Since the days of the Spanish Conquest, the indigenous populations of Andean Bolivia have struggled to preserve their textile-based writings. This struggle continues today, both in schools and within the larger culture. The Metamorphosis of Heads explores the history and cultural significance of Andean textile writings–weavings and kipus (knotted cords), and their extreme contrasts in form and production from European alphabet-based texts. Denise Arnold examines the subjugation of native texts in favor of European ones through the imposition of homogenized curricula by the Educational Reform Law. As Arnold reveals, this struggle over language and education directly correlates to long-standing conflicts for land ownership and power in the region, since the majority of the more affluent urban population is Spanish speaking, while indigenous languages are spoken primarily among the rural poor. <I>The Metamorphosis of Heads</I> acknowledges the vital importance of contemporary efforts to maintain Andean history and cultural heritage in schools, and shows how indigenous Andean populations have incorporated elements of Western textual practices into their own textual activities.
Based on extensive fieldwork over two decades, and historical, anthropological, and ethnographic research, Denise Arnold assembles an original and richly diverse interdisciplinary study. The textual theory she proposes has wider ramifications for studies of Latin America in general, while recognizing the specifically regional practices of indigenous struggles in the face of nation building and economic globalization.
Certainly ambitious, but the authors succeed in their aims through a wonderfully rich ethnography and careful reading of historical research.
The importance of this book is its insistence on respect for the Andean textual rights, to recognize the native population's own ways of producing meaning, which are intimately bound up with the land, with weaving, with ritual, and other cultural practices. Thus failure to respect their land rights, and their rights to an education nourished by their own traditions, are shown to be part of the same phenomenon. It is hard to think of another book which addresses so profoundly the politics of knowledge in the Andean region.
Denise Arnold weaves an account of learning in the Andes and shows us the way to school through a millennial landscape she has come to know well, reviving text as the textile that ceaselessly issues from local hands. Original and highly informative, this study strives to change the days when in Aymara the term education, q«umachasi p«iqi, meant emptying the head of just the Andean knowledge that is celebrated here.
A compelling argument about the epistemological differences between Andean and European textual practices that lead to an often invisible or ignored conflict in Bolivian schools. This work makes a highly original contribution to Andean studies through an illumination of indigenous practices rooted in pre-Hispanic and colonial traditions and how they interact with modern state institutions.
Denise Y. Arnold is director of the Instituto de Lengua y Cultura Aymara, La Paz, Bolivia, and visiting professor at Birkbeck College London. She is the co-author with Juan de Dios Yapita of River of Fleece, River of Song.learn more
Juan de Dios Yapita is visiting professor at Birkbeck College London, and co-author of Compendio aymara. He is the author of a series of Aymara poems in the collection Las lenguas de América: Recital de poesía.learn more