The Indigenous Voice

In watching the film The Mission and reading this week’s assignment in The Return of the Native, I was struck by the disregard for the voices of the indigenous peoples even by those who claimed to have their best interests at heart. In The Mission, the speech of the natives is never translated into subtitles. Most of the time we have no idea what they are saying, and when their words are translated, it is through the mouth of Father Gabriel. Their words, then, are always passed through a Spanish filter.

Similarly, while The Return of the Native talks extensively about what Creole elites think of the indigenous people, does not discuss what the indigenous people themselves thought about the conquest. The natives must have had something to say about their rule by creole elites, but their voices are not the ones that we hear. Through The Return of the Native, we see the indigenous people through the eyes of those who came to identify more with the Spanish than with their indigenous ancestors.

The Mission‘s Father Gabriel comes the closest of anyone in this week’s sources to actually listening to the concerns of the native people. He is the only Western character who regularly speaks Quechua, and through him we hear something of what the natives think of the incursion of the Portuguese. It is also significant that in his mission, many of the natives retain their traditional style of dress. Even he takes a paternalistic tone toward them, treating them in much the way that environmentalists treat an endangered animal species.

It is the elites who write the history. The intentions of the elites may be demeaning, as were those of the Portuguese and Spanish governments in The Mission and those of the indigenous elites in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, or philanthropic, as were those of the participants in the indigenismo movement, but they are all confined to a Euro-centric cultural paradigm.


1) How do different Latin American nations’ treatment of material culture reflect the similarities and differences in their attitudes toward the indigenous peoples of their territories?

2) Is the indigenismo movement actually rooted in the culture of indigenous Americans, or is it simply another Europeanization of the culture? Or is it some of both?

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