Among the icons of Colombia’s dominant culture are a number of mythological and occasionally historical indigenous chieftains, such as La Gaitana and Calarcá. These highly stereotyped emblems of indigenous resistance, which arise out of colonial-era writings, cast native peoples in the mold of cannibals and savages. Alonso Valencia Llanos book is an attempt to rescue the Pijao, the Yalcón, and the indigenous groups of the Chocó from such pervasive clichés by highlighting their resistance to Spanish domination. His task is by no means simple; the documentary traces left by these aboriginal ethnic groups are scanty at best. Valencia’s only option, therefore, is the careful and painstaking synthesis of published primary materials—both chronicles and document collections—and the extraction of historical evidence from secondary sources.
The book opens with a general discussion of the European invasion of what is today southern Colombia, addressing the image of the violent Indian by demonstrating how native peoples, initially peaceful, were provoked by the violence of the Spanish intruder. Valencia goes on to detail the rebellions of the Indians of Cali, the port of Buenaventura, and the Quimbaya in the Gobernación de Popayán, directed against the establishment of Spanish towns and the abuses of the encomienda.
Two detailed case studies form the heart of the book: the indigenous resistance in the mining areas of the Chocó, and the better-known case of the war against the Pijao. Valencia argues that the process of resistance was essentially one of ethnogenesis, in which marginal areas became zones of refuge where new ethnic identities were forged. These zones of insurgency created shifting frontiers that profoundly influenced the contours of the regional economic landscape, limiting and controlling the location and the vitality of mining and agricultural centers.
Valencia achieves much in this book. His synthesis of a broad range of material within a comparative framework will be of great utility to Colombianists, as well as to students of chiefdoms in the Americas. His study of ethnogenesis in regions of refuge is an important warning against the reification of the tribal classifications included in colonial sources. His analysis of the military frontier as a central force in shaping the economic landscape brings indigenous agency into our study of the colonial conformation of what is today southern Colombia.
Valencia’s strict adherence to recounting the chronology of resistance, however, diminishes the important contribution his book could have made. Here the Pijao, Yalcón, Quimbaya, and Noanamaes are strictly fighters whose cultural specificities, which have been studied by other scholars, are never fleshed out. Valencia’s important arguments concerning ethnogenesis and the frontier are not given sufficient foreground and are overshadowed by too much detail. The excellent introduction by David Stemper alleviates both these problems, however, enhancing the broader value of the book.