Remembering the Hacienda

[ Latin American Studies ]

Remembering the Hacienda

Religion, Authority, and Social Change in Highland Ecuador

By Barry J. Lyons

A pathfinding study of how indigenous peasants experienced, responded to, and remember the often-harsh conditions of servitude in Ecuador's haciendas.



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6 x 9 | 362 pp. | 17 b&w photos, 4 figures, 1 maps, 2 tables

ISBN: 978-0-292-71439-7

From the colonial period through the mid-twentieth century, haciendas dominated the Latin American countryside. In the Ecuadorian Andes, Runa—Quichua-speaking indigenous people—worked on these large agrarian estates as virtual serfs. In Remembering the Hacienda: Religion, Authority, and Social Change in Highland Ecuador, Barry Lyons probes the workings of power on haciendas and explores the hacienda's contemporary legacy.

Lyons lived for three years in a Runa village and conducted in-depth interviews with elderly former hacienda laborers. He combines their wrenching accounts with archival evidence to paint an astonishing portrait of daily life on haciendas. Lyons also develops an innovative analysis of hacienda discipline and authority relations. Remembering the Hacienda explains the role of religion as well as the reshaping of Runa culture and identity under the impact of land reform and liberation theology.

This beautifully written book is a major contribution to the understanding of social control and domination. It will be valuable reading for a broad audience in anthropology, history, Latin American studies, and religious studies.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Part One: Introduction
    • 1. Introduction
    • 2. A History of Pangor and Monjas Corral
  • Part Two: Society and Resistance
    • 3. Hacienda Society and the Base of the Triangle
    • 4. Saint Rose's Blessings
    • 5. Reciprocity and Resistance
  • Part Three: Respect and Authority
    • 6. Disobedience and Respect: Two Accounts
    • 7. Respect, Authority, and Discipline
  • Part Four: The Legacy of the Hacienda
    • 8. The Demise of the Hacienda
    • 9. Liberation Theology and Ethnic Resurgence
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Haciendas, Liberation Theology, and Respect

In much of Latin America, large landed estates called haciendas dominated the countryside from the colonial period through the mid-twentieth century. Peasant laborers lived and worked on these estates in serflike conditions. In the Ecuadorian Andes, most hacienda laborers were Quichua-speaking indigenous people, or Runa, who grew their own food on hacienda land and were obligated to work for the landlords in return. Landlords' control over the Runa was reinforced by the latter's lack of economic alternatives, political power, or easy access to the legal system.

Violence was a familiar feature of life on haciendas. An anthropologist described the everyday use of whips on an Ecuadorian hacienda in the 1960s:

On horseback and equipped with whips,... the mayordomos and mayorales [stewards and overseers] regulate all the day's activities. The threat of the whip, usually snapped at their legs, urges the peons on to work. The peons are warned of the approaching mayordomos by the stream of... insults from the supervisors and... they usually artfully leap away from the cracking whip.... All the while they... engage in verbal interplay with their supervisors.... A kind of oral battle ensues wherein insults, frequently disguised as jokes in order to avoid open hostility, are hurled between peons and overseers. [Crespi 1968:194]

Imagine also listening to a man of around sixty in 1992 as he describes how he was punished as a youth for skinning a sheep incorrectly. It is a quiet evening in his house; we are sitting on stools between the cooking fire and the door, having finished a supper of potato soup served by his wife. He was in charge of pasturing the hacienda sheep, and one died, he says. He was supposed to skin it but was inexperienced and damaged the hide. The steward whipped him. The lash, he stresses, had three "buttons." I do not understand the significance of this, so he gets up and takes down an old riding whip hanging on the wall. He makes three loops in the leather strip, representing three knots, three "buttons," increasing the lash's impact. Then he pushes up his pants leg, indicating his calf. "It tore off the skin!" he says. His voice nearly breaks with, it seems to me, the memory of his pain, his powerlessness, and the injustice of the punishment.

His wife has been sitting by the fire, listening. She asks him what his mistake was in skinning the sheep. He explains again: he had begun at the wrong end. She punctuates his explanation with a short laugh, shaking her head at the same time.

In Ecuador, as elsewhere in Latin America, the state carried out an agrarian reform in the 1960s and the 1970s. Wage labor largely replaced the old serflike labor regime, and peasants gained title to some hacienda lands. Yet, large estates still survive in some areas, and land conflict between peasant villages and those estates continues to be an important political issue. Even where peasants now own the land, the old hacienda system has had an enduring impact on rural society, religion, and politics.

This book addresses some large questions about how indigenous peasants experienced, responded to, and remember conditions on a hacienda. How did people who were harshly oppressed and exploited make sense of their situation and of the forces that governed their world? In what ways did they resist their oppression, and in what ways were some of them co-opted or induced to accept an oppressive system? What role did religion play in how people viewed the world, in resistance, or in teaching people to accept oppression? And after an oppressive system ends, how do people remember it, what legacies does it leave, and how do these memories continue to shape their lives?

I had long wondered about such questions, but I did not set out to study the hacienda system when I began my research in 1989. I wanted mainly to study the contemporary relationship between indigenous people and the Catholic Church. Beginning in the 1960s, in the wake of Vatican II and the Cuban Revolution, some sectors within the Catholic Church in Latin America undertook a radical transformation symbolized by the phrase, "liberation theology." The church had been intimately tied to conservative, wealthy elites. Sectors identified with liberation theology attempted to reposition the church as an ally of the poor in struggles for social justice. In place of the traditional emphasis on priestly authority, the sacraments, and the saints, they encouraged the poor to take the Bible into their own hands and interpret it in the light of their own experiences of poverty and oppression. Theologians and pastoral agents understood the Bible as a call for liberation from sinful social structures.

I was interested in what Runa responses to this institutional transformation might reveal about indigenous culture and its relationship with nonindigenous influences. Did Runa villagers embrace liberation theology and find in it a reflection of their own views of the world? Or did they find it culturally alien? Did liberation theology newly awaken them to a sense of their human dignity, as some accounts suggested? Or did preexisting traditions of resistance to oppression shape their experience of liberation theology in more complex ways?

To explore these questions, I spent three years in the parish of Pangor, in Chimborazo province, from 1989 to 1992, and made shorter visits to Pangor in 1995, 1996, 1998, and 2003. Chimborazo is one of the most heavily indigenous provinces in Ecuador, a center of the contemporary indigenous political movement, and the leading stronghold of liberation theology in Ecuador. The bishop from 1954 to 1985, Leonidas Proaño, was attacked by some and praised by others as the "bishop of the Indians." He took to wearing a peasant poncho in place of the princely soutane worn by previous bishops and carried out his own land reform on church-owned estates in the 1960s. The church owned a hacienda in Pangor called Monjas Corral. Bishop Proaño stopped renting out the hacienda to wealthy landowners and rebaptized it "Tepeyac," after the mountain where a humble indigenous man encountered the dark-skinned Virgin of Guadalupe in early colonial Mexico. Proaño turned some of the hacienda lands over to the Runa who lived and labored on the estate. They formed the community of Tepeyac Bajo, the village that hosted me during my fieldwork.

The continuing influence of liberation theology in Tepeyac Bajo was obvious from the beginning of my stay; the legacy of the hacienda era was apparent in more subtle ways. During my first week in Tepeyac Bajo, villagers met in their chapel to study the Bible, guided by a lay Quichua missionary from another parish. These meetings culminated in a Mass said by the current bishop of the diocese. In his homily, the bishop reminded villagers of the racial abuse and economic exploitation they still suffered. When one of them got on a bus, other passengers might say, as though to an animal, "You, Indian, to the back!" When they arrived in town with potatoes to sell in the market, they were offered an unfairly low price. The bishop called on his listeners to demand respect for their dignity as children of God. "No, brother," he suggested they answer those who abused them. "We are children of God by baptism like you, and therefore we are your brothers. You can't treat me that way."

"Respect," or respeto, was a prominent theme in discussions that week. At one point, I was asked to introduce myself to the assembled villagers and tell them why I had come. I explained that one purpose of anthropology was to encourage respect among people of different cultures. As a researcher in the village, I would not be criticizing their way of life, let alone trying to change their religion. Instead, I wanted to learn about their culture and, ultimately, convey my understanding to others in a way that would help others respect them.

A catechist from a neighboring village then stood up and commented approvingly on my remarks about respect. He talked about the ways indigenous people are often not respected by other Ecuadorians. He went on to talk about the need for respect in contexts that I had not anticipated my comments might evoke—respectful behavior among Runa and their respect for their own communal authorities. I began to suspect that, by chance, I had used a word that meant more to my listeners than I had known. I was well aware of the racism indigenous people suffered and expected them to value respect in interethnic relations, but I would have to find out why the catechist saw fit to raise the issue of respect within the village.

Other discussions that week revealed that respeto referred to an important local moral value that villagers perceived was in crisis. In the religious meetings, they pondered how the Bible could help them teach children to respect their parents, and they lamented the recent decline in respect. I later learned that this sense of crisis was deeply rooted in the historical changes of the past several decades. Until the mid-1980s, youths learned and earned respect by sponsoring religious feasts, but no one sponsored feasts any more. Villagers in their forties and older recalled the hacienda era as a time of respect—even though, as they bitterly noted, landlords and their delegates did not treat Runa laborers with much respect.

As I became increasingly aware of these connections between past and present and delved more deeply into villagers' memories of the hacienda, I became more and more fascinated with the hacienda as something to be understood in its own right, not only as a prelude to the present. I supplemented what I learned from villagers' accounts by searching archives in neighboring towns and Quito for documents that would help me trace the history of the hacienda and the region. The result is this study, which focuses mainly on the hacienda era while also discussing the contemporary village and liberation theology in the light of local history.

My account focuses on Monjas Corral and its successor community, Tepeyac Bajo. It would be artificial and misleading, however, to draw inflexible lines around Monjas Corral as my unit of analysis. The estate was not the seat of an isolated society and culture. Hacienda residents sometimes moved from one estate to another, and many Pangor residents were migrants from the central Chimborazo basin. Many of my informants therefore had experience of various haciendas, and this is reflected in their oral accounts and my analysis.

Anthropologists study large questions about human experience by looking closely at particular places, places that always have their own idiosyncrasies. Monjas Corral was not necessarily a "typical" hacienda—there may be no such thing. Latin American haciendas varied widely in size (with some smaller, some much larger than Monjas Corral), in concentrating on different crops or livestock, in private versus institutional ownership, and in specific land tenure and labor arrangements (e.g., direct management by landlords versus sharecropping). They also varied in the origins and culture of the resident labor force, in landlords' origins and outlook, and in the ways broader political and economic contexts influenced the strategies of residents and landlords. I try to indicate how each of these factors affected the experience of residents of Monjas Corral.

I write in part for my colleagues in anthropology and related disciplines. Anthropologists have written very little about haciendas anywhere in Latin America (especially in English) and not much about liberation theology, either. I will try to show that this case has a good deal to teach us about the workings of a system of domination; about the nature of religion, authority, resistance, and violence under such a system; and about the processes of religious change and ethnic resurgence. At the same time, I hope to share my fascination with these questions and with rural Ecuador with a broad audience, including students and others who may be new to anthropology. I do not believe that complex arguments require impenetrable prose, or that intellectual sophistication is best demonstrated by only addressing those already familiar with a discipline's theoretical traditions and terms. I will be satisfied if this book is judged as both a good introduction to its topics and a contribution to scholarly knowledge and understanding.

Studying Culture, Past and Present

What does it mean to study how Runa experienced and responded to the hacienda system or how they relate to the Catholic Church today? How do I go about weaving together archival information, informants' accounts, and fieldwork observations to answer such questions, and what sort of generalization counts as a satisfying answer? As an anthropologist, I assume that social processes are also cultural processes: the ways people relate to other people and understand these relationships give rise to shared patterns of symbols and meanings, and, reciprocally, these shared meanings shape social relationships. Readers new to anthropology will already be familiar with the concept of culture, which has become commonplace in political discourse and even everyday conversation, but it is worth reviewing how anthropologists approach culture and its implications for this analysis.

First, to speak of "patterns of symbols and meanings" or, more metaphorically, "webs of significance" (Geertz 1973:5), is to indicate that culture is not simply a collection of disparate, separate elements. Instead, its elements are interconnected. In approaches centered on "actors" and "practice," anthropologists speak of "dispositions," habitual ways of responding to the world, that are "transposed" from one situation or domain to another (Bourdieu 1977). While different approaches variously emphasize cognitive models, symbolic meanings, learned physical responses, or other sorts of mental and embodied "stuff" seen to generate behavior, the main point here is that this stuff shows some degree of consistency and coherence from one situation to another and one person to another within the same society.

For example, suppose I notice that, when Pangor farmers pray before planting, they often say they will share food with others, implying that God and the saints expect this in return for making the crops grow. I can expect that this same assumption about the divine may be operative in other contexts as well and may have been so in the past, if people tell me they used to pray in the same way. I might look for it in the ways people celebrated saints' feasts or wondered about their landlords' harvests. Part of the anthropologist's task, then, is to discover these patterns, to find the assumptions (or dispositions, models, etc.) that underlie them, and to work out how these assumptions hang together—how they link up more or less coherently with other assumptions as people apply them in various activities and domains.

While this notion of culture as a socially shared, more or less integrated system of meanings has filtered out of anthropology and into common usage, anthropologists have become increasingly concerned with the analytic costs (and political dangers) of insufficiently nuanced interpretations of the concept. Some of our anthropological forebears and some nonanthropologists who have taken up the concept to think about identities and group conflicts have tended to exaggerate the degree to which the members of a culturally defined population uniformly share an integrated, internally consistent culture. One implication is an image of the world as composed of self-contained groups and societies, each one with "its" culture and with impermeable boundaries. In the Andes, Runa would all share a fully coherent Runa culture, mestizos (nonindigenous Spanish speakers) would all share mestizo culture, and the ethnic and racial distinction between them would prevent mestizo influences from affecting different Runa differently or introducing disparate, inconsistent strands into Runa culture. Such a model makes it difficult to imagine how cultural change can occur, and especially how it can occur without disrupting the presumed uniformity and integration of the culture. Thus, a further implication of exaggerating the shared and integrated nature of culture is either that culture does not change—Runa have simply maintained the same culture over the centuries, as tourist brochures sometimes suggest—or that cultural change is equivalent to the loss of a group's own culture, leading to either a state of cultural "disorganization" or replacement by someone else's culture.

Such assumptions overlook the fact that groups and societies have long influenced one another across permeable and historically constructed, shifting boundaries. Viewing culture as a fixed whole, they also miss a sense of people as active participants in cultural processes. People do not only "have" or "lose" culture; they engage with cultural symbols and scenarios, interpret them, make choices, rework and modify them in coming to terms with the world and pursuing their goals. As individuals negotiate the complexities of social life, the embodied dispositions and culturally shaped desires that come to the forefront in one domain may generate behavior that seems inconsistent with the ideas they express in another context. Furthermore, even in what cosmopolitan readers might view as a relatively homogeneous little village, differences in gender, age, social status, and individual biographies are associated with different patterns of socialization and different versions of a theoretically shared cultural repertoire. Class and ethnic divisions and conflicts within society as a whole imply tensions among different cultural strands and sometimes radically opposed interpretations of society.

Hacienda Runa could sometimes honor the owner of a neighboring hacienda by asking him to sponsor a child's baptism and, at other times, speak of landlords in general as having sold their souls to the devil. It would be a mistake to expect to find "the indigenous view of landlords" or "the indigenous experience of the hacienda," in the sense of a single, all-encompassing, perfectly coherent view. The same is true of "the indigenous view of liberation theology."

Instead, what one can expect to find are multiple strands, a repertoire of possibilities, an ongoing dialogue among competing views with varying degrees of coherence and elaboration. This book presents an interpretation of that dialogue in an attempt to understand how Runa have responded to the possibilities open to them under the hacienda and since.


Reconstructing the past from oral accounts gathered decades later is a tricky matter, and even more so when one is attempting to reconstruct not only events but meanings, not only what people now say about the past but the way people thought about their lives in the past. Memories are not frozen representations of the past but change in a continual dialogue with the present. Tepeyac Bajo elders' anxieties about respect today, for example, shape the ways they talk about respect in the hacienda era. At one level, this book is all about the present: it reports how former hacienda residents remember the hacienda today. Some of my colleagues have gone further, to suggest that a study like this can only be about the present—that oral memory is too oriented to contemporary contexts to serve as genuine evidence about what the past was "really" like.

My response is that anthropologists with access to oral histories have a responsibility to the past, especially when those oral accounts concern institutions and transformations of major historical import, such as haciendas and their demise. Very few mid-twentieth century anthropologists were able to gain access and carry out fieldwork on functioning haciendas. The few full-length ethnographies of Andean haciendas on the eve of or during agrarian reform do provide some rich material on social structures, land and labor, and other matters (Crespi 1968; Mangin 1954; Skar 1981). Oriented by theoretical concerns and ethnographic conventions different from those that shape this study, however, they rarely offer direct quotations of hacienda residents' own words or a close sense of differently positioned residents' perspectives and subjective experience.

Along with these few contemporary ethnographies and retrospective oral accounts of the sort I gathered, written records are the other main source of information on haciendas. Unfortunately, peasants on haciendas could rarely write. Documents almost always reveal the perspectives and concerns of elites more directly than those of peasants or other groups that anthropologists have traditionally worked with.

I do cite archival documents extensively in some parts of this book. Yet, written records must be interpreted with as much caution as other sorts of evidence. This point was brought home to me forcefully when I read some pages of an old hacienda account book to the oldest living Monjas Corral resident, José María Pillajo, in 1995. Tayta José reacted angrily to the steward's claim that he had lent money and sold meat on credit at laborers' request. These were lies that bosses used to cheat the laborers, he said.

While hacienda residents mainly show up in judicial archives and estate records in their role as laborers, oral accounts allow us to place the landlord-laborer relationship in the broader context of residents' whole social and cultural world. To rule these accounts out categorically as evidence about the past would unnecessarily put a severe limitation on our understanding. Anthropologists who live with the subjects of oral accounts are in a position to assess how current circumstances shape those accounts and discern how the accounts still speak about the past. I do not mean to brush aside the difficulties of this endeavor but mean only to say that those difficulties are worth confronting.

One strategy I have used in interpreting oral accounts is to pay close attention to the nuances of language for clues as to how perspectives from different historical periods are embedded within an account. In interviewing informants, I took care to ask what they remembered their elders and other hacienda residents saying as well as asking about their own experiences. I use and compare multiple accounts from different informants who vary in their perspectives, gender, current religious outlook, age, and other features. I think of this as a kind of triangulation: we gain a better sense of a point distant in time by viewing it from different angles.

Finally, a holistic approach to the hacienda—that is, an approach that attempts to grasp hacienda society as a complex set of relationships, not just the landlord-laborer relationship, and that places that relationship within a broad cultural framework—yields a rich sense of context. Combined with an ethnographic examination of the present, that sense of context can help in assessing how oral accounts reflect both past and present. In this book I discuss posthacienda changes and the contemporary role of memories and analyze the hacienda, so readers themselves can make that assessment. All that said, even the ethnography of the present produces uncertain and partial knowledge at best, as postmodernists have stressed. One can only try.

Autonomy, Resistance, and Hegemony

In the course of this study, I engage successively and jointly with three overarching themes: autonomy, resistance (together with the related concept of reciprocity), and hegemony. These themes are ultimately intertwined, but each one emerges out of a distinct body of ethnographic and theoretical literature and offers a distinct angle on the hacienda and its aftermath.


From the late 1950s through the 1970s, scholarship on Latin American haciendas tended to emphasize peons' dependence and lack of autonomy vis-à-vis their landlord. Eric Wolf and Sidney Mintz set the tone in a classic article analyzing haciendas and plantations ([1957] 1977). Wolf and Mintz distinguished the two types primarily as a matter of their access to markets and capital: hacienda landlords used limited capital to supply small-scale markets, whereas plantations were more capital intensive and supplied large-scale (often European) markets. As a result of their limited capital and markets, haciendas could not pay sufficient wages to attract and retain laborers; instead, they relied on a series of "binding mechanisms." These included monopolizing landownership to deprive peasants of alternatives, granting laborers access to land and other resources they could use to subsist on, indebting them, developing relationships of mutual service, and reinforcing all these bonds through coercion. Workers became psychologically as well as economically dependent on the landlord, a symbolic "father" who disbursed "favors" to his "children" and "mediate[d] between them and the outside world." Only in passing did Wolf and Mintz acknowledge horizontal "relationships which spring up among the hacienda workers," giving these relationships no analytic attention, in sharp contrast to the consciousness of common condition, marital alliances, ritual kinship, and union organization they recognized among plantation workers ([1957] 1977:41-44, 57-58; see also Keith 1977).

In research on Andean haciendas, a geometric image crystallized a similar view: the "open triangle," or "triangle without a base" (see Figure 1). With the landlord at the top, the vertical legs of the triangle represent his relationship with individual peasants. The missing base of the triangle represents the absence of horizontal relationships among peasants, both within the estate and beyond its boundaries. Deprived of any autonomy, they competed with each other for the landlord's favor (see Thurner's review of this literature, 1993:43-44).

Some scholars writing in the 1960s and the 1970s were especially interested in the rise of peasant leagues and unions. They understood the base of the triangle to refer specifically to formal organizations that enhanced class solidarity and used the model to conceptualize "political mobilization" where such organizations had previously been absent, not to deny the existence of informal horizontal relationships (e.g., Tullis 1970; Whyte and Alberti 1976).

Nonetheless, especially as combined with Wolf and Mintz's model, the image easily lent itself to a view of hacienda peasants' (premobilization) social life as emptied and flattened under the weight of landlord domination. If one imagines the landlord as holding all power and control over resources, nothing seems left that could have animated horizontal social relationships—let alone any autonomous vertical relationships among peasants. A more recent Freudian analysis of paternalism on Cuzco-area haciendas based on these models exemplifies this view (Anrup 1990). While stressing that peons referred to the landlord as tayta, or "father," the study makes no attempt to explore hacienda residents' family dynamics and their relationship to other taytas besides the landlord. Tayta is actually an everyday term of respect among Runa, but the author appears to assume that only their relationship with the landlord was psychologically significant.

Certainly, indigenous political history in areas of hacienda domination can be summarized as a loss of local political autonomy and authority and only very recent recovery. In much of highland Ecuador, the position of native chiefs became so compromised under Spanish rule and communal autonomy so vitiated that indigenous commoners fled to haciendas as a better alternative. It was extremely difficult for them, as hacienda peons, to organize themselves collectively and openly without the landlord's approval. Only in the twentieth century did former hacienda communities like Tepeyac Bajo gain legal and territorial autonomy, and with it the ability to pursue their collective interests routinely in direct negotiations with other organizations and the state.

Yet, when we look more closely at indigenous people's lives on haciendas, another dimension emerges. Galo Ramón has shown that, as people resettled on haciendas, they re-created a web of social ties and a zone of partial autonomy (1987). Wolf and Mintz viewed peasants' need for land as binding them to the landlord, but hacienda residents' rights to use farmland and pastures formed the material basis for an autonomous economic and social life. In some areas—though I would not say this of twentieth-century Pangor haciendas—landlords' control over land and labor was rather tenuous; thus, Juan Martínez Alier could characterize "the history of haciendas" as "the history of how landowners attempted to get something out of the Indians who were occupying hacienda lands" (1977:142; see also Webster 1981). Large upland pastoral haciendas found it especially difficult to control their scattered and mobile labor force of herders (Maltby 1980), but as we shall see, farming as well as herding could sustain autonomous social networks.

Hacienda residents parlayed their access to hacienda resources into relationships of exchange and mutual aid with peasants in neighboring communities—sometimes to landlords' dismay, as when hacienda residents incorporated neighbors' animals into their own flocks on hacienda pastures (Guerrero 1991:279-285; Mallon 1983:77-78; Martínez Alier 1977). Residents' kinship ties and compadrazgo (ritual kinship) within and beyond the estate counterbalanced their subordination to the landlord (Crespi 1968:95-120, 205, 315-373; Guerrero 1991:162-170). As for hacienda peons' debt to the estate, another one of Wolf and Mintz's "binding mechanisms," Bauer (1979), Ramón Valarezo (1987), and Guerrero (1991) interpret it less as a sign of their bondage than of their ability to pressure landlords into disbursing money and goods. These reinterpretations add up to a picture of a much more vital, self-assertive, and autonomous social world among hacienda residents than that suggested by the classic images of debt peonage, binding mechanisms, paternalism, and a triangle without a base (see also Thurner 1993). Orlove and Custred, emphasizing the flexibility and range of links among households, put it this way: "[P]easants in the Andes create their world rather than passively and impotently inheriting a tragic past that offers them no choice but to continue it" (1980:54).

I already knew that Pangor Runa maintained wide-ranging networks of mutual aid and exchange before I ever went to Pangor. I had been a Peace Corps volunteer in the early 1980s in San Ramón,5 a mestizo village on the other side of a mountain range from Pangor. Villagers there warmly recalled old practices of mutual visiting and exchange between the two regions and Pangoreños' occasional participation in the maize (corn) harvest. My research in Pangor confirmed the economic and cultural significance of these ties and others for Pangor hacienda residents. Hacienda Runa constructed a richly meaningful social world on and beyond their estates, based on both horizontal ties among peers and asymmetrical and vertical relationships structured by kinship, age, gender, and fiesta sponsorship. Within this social world, they sustained a critical understanding of the hacienda, exerted pressure from below on Runa overseers, and sometimes found support in conflicts with landlords and their agents.

At the same time, it would be a mistake to exaggerate the autonomy of Runa social and cultural life or to idealize it as a realm of pure solidarity, insulated from larger structures of oppression. Landlords and hacienda administrators regulated relations among neighbors, spouses, and different generations within the resident community. They also supported and made use of the fiesta system and the authority relations associated with it. The complexity of Runa social life thus provided openings for cultural influences across ethnic and class boundaries.

While scholarship oriented by concepts of paternalism and the open triangle tended to overlook everyday social ties among peasants and, thus, to underestimate the autonomy and vitality of their social world, it correctly recognized that the absence of formal organization weakened peasants' autonomy and ability to pursue their collective interests. Informal social networks helped sustain everyday, spontaneous resistance, but communal structures or class-based organizations could build local unity, link peasants to more encompassing levels of organization, facilitate flows of information about larger political contexts, and channel struggles over hacienda working conditions or land reform in qualitatively different ways. Monjas Corral residents seem to have kept their distance from outside organizations during the initial stages of agrarian reform—not because of any dependency on paternalistic overlords but because of understandable suspicions. Had they developed and used ties to such organizations to gain a better understanding of provincial and national political processes, they might well have come through the land reform period with title to a larger and better portion of the former estate than they ended up with.

In the course of agrarian reform, the people of Monjas Corral, like other former hacienda residents all over the highlands, did constitute themselves as a legally recognized community. Today, they meet in a weekly assembly to discuss matters of common interest and work together one or two days a week maintaining village paths, clearing irrigation ditches, and planting potatoes or trees on communal land. Along with thousands of similar highland communities, they participate in parish-level, provincial, and national federations. These organizations make up the strongest mass-based social movement in Ecuador and perhaps the strongest indigenous movement in Latin America.

Leaders of the national indigenous confederation CONAIE (Confederación de Nacionalidades Indígenas del Ecuador) called for indigenous people around the country to mobilize in June 1990 in support of a series of demands on the government concerning land, economic policy, indigenous cultural rights, and other issues. Pangor Runa gathered in village assemblies and intervillage meetings and talked about their long history of oppression and the president's refusal to meet with their national leaders. They responded by blocking the highway that runs through the parish, holding their products from town markets, and joining in a mass demonstration in the provincial capital. Hundreds of thousands of other indigenous people staged similar actions in other highland regions, essentially shutting down the country for a week. This first national indigenous levantamiento, or "uprising," marked the emergence of the indigenous movement as a force that presidents ignore at their peril.

This book does not delve into the development of this national movement and its struggles since 1990 (see Almeida et al. 1992; Pallares 2002). Instead, it offers a long-term historical context and some insights into the local-level dramas that underpin the movement. Pangor Runa's bitter memories of racial oppression and economic exploitation under the hacienda sharpen their perspective on current inequalities and help fuel their commitment to organized, collective struggle. Trying to make sense of their continued experience of poverty and racism after the demise of the hacienda, they sometimes say things like, "We are still oppressed [llakichishka]; only now instead of the hacienda, they oppress us through inflation, low prices for our products, bad government, the whole economic system."

The particular struggles have changed, and so have the organizational forms through which Pangor's indigenous people fight back. Still, contemporary villagers draw on some organizational forms and cultural practices inherited from the hacienda, reworking and adapting these inherited forms to negotiate intravillage tensions, strengthen communal authority, and reinforce ethnic solidarity. As members of an official community, they certainly maintain an expanded autonomy and more direct engagement with the state and other institutions as compared with the hacienda period. Then, people relied on informal social networks to confront the harsh conditions of hacienda life. Now, they also look to formal organizations to defend their interests in issues ranging from local utilities projects or cattle rustling to national economic policies or proposals for a free-trade area of the Americas.

By Barry J. Lyons

Barry Lyons is Associate Professor of Anthropology at Wayne State University in Detroit.

“The hacienda experience was a crucial era of injustice and exploitation that set the stage for modern political movements. Lyons has done a remarkable job across the board: obtaining rich autobiographical accounts; offering sensitive, readable translations; recovering the written history; and showing the impact of hacienda experiences and memories on three subsequent decades of community actions and individual lives.”
—Rudi Colloredo-Mansfield, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Iowa