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Water and Power in Highland Peru: The Cultural Politics of Irrigation and Developmentby Paul H. Gelles
Synopses & Reviews
Cabanaconde, a town of 5,000 people, is located in the arid Andean highlands. It is dominated by the foreboding Hualca Hualca mountain peak that is the source of this town’s much-needed water. How the villagers obtain this water, Paul Gelles writes, is not a simple process: the politics of irrigation in this area reflect a struggle for control of vital resources, deeply rooted in the clash between local, ritualized models of water distribution and the secular model put forth by the Peruvian state. Water and Power in Highland Peru provides an insightful case study on the intense conflicts over water rights, and a framework for studying ethnic conflict and the effects of “development,” not only in Peru, but in other areas as well.
Most of the inhabitants of Cabanaconde do not identify themselves with the dominant Spanish-speaking culture found in Peru. And the Peruvian state, grounded in a racist, post-Colonial ethos, challenges the village’s long-standing, non-Western framework for organizing water management.
Gelles demonstrates that Andean culture is dynamic and adaptive, and it is a powerful source of ethnic identity, even for those who leave the village to live elsewhere. Indigenous rituals developed in this part of the world, he states, have become powerful tools of resistance against interference by local elites and the present-day Peruvian state. Most importantly, the micropolitics of Cabanaconde provide a window into a struggle that is taking place around the world.
Book News Annotation:
Using historical materials and detailed ethnographic reporting, Gelles (anthropology, U. of California) shows that water, ethnicity, and power in Cabanaconde and elsewhere in the Andes must be understood against the backdrop of the region's colonial past and contemporary nation-building in Peru. Sifting through the layers of meaning in the clash between the local ritualized model of irrigation and the secular monetary models, he examines the fundamentally different historical processes and competing cultural rationales concerning resources, power, efficiency, equity, and ethnic identity.
Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In Andean society, as in many other areas of the world, irrigation water carries broad cultural significance and has long been a source of conflict. Nowhere is the struggle over irrigation and over the cultural meanings of water more apparent than in Cabanaconde, a large peasant community located in the arid highlands of southern Peru. Using historical materials and richly detailed ethnographic reporting, Paul H. Gelles shows that water, ethnicity, and power in Cabanaconde, as elsewhere in the Andes, must be understood against the backdrop of the region's colonial past and contemporary nation-builing in Peru. Sifting through the layers of meaning found in the local, ritualized model of irrigation and the secular, monetary model put forth by the Peruvian state, Gelles shows that these models embody fundamentally different cultural rationales concerning natural resources, power, equity, and efficiency. Local models of irrigation, which previously served indigenous and Iberian states, have now become powerful tools of resistance against interference by local elites and the national government.
An anthropologist examines an Andean village's struggle for control of water
Includes bibliographical references (p. 207-222) and index.
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