The Bolivia Reader: History, Culture, Politics
The Rich Mountain
The annals of Potosí composed by Bartolomé Arzáns de Orsúa y Vela (1674–1736) occupy a blurry literary domain between history and fiction, edifying morality tale and titillating scandal sheet. Like an Andean Cervantes, Arzáns’s narrator claimed to write from first-person knowledge, credible rumor, and his reading of learned chroniclers. The city that emerges from his picaresque stories is inhabited by a remarkable cast, including warring parties of Basques and other Spanish immigrants; trapped Indian mineworkers rescued by a miraculous Virgin; an Indian social climber rebuffed by the Spanish upper crust; a fortune seeker who entered into a pact with the Devil; a Spanish woman who chewed coca and practiced witchcraft; a wicked wife who poisoned her unsuspecting husband only to be redeemed by her countrymen for being a creole, and so on. Writing at a time of urban and industrial decline, Arzáns celebrated a hybrid New World society during the Rich Mountain’s earlier heyday.
In this classic tale of cross-dressing and gender-bending, the two young maidens Eustaquia and Ana take on the personae of gallant and virile young men courting adventure on the rough streets of the city. Despite their transgression of conventional gender norms and the considerable sexual ambiguity below the surface, in the end their story also affrms both male and female codes of honor.