Citizenship, Justice, and Indigeneity a History of indígena legal practices in Cauca (Colombia), 1880-1938

Abgeschlossenes Projekt

Manuel Quintín Lame was an indigenous leader who started a movement to recover indigenous communal lands in Tierradentro, Cauca, at the beginning of the 20th century. As an icon and leader of the Cauca’s indigenous movement, he inspired the political programs of many later indigenous groups and has also received much scholarly attention. However, this focus on Lame’s works and activities, important as they were, has led to the neglect of other possible indígena positions regarding collective ownership and indigeneity that existed at the time.

From a historical perspective, the research studied indigenous legal practices in Cauca and Tolima between 1880-1938. Based on a cross-cutting analysis of citizenship, justice, and indigeneity categories, the research explored the role and nature of different legal practices in shaping these categories. The 'legal practices' included in the research were those communicative processes and strategies established between indígena and non-indígena people while:

  • Drafting the so-called indigenous laws

  • Interpreting and implementing these laws by state authorities

  • Understanding and interpreting these laws by indígenas.

  • Establishing political connections during elections and civil wars

Based on a careful archival analysis, the research described the rupture of a type of republicanism typical of the nineteenth century, which would end at the beginning of the twentieth century. The investigation showed how the notions of citizenship, justice, and indigeneity pluralize from this rupture, often in conflicting ways. It also highlighted the interdependence and blurred boundaries between the different scenarios in which Law, in a broad sense, is made. The study thus pursued the variety of positions inside the indígena population concerning the categories studied and the different forms of association that indígena people in Cauca established with non-indigenous sectors throughout this process of constant redefinition.

The conclusions came from examining a very rich documentary corpus, including numerous legal suites, correspondence, diaries, newspaper articles, legislation, and legal manuals from the time that remain in both public and private archives inside and outside Colombia. It also used audio and transcribed interviews of older indigenous leaders of the 1970s that left testimonies about the leaders from their youth. These records documented oral histories from the territories and leaders that were essential to enrich the interpretation of legal documents. The researcher also conducted face-to-face interviews with current leaders of some of the indigenous communities and their descendants. 

Some of the results of this research can be found in the following articles:

Escobar Hernández, K. L.
Entre la amistad política y el lenguaje del derecho: El caso de las élites políticas inígenas de Rioblanco, Cauca. 1890-1910
in: C. Acosta, A. Gamba; V. Salazar; Estudios interdisciplinarios de las élites en Colombia (2022)
Escobar Hernández, K. L.
¿Qué significa ser ciudadano e ‘indio’?: sobre la diversidad de formas de apelar a la ciudadanía indígena en el Cauca (Colombia), 1902-1939
in Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies (2020)
Escobar Hernández, K. L.: What is the "Cultural Baggage" of Legal Transfers? Methodological Reflections on the Case of La Quintiada, Tierradentro-Cauca, 1914–1917. Rechtsgeschichte - Legal History Rg 24, S. 203 - 217 (2016)

The research was also the starting point for creating non-written historical narratives initiated in the Transmedia HistoryTelling project. From this interest came the YouTube micro-series 'A Desalambrar' and the comic book 'Camino y ruptura: una historia gráfica de las prácticas jurídicas indígenas del Cauca' were created", soon to be published by Universidad de los Andes. The total length of this research will be published in the institute's 'Global Perspectives on Legal History' collection in 2023.

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