A book that proposes to study the Indian in Latin America, but which portrays on its cover a photograph of mestizos, is obviously in for some rough sledding. Together with the absence of any attempt to define exactly who or what constitutes an Indian in Republican Peru, it reveals a considerable confusion in the author’s mind as to the identity of his subject matter. This is symptomatic of some of the problems that one will encounter in this interesting, but, at times, seriously flawed book.
There can be no doubt that Thomas M. Davies, Jr. has chosen an important and intellectually enticing subject for a book. At a time when Latin Americanists have considerably broadened our understanding of that society through the examination of long-neglected social and economic questions, the study of the Indian promises to be a particularly exciting and rewarding enterprise. Yet, despite this promise, one of the book’s most perplexing problems lies in its methodology. For in many ways it recalls an earlier day when institutional and legal approaches pervaded and dominated research in the field. What Davies has done, not unlike some of his predecessors, is to chronicle, via the law, Peru’s apparent attempts, since Independence, to incorporate its marginal Indian masses. Thus, we meander, sometimes tediously, along a steady stream of laws, which ebbs and flows across the plain of Peruvian history in its endless search for the sea and the promise of Indian revindication.
All of this is, of course, well and good, as far as it goes. But, as with earlier studies, it is not enough in our quest to understand the plight of the Indian across the centuries simply to trace the laws that have been framed to deal with his tortuous existence. A fundamental axiom of the Hispanic world is that the law and the praxis historically have been disconnected. They, in effect, follow two parallel lines that never intersect, and to understand that world is to travel, so to speak, along both roads. Davies takes us down the one road, while largely ignoring the other.
Nowhere is this problem better illustrated than in the chapter dealing with the Indian legislation formulated during the regime of Augusto B. Leguía (1919-1930). Thus, we learn that during the Oncenio “. . .Leguía launched the most extensive program of Indian legislation ever attempted in Peru” (p. 69), most of which as Professor Davies duly notes, remained dead letter. Significantly what we are not told is that during the same period, as José María Arguedas (Yawar Fiesta), François Chevalier, and Jean Piel (incidentally, all absent from the bibliography) have demonstrated, Leguía unleashed economic forces in the country that markedly accelerated the destruction of the nation’s remaining Indian communities. We are thus left with only a portion, in my view the least important portion, of the historical picture.
There is another equally vexing problem with the book. Davies is, quite rightly I believe, morally outraged at the way Peru’s political leaders have used and abused the Indian down through the years. Yet in his zeal to condemn those leaders, the author fails to probe very deeply into the dynamics of Peruvian politics. Let one example here suffice.
How can a book on the Indian virtually ignore the preponderant and often ambiguous role played by the Peruvian mestizo on the entire question? Surprisingly, we are not told that much of the attention devoted to the Indian question is simply the mechanism by which Peru’s politicians have historically appealed to a rising urban (and rural) class of mestizos who, particularly in this century, have been searching out their roots and identity in a common Indian past. Moreover, many official projects created ostensibly to “integrate” the Indian were designed, on the one hand, to extend employment to mestizos and on a deeper level, to further extend, consciously or unconsciously, mestizo (and thereby national) control and domination over the Indian. In short, in the world of practical Peruvian politics, the ethics of which Professor Davies roundly condemns in a tone reminiscent of the late 1960s, it is the popular support of mestizos that counts and, decidedly, not the disenfranchized, politically marginal Indian. Had Davies revealed these and other facets of the Peruvian political system, his moral indignation and certainly his book would have carried greater weight and would have been decidedly more illuminating.
All this is not to say that there are not several positive aspects to the book. Davies’s discussion of politics can sometimes be very skillful indeed, as for example his deft treatment of the 1931 election campaign, in which he effectively draws upon reports from the United States embassy staff in Lima. Moreover, he has certainly produced the most thorough account of the legal basis of Indian life in Republican Peru. Nevertheless, in the end one wishes that he had delved considerably deeper into such a vital subject.