Gabriel Torrealba

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

Southern Illinois U., Carbondale

Grant number

Gr. 9931

Approve Date

October 25, 2019

Project Title

Torrealba, Gabriel (Southern Illinois U., Carbondale) "Images of Debt: Kukama Perceptions and Experiences of Indebtedness in Nauta, Peruvian Amazonia"

GABRIEL TORREALBA, then a graduate student at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, Illinois, was awarded a grant in October 2019 to aid research on ‘Images of Debt: Kukama Perceptions and Experiences of Indebtedness in Nauta, Peruvian Amazonia,’ supervised by Drs. Jonathan Hill and David Sutton. Initially conceived as an ethnographic project, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, this proposal was redefined as a historical anthropology investigation combined with the study of online media content produced by the Kukama people from Peru. Archival research showed evidence of the existence of noticeable moral ambivalences around the habilitaci’n system (debt-peonage) in the Peruvian Amazon during the early twentieth century. Historical documents illustrate how Peruvian liberal elites’ discourses were condemning this institution but on occasions legitimizing it through the idiom of business. Findings also reveal the crucial role of debt as a mechanism of moral and legal legitimation of slavery practices. On the other hand, the exploration of Kukama digital media (accessible through platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, or SoundCloud) allowed this research to include contemporary indigenous voices. Digital media pointed to the way historicity is becoming one of the building blocks of an unprecedented political strategy against neoliberalism and extractivism in the area. Kukama people in Nauta have been documenting and broadcasting local mytho-historical narratives about the violence of rubber times as part of an ongoing struggle against environmental destruction and cultural assimilation. Such mediatization of historicity is providing novel frameworks for reimagining politics in Peruvian Amazonia.