, I reflect on the legacy of this history for current Indian movements. This story reveals the demands of Indigenous movements, the organizational strategies which Indians implemented to achieve those goals, and the influence which this history had on the political construction of new forms of identity. In turn, changes in identity had a very real impact on the values, demands, and organizational strategies of movements for social change.

This book analyzes changes in identity which accompanied these shifts in organizational strategies. In order to effect fundamental social, political, and economic changes, Indigenous organizations found it necessary to enter into strategic alliances with leftist groups. The anthropological and historical literature has interpreted this development as a western intrusion into traditional community structures with a resulting disruption of Indigenous lifestyles and corruption of ethnic identity. I demonstrate that the current Indigenous movement in Ecuador has its roots in leftist organizational efforts, and that its character must be understood as an integral part of that history. In fact, it is the nature and content of that relationship with the left which has led to Ecuador witnessing the strongest Indigenous movement in Latin America in the 1990s.

I weave the roles of leadership, institutions, ideologies, economics, class relations and basic values concerning land and community into a complex cultural history to interpret the formation of ethnic ideologies and nationalist thought in twentieth-century Ecuador. My study presents new empirical information on Ecuadorian ethnic consciousness and contributes important theoretical insights into the formation of Indigenous ideologies and the role of nationalism in political mobilization and ethnic conflicts. Through an analysis of Indigenous perceptions of Ecuadorian state formation and their attitudes toward state power, I have concluded that Indigenous peoples in Ecuador have proven to be highly capable of creating new forms of identity and political alliances. Rather than being contradictory, ethnic, class, and nationalist forms of identity have converged in the construction of new forms of Indigenous identities which were necessary to confront critical issues in twentieth-century Ecuador.

Market and Competition

Because of the interdisciplinary nature of my research, this book will interest scholars in a wide range of fields. Recent Indigenous organizing efforts in Ecuador have triggered intense debates among anthropologists, sociologists, and political scientists in issues of identity politics and organizational strategies within these movements. My work gives a historical dimension to these studies. There is no similar work which covers the historical scope and issues addressed in this book. It will provide scholars working on contemporary issues a much-needed historical background for their investigations. Creating a broader historical context will also cause these scholars to rethink the location of their own work within the debates on the role of class and ethnic identities in the creation popular movements.

This book will also interest students of agrarian mobilizations and ethnic identity politics throughout the developing world. It will provide a comparative example of how a rural population confronted the damaging impact of a modernizing agrarian capitalism on their local communities and lives. This study examines a model of the effectiveness of cross-cultural alliances and the ability of marginalized populations to imagine complex and seemingly conflictive forms of identity. It will be of interest to scholars and activists interested in popular movements, rural and Indian peoples, ethnic conflict and identity politics.

This book will also find a market in undergraduate and graduate courses on ethnicity, agrarian history, social movements, and political theory. My writing style is clear and straightforward, free of the confines of technical jargon. I am able to communicate complex concepts through a readable and enjoyable narrative. Students will increase their knowledge of Andean history while at the same time being challenged to rethink their assumptions about the interplay of class and ethnic dynamics.

Physical Characteristics and Schedule for Completion

The book manuscript is complete. It is organized into nine chapters and has about 265 manuscript pages (roughly 100,000 words), including the text, footnotes, and bibliographies. I am willing to work with the press to acquire historical photographs from Ecuador and to draft professional maps to supplement the manuscript. The attached outline shows the organization of each chapter and a list of supplementary materials.

Chapter Summaries

  1. Class Ideologies and Ethnic Politics in Ecuadorian Peasant and Indigenous Movements
    1. Regionalism and ethnicity in Ecuador
    2. Class, ethnicity, and the "Indian Problem"

    This chapter establishes a broad framework for the book, with a particular focus on conflicting notions of class consciousness and ethnic identities. It positions my interpretations of rural protest movements within the existing literature on the subject.

    Part One: History and Economics

  2. Culture and Ethnicity in the Canton of Cayambe
    1. Cayambe-Caranqui period
    2. Inka occupation
    3. Spanish colonial period
    4. Republican period

    The first part of this book establishes a historical and social background for this study. The second chapter traces the evolution of identities in the canton of Cayambe. A study of the cultural history of Cayambe reveals the nature of ethnicity in the region and the role which it played in the formation of state policies and popular organizational responses to those policies.

  3. Political Economy, Social Protest, and Citizenship Rights in Ecuador
    1. Independence and the denial of Indian rights
    2. Eloy Alfaro and the 1895 Liberal Revolution
    3. 1925 Julian Reform
    4. May 1944 Revolution

    The third chapter critiques the historical context out of which Indigenous protest emerged in Ecuador. In particular, it focuses on the political economy and its relationship to a denial of citizenship rights to Indigenous peoples.

  4. Land Tenure and Service Tenancy in Cayambe
    1. Encomiendas and haciendas
    2. Service tenancy and the huasipungo

    The fourth and final chapter of the first part of the book examines the evolution of land tenure systems and labor relations on the haciendas in Cayambe. It focuses on material life and the ways that "class" issues fit into Indigenous life in Cayambe. It establishes a concrete context of ethnic identity and economic relations which forms the basis for the study of organization and protest in the following section.

    Part Two: Organization and Protest

  5. Una Revolución Comunista Indígena: Rural Protest Movements at Pesillo
    1. Early peasant organizations in Cayambe
      1. Juan Montalvo
    2. Pesillo hacienda
      1. 1930-1931 strike
      2. Primer Congreso de Organizaciones Campesinas (1931)

    The second part of the book, "Organization and Protest," forms the heart of the book. This entire section builds on the analysis of the material and economic conditions in Cayambe described in the first part of the book, and contrasts organizing patterns and ideological developments on public and private haciendas in the northern and southern parts of the canton.

    The fifth chapter revolves around a 1930-1931 strike on the Pesillo hacienda and the impulse which this gave to organizing Ecuador's first Indigenous organizations. It examines how when Indians were confronted with modernizing economic and political pressures they turned to urban leftists in an attempt to shape these forces to their own benefit.

  6. Federación Ecuatoriana de Indios: Class and Ethnicity in a Twentieth-Century Peasant Movement
    1. Federación Ecuatoriana de Indios (1944)

    This chapter looks at the successful creation of a national Indian federation in 1944. It emphasizes Indigenous leadership in its formation, and argues that an organization which Indians and scholars have often critiqued as subordinate to the political left was established as an authentic expression of Indigenous demands.

  7. Una Granja Colectiva Comunista: Proletarian Pressure for Agrarian Reform
    1. Guachalá hacienda
    2. 1954 Pitaná strike

    The seventh and final chapter in this section analyzes how the extension of protest movements to a modernizing hacienda forced a program of agrarian reform, one of the movement's primary demands. It also charts an evolution in relations between rural Indians and urban marxists, and demonstrates how changes on a global level resulted in increased tensions between these two groups.

    Part Three: Ethnicity and Nationalism

  8. Agrarian Reform
    1. Worker-peasant alliances for agrarian reform
    2. Economic realities of agrarian reform

    The third and final section of the book describes new forces which Indian movements confronted beginning in the 1960s which led to more explicitly ethnic and ethno-nationalist forms of organization. In contrast to those who argue that agrarian reform was the result of the actions of modernizing landlords, this chapter demonstrates that it came about only through constant pressure from Indians and peasants in alliances with urban leftists.

  9. Peasant Strategies in Ethnic Movements
    1. Decline of the Ecuadorian Federation of Indians
    2. Emergence of ethnic-based Indian federations
    3. Ethnicity in a peasant movement?
    4. CONAIE and ethno-nationalist discourse

    The final chapter of the book explains the decline of the FEI in the 1960s and 1970s, but argues that subsequent ethnic-based organizations continued and expanded on the earlier federation's work. In fact, in the Indian movement in the 1980s and 1990s became a strong force in Ecuador because it pursued the strategies which earlier class-based peasant syndicates had pioneered.

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