This article examines the ways in which, during the early decades of the twentieth century, Arhuaco leaders of the southern slopes of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in Colombia turned to the state to legitimize and move forward their claims. By so doing, they made the state a real presence in an area that has been thought of as a frontier characterized by the state’s absence. I explore Arhuaco interactions with the government and nonindigenous inhabitants of the area in local archives and argue that, far from resting at its margins, the Arhuaco brought the state into being. This case study contributes to the literature about popular and in particular indigenous politics by considering an instance of state formation in a frontier region where the institutional presence of the central administration was sparse. Without external provocation, some Arhuacos invited the state into their lives in selective and strategic ways.

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