In the Wake of Carnage
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/05/2014
Year Published: 2014
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20442
Book review of "Intimate Enemies: Violence and Reconciliation in Peru" by Kimberly Theidon.
In recent years, however, a small number of ethnographic monographs have begun to appear in print that take greater note of Andean cultural specificity at the same time that they focus on many of the central issues facing the people of Andean nations. Kimberly Theidon's Intimate Enemies is one of the best examples of this trend.
As I began reading her book I was surprised at how classically ethnographic it is, and how relevant are her descriptions of rural Quechua ways of life, particularly those pertaining to the medical realm to the ethnographic study of human rights. This is evident, for example, in Theidon's insistence on comprehending the layers of meaning that Quechua-speaking peasants of Ayacucho, Peru, associate with suffering.
She examines how a series of Andean concepts -- notions like llakis and susto indicating physical reactions to extreme stress -- exceed and overflow the idea of trauma as it is articulated by human rights workers in Peru.
To label the populations who suffered the depredations of the army and Shining Path as "victims" is to ignore, maintains Theidon, how native people experienced the war on their own terms and to foreclose any possibility of true reparations and reconciliation in the post-conflict period.
Moreover, Theidon does not confine her study of victimhood to concepts that we would define as explicitly "Andean," but approaches the people she is studying as complex modern actors, whose social practices evince a melding of Andean tradition and global movements.
She offers, for example, a thoughtful and respectful portrait of rural Protestantism as a means of confronting the horror caused not only by external actors such as the army or Shining Path, but by community members themselves who, Theidon lucidly recounts, were complicit in the bloodshed when forced to take sides in the conflict.