Midway through this fine book, Gregorio Saldarriaga relates a dispute that occurred in Ambalema, in central Colombia, in the seventeenth century. Juan Domínguez, a Spaniard married to a mestiza, was sharing a meal with two hired hands, indigenous men who lived in the same small hut as their employer. Although they were clearly on intimate terms with each other and were eating the same food, Domínguez objected when his wife used his special totuma, or gourd cup, to serve chicha to the other men, whose inferior status he wished to emphasize, not reduce. This small incident encapsulates many of Saldarriaga's themes, for it demonstrates both the elements of shared culture that characterized colonial Colombia and the powerful hierarchies that structured and indeed created that culture. Spaniards and indigenous people might on occasion eat exactly the same things, but these transcultured consumption...

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