Colonialism, the Shuar Federation, and the Ecuadorian state

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Colonialism, the Shuar Federation, and the Ecuadorian

Environment and Planning D: Society and Space 2001, volume 19, pages 263 ^ 293 Colonialism, the Shuar Federation, and the Ecuadorian state Steven Rubenstein Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ohio University, Lindley Hall, Athens, OH 45701-2979, USA; e-mail: rubenste@oak.cats.ohiou.edu Received 15 February 2000; in revised form 5 May 2000 Abstract. This author suggests new avenues for thinking about the relationship between formerly stateless societies and the state. It does so through a detailed study of one particular group, the Shuar, indigenous to the Ecuadorian Amazon. Formerly an acephalous society of hunter-gardeners, the Shuar now constitute a federation with a democratically elected, hierarchical leadership and are at the forefront of indigenous movements in Latin America. The author analyzes this transformation in the context of colonialism but argues that colonialism involves far more than the movement of people from one place to another or the extension of state authority over new territory. Rather, he reveals colonialism to hinge on the transformation of sociospatial boundaries. Such transformations were critical not only to Shuar ethnogenesis but also to Ecuadorian state-building. That is, colonialism involves a dialectical reorganization both of the state and of its new subjects. In this paper I challenge current understandings of the modern state as `container' (see Taylor, 1994; 1995) and colonialism as a process of state expansion. Specifically, I argue that `colonization' hinges not so much on the movement of people, or even on the extension of state authority over new territory, as on the multiplication of spatial and social boundaries at different, and nested, scales. The effect of nested scaling is to locate spatial and social formations within a hierarchy. Thus, even as colonization seems to expand the state through the movement of people into new territories, paradoxically it also seems to contain and limit the state. I argue that this apparent paradox is a function of the state's location within a hierarchy of boundaries. I develop this argument through the history of the Shuar, a group of about 40 000 people indigenous to the Ecuadorian Amazon. (1) Until recently, Shuar lived in dispersed homesteads headed by a senior warrior, and subsisted on hunting and gardening. Shuar were linked to one another through kinship and had neither centralized leadership nor political hierarchies. In the 1890s, however, Euro-Ecuadorians from the highlands began settling in the area and missionaries began teaching and preaching to Shuar. Today most Shuar belong to the Shuar Federation (Federaciön Interprovincial de Centros Shuar, established 1964), an organization with a hierarchical structure, democratically elected leadership, and administrative jurisdiction over a bounded territory. The story of the formation of the Shuar Federation is simultaneously the story of the incorporation of Shuar into the Ecuadorian state. The Federation is an example of what Morton Fried called a `secondary tribe': a polity precipitated through contact (1) I conducted fieldwork among Shuar and settlers from 1988 to 1992. There is no archival material on the Shuar for most of this period, and scant material on the colonization of the region, although I benefitted from access to the library of the Salesian Mission. Most of the following history is reconstructed from interviews with Shuar, Federation officials, settlers, and missionaries.

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