Ethnobotany Update #10 – Hybrid Indigeneities and Place Making in Violently Neoliberal Colombia/Noticiero Etnobotánico Indígenismos hibridos y el hacer puesto en una Colombia violentamente neoliberal

Special Indigeneous Conference/Conferencia Indígena Especial, Cauca, Colombia, 2001Marcha a Santander

CRIC bandera No a Plan Colombia Guardia Indigena Radio Comunitario Nasa Congreso Especial 2 Congreso Especial 2001 Resguardo Caloto 2 Finca de pezes Caloto Resgurardo Caloto 1

Mobilización Nacional e Internacional de la Organización Feminina Popular y Mujeres de la Ruta Pacífica, Barrancabermeja, Santander, Colombia, 2001

Oficinas de Organizacion Feminina Popular Planton en Barranca 2 Mobilizacion en Barranca 3 Jovenes en Misa en Barranca Mobilizacion en Barranca 2 Mobilizacion en Barranca jovenes Mobilizacion en Barranca

OFP y Mujeres de la Ruta Pacifica reunion en Barranca Ciudad Bolivar


ONIC Delegacion a Colombia 2001


 20151110_130735Asher 2009

Hernando y yoMi tio Hernando y yo, 2001

Thank you to all my dear friends and colleagues who participated, some from afar, in this presentation by their presence, support, questions and comments!  I got to present first as one of the 8 fellows, and it helped clarify my project, the discussion with my advisor and friend Prof Ruth Wilson Gilmore and the other questions were also great!  Special thanks for the work to Diana, Chucho, Ruthie, Laurel, Ryan for making this work truly collective.  The errors are mine.

Gracias a todes mis querides amigxs y colegas quienes participaron, algunxs desde lejos, en esta presentación con su presencia, respaldo, preguntas y comentarios!  Presente primero de los becadxs de 8, y me ayudo clarificar mi projecto, el dialogo con mi profe y amiga Profe Ruth Wilson Gilmore, y las otras preguntas también estuvieron cheveres.  Muchisimas gracias especiales por el trabajo de Diana, Chucho, Ruthie, Laurel, Ryan en hacer este trabajo verdaderamente colectivo!  Los errores son mios.

Hybrid Indigeneities and Place Making in Violently Neoliberal Colombia

IRADAC Presentation – CUNY Graduate Center, Rm. 8301

November 11, 2015

Introduction – Slide 1 Title page

In studying Afro and Indigenous ethnobotanies in southwestern Colombia, on the Colombian Pacific (Oslender 2007 753-754), within the context of intersections of race, gender, class and sexualities during colonialism and its long shadow up through the modern era, I am understanding partitions before and now. Specifically I am doing this through an understanding of the process of racialized capital accumulation during the past 70 years of violently racial capitalism (Robinson 1983); to the advent of the last extremely violent 30 years of neoliberalism and the movement toward the beginning of the post-conflict era. Some theorists including Gargallo Celetani (2012), Katz (1998), Katz and Kirby (1981), Leiss (1974), McGregor (2004), Massey (1994), Merchant (1998), Mies & Shiva (1993), Reclus (Clark 1997), Smith (2008), Tihuwai Smith (1999/2012) have argued that a universal view of nature, with humans in it, as opposed to an externalized view of nature, with humans above and dominating it, had very different effects on both humans and the rest of nature. I am interested in studying this universal[1] view, and its effects by doing ethnographic work with several of these communities in the southwestern Colombian Pacific.

SLIDE #2 Ethnobotany is plants & people

What brought me to this ethnobotanical project in Colombia is my history as a child of Colombian parents, born, raised and living in the U.S., and through my yearning for and complicating of the notion of home and community. This became clearer to me when I first helped organize a solidarity delegation from the U.S. with Indigenous communities and women in Bogotá, Barrancabermeja, Santander, and Cauca in August and early September 2001. My organizing work with Black, Latino, Asian and Native American communities in the U.S. served as an entré for my sustained studies of the Black Radical Tradition the past four years with Prof. Ruth Wilson Gilmore; along with an understanding of racial capitalism (Robinson 1983/2000) with which to understand racial formations, and particularly, Indigeneities[2]. And my herbal studies, herbal medicine-making and community gardening have provided the impulse to fuse these into this political ecology project of the study of ecological onto-epistemologies in and with Indigenous and Afro communities in southwestern Colombia. I am then interested in looking at issues of health, sanity and sustainability on a planetary[3] basis, in southwestern Colombia and seeing what these can direct us toward a more sustainable and sane world.

I use the following terms in this way–

Ethnobotany – slide 3

  • a more harmonious relationship between plants and people, or the environment and people
  • Even though it is a problematic definition, because it is built upon a Western tradition that places people and their onto-epistemologies above, and not part of, nature,

I propose foregrounding decolonial ecological onto-epistemologies and their resulting ethnobotanies, which do away with this partition, to see people and the rest of nature as a integrated whole.  This is what, among other Indigenous people, Deborah McGregor (2004) calls Traditional Ecological Knowledge or TEK

Ontological epistemologies or onto-epistemologies – sense of self/being and ways of learning in the world

I look at two models, which are not exhaustive –

  • The Enlightenment model which sees nature as external or based on the subjugation of it with the rise of rational science, and capitalism with the enclosing of land as private property, and the subjugation of women and other differently gendered people. Humans, more specifically, “man” in this model is above nature as the observer and knower of it and it must be dominated, controlled, commodified, exploited and seen largely as just resources to be consumed. The problem with development which proceeds from this view, which violence also makes possible, with Colombia as exhibit A, and the resulting environmental degradation we are seeing, is that following this model, we see nature as separate from us, as a set of commodities from which we can make profits.
  • The Indigenous model which follows a universal view of nature based on the interdependency and interconnectedness between beings, that people are part of nature and that sustainability is of prime value. This has radical implications for our sense of self & how we live in the world, and our economies. Indigenous people see nature as a part of them so the destruction of the rest of nature is suicide, and that is becoming increasingly clear as climate change continues to ramp up. Traditional Ecological Knowledge, as Deborah McGregor, among others defines it is “based on an intimate knowledge of the land, water, snow and ice, weather and wildlife, and the relationships between all aspects of the environment. It is the way people travel and hunt, it is a way of life and survival.” (2004 78). She further writes – “One of the most significant differences between Native and non-Native views of TEK is the fact that Aboriginal people view the people, the knowledge and the land as a single integrated whole.” (McGregor 2004 79).  I name these ecological onto-epistemologies.

I also look at partitioning which is integral to the European enlightenment-laced model and there are two ways this is implemented which demonstrate the long dureé of colonialism throughout Colombia, as I look at at the Colombian Pacific –

  • Among racial categories & identities – Indigenous people are pitted against Afro peoples; an example of how this happens is articulated by Bettina Ng’weno (2001 33 ) – “The settlement dynamic of Black and Indigenous communities is not necessarily homogenous with separate populations occupying clearly defined spaces. In reality throughout the Pacific Black and Indigenous populations are interconnected not only through trade but also through kinship, ceremonies and shared territorial spaces. Ironically, Law 70 of 1993, truncated the process of forming interethnic territories. This legislation does not take into account the historical dynamics of rural communities of the Pacific due to a lack of research and description of the types of settlements and relations that exist between these populations.”  Slide 4 Top-down Racialized & Limited Agrarian Reform
  • Between nature and people – based on and enforced by the European enlightenment, traditional Christianity and capitalism.

I argue through my research that Africans are Indigenous, which is a political and lived identity that signifies a connection to the land and environment that does not follow the European enlightenment as enforced through imperialism, colonialism and genocidal projects. Indigeneity is further understood as ancestral land-based connections, and is not essentialist, and in this sense, has possibilities for autonomy and self-determination. So, I look at Indigeneity and being Indigenous not as a racial category, while I take seriously the implementation of racism, by showing for example, that

white supremacist racism —> constructs others as primitive unmoving/static/unlearning savages.

Race became naturalized through traditional Christianity, the rise of science and capitalism where civilized meant mastering nature, being above it and dominating it. John Locke’s notion of nature before the European “improvement” of it, therefore, was that of “terra nullius”, which meant the genociding of the people who supposedly were not there, a self-almost fulfilling prophecy, that did not succeed completely, to provide a land ripe for the taking by Europeans, the U.S. and other colonizing & neo such powers down the line.

Following Gilroy (1993) and others in deconstructing racial categories, one can argue, and I and many do, that there is a problem with these constructed ontologies and epistemologies, when instead, we can avoid this race trap, through understanding and applying his notion of anti-anti-essentialism, though the example of “Black identity (which) is not simply a social and political category to be used or abandoned according to the extent to which the rhetoric that supports and legitimizes it is persuasive or institutionally powerful. Whatever the racial constructionists may say, it is lived as a coherent (if not always stable) experiential sense of self. Though it is often felt to be natural and spontaneous, it remains the outcome of practical activity: language, gesture, bodily significations, desires. We can use Foucault’s insightful comments to illuminate this necessarily political relationship. They point towards an anti-anti-essentialism that sees racialised subjectivity as the product of social practices that supposedly derive from it…” (1993 102).

Slides 5 & 6 – Maps of Colombia My question then is to see how Afro and other Indigenous ethnobotanies on the Colombia Pacific, along with other cultural initiatives in the midst of racial capitalism, have differing influences on the environment and on development; and I study these in the context of a nearly 70-year genocidal war there. How are these ecological onto-epistemologies, that are based on Indigenous cosmologies or world views, co-constitutive of and how do they thus effect the environment differently than the dominant ones under imperialism/colonialism, which worked to increase profit through extractive industries which have dominated since those times?  What effects have being colonized, racial partitioned and the partitioning of people from nature, and the violences those have entailed, had via extractive economies on these communities and world views? How have these subjugated/subaltern world views differed from those dominant ones, particularly through ways of living in these communities and through transforming institutions, such as palenques/maroons, resguardos/reservations, consejos comunitarios/Afro community councils and other self governing ones?

Theoretical Framework – Slide 7 Africans as Indigenous

I use a decolonial framework to look at the intersections of race, class, gender, sexualities through a political ecology lens. So to be clear, I use this framework to look at political ecology, racial construction and deconstruction, specifically in interrogating issues of Indigeneity. In light of these connections of Indigeneity, I apply Gilmore’s (2003) articulation of partitions to look at colonially-enforced separations – between people, and people and nature (Arnold 1996; Crosby 2004; Smith 2008), which are also sites of encounter then and now. In addition, Rappaport’s (2005) notion of interculturalism, versus multiculturalism, is an important one with which to understand the construction of Indigeneity in these communities.

Following Gilroy, and through conversations with and studying the work of Prof. Ruth Wilson Gilmore, I understand race and its categories, then, are not immutable, ones that fell out of the sky onto particular geographical areas according to the phenotypical populations indigenously residing there. Race is rather signified by ways of living, cultures that are learned, and specifically, in my analysis, an Indigeneity that helps one live harmoniously with the rest of the environment because one’s being (ontology) and ways of comprehending/learning (epistemology) are also part of that sometimes fragmented whole, with which we cannot live. I propose, with many others, that this is true of other constructed identities, e.g., gender, class, sexuality.

This convergence of ethnobotanical knowledge then, marked by a universal construction of nature that reflects Indigeneity, produced solidarity between Afro and Indigenous peoples in the context of brutal slavery, and plundering imperialism & colonialism. They maintain these relationships up until today, even at the edge of chainsaws as the massacre of Alto Naya (Garcia Hierro nd; Craig-Best and Shingler 2001; Molano n.d; Wilson 2001) among others demonstrates. Given the acceleration of capital accumulation through the whole sale and whole scale dispossession (Harvey 2005) endemic to the current capitalist project called neoliberalism, these connections are in danger of being stretched to the breaking point, and present a profound challenge for these communities, as they also do to the health of the environment. These ethnobotanical knowledges, among other initiatives, have been used as weapons of resistance to that coercion that seeks to fortify the extractive hegemony of global racial capitalism in the ancestral lands of these communities.

Through my field work in Colombia, with Indigenous and Afro communities then, I want to see how these onto-epistemologies address my research question, up close. In effect, what does a different cosmology and ecological onto-epistemology signify in relation to development, land tenure and the management of waste, for example? Does using herbs as medicine oppose the commodification and the colonizing of nature that is one of the hallmarks of capitalism? How do these combat the enclosing and “improvement” following the Lockean model (Eisenstein 2009) with its masculinist and racist scientific capitalist biases?


I will seek to address these questions through ethnographic means – interviews, documentation of oral histories, by accompanying various rural Afro and Indigenous communities (resguardos and plantations or ingenios) in Cauca through collective projects. This will provide a better understanding and documentation of if these onto-epistemologies that form the basis of Indigenous worlds, provide alternatives to centuries of capitalism and perhaps point to the mitigation of the resulting devastating environmental degradation, which is accelerated by this latest iteration of an economic model that seeks maximum profits at any and all costs.

SLIDE 8 Municipal map of Cauca In order to answer my research question, I will be doing field work in Cauca, Colombia the summer of 2016, to build and deepen the conversations I have had together with mostly Indigenous communities, and Afro Colombians in a couple of their organizations since 2001. I will use collaborative and collective research methods and epistemologies with which to understand and document their ethnobotanies by visiting and working with two Indigenous communities and two Afro communities, as yet unspecified, but certainly, one will be a sugar cane plantation or ingenio.

Context as Introduction towards a Praxical Analysis

The focus of this research project and of the upcoming field work then is a foregrounding of the relationship to the land of Indigenous and Afro communities as life ways, reflected through ethnobotanies creating community autonomy and self-determination in a society convulsed by violence, particularly during the last 70 years. Slide 9 Africans as Indigenous To better understand the racial formation of Indigeneity, I follow Carney and Rosomoff (2009) and Voeks (2009) who document how Africans before they were kidnapped, forcefully displaced and resettled into the Caribbean and the Americas had deep ethnobotanal understandings in Africa and maintained those during the Middle Passage and were then able to adapt to their new environments upon arrival and beyond.

Two stories of nutrition as cultural survival and resistance are useful here, as written by Carney and Rosomoff – the kola nut, which is sacred to many African peoples, was used as a way to make the fetid or putrid drinking water drinkable on the long voyages on the slave ships; and African mothers often put grains of rice, which is of African origin, in their children’s hair so they would have something to eat upon their arrival after the voyages on the slave ships.

Slides 10 (Kola Nut, Rice), 11 (African Ethno-botanical knowledge 1), 12 (African Ethno-botanical knowledge 2)

         These ethnobotanical understandings, despite the brutalities of slavery, helped Africans convert their new spaces into places, and helped build relationships and ameliorate conflict with the existing Indigenous communities there. In fact, I argue, from the available evidence (Carney & Rosomoff 2009; Voeks 2009), that Indigenous peoples in the Americas and the Caribbean largely did not see African people as settlers because they soon realized that each had a similar connection to the land and the environment, and they were both brutally targeted by the colonizers. This was a different view than the one they shared of Europeans who, for example, as in the case of England, had enclosed lands with the rise of capitalism (Federici 2004) and saw them as commodities, and they exported this ideology to the lands they subsequently and colonized. Though the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores in the late 1400s and early 1500s preceded the rise of capitalism and the commodification of land, there is ample documentation, in the geographies where the Requiramento was proclaimed, NOTE, in Spanish in a loud commanding voice, that they saw the taking and plundering of Indigenous lands as god-given and belonging to the King and Queen of Spain[4]. Further research, though hard to come by, in the English speaking-dominated world, will make this clearer to understand how Colombia, which was largely colonized by Spain, differs or not from the English colonies in the enclosing of lands (Federici 2004) as a necessary condition for the rise of capitalism regarding post invasion land tenure.

As importantly as documenting the plundering, de Las Casas in his torturously accurate exposé through his book titled Brevísima relación de la destruición de las Indias is particularly on point; my focus is on these convergences of ethnobotanical understandings and knowledge which, although much less researched, show more harmonious collective material and spiritual relationships with the land, across peoples (Paulson and Escobar 2004), and reflect Indigeneity, in Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean, among other places.   In addition, these proceed from a cosmology and reality of land tenure which facilitated their solidarity in the context of this brutal colonial project[5]. Some Afro and Indigenous[6] peoples in Colombia have largely been able to maintain these ties of ecological onto-epistemological solidarity to the present day, despite the best colonizer efforts then, and now at the edge of chainsaws (Craig-Best and Shingler 2001, Molano, Wilson 2001). As capital accumulation accelerates through neoliberal policies[7] that are becoming more hegemonic for non-Indigenous and non-Afro communities, these ties between peoples who share those ancestral territories are strained and even more deeply challenged.

Through my archival research, visits in and participation with social groups and communities in Colombia, and specifically in Cauca, I have seen how racial capitalism, violence and war have targeted marginalized people’s egalitarian social movements in this society – be they Afro, Indigenous, women (particularly feminists), LGBT people, union organizers, educators, community organizers, and believers in liberation theology. Although the post-conflict era has begun as peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC are being wrapped up in Havana, Cuba, and the ones with the ELN are beginning, the pace of displacement and the targeting of groups outside of the Colombian elite continues apace, though through different means such as the law, with the example of the Estatuto Rural (Mondragón 2009)[8].

Thus far, in an expansion of the long dureé of colonialism, it is evident that Indigenous and Afro identities in Colombia are territorially and spacially distinct in racial and geographic terms as constructed by the Colombian state, as reflected earlier through Ng’weno’s quote and through this map – Slide 14 Racial partitioning of lands These have often not reflected the on-the-ground lived realities of these communities as documented particularly in relation to shared land tenancy, hybrid identities, and cultural resistance reflected by palenques Slide 15 Palenques and Afro territories. While Indigenous communities have fought for and won places called resguardos, Afro communities have also fought for their own ancestral lands. On-the-ground reality is somewhat more complicated, however, since Afro and Indigenous communities are often, in fact, less partitioned (Ng’weno 2001) and instead embody Indigeneity and are Indigenous together. However, the violently neoliberal iteration which begin to dominate as the economic project in Colombia in the early 1970s (Hylton 2006), along with the long ago established racialized Colombian state, and its paramilitary allies have tried to pit Afro and Indigenous peoples against each other. This has been done as ways to maximize the efforts to expand and deepen the range of extractive coercion as it has begun to morph into an extractive hegemony, following on Gramsci’s articulation of the dialectical relationship between these two (Hoare and Smith 1971).

It is at this point unclear how the peace process will affect this struggle over land, access to resources, or the development model Colombian society will follow, though several observers from various communities see the acceleration of extraction as it becomes hegemonic (ACIN 2015; Torres, Reales de Sembrar 2012) and less overtly coercive in a massacre sense. I hope to have a clearer picture of this in conversation and observations with my contacts and through my field work in communities in Cauca.

At the edge of chainsaws

Since colonial to the still emerging post-colonial times, violence has served as a powerful tool of accumulation by dispossession (Harvey 1995) to prop up the Colombian elites and the state, for example, at the expense of Afro and Indigenous communities in rural territories throughout the country. Legally, however, the process of the articulation of the Constitution of 1991, profoundly decentered this reality of coercion as a political force, at least for a few years. This shift is best reflected by the intense community organizing process that resulted in its adoption, and in recognizing Colombia as a multi-ethnic and plural society (Asher 2009, Wade 1993), and by the legalized process of making titles regarding their ancestral lands accessible to Afro and Indigenous peoples. A few years later, the paramilitary project brought the political force of domination back with a vengeance, once it became clear what control of these territories by Afro and Indigenous peoples entailed for the elites in relation to megaprojects and mineral extraction on and in them (Asher 2009, Ng’weno 2011, Wade 1993). Still looking for the map of paramilitary violence in ancestral lands by Sinaltrainal, the food workers union which shows the overlap with Afro and Indigenous territories.

In moving from an understanding of how Afro and Indigenous communities have resisted slavery and domination since colonial times through their construction of Indigeniety, to an understanding of the recent levels of violence during the last thirty years, then, as articulated by the alliance between the right-wing paramilitaries and the Colombian state, this shift demonstrates further the threat that these ecological onto-epistemologies pose and how solidarity endures. An example of the clashing onto-epistemologies which I have been articulating in this analysis is clearer in looking at the targeting via necro politics (Mbembe 2003) or at the edge of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC)’s motosierras/chainsaws in the 2001 Alto Naya massacre of Indigenous and Afro Colombians (Craig-Best and Shingler 2001, Rappaport 2005, Wilson 2001). This massacre, in a materially partitioned form, literally, among the many others which characterize this project which includes displacement, and resettlement with populations much more amenable to mega project development was not so coincidential, because it occurred within ten years of the characterization of Colombia as a multi-ethnic and plural society through the Constitution of 1991. During a horrific three days, fascist/racist paramilitaries killed 40 civilians, using machetes, guns and chainsaws (Craig-Best and Shingler 2001; Molano n.d; Wilson 2001).   It is through these kind of instances where the so-called weak Colombian state is in full bloom through its paramilitaries, but it is not so characterized when it is extracting resources and displacing communities at sites of its mega projects[9] (Molano n.d.) through its entrepreneurial, latifundista and industrial neoliberal cronies.

For the racial capitalist Colombian state, which has largely been interested in the social construction of hierarchies and the partitioning of races as a means of social control and exploitation of labor, however, legal recognition varies in Colombia “between Black and Indigenous territories…for the Indigenous communities the law recognizes some degree of Indigenous territorial control and provides for limited autonomy or self rule. For Black communities the law recognizes more of a corporate structure similar (to) community forests in the USA, with limited self-rule potential” (Ng’weno 2001 34). Ng’weno’s and Asher’s (2009 12)analyses, and through the map in Oslender (2007) all show how the state required a particular type of partitioned racial and cultural identity construction in granting land titles to Afro communities as opposed to Indigenous ones, interestingly so, given that it contradicted the on-the-ground and lived hybrid and intercultural (Rappaport 2005) life ways of these communities on the Pacific Coast cited above, and the communal land tenancy rights codified in the Constitution of 1991, and particularly in Ley 70 of 1993. This limited top-down land reform, then, resulted in the attempted imposition of partitioned identities and nationalist racialized essentialisms, all products of an exclusionary, machista and racist onto-epistemology[10]. Slide 16 Racial partitioning of lands

In effect and as demonstrated earlier, however, the development of ecological onto-epistemologies in this particular part of the Afro and Indigenous Pacific, arising out of lived experiences necessitates an understanding of the dialectical relationships of the joint and enmeshed (Lugones 2004) resistances of Afro and Indigenous communities in Colombia, in the ways they currently resist racial categories, to transform these, through their ethnobotanies, through other cultural efforts both separate and together, and in expanding their material, and cultural places to match their cosmologies in relation to their environments Slide 17 Palenques and Afro Territories Palenques, resguardos and ethnobotanies (among other forms) have historically been and are currently used as tools of resistance to such coercion and efforts by capitalists, and now in its latest iteration of the Colombian state’s extraction processes, through its more hegemonic form in these communities’ ancestral territories. Although under-researched, these spaces are territorial, conceptual, cosmological and political places and question the vary basis of the foundations of the Colombian nation, that of the hegemony of mestizaje, the use of the land and its development (Murillo 2013). As possible alternatives to development (Escobar 1995), there are community councils, resguardos, palenques, along with La Guardia Indígena (Sandoval Forero 2008), which articulate these counter topographies (Katz 2001) to cite just a few (Asher 2009, Wade 1993).

Land and Labor – Slide 18, Afro-Colombias Dreding for Gold, Bateo de Oro

Afro Colombians through their ethnobotanies then, their relationship to the land and their creation of places in it, are clearly Indigenous and indigenous to the land that was first Abya Yala, then named Colombia, among other lands in the Americas and the Caribbean. Among other things, labor on the Colombian Pacific was distinct from labor in the Colombian Atlantic, because in the former, there are large mines (Restrepo 1886). Particularly during the time of slavery, this necessitated another type of labor, settlement and overseer regime, and gold panning provided, in enslaved people’s spare time, a means for self-manumission. Wade (2003 104) is particularly explicit about how white former slave owners saw liberated Black labor, “‘[The free blacks] are too lazy to work in the mines, being perfectly contented if they can secure a sufficiency of plantains and corn for subsistence’”. Laziness or freedom? Subsistence, here signifies freedom from wage slavery and theft of labor power, and likely premature death[11] (Gilmore 2004), and thus a better quality of life. I want to further explore subsistence as ecological onto-epistemologal life ways when I am in Colombia. Gold panning which is extremely back-breaking work, is done 95% of the time by Afro women (Anti-mineria retreat 2015). Largely because of the division of labor beginning with slavery, Africans and Afro Colombians on the Pacific often worked in the mines and Indigenous people worked the fields (Jaramillo Uribe 1989a,b; Wade 1993). This division of labor is not natural, it was enforced through the colonizer thirst for gold as they searched for the mythical El Dorado[12], and at once exploited both Afro and Indigenous labor to provide raw materials with which to facilitate this primitive accumulation process. Really, who is the primitive?

Mestizaje and Identity

Reflected by the connections between Afro and Indigenous peoples, this hybrid sense of identity, land use and tenancy, kinship and culture, are all a challenge to hegemonic mestizaje[13]. This racial hierarchy was constructed throughout Latin America and in the Caribbean, to signify a particular kind of race mixture or mixed race status. Given that neither Afro nor Indigenous people fit into the construction of this mestizaje paradigm as racial hegemon in Latin American societies (Asher 2009, Wade 1993), this, unlike relations in palenques, based on more universal constructions of nature, are exclusionary. In particular, in Colombia, because the goal of mestizaje is blanquiamiento or whitening[14], it signifies “White-nativeness” from which racism follows and Wade, for example, articulates its importance in understanding the dialectical, sometimes contradictory and shifting racial order in Colombia. “White”, as a partitioned racial category, is a complicated and unreal construction, as Wade (1993, 66-67) shows through the example of the racial order in Antioquia, which is considered one of the whitest, demographically European[15]-descendent and racially unmixed regions in Colombia. There has always been a substantial Afro population there – 19% in colonial times (Wade 1993, 74), and up to the not so recent past. Wade wonders why that community and racial partition disappeared, along with the erasure of those lived experiences, in the sense that this indigenous Afro population is gone (here I am not counting the internally colonized Chocoans who work as domestic servants and other laborers in Medellin and other cities in Antioquia). Apparently it was absorbed, giving the lie to the racial purity promoted by the white, paisa culture (Wade 1993, 56, 74-78), through this ideological process of blanqueamiento or whitening.[16]

“Native” is often times defined in relation to time, in quantitative terms, but I argue it is also important to take into account its qualitative dimensions – that of a people’s[17] relationship to the land and the environment (Voeks 2009), and what is often considered by Westerners as the inanimate[18]. This, and resistance to the genocidal project demonstrates how displaced people through this African diaspora and partition were able to also articulate places of encounter (Gilmore 2012) with Indigenous communities particularly around food, medicine, rituals and the environment as shared place.

Slide 19 Africans as Indigenous Following on Carney and Rosomoff’s documentation of African ethnobotanies (2009), Voeks (2009 287) sketches the cultural interchange between Africans and Indigenous communities regarding their ethnobotanies – “Over the course of several centuries, there must have been thousands of exchanges of plant information between (B)lacks and Indians in lowland South America. Whether these interactions were brokered largely by European intermediaries is unknown. What is clear, however, is that by whatever process, the African diaspora and their forebears came to know much of the material, if not spiritual, values of the native flora.” And vice versa.

Slide 20 Palenques & Afro territories Though it is not well recorded, this ethnobotanical sharing would have been heightened in maroons/palenques[19], places where partitions did not dominate, as different onto-epistemolgies were shared and provided sociality. As Pino and Valois, cited by Voeks (2009 292) demonstrate, although their origins have not yet been pinpointed, Afro communities in the Chocó use 140 medicinal species of plants, in effect making el Chocó with a 95% Afro population, one big palenque.

Also given the lack of sexual autonomy most Indigenous and Afro women suffered with the arrival of the conquistadores and other European colonizers, the control of fertility was a major concern for them and for their communities. SLIDE 21 Caesalpinia pulcherrima  Voeks (2009 284) writes that the herb, Caesalpinia pulcherrima was used by Indigenous and enslaved African women throughout the region, “Indian and African women, confronted with similar hardships, somehow crossed their cultural and language barriers in order to share their knowledge of herbal abortifacients”. This shrub is native to the tropics and subtropics of the Americas, as cited in, and according to Londo L. Schiebinger (2004) in her book, Plants and empire: colonial bioprospecting in the Atlantic world, this plant is well known in the Amazon rainforest where it is called ayoowiri, four grams from the root induces abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy.

Using this as but one example of the Indigenous-Afro ethnobotanical exchange, it is clear that more research and documentation is necessary to show how these hybrid ecological onto-epistemologies, I’m thinking here of AfroIndigenous anticolonial and anticapitalist ones, were and are produced, constructed and reproduced across these communities. In addition, nutritional plants and herbs and foods migrated between Africa, the Americas and the Caribbean over the millennia (DeLoughrey 2008, Carney and Rosomoff 2009, Voeks 2009),.

Filling in the Gaps – Slides 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27

Ethnobotanies are a part of the Indigenous and Afro responses to the aforementioned paramilitary and state necro-politics. Among others, we can see these through their cultural and political resistances, such as the community organizing cited above, and the ethnobotanies outlined in the efforts to build authocthonous hybrid subjectivities and ecological onto-epistemologies. How does one construct these in a capitalist world, with exhibit A being the 1991 Constitution promoting a multi-ethnic Colombia within neoliberal politics (Asher 2009 12)?   Do we need Natives versus non-natives, and authenticity to partition and hierarchalize us into our subjectivities as a response to oppression? Are subjectivities partitions? Should racial identities necessarily be constructed as nationalist, masculinist and exclusionary of other genders and partitioned by the gender binary before the law?   And really, what purpose, besides domination, does an onto-epistemology which sees people outside of nature serve? As it is becoming clearer, the on-the-ground lived reality of AfroIndigenous and IndigenousAfro communities is radically shifting the essentializing notions of Indigeneity and this represents a threat to racial partitions and their constructions by the state in order to de-territorialize communities throughout Colombia. So we can see that the partitioning of people and lands is oppressive, destructive and not sustainable and has deep connections and parallels which I look forward to understanding better through my field work in Colombia.

As it is becoming clear from this analysis, that fighting the imposition of race and racism and the partitioning of peoples so characterized in subordinated positions, in building authocthonous identities and lives is difficult, given how race has been naturalized/essentialized and how racism has operated historically and how these constructions have permeated social frameworks, linguistics, writing and territory. Coercion came first, then hegemony, both through binaries between white and Black, good and evil, civilized and Indigenous, man and woman/nature. And that those partitions are material, has also meant subordinated economic conditions for these communities.

So what does gold panning, dredging, working on sugar cane plantations, and working as wage laborers in agriculture mean in relation to ecological onto-epistemologies? Do their subjugated economic positions and their places in the racial hierarchy obviate these material relations and their collusion in the resulting ecological degradation? Does their position in primitive accumulation in the supply chains of gold, sugar cane, African palm, and other agricultural resources absolve them of their part in reproducing ecological devastation? Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva in their book Ecofeminism (1993 13) wrote regarding a universal view of nature that – “This universalism does not deal in abstract universal human rights but rather in common human needs which can be satisfied only if the life-sustaining networks and processes are kept intact and alive.”

Preliminary conclusions based on a decolonized non-Western praxis – feminist, Indigenous, Afro, and Third World, enumerated here demonstrate that Indigenous world views not partitioned from life ways, are more harmonious with respect to the rest of nature and therefore seem to result in less damage to the environment, within the constraints of global capitalism. And these include humans in making up more integrated worlds. Emerging research from the last 10 years, for instance in relation to organic agriculture and gardening (Rodale Institutie 2014), the use of the use of Indigenous knowledge (Ereira 1990; Nyong, Adesina, Elasha 2007; Shiva 2005), and more sustainable development point with some promise to the addressing and mitigation of on-going environmental degradation. SLIDE 28 What is sustainable development?

As mentioned, all of these partitions are important to dismantle, as many theorists and communities are doing. Afro and Indigenous peoples and their hard-core and celebratory social movements in Colombia during the past nearly 70 years of yet another genocidal war show new possibilities, which continue to bear hybrid autocthonous fruit!

Slides 29, 30- Sources

Slides 31, 32 – Influences

Slide 33 – Comandantxs Zapatistas

Slide 34 – ChoQuibtown

Slide 35 – Systema solar – Bienvenidos



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[1] Not in the racist sense in order to homogenize, erase and dominate, but in the inclusive sense which sees humans as part of nature.

[2] I am indedted to Ruth Wilson Gilmore and Oscar Marquez for a deeper insight into the construction of Indigeneity.

[3] My thanks to Ruth Wilson Gilmore on this insight into Gilroy’s use of planetary instead of global.

[4] See Seed (1995) and De las Casas (1999) as two examples. among many.

[5] For a good understanding of how Indigenous peoples see the environment and human beings as an integral whole, see Tuhiwai Smith (1999/2012).

[6] Despite partitioning, there is a good deal of confusion in relation to where Indigenous peoples end and Afro ones begin, and Ng’weno (2001) demonstrates that that lived reality is much more integrated. Many times, they are the same community/people, though the racial and neoliberal Colombian state works to partition them.

[7] The North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA is the prime example (EZLN 1996).

[8] The Estatuto Rural or the Rural Development Statute, before it was declared unconstitutional, displaced massacres by the paramilitaries as the primary means to grab land from mostly Afro and Indigenous communities.

[9] Craig-Best and Shingler (2001) write – “On a series of maps produced by mineworkers union, SINTRAMINERCOL, there appears an almost perfect correlation between paramilitary forced displacement and the existence of natural resources.

[10] I follow Gilroy (1993) in disarticulating the ideological partitions between racial categories.

[11] Gilmore (2009 74) defines racism as “(G)roup differentiated vulnerability to premature death…”.

[12] Molina Infante (2013) details how Indigenous people around Bogotá, or Bacatá, saw the conquistadores thirst for gold.

[13] I follow the critique of race as a human construction as articulated by Gilroy (1999, 2003), among others. Peter Wade (1993, 344) states, “Treating phenotypical difference as a self-evident biological category…fails to highlight what Gilroy…calls the ‘ideological work’ that has to be done on physical difference to turn it into ‘racial’ signifiers in the first place.”

[14] See Wade (2003 74-78) for how Blackness, outside of the immigration of domestic and other laborer immigration from the Choco, was almost completely erased in the example of Antioquia.

[15] Not-withstanding the later development of scientific racism in Europe which the Nazis enforced on largely Eastern Europe populations in the mid 20th Century which demonstrated that white was not a monolithic racial category in the first place, especially in Europe (Mazower 2008; Gilmore 2012; Robinson 1993).

[16] Asher (2009), Escobar (2006) and Wade (1993) provide well articulated praxis of how race is constructed in Colombia, and throughout Latin America under the guise of mestizaje as hegemony. In addition, Paul Gilroy’s (2003) anti anti-essentialism and critique of race purity and partition as social constructions by society’s dominant sectors and the often uncritical acceptance of those racial hierarchies and parameters by targeted communities is instructive here.

[17] I define “Native”, a highly charged word, as collective, and how Indigenous people use it, to counter it’s co-optation and the racist characterization of it by the Enlightenment-impulsed colonizers, with Dafoe’s Robinson Crusoe as just one clear example. I understand the use of this concept to signify place, and how it has been used quite effectively by nationalist projects which are racist. Thank you to Ruth Wilson Gilmore for this insight.

[18] Tuhiwai Smith (1988/2012 77) – “A human person does not stand alone, but shares with other animate and, in the Western sense, ‘inanimate’ beings, a relationship based on a shared ‘essence’ of life.”


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