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Poetics and Politics in the Ecuadorean Andes: Women's Narratives of Death and Devil Possession Author(s): Maryy : Blackwell Publishin g on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/645565 Accessed: 20/04/2009 06:41 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates y our acce p tance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the p ublisher re g ardin g an y further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=black . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Blackwell Publishing and American Anthropological Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Ethnologist. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-2" src="pdf-obj-0-2.jpg">
Poetics and Politics in the Ecuadorean Andes: Women's Narratives of Death and Devil Possession Author(s): Maryy : Blackwell Publishin g on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/645565 Accessed: 20/04/2009 06:41 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates y our acce p tance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the p ublisher re g ardin g an y further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=black . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Blackwell Publishing and American Anthropological Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Ethnologist. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-4" src="pdf-obj-0-4.jpg">

Poetics and Politics in the Ecuadorean Andes: Women's Narratives of Death and Devil Possession Author(s): Mary M. Crain Source: American Ethnologist, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Feb., 1991), pp. 67-89 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/645565

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Poetics and Politics in the Ecuadorean Andes: Women's Narratives of Death and Devil Possession Author(s): Maryy : Blackwell Publishin g on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/645565 Accessed: 20/04/2009 06:41 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates y our acce p tance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the p ublisher re g ardin g an y further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=black . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Blackwell Publishing and American Anthropological Association are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Ethnologist. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-48" src="pdf-obj-0-48.jpg">

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poetics and politics

in the Ecuadorean Andes:

women's narrativesof

death and devil possession

MARY M. CRAIN-University

of Barcelona

[I]nspite of a persistentfiction, we neverwrite on a blank page but always on one thathas already been writtenon.

-Michel

de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life [1984:43]

In 1983, in the the development

ants and local three decades,

period

of

community of Quimsa, Ecuador, conflicting

ideologies and interpretations of

process emerged during a period of political mobilization that involved peas-

commercial farmers in a struggle over land and employment issues. For some

large farmers had been replacing labor-intensive estate production with capital-

intensive mechanized agriculture. While significant change had taken place in the social and

production on the large estates, political unrest during the period of

my

economic relations of

fieldwork indicated that the new economic order had not been hegemonically installed (cf.

Crain 1988). Although women were active in community-level decision making during this

primarily male peasants who assumed the po-

peasant political mobilization, it was

sitions of leadership and controlled the public debates. During this period, however, a male peasant who worked as a foreman on a neighboring commercial farm died suddenly and mys- teriously. Peasant women murmured that his death had been caused by devil possession. Sub-

sequently, other stories of devil possession linking male

employees to the capitalist farm econ-

omy emerged. Articulated by peasant women, this discourse about the devil was also fre-

quently associated with other aspects of the development

process, and it became a prominent

idiom for talking about material change and the women's opposition to that change.

This article examines the

political implications of these narrativesabout devil possession. If

language is the medium of social practice, then it is through an analysis of language that we can come to understand the ways in which ideologies as well as various forms of politics are

constituted (cf. Thompson 1984). Following Foucault (1980:82-83), I will analyze these nar- ratives as a "subjugated discourse" developed in counterpoint to the master-narrativesof de- velopment elaborated by state institutions and commercial farmers, narrativesthat promote a

In their recent review of anthropological writing, Marcus and Fischer (1986:84-

86) have noted that anthropological analyses of political economy tend to neglect

issues of cultural meaning. These authors argue

that interpretive anthropology has

often elided historical processes and has not always situated its analyses with re-

spect to the broader perspectives of political economy.

This article attempts to

bridge these concerns by examining narratives recounted by female peasants of highland Ecuador that attribute several recent deaths of male wage laborers to

devil possession. Refracted against an expanding global economy, the analysis fo-

cuses on the ways in which peasant cosmology and gender and class ideologies are inscribed in these devil narratives and produce meanings that resist the com-

modification of labor. Through such stories the unofficial voices of peasant women disrupt attempts by commercial farmersto redefine the meaning of work under the new relations of production on local estates. [Ecuador, gender, peasant cosmol-

ogy, politics of domination and resistance, political economy]

poetics

and politics

in the Andes

67

local version of peasant women

"the Green Revolution" (cf. Crain 1989).

Through such "magical discourses"

refashion self

and society by

constructing an alternative world that contests the

dominant interpretations and definitions of "the real" (cf. Crain 1989, 1990). My analysis will

demonstrate how an ideology of resistance is implicit

in this subaltern devil-lore. The women

who elaborate these stories become spokespersons for the community, and their specific po- sition will be accounted for and related to these texts. The cultural critique emanating from

their accounts belongs to the community as a whole; it is not solely the property of women, as male peasants also voice it at times.'

The women's narrativesconstitute a form of politics, provided we expand our understanding of "the political" to include various modes of resistance occurring in informal domestic do- mains. Such domains are often excluded from Western definitions of "the political," which wed it to the formal, public, and visible aspects of social life that are frequently associated with the hierarchical, institutionalized structures of the state. By assigning all importance to formal political structures, such definitions ignore the more covert dimensions of resistance. This ar-

ticle proceeds by questioning both the hierarchy implicit in the "formal politics" versus "in- formal politics" distinction and the idea that these entities constitute two closed and separate

spheres. This analysis traces the lines of

influence

connecting private forms of power and re-

sistance to politics exercised in more public arenas. It also explores how the actual practices of individual men and women may at times cross the ostensible boundaries between these two

spheres.

The women's stories provide us with an opportunity to examine peasant attitudes toward self, work, the natural world, and society, in contradistinction to the emergent definitions of these

categories that the local version of capitalism attempts to impose. Focusing on the progressive subordination of the male worker to the wage form, these stories show how individual men

become estranged from their families and communities. For the purposes of the present anal-

ysis, these stories will be "read" as collective utterances and not as individual texts.2 This ap-

proach is in keeping with

Jameson's (1981:70-76)

suggestion that

narratives be regarded as

socially symbolic acts and that the task of the analyst-interpreter is to reveal the broader social field from which such narratives emerge. This field includes a series of "semantic horizons" that enable any given text to be situated historically and "rewritten" in terms of the categories

of political economy and competing modes of production (cf. Wolf 1982:387).

Jameson views

all narrative as informed by a political unconscious, arguing that stories can be regarded as

collective and class discourses that are, ultimately, symbolic meditations on "the destiny of community" (Jameson 1981:70).

ethnographic

context:

unsettling

deaths

I was attending my firstfuneral in Quimsa. A hacienda worker named Lucho Sandoval, with whom I had conversed only three days earlier, had died suddenly at a very young age. His was

a mysterious death. His body had been found early Saturday morning not too far from my home-at the bottom of a large ravine some 30 meters in depth. The ravine was located on a

hillside called Madre de Dios, about half a kilometer from Lucho's home. Lucho had last been

seen by two of his compadres (male co-parents) in the afternoon around dusk, and they had thought he was heading toward Madre de Dios. I sat at the wake and watched while several comadres (female co-parents) washed his slender body with a damp cloth and dressed it in a long white robe. He was then gently lowered into

an open casket. The clothing Lucho had worn on the day of his death was placed inside the casket along with a spoon, a cup, and a bowl, provisions for his sustenance in the afterlife. By

early evening, neighbors, friends, and more distant relatives had arrived, bringing food as well as flowers, candles, and wooden images of saints that were placed along both sides of his cas-

  • 68 american ethnologist

ket. A somber atmosphere reigned as peasants huddled together on wooden benches raised only slightly above the earthen floor. Papa Ram6n, a lay prayer-reader, began to recite the prayers for the dead and then led the community in singing several Catholic hymns. The singing was interspersed with long wails of lament in Quichua uttered by Lucho's wife, Barbara, and other female relatives, all of whom wept openly. One of Lucho's youngest sons, Carlos, darted in and out through the crowd in order to get closer to his father's casket. While others were busy singing he reached up and gently stroked his father's face. The prayers and all the solemnity they entailed were broken by the smells of home-cooked foods, roasted guinea pigs and steamed potatoes. Enormous helpings of these dishes were served, and bottles of aguardiente (a strong liquor) were freely passed around the room. As the

night wore on, many others wept, and the drinking was heavy. Those peasants who grew tired and intoxicated spread their ponchos in a haphazard fashion on the earthen floor, and so a mass of men, women, and children drifted into a groggy sleep. At some point after midnight, those who were still awake took part in a gay form of charades. Several individuals rose to the

floor and performed pantomimes, pretending to be various animals such

as tapirs, horses, roos-

ters, and bulls.3 Lucho's funeral, in effect, became a space in which to play, to turn away from grief and embrace life. My life and Lucho's had already become intertwined in several ways. His wife and I had been friends for over a year. He also happened to be the uncle of Susana, my capricious 14- year-old kitchen helper and constant companion. I had met Lucho only three days prior to his death. This encounter made the news of his death particularly unsettling to me, as someone who had just entered my social world had suddenly been wrenched from it. Lucho and I had been introduced at a neighborhood store. We had shared a beer while he talked to me about his job as the foreman at the Hacienda La Miranda's sawmill complex. He oversaw a team of nine men who worked felling the pine and eucalyptus trees of the private forest. Three days after this conversation, Susana had come running to my home to tell me the cir- cumstances of her uncle's death. She and I had walked together to the deep ravine and watched while several men hauled out Lucho's limp body. Don Tatamuez, the local sheriff, had come from the county seat in order to confirm the death and examine the body. After half an hour of examination, he turned to the crowd and reported that Lucho might well have slipped into the

ravine accidentally. According to Tatamuez, Lucho had apparently suffered a concussion as a

result of receiving a sharp blow to the left side of his

head. It seemed possible that when Lucho

fell, his head had struck against some rocks protruding from one side of the ravine. Following

this pronouncement several men, including the sheriff, hoisted Lucho's body onto their shoul-

ders and accompanied his family members back home. At the wake, I was surrounded by neighbors and friends. Many members of the peasant com-

munity had gathered together to mourn Lucho's passing. His death seemed particularlytragic. Lucho was only 36 years old, he was the father of five children, and his wife, Barbara, was

pregnant with another child. In addition, certain aspects of his death made no sense. In the days that followed this unhappy event, there was a great deal of uneasiness whenever his name became the topic of conversation. Most people were puzzled as to the actual cause of his un-

timely death. Although there was a great deal of talking, there were no readily available expla- nations.

During the wake, I reflected on some of the rumors that had been

circulating in the com-

munity. How could one account for this mysterious death? Based on the way in which his body

had landed in the ravine, one or two individuals agreed with the sheriff's speculation that he might have slipped and fallen from one of the mud footpaths. Many argued that this would have been even more likely had he also been drinking. But according to the coroner's report that was issued several days after the discovery of the body, there were no indications of intox- ication. Others said that someone might have pushed Lucho into the ravine afterdark on Friday. Susana told me that her mother believed that Lucho's death might have been the result of sor-

poetics

and politics

in the Andes

69

cery due to envidia (envy). When I asked her to explain this further, she said that one had to consider Lucho's relatively young age, his high position in the hacienda work hierarchy, and the fact that he had many material possessions. I had visited their home on several occasions and never been particularly struck by a large number of consumer goods, but Susana argued

that

there were others in Quimsa, particularly co-workers, who were jealous of his apparent

success. "Don't you see?" she asked. "His house was painted, he had a refrigerator, an electric

blender, and a cassette player, and he also had pigs." According to Susana, the envious person

might have pushed Lucho into the ravine or, more likely, have sought the aid of a shaman in

orderto cast a spell on him. Susana contended

that the envious person bewitching

Lucho would

have made a muieca de trapos (a doll fashioned of old rags) and brought this, along with a plate of special foods, to a shaman.

A Quimseno who wants to bewitch an "enemy" will commonly take a mufeca de trapos to

a shaman, who uses the doll

as a

being bewitched, and

after a spell

medium for bewitching. The muneca represents the person has been cast it is placed in the pathway of the enemy. If the

enemy passes close to the muneca he or she will become ill and be forced to counter this black

magic by seeing a healer or a shaman. Plates of food may also fall into the category of be- witched objects. Peasants generally regard the exchanging of food as a symbol of reciprocity and as a "disinterested act," one that binds individuals and families to one another through the

anticipation of a countergift (cf. Bourdieu 1977; Mauss 1967[1950]). In contrast, bewitched

food (typically consisting of eggs, bread, and roasted guinea pig) is marked by a shaman's spell and is always left, anonymously, in close proximity to a daily route generally followed by the enemy. In Quimsa, ravines, the pastures of the nearby commercial farm, and the exterior of peasant homes are the three most popular sites for these hexed objects. A plate laden with

bewitched food is associated with spiritual danger and must not be

eaten or even touched (cf.

Salomon 1983).4 How does one know whether such a plate of food is intended for him or her?

The mere sight of bewitched food is not enough. If, however, something bad happens to one within the next few days, then the bewitched object may be recalled and eventually be inter- preted as the source of this new misfortune. Susana and other peasants suggested that additional factors might have heightened Lucho's vulnerability to bewitchment of this sort. Lucho had, after all, evidently been wandering alone at night, near the principal ravine of Madre de Dios. The combination of these three factors-

the ravine, solitude, and nighttime-presaged danger. In folk cosmology, geography has an important moral dimension, and many places that form part of the natural landscape are be- lieved to be endowed with both positive and negative qualities. According to local belief, it is dangerous to walk or remain for an extended period of time near certain natural sites such as

ravines, irrigationcanals, waterfalls, lakes, high mountain plains, and places where rainbows appear, for such sites may be inhabited by evil spirits. Potentially harmful encounters with the spirit world occur most frequently at night and when individuals are alone. (It is particularly dangerous for women to walk alone; cf. Brow 1990.) Individuals who are exposed to any com- bination of these circumstances run the risk of incurring folk diseases such as mal aire (evil wind) and susto (fright). Diseases such as these can be diagnosed and cured only by curanderas, or shamans, and not by practitioners of Western medicine.

Thus, multiple interpretations of Lucho's death-interpretations

that were not always mu-

tually exclusive-were

circulating. For example, shortly after this tragedy I visited my friend

Rosa. Knowing that Rosa was de confianza con Barbara(on closest terms with Barbara), I asked Rosa what more she had heard. She looked at me, lowered her voice, and said, "Keep this a secret. Have you ever heard of a pact with the devil? Or the sacrifice of a person for a thing?" I nodded. Rosa said that that was what Barbaraand some of her closest female relatives were now saying had caused Lucho's death. I asked her to explain this further, and she exclaimed:

"Don't you see? Those machines are big, dangerous, and powerful."

  • 70 american ethnologist

At that point we headed off to visit Barbara, whom we found in tears. We stayed for several hours, attempting to offer companionship, and we talked about the difficulties she would have

in supporting the family without Lucho. At

one point, Rosa looked knowingly at Barbaraand

told her that she had mentioned something to me about devil possession. Barbarathen raised her voice in anger, arguing that all of their troubles had started with that "damned machine."

I asked naYvely, "What machine?" and she answered, "The sawmill, of course." Barbarabe-

lieved that the sawmill machinery had been momentarily possessed by the spirit of the devil, and using the machine as its medium, the devil had begun to exert a controlling force over

Lucho. While

Barbaradidn't entirely dismiss the

sheriff's speculation that her husband might

have slipped into the ravine accidentally (and in fact this was the explanation her family had given to certain "official others" who had arrived on the scene of the death early that Saturday morning), she paid little heed to this idea.5 She felt that her husband's death was rooted in a much deeper metaphysical cause and that it could only be understood by examining the

strange sequence of events that had transpired during the Barbara's story:

last year of his life. Here, then, is

At the time that Luchowas made head of the sawmill

workgang, he was also assigned a position as

on the

importedmachinery at

caretakerof the hacienda's private forestreserve.6 In order to

the sawmilland to makesure that no

one

keep

an

eye

reallyimportant wood,

pilfered fromthe patrones'forest, Luchobuilt this home for

responsibilities: he was always

our family on hacienda land, close to the sawmill.Lucho had all these

agitated,always watching, always keeping his stealor damage the sawmillmachine or takethe

guard, as he was concernedthat someone might either

the recently felled timberfrom

the forest reserve, at night. He also had his dutiesas the overseerof the workgang, with nine men under

his

supervision who were occasionallyjealous

of his position and his demands.And then our

house,

which Luchobuilt here, near the

families.

forest, was too isolatedfrom others, from our neighbors and our

According to Barbara, Lucho had started having crazy dreams a year or so before his death. She would awaken in the middle of the night and hear him talking to someone. He would

always say the same thing: "Are you looking for me? Don't bother me." Then he would lie

back down

and drift back to sleep. The voices would come again later in

the night, only this

time Lucho would frequently respond: "I'm coming!" At this point he would rise from bed, go outdoors to the sawmill machine, and turn it on and off to hear the sound of the motor running,

in order to assure himself that it was operating satisfactorily. Barbarasaid that there were many nights when her poor husband would start working and then fall asleep out by the machine. Worried, she would go outside and try to bring him back indoors. On several occasions, she and the children had ended up sleeping by the machine alongside Lucho. From time to time neighbors would tell her that they had heard the hum of the machine being turned on and off during the night and had wondered what was going on. Confiding in me, Barbara said that Lucho had become obsessed with his work. She whis-

pered that he had been increasingly dominated by the spirit of the devil that had entered the sawmill machinery. Barbara had frequently insisted that they move away from both the ma-

chine and the forest, but Lucho had always shrugged her off. Barbara regarded Lucho's noc-

turnal "conversations," which had continued for over a year, as evidence of a struggle between him and the dark forces, the devil. It had been the devil that had finally lured Lucho into the

ravine that night and taken his life.

Following this detailed account, I asked Barbaraand Rosa three questions. First, who in the

community knew about Lucho's strange dreams? Barbara responded that it was primarily her family, and Rosa mentioned that she had said something about them to her mother. I then asked

if the devil possession version of Lucho's death had been suggested to the local patrones, the owners of the Hacienda La Miranda. I had seen the hacienda owners arrive at Barbara'shouse

on that Saturday morning after the news of Lucho's death had spread through the community. I now wondered if they had been told this story and what their response might have been. Rosa

immediately looked at me and said, "Oh no! No mention of this was made to them!" And even if the rumorwere eventually to reach them, she added, they certainly wouldn't take it seriously.

poetics

and politics

in the Andes

71

The patrones had been told "another version," the version proposed by the sheriff. While

the

rest of my conversation with these two women left no doubt in my mind that they blamed the

commercial farmersfor Lucho's death, they were not airing this conviction publicly. Finally, I asked whether cases of devil possession leading to death had occurred in Quimsa before. They both said yes and began to tell me two stories depicting similar sequences of

events. The first of these concerned a 32-year-old man, Ricardo Meno, who had

worked as an

irrigation canal cleaner for the Hacienda La Miranda. Feeling faint one afternoon, he had laid

down at home before northeast boundary of

going back to work in the pastures of La Cocha (a field adjacent to the the Hacienda La Miranda). When he closed his eyes he dreamed that he

saw the foreman of LaCocha supervising the construction of two new reservoirsthat the owners of the Hacienda La Miranda were having built there near the milk station: a large bulldozer was scooping up the earth, and the foreman was mounted on a horse of monstrous proportions, with two big black dogs standing watch by his side.7 Then, just as the reservoirswere filling up

with water, the foreman turned into the devil and called out to Ricardo. The devil told him to come on down to the Cocha area and start working at once. The devil fought to possess him.

After this, Ricardo woke from his dream and recounted it to his wife. He

rose with the intention

of returning to work, but he was weak and his wife put him back in bed. Laterthat night he

died. The other narrativecentered on a

death that had occurred shortly after the construction of a

new road and bridge leading to the forest reserve of the Hacienda La Miranda. According to

Rosa, the patrones had decided that a good road had to be built across peasant territory so that

big trucks could enter this area to get lumber out of

the forest more readily. The master-carpen-

ter of the hacienda, Jorge Recalde, was responsible for the heavy machinery being used and for

the construction team, which included several day

laborers. Rosa was cooking the noon meals

for these men. She recalled that during the second afternoon one of the workers, Alberto Escola,

came to her looking pale and preoccupied; the devil, he said, had just appeared to him in a daydream and told him not to move any more earth or stones. Alberto was frightened and

stopped his shoveling. He also asked the other men to quit working and told the master-car-

penter to get off the bulldozing machine because something bad was going to happen. Alberto kept saying that the devil insisted that the bridge not be finished. His talk about the devil clearly

upset the other men, and everybody looked worried. But the master-carpenter told the others to continue working. When the bridge was finally finished late that afternoon Alberto would not move from the site, and when it grew dark he lay down beside the bridge. Much later that

night his wife came and tried to drag him away. After several attempts she was finally able to get him home.

Several months later a

tractor driver, Santiago Chaleco (a local peasant), was going along this

new road on his way to plow one of the hacienda's wheat fields. After he crossed the bridge,

his tractor slipped down the edge of the muddy embankment, killing him instantly. A peasant woman who had been nearby said that the devil had taken control of the driver and his ma-

chine. It was because of the devil's possession that Santiago had been unable to jump off the

machine and save himself. Rosa and Barbarasaid that Alberto's devil

visitation had portended

disaster-it

had, for example, signaled Santiago's impending death. Both women stated that

the bridge and road should never have been completed. They also expressed a great deal of uneasiness about Alberto's future but noted that so far, nothing had happened to him.

In each of these narratives, men figured as

the devil's victims. As they concluded their ac-

counts, Rosa and Barbararemarked that they fully expected furtherdeaths from devil posses- sion to occur in association with these sites. They argued that no one should continue to work at the sawmill, and Barbaraannounced that she and her children were going to leave the house by the forest.

  • 72 american ethnologist

commentary

As the preceding discussion suggests, subaltern explanations are not necessarily all of a piece (cf. Clifford 1986a; Price 1983). Instead, many voices clamor for attention. The multiple ver- sions of Lucho's death reflect the complexity of the local social reality from which they emerged.8 One version proposes that Lucho's death was an accident, another concludes that

it was caused by envy and witchcraft, and yet another posits devil possession. In addition, a variety of factors such as inauspiciousness of place, time of day, and state of being are invoked.

To complicate matters even further, many of these explanations are not mutually exclusive. However, each of them was aired in a particular context and was directed to a particular au-

dience. The first version was the "official explanation" peasants gave to outsiders and non- peasants, the second, the one they told among themselves. The heterogeneity of the various versions reflects not only the general factors of gender and class but also the specific personal

experiences, attitudes, and idiosyncrasies of the individual storytellers. As analyst, I cannot provide the one correct explanation or "reading" of Lucho's death (cf.

Crapanzano 1986). I have tried to identify all the various explanations offered by members of the community. In the analysis that follows I will focus attention on women's stories of devil possession. To do so is not to dismiss the other explanations entirely, as these were to some extent woven into the women's stories. For example, while privileging devil possession as the cause of Lucho's death, Barbara's story allowed for a certain degree of ambiguity, and neither

Barbaranor Rosa rejected the possibility of multiple causality. Barbara recognized that the sites of Lucho's workplace and of their home had made her husband vulnerable to spirit attacks. In

addition, she mentioned that once

Lucho's bouts with the devil began, he had started operating

the sawmill machine alone and at night, both dangerous states. Finally, Lucho's body had been

found in an ominous place, a ravine. Such evidence suggested a cosmological basis for Lucho's

initial vulnerability to devil

possession. Barbara'sremarks about the occasional jealousy of Lu-

cho's co-workers, furthermore, offered supporting evidence for the "envy version" of Lucho's

death and lent plausibility to the notion

that a fellow peasant might have been practicing witch-

craft against him. This version pointed to inequalities within the peasant community and em- phasized Lucho's identification with the interests of the landed elite. Focusing on these stories of devil possession will allow us to illuminate more general con-

cerns, as this case can be compared with other cases illustratingthe social significance of devil or demon possession for recently proletarianized groups. By examining these stories both as

explanations of Lucho's death and

as a metaphor for the material changes that have transformed

everyday life in Quimsa during the past three decades, we can shed light on the cultural mean-

ings female peasants currently attributeto wage work.

devil-lore

in comparative

and historical

perspective

Iwould like to posit that contemporary Quimsefo discourse about the devil serves as a coded political language for peasant women and that it is through this discourse and related imagery that local identity is consolidated. Seen in this light, sustaining cultural identity and difference

vis-a-vis the dominant elites is a political act

that does not require that these women

be overtly

conscious of their role as political actors (cf. Kane 1986). Ideas about the local devil, presently

circulated by women, inform Quimseno notions of group identity and construct boundaries between peasant self and dominant other. In the contemporary setting the devil serves as a metonym for foreign technology, Western styles of development, and commercial farming. In

this portion of the analysis I begin by comparing the local manifestations of devil-lore with those

discussed by Nash, Ong, and Taussig. I then present evidence

indicating that the devil has

figured as a central element in the Quimsefio historical consciousness and is embedded in a

poetics

and politics

in the Andes

73

particular local history of social relations; earlier devil-lore, too, sustained notions of group

identity among peasants and provided the terms for representing the landed elite.

As Nash (1979), Silverblatt (1980), and Taussig (1980) have pointed out, the devil figure was

not native to the religions of the New World. Rather, the Christiandevil was brought by Spanish

colonizers and was superimposed on the indigenous cultures through a process of "forced ac-

culturation." In its new context, the quintessential figure embodying the forces of evil in West-

ern metaphysics was incorporated into native cosmological schemes.

In his analysis of devil beliefs in the Cauca Valley of Colombia, Taussig argues that the devil

is intimately connected with the process of proletarianization:

Male plantation workerssometimes make secret contracts with the devil

at work]in orderto increase productivity, and hence their

individualwho makesthe contractis

wage.

[by

hiding a mufeco in a field

Furthermore, it is believed that the

likely to die prematurely and in greatpain. [Taussig 1980:94]

According to Taussig, these contracts are not made in peasant forms of production-in,

for

example, situations in which peasants either farm their own land or work for other peasants-

and women, even when engaged in proletarian labor, do not make such contracts at all (Taussig

1980:97). He maintains that it is only as former peasants become landless wage laborers, work-

ing on sugar plantations or in the Bolivian mines, that the devil assumes such importance in

the consciousness of the ruralunderclasses. Taussig (1980:17) "reads" such devil-lore as a folk

critique of capitalist production and suggests that the culture of these neophyte proletarians is

antagonistic to the process of commodity formation and the rationalization of economic life.

June Nash (1979) provides an account of the ritual offerings that Bolivian tin miners make to

the tio, the devil-like figure whose spirit controls production in the tin mines: these offerings

are made in order to ensure high mineral yields and to prevent fatal mining accidents (Nash

1979:122). According to Nash, if the tfo is not fed he will "eat" the men who work in the mines,

claiming their lives through work-related "accidents." As is the case with the Cauca Valley

devil, the devil who rules the Bolivian tin mines is frequently bent on death, and his victims are

always male. However, Nash does not "read" the miners' offerings to the tio as an indigenous

critique of wage labor. Instead, she maintains that the miners' perceptions of the tio are ambi-

valent, since the tio is capable of generative as well as destructive acts. Nash focuses on the

way in which these work rituals maintain a certain continuity with the past, for the tfo is a

complex image that combines characteristic features of pre-Hispanic spiritual beings with qual-

ities of the Christian devil. By reinforcing a shared sense of history, Nash argues, such rituals

foster solidarity and thus help to combat the alienation workers feel in the work setting (Nash

1979:319-320, 325-330).

Parsons' 1945 ethnographic study of the neighboring Ecuadorean community of Peguche

also provides pertinent insights into the traditional peasant cosmology. Parsons indicates that

indigenous peasants regarded construction sites as ominous settings and felt that individuals

laboring at these sites were vulnerable to attack by malevolent spirits known as duendes (cf.

Harris1980). These spirits were associated with all work projects involving a transformationof

the landscape, such as the construction of a bridge or an irrigation canal. Exerting a controlling

power over the work, duendes had to be propitiated with ritual offerings so that the project

might reach completion. Like the tio of the Bolivian mines, the duendes often hungered for

human blood. Describing the construction of a bridge over the Guachala River, Parsons

(1945:215) notes that the duende asked the engineer and boss to give him men and women,

tools and animals. In order to be allowed to complete the bridge, they had a young Indian day

laborerthrow into

mid-river "six combos

(stonemason's hammers), twelve new-handled shov-

els, twelve crowbars, twelve picks, [and] two sheep," and "during the work on the bridge two

young men died." It is not entirely clear from Parsons' reading whether these young men were

offered as a sacrifice, along with the tools, or whether they died "accidentally" because the

offering was insufficient. Subsequent information tends to support the latter explanation. In

either case, Parsons' description provides recent historical perspectives from which to analyze

  • 74 american ethnologist

the Quimsa material, since in all three Quimsefo stories, the devil's possession of male workers

occurs in association

with a transformation of the landscape

dictated by the new economic

requirements of local commercial farmers. Applying the logic of Parsons' analysis to the case

in question here, we might argue that for the Quimsehos, the recent deaths of male workers

also have a cosmological basis. They are the result of the wrath of the spirit world, directed

against present conditions of capitalist production-conditions in which construction proceeds

at an unbridled rate and human reciprocity with both the land and the spirits is no longer

deemed important (cf. Bastien 1978).

Ong's (1987) account of factory women in Malaysia who are possessed by demons on the

shopfloors of transnational electronics corporations helps to illuminate the present case and

also presents important points of contrast. These incidents of spirit possession also occur in the

work setting; however, the victims are not men but young female workers. Workers relate at-

tacks of spirit possession to their belief that many of the sites of modern Malay factories are

haunted, dirty, and conducive to "pollution." As is the case in Quimsa, production schedules

in the Malay factories are often disrupted by these spirit attacks. Ong "reads" the imagery of

spirit possession as factory women's unconscious protest

against the form male

authority takes

in the gender-structuredworkplace. Such imagery also reflects their sense of dislocation in a

kampung (Malay village) society that is being radically restructured by global market forces

(Ong 1987:201-213).

The contemporary Quimsa narrativesreveal that cases of devil possession have not occurred

in association with peasant forms of production. This dovetails with Taussig's (1980) findings

about the devil compact in the Cauca Valley. By way of contrast, however, the present case

indicates that devil-lore was an important element

of peasant discourse about class relations

and ethnicity before the advent of wage labor and proletarian production. Findings from this

case push the critical significance of the devil-lore back in time and suggest that the local devil

was initially a mercantilist one. Unlike Taussig's proletarians, who had once been an indepen-

dent landholding peasantry, the Quimsa peasants have had a lengthy historical relationship

with a superior landowning class that appropriates peasant labor. This asymmetrical relation-

ship has provided the materials necessary for the construction of a subaltern discourse in which

the devil emerges as a central figure. As early as 1850 the bulk of all available land in the parish

was monopolized by a few large estates, and peasants gained usufruct rights to this land by

performing various obligatory services. Although a peasant labor force produced grains,

cheeses, and woven cloth on local haciendas for the capitalist market as well as for household

use, social relations at the point of production were not capitalist in form, and hacienda labor-

ers, who still had access to land, could not be considered part of a rural proletariat(Crain 1989).

Servile relations of production remained in effect on the large estates until the local agrarian

reform in the early 1960s. This reform abolished all existing forms of nonwage labor on the

large estates and required proprietors to give their former tenants legal title to small plots of

land.

In the peasant lore of the labor tenancy period, the devil image marked the landed elite as a

particulargroup and fostered an awareness of the social differentiation separating their way of

life from that of the peasantry. In Quimseio oral histories the boundaries of the Hacienda La

Miranda are often referredto as the route traveled by the devil, and particular areas inside the

estate, such as La Cocha, are

said to be haunted. Several women told me that even prior to

the

construction of the one-lane public road in 1940, peasants returning from the Ibarramarket

some 17 kilometers away would always make sure that they got past La Cocha before

5:00

p.m. If they could not get past by that time, they would wait to return home the following day.

According to one woman, if you crossed this area during la mala hora (the wrong hours of the

day) devil-like bulls stuffed with money would appear before your very eyes. Implicit in this

association of the devil with hacienda geography is the notion that the hacienda's boundaries

poetics

and politics

in the Andes

75

mark a realm distinct from the community of Quimsa peasants, a realm of undomesticated

nature and of the supernatural.

In other historical narratives the devil is associated

with peasant ideas about the colonial

elite, hacienda production, and buried treasure. This image is constructed as antithetical to

Quimseio concepts of reciprocity and