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Digitizing the “Lettered City”:

Indigenous Self-Representation in the Media Movement and the Hegemony of Literacy

The denigration of indigenous modes of knowing and the simultaneous enforcement of

Eurocentric perspectives have been primary sources of oppression in Latin America since the

Conquest. Often overlooked because of the need to construct documentary, historical narratives

of genocide and the erasure of entire civilizations, the hegemonic, European monopoly over

images and other forms of representation have nevertheless also enacted another form of

annihilation—an annihilation that remains ever-present and ever-developing. Indeed, the

Conquest that could not have happened without being accompanied simultaneously by a regime

of images and representations that legitimized the Conquest in various ways. Implemented

through an institutionalization of specific knowledge practices deemed acceptable, and

reinforced through hegemonic tools of literacy and the subordination of types of knowledge that

do not coincide with Eurocentrism, domination over indigenous communities has maintained its

oppressive nature through a variety of technologies that range from the literary indigenismo of

the early twentieth century to current, mainstream audiovisual productions.

Although seen by some as a technology complicit with historically unequal power

structures of communication and representation, the advent of digital visual media nevertheless

signifies a critical opportunity for indigenous community empowerment, introducing the

prospect of creating and distributing internally-authored community reflections. The indigenous

digital media movement in Latin America represents a seminal departure from hegemonic tools

of representation because it creates a network of active, crucial participation from indigenous

communities and revalorizes knowledge traditions that have been continuously perpetuated as
inferior forms of expression and understanding. Additionally, indigenous media organizations’

proposed plans of distribution and circulation, as demonstrated by various autonomous

organizations in Bolivia, open up a dialogue that has historically and presently excluded

populations from participation.

Attempting to address the indigenous digital media movement proves problematic in its

phrasing. There exists severe danger in attempting to describe a movement that reaches across

indigenous nations—each of which possesses its own culture, language and traditions—and

profound possibilities of perpetuating the simplification of indigenous identity stemming from

colonialism. This paper does not intend to suggest the diversity among and within these

indigenous nations can be reduced to a singular category of “indigenous”—the exact opposite, in

fact. However, as this paper only provides a brief introduction to the extensive and influential

developments within the indigenous digital media movement, the reader should not interpret the

accounts as anything near absolute. Throughout the paper, comparisons will be drawn among

different organizations within the digital media movement that, due to the length constrictions of

the paper, cannot be comprehensively addressed and differentiated. Efforts to limit these

overarching comparisons have been drawn through a focus on specific organizations in Bolivia,

but the vast, interconnected transcultural and transnational networks of participating

communities within the movement ensure some degree of overlapping. Rather than interpreting

the category of indigenous as inclusive indicators of identity, one should observe how

organizations within the movement are using the previously-oppressive oversimplification of

indigenity as a source of unification for their efforts.

Empowerment Potential of New Digital Media Technology

Discussions of new media technology and debates over its potential perpetuation of

dominant power structures or, conversely, its prospects for providing deviation from established,

institutionalized forms of representation have witnessed an advent in examination in recent

years. Although a significant number of social scientists have suggested the centralized origins

of media and technology point to a continuation of power dynamics between technology owners

and consumers, Professor of Information Studies at the University of California Ramesh

Srinivasan proposes an alternative interpretation. He suggests that reassessment of technologies

within a context of community development and maintenance places new media as a “catalyst

for new interpretations and alternative paradigms” within the field of visual media (499).

Addressing pervasive opinions regarding the technological system’s tendency to reinforce power

structures, Srinivasan draws attention to initiatives that examine the empowerment potential of

digital media within indigenous communities. He addresses publications that examine how

communities use digital media to “. . . exchange information, preserve histories, generate

diasporic identities and share resources that can enable collective political and social causes to be

realized” (498). Citing anthropologist Faye Ginsburg’s examination of Inuit community and its

empowerment through employment of media technologies, Srinivasan suggests digital media

creates an opportunity for communities to produce and circulate their own understandings of

contemporary realities. Additionally, digital media redirects the role of the routinely subjugated

into one of producer and broadcaster (500). It is a newly appropriated role that can be seen in

various autonomous organizations within the digital media movement in Latin America, perhaps

most notably demonstrated through the efforts of the Cinematography Education and Production

Center in Bolivia (CEFREC).

El Centro de Formación y Realización Cinematográfica (CEFREC)

Although the indigenous digital media movement within Latin America unquestionably

reaches beyond Bolivia’s borders, with organizations spanning from Mexico to Brazil,

organizations within Bolivia have achieved remarkable strides in digital media production and

practices of collective indigenous contributions across communities. Quite possibly the most

notable organization, as well as the most frequently referenced in publications on the indigenous

digital media movement, is the CEFREC. Assistant Professor of Latin American Media and

Cultural Studies at the University of California Freya Schiwy credits the initiatives of CEFREC

as fundamental in establishing Bolivia and the Amazon Region as the most dynamic and

influential area within the indigenous digital media movement in Latin America (25). Cited as

“visually and thematically multifarious,” the organization’s productions range from

autoethnography to documentary, from productions embracing and valorizing mythic narrative

structures to products considered to be of a more conventional Hollywood variety (Provan).

Established in La Paz, Bolivia in 1989, CEFREC’s primary mission statement is “. . . to facilitate

technical training in film and video for the indigenous peoples of Bolivia and to assist in

producing and distributing their work” (Kalafatic). In addition to providing tools and resources

for digital media production, CEFREC remains vitally engaged in the establishment and

maintenance of transnational network communication and collaboration.

Moreover, CEFREC places its work as a process of empowerment, as well as a

confrontation of the consistent, disseminating devaluation of indigenous cultures through mass

media messages and productions. Not only does the organization aim to counteract Western

visual images of hegemony—as evidenced by the almost exclusive placement of indigenous

groups within the realm of protest and poverty in mainstream Bolivian media—but it also seeks

to do so “. . . without asserting a vision of a singular indigenous alternative to replace it”

(Provan). The term hegemony refers to the maintenance of dominance through “negotiated

construction of a political and ideological consensus which incorporates both dominant and

dominated groups” (Strinati 165). Essentially, hegemony is persuaded and perpetuated through

systematic construction of ideas that are meant to suggest the legitimacy of those in a position of

power and to secure consent from subordinated groups. Again, the previously-mentioned variety

in genres of production assist in creating a process of production that directly opposes

hegemonically distributed restrictions on indigenous images. Schiwy addresses this “conceptual

reduction of ethnic and cultural diversity to the racial category of the ‘Indian’” in her book

Indianizing Film, positioning the productions from the digital media movement as direct

confrontations of the violation and simplification of the complexity of the indigenous identity

(44). The variety in genres reinforces a fundamental message of the digital media movement:

although indigenous groups have found unity in their struggles against dominating forces, their

strength through union cannot and should not be equated with similarity of ethnic and cultural


Additionally, CEFREC positions itself as a preferable alternative to social action

institutions that fail to provide sufficient spaces for communication and dialogue. On its website,

the organization instead designates itself as a service organization “. . . porque surge con el fin de

atender prioritariamente y de manera especializada el componente comunicacional de

experiencias y espacios organizativos, educativos y culturales1” (“CEFREC”). The statement

goes on to stress the importance of communication—“un aliado estratégico fundamental2”—in

transforming society and enforcing indigenous peoples’ rights. The organization’s emphasis on

communication as the fundamental and most essential element of organizational structure

“. . . because it arises in order to give specialized priority to the communicational aspect of experiences and
organizational, educational and cultural spaces,” (translation author’s own)
“a key strategic ally,” (translation author’s own)
reflects the potential of community discussions within the technology of digital media. Again,

the uniqueness of digital media comes into play: the speed and distance with which digital

images can travel creates a network of indigenous, intercultural communication and reflection

that is outside the realm of hegemonic control and domination. One only need look at the

CEFREC website to observe the breadth and scope of this intercultural network.

CEFREC has two primary websites: one can be found on the Smithsonian’s National

Museum of the American Indian-affiliated Native Networks Server, and the other website can be

found on the website for “Plan Nacional Indigena Originario de Comunicación Audiovisual.”

For the purposes of highlighting the extensiveness of the indigenous digital network in Latin

America, only the Native Networks’ website has been analyzed since it provides more

comprehensive background information. Native Networks provides online information about

indigenous-produced video, film and radio in the Americas and Hawaii. The website provides

two regionally-specific close-ups of both Bolivia and Mexico and additionally lists over 330

people involved in the digital media movement, ranging from film directors and producers to

featured actors and hip-hop artists. With each person listed, a link is provided further clarifying

and expanding their background and contribution to the indigenous digital media movement.

Additionally, where appropriate, the website includes the indigenous nations with which the

person identifies. Briefly browsing the included nations—ranging from the Andean Quechua to

the Canadian Métis, from the primarily-Chilean Mapuche people to the Michoacán-centered

P’urhepecha nation—demonstrates both the extensiveness and interconnectedness of the Native

Networks. The website also includes comprehensive resource lists, ranging from country-

specific film, video and radio organizations to scheduled film festivals and resources for young

media makers. Additionally, the website provides descriptive links to more than 800 films
produced and distributed by indigenous media organizations since 2001 (“Native Networks”).

The Native Networks Organization warrants additional, separate research due to its wide-

reaching efforts; however, the CEFREC’s affiliation with the Native Networks demonstrates the

intricate relationships and connections developing among organizations and members of the

digital media movement in the confrontation of hegemonic representations.

Digital Media Movement: Departure from Colonial Legacies of Representation

Although the goals of CEFREC directly address current representations of domination, it

proves crucial to examine the organizations’ efforts of self-representation within the context of

colonial legacies of representation—legacies that have remained constant despite the various

transformations they may undergone. Although political colonialism has been eliminated,

colonial domination persists in subordination of other cultures and denigration of forms of

knowledge that do not coincide with Eurocentrism. As stated by sociologist Aníbal Quijano in

his essay “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality,” colonial repression “. . . fell, above all, over

the modes of knowing, of producing knowledge, of producing perspectives . . . these beliefs and

images served not only to impede the cultural production of the dominated, but also as a very

efficient means of social and cultural control, when the immediate repression ceased to be

constant and systematic” (169). Essentially, this external form of repression created internal

reflections and devaluations of beliefs and images that did not fall within Eurocentric constructs.

What’s more, the internalization of Eurocentric ideas of acceptable knowledge helped enforce

and perpetuate European hegemony through denigration of other forms of knowing. The

colonial monopoly on distributed and disseminated images not only created exclusive

representations of the subjugated, but also enforced complacency under implemented attitudes of

Moreover, the end of explicitly political colonialism often undermines the continuing

patterns of domination that directly stem from the European Conquest of the Americas. Quijano

introduces his concept of “coloniality” as the present-day extension of political colonialism, as

well as the most general form of domination and exploitation. He traces coloniality’s origins

from the social construction of race as a form of imposed sociopolitical hierarchy to the

disparagement of non-European cultures and, eventually, the deprecation of non-Eurocentric

forms of knowing. Highlighting patterns of coloniality among the Americas, Asia and the

Middle East, Quijano presents Latin America as the area most devastated by the cultural

repression of European colonization. He substantiates his claim by positing that the combination

of colonial indigenous extermination and domination over representation created unparalleled

conditions of repression. The cultural destruction witnessed in the Americas could not be carried

out with such profundity and intensity in Asia and the Middle East. Moreover, the combined

physical and cultural destruction and denigration created illiterate subcultures condemned to

enforced external representations. More specifically, “. . . the survivors would have no other

modes of intellectual or visual formalized and objectivised expressions, but through the cultural

patterns of the rulers” (170). Not only must the digital producers and creators within the

movement confront coloniality and its subsequent monopoly over images and erasure of cultural

forms of knowing, but they also must strive to revalorize knowledge traditions that had been

largely obliterated and disparaged by Eurocentric authors.

This colonial monopoly over images has not only been addressed in the media

productions from the movement, but also through festival assemblies and discussions. During a

2007 tour across Bolivia, various social communicators from CEFREC and similar indigenous

media organizations, such as the Bolivian Indigenous Peoples' Audiovisual Council (CAIB)
which is co-coordinated by CEFREC, held free screenings of various films produced and

distributed by the organizations. After one screening, co-director of CAIB Humberto Claros

reflects on the efforts of CEFREC-CAIB, stating “. . . it has been ten years , the process of

constructing a communication that’s truly indigenous, from this concept, this vision, of being

authors of our own image” (“For the People, By the People (Part 1 of 2)”). In this moment,

Claros not only addresses prior exclusions of indigenous authors in representation and image

distribution, but also positions the efforts of organizations such as CEFREC-CAIB as

challenging and confrontational responses to this inheritance of external representation. Claros

goes on in a subsequent interview to describe the desired construction of a collective, integrated

federation of indigenous communications networks. He echoes the mission statements of

CEFREC by stressing the importance of collectivity in the process of digital media construction

—a process that reflects the Andean cosmology of collective communities. This foundational

conceptualization of the digital media movement as both an indispensably collective effort, as

well as a communal process, adds a unique and vital characteristic to the indigenous digital

media movement, as well as enhancing the movement’s efficacy and influence. More

specifically, this emphasis on the collective community not only serves as a revalorization tool

for Andean cosmological beliefs regarding the community as a resource, but also ensures a

process of collaboration that both limits exclusion of particular indigenous communities and

circumvents possible motives of profit maximization.

Indeed, two key figures in the indigenous media movement in Bolivia, Jesús Tapia,

president of the Bolivian Indigenous People’s Audiovisual Council (CAIB), and Ivan Sanjinés,

filmmaker and cofounder of CEFREC, stress the idea of the indigenous digital media movement

as a process rather than a product, and a transcultural process at that. In an interview conducted
with New York University anthropologist Jeff Himpele, Sanjinés continually refers to the work

of media organizations such as CEFREC as process rather than simple video production,

referring to the complex, interconnected method of “. . . assembling a multiplex of technologies,

resources, social organizations, and cultural principles and imagery into a representational form

that extends beyond the completed videotape” (357). The stated process, with its emphasis on

collective contribution rather than credited, individual authorship, reflects goals of improvement

in representation and revalorization of the indigenous community. What’s more, the process

identified by Sanjinés echoes the movement’s desire to address gaps of representation left in the

wake of Bolivian State social institution development (Kalafatic). These gaps include, but are

not limited to, the previously-mentioned restrictions placed on indigenous identity and the

hegemonic reduction of diversity among indigenous peoples. In an interview, Claros highlights

the diversity among indigenous peoples in Bolivia, citing the 36 indigenous groups in Bolivia,

each of which possesses its own language and belief system (“For the People, By the People

(Part 2 of 2)”). The collective input from various indigenous groups required and encouraged by

CEFREC helps to undermine, question, and reevaluate previous restrictions on group identities

perpetuated by mainstream media.

Moreover, these organizations strive to create transnational communities of

communication that not only strive to distribute indigenous media productions, but also create

reciprocally appraising methods of evaluation. These analytic approaches aim to ensure constant

evaluation and questioning of possible motives of profit maximization, hindering the possibility

of developing capitalist reflections within the digital media movement (Schiwy 326). Following

the guidelines established by the National Indigenous Plan for Audiovisual Communication,

Development and Empowerment in 1996, these organizations conduct regular processes of self-
and reciprocal-evaluation of the Plan’s impact within and among the organizations.

Concurrently, the evaluative processes valorize the idea of teamwork and continued active

participation of indigenous organizations throughout the process in its entirety. Co-coordinated

by CEFREC and the CAIB and with participation from Bolivia’s three primary indigenous

organizations—the Indigenous Peoples of Bolivia Confederation (CIDOB), Bolivian Rural

Workers Sole Syndicate (CSUTCB), and the Bolivian Settlers Syndicate Confederation (CSCB)

—the Plan aims to both reinforce the necessity of community participation as well as avoid

detrimental goals of capitalist profiteering (Kalafatic). Indeed, Schiwy has credited the Plan for

its successes in partially bypassing the capitalist hegemonic market for cultural diversity through

its rural circulation plans and integral production practices (326). Additionally, the indigenous

digital media movement circumvents the use of literacy as a tool of hegemony in its distribution,

collaboration and discussion.

Hegemonic Structures of Literacy and the “Lettered City”

Literacy as a tool of hegemony has not only served as an exclusionary force of illiterate

populations in Latin America, but has also proved essential in the continuation of power

structures of knowledge deemed acceptable by the majority. Ángel Rama, the late Uruguayan

literary critic, coined the term “the lettered city” to describe the “. . . continuity in the collusion

of power, knowledge and technologies of representation from the colonial period to the present”

(Schiwy 23). According to Rama, literacy as a production of knowledge serves to create a class

of “lettered men,” who create and manage constructions and images of reality, often in the

service of the State—a constructed reality that continues 500 years after explicitly political

colonialism ended. What’s more, the denigration of forms of knowledge that fell outside the

lettered city excluded any non-written participation in the discussion (Schiwy 31). The
domination over images served as sources of social and cultural control through external

representations of the subjugated—representations that run rampant in the literary indigenismo of

the early twentieth century.

In Indianizing Film, Schiwy suggests that the indigenous media movement does not seek

integration into hegemonic structures, choosing instead to create a system of production and

distribution that circulates through autonomous organizations. Her suggestion regarding digital

media provides a fundamental point of departure from the goals of literary indigenismo since

literary indigenismo sought integration and assimilation into the dominant culture. Literary

indigenismo has received much criticism regarding the nature of its representation—a

representation of indigenous experiences that does not in fact involve actual indigenous

contributions. As succinctly stated by Analisa Taylor, Ph.D., indigenismo is not expression by

indigenous groups but rather “. . . expression in the name of indigenous communities and

individuals. In the most general terms, indigenismo inhibits or detracts from indigenous self

representation in both a political sense as well as an aesthetic or symbolic sense” (76). Although

indigenismo initially appears to be an attempt to reconstruct a voice that has been silenced

historically, excluding indigenous involvement perpetuates the forced passivity that colors

historical texts. The marginalization of indigenous people from their own representation

reenacts patterns of domination that indigenismo was presented as aiming to combat. What’s

more, the nature of “lettered production” proved in itself to be a method of exclusion. More

specifically, at the beginning of the 20th century, writing and reading were unavailable

technologies to a large majority of indigenous populations. Most indigenous people could not in

fact read works of indigenismo (Cornejo Polar 20). Not only were indigenous peoples denied the

opportunity to represent their communities, but they were also excluded from participating in and
exchanging ideas in the indigenismo movement. The indigenous digital media movement, in the

nature of its product, as well as in its forms of distribution, collaboration and discussion,

bypasses previous hegemonic uses of literacy and the word.

Although digital media and Rama’s “lettered city” could be regarded as separate

technologies and therefore difficult to compare and evaluate, Schiwy adopts an interesting

position regarding the continuation and transformation of hegemony from the literary to the

audiovisual, citing them as comparable structures of representational technologies (24). The

issue of literacy as a tool of hegemony could be interpreted as increasingly obsolete with the

advent and increasing popularity of audiovisual media. However, Schiwy positions trends of

domination in audiovisual production and distribution as continuation of colonial power over

representation (25). She cites mainstream media as a transformation of the romanticized

simplification of indigenous identity that has undergone various visual alterations from its

literary origins: from painting to photography, from imagined simplicity to insinuated barbarism.

According to Schiwy, these representations form an essential component of Rama’s lettered city,

reflecting imperial, imagined histories of savage populations waiting for the civilizing forces of

European colonialism. Schiwy traces these visual representations and presents cinema as a

transformed version of the lettered city, stating movies “. . . became an important tool for

visualizing the tropes and metaphors of conquest and colonization put forth by literary accounts

and human exhibitions” (34). Essentially, she suggests the increasing popularity and

pervasiveness of the mainstream movie industry simply continues the limited representations of

indigenous peoples introduced through the institution of literature. Convincingly, she argues that

mainstream media is in fact a extension of power for the visual economy of the “lettered city.”

The palpable absence of indigenous actors from mainstream media—apart from

portrayals of indigenous communities as condemned to conditions of poverty or immovably left

in the past—remains a trend that organizations like CEFREC constantly address and combat. In

his previously-mentioned interview, Humberto Claros’ condemns the absolute absence of

indigenous actors from UNITEL, a Bolivian television network. Citing Bolivia’s largely-

indigenous population, Claros employs the example of the television network to illustrate the

failure of mainstream media to reflect Bolivian reality. He ends his discussion on the absence of

indigenous presence in mainstream media with a sobering comment regarding mainstream

media: “sometimes we think they’re media that don’t live in Bolivia” (“For the People, By the

People (Part 1 of 2)”). Digital authors within the indigenous media movement consistently

confront these representational constructions of reality that do not in fact reflect their own reality

—these constructions that fail to acknowledge their presence, their importance.

Organizations like CEFREC provide a ground-breaking opportunity for the often-absent

presence of indigenous protagonists onscreen; consequently, they also create landmark prospects

for indigenous audiences to see a far more thorough representation of their respective realities.

Moreover, indigenous actors in the media movement once again reinforce the importance of

community over the individual. It is an emphasis on the communal product that is illustrated by

actor Reynaldo Yujra, who portrays the campesino, or farm worker, protagonist in the 1989 film

La Nación Clandestino (The Clandestine Nation). In an interview, Yujra stresses his role as a

representative rather than as an actor. He distinguishes productions from the media movement as

committed rather than commercial cinema—cinema that is made for the members of indigenous

communities. He goes on to state that he is “. . . simply an interpreter of the Bolivian reality,

what’s happening now. I am representing the town, the Bolivian society so that they can

understand the message I’m transmitting” (“For the People, By the People (Part 1)”). Yujra’s
statements represent two fundamental emphases of the indigenous digital media movement: the

importance of community in all stages of media development and production, and the

reclamation of the role as interpreters and demonstrators of reality.

Revalorization of “subaltern” forms of knowledge

The media productions of CEFREC not only provide an indispensable space onscreen for

previously-unseen indigenous protagonists, but they also provide crucial opportunities to

revalorize knowledge traditions. Traditions that do not correspond with institutionalized,

Eurocentric forms of knowledge transmission have been historically and presently disparaged as

inferior forms of knowing. Having already highlighted the role of literacy in perpetuations of

domination and subsequent subjugation, it’s important to examine the broader traditions that

undermine transmissions of knowledge falling outside of the “lettered city.” Creations within the

movement not only offer an unparalleled introduction of alternative forms of knowing to digital

film, but they also often cast these modes of understanding as essential resources (Schiwy 51).

These trends in the media movement offer two essential functions that address historical

inheritances and current conditions. First, they insert historically-overlooked and disparaged

knowledge traditions into a public space that creates opportunities for discussion, reflection and

veneration. Second, they present these conventions as resources for change and improvement in

modern, present-day society. Essentially, they dispute the age-old, hegemonic attitude of

indigenity as a phenomenon of the past—a figure incapable of entering and participating in

contemporary concerns. They are representing subalternized forms of knowledge as equally

relevant and essential when compared with hegemonically-accepted power structures of


The term “subaltern” itself demands further elucidation. Historian and cofounder of the
Subaltern Studies Group of South Asia Ranajit Guha provides a rather concise and

straightforward working definition, positioning the world subaltern as “. . . a name for the

general attribute of subordination . . . whether this is expressed in terms of class, caste, age,

gender and office” (Staten 111). In his book Subalternity and Representation, Professor of

Hispanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Pittsburgh John Beverley takes Guha’s

definition one step further. He places the subaltern within an academic context and cites

academic institutions as creators of subalternity because of the exclusionary nature of acceptable

knowledge practices (2). More specifically, academic institutions place an almost absolute

emphasis on the value of the written word that obeys established, academic guidelines above all

other forms of understanding. What’s more, the resulting representations of these subaltern

forms of knowledge, which employ academic disciplines that do not coincide with the

knowledge traditions, perpetuate both misrepresentation of the traditions and exclusion of

participation of authors that fall outside the realm of established academia. Although the topic of

subaltern studies warrants an entirely different examination in and of itself, it proves useful to

address the extensions of knowledge denigration—from the social, to the political, to the

academic—because it highlights the pervasiveness of disparagement that organizations like

CEFREC are confronting and challenging.

Schiwy addresses the denigration of indigenous traditions in her book Indianizing Film,

citing the classification of many subalternized forms of knowing as superstitions and devils’

worship. She goes on to state, “. . . they have been transformed and hidden along with the

multiple material and embodied forms of signifying that transmit alternative ways of life and

understanding . . . indigenous media activists seek to convert these subalternized viewpoints into

‘protagonists’” (40). By placing these historically-hidden traditions on film and making them
available to the mostly-rural audiences viewing them, the productions give presence to these

knowledge transmission. What’s more, by casting these subalternized perspectives as

protagonists and, consequently, positioning the beliefs as central figures in the digital

storytelling, the films identify these modes of understanding as essential resources for

interpretation and awareness. As Schiwy states, “. . . the languages, perspectives, and

genealogies of knowledge that the colonial discourse characterizes as barbarian, superstitious or

irrelevant are now cast as important resources for thinking otherwise” (41). Not only are the

films providing a long-absent space of discourse for alternative forms of knowing, but they are

also reinforcing the significance of these modes in contemporary conflicts.

El Grito de la Selva (The Cry of the Jungle) is a production that reflects the revalorization

of alternative modes of understanding in a contemporary context. The first feature-length

audiovisual production filmed in the Bolivian Amazon and created by the indigenous Mojenos of

Beni, the film won the award for Best Fiction with Indigenous Participation in the Ninth

International Festival of Indigenous Film and Video in La Paz (Rivero). It has proven difficult to

obtain access to the filmic materials this paper hoped to consider, not to mention feature-length

productions. Consequently, only the trailer for El Grito de la Selva proved readily available for

analysis. In a way, the difficulties in obtaining digital media productions in the United States

feels somewhat appropriate, since organizations like CEFREC remain very forthright with the

intended, target audience: indigenous and peasant communities. Problems with material access

feel suitable and humbling for those who fall outside of the goals in spectatorship—a

constructive reversal of insider-outsider dynamics. Nevertheless, for elucidation’s sake, the

trailer is referenced. However, observations on the trailer are not meant to be interpreted as

complete interpretations of the film, but should be merely regarded as an interesting,

representative sample of the revalorization of indigenous knowledge forms.

Based on real events in Bolivia in 1990 and 1996, El Grito de la Selva depicts two

historic marches of the lowland Beni protesting the abuse and exploitation of an illegal logging

company. The trailer classifies these marches as “. . . por el territorio y por la dignidad3.”

Several scenes in the six-minute trailer provide examples of the revalorization of culturally-

specific indigenous traditions of knowing. For instance, one scene depicts a woman silently

communicating with a tree that begins to bleed. The woman’s grief-stricken howl demonstrates

the severity of the situation. What’s more, the depicted connection with the land creates a

privileged position from which to speak, or more specifically, casts the wailing woman as a

figure of authority in knowledge. Schiwy points to the central focus of land in indigenous

struggles against colonialism and then extends that focus as a transformed and newly-acquired

“. . . grounds from which to speak” (147). Effectively, the woman’s insight into nature casts her

as an important figure of influence. She reflects the views upheld and stated by CEFREC that

denies the possibility of a universal, objective, complete worldview from one particular

standpoint. Once again, the filmic productions reflect CEFREC’s view that Western knowledge

does not deserve its hegemonic status, but rather should be categorized as a contribution to multi-

leveled understanding, as merely one among many viable ways of understanding.

There is danger in highlighting the woman’s communication with nature because it does

partially coincide with mainstream restrictions of indigenous identity. More specifically,

disseminated representations from mainstream sources often capitalize on ideas of the

indigenous as beings in accordance with the natural world. What’s more, these images rarely

extend beyond the reduction of indigenous identity to intimacy with nature. It is not this paper’s

intention to suggest that the scene provides a rigid, absolute identity marker of indigenity.
“. . . for territory and for dignity”
Rather, the scene should be taken as an example of one instance depicting one possible form of

knowledge that gives authority to the wailing woman and provides necessary insight that

contributes to a better-rounded world understanding. Her interaction with nature cannot and

should not be construed as representative of all indigenous nations and communities, nor should

it be treated as the most relevant identity marker of the Beni nation. Instead, it should taken as

one illustration of the revalorization of diverse and distinguishable subalternized modes of


The wailing woman proves to be one of many women featured in the trailer that act as

protectors of culture and tradition and also point to the reclaimed importance of women in the

context of what Schiwy terms “the patriarchal gaze of Empire,” a significant trend among

productions in the media movement. Indeed, the trailer features women leading discussions on

the necessity to protect the land and inciting the support of other members of their community.

The trailer includes text that reads as follows: “. . . mujeres desafiantes que avanzan al encuentro

de un mejor futuro4.” By casting women as upholders of value and belief systems, El Grito de la

Selva not only follows the larger tradition within the movement of countering the gender-

specific, colonial gaze of acceptable authority, but also depicts the role of women as symbolic

bearers of indigenous identification—those who transmit social memory (Schiwy 109). They are

both confronting colonial extensions of gendered subordination and reflecting ideas of women as

knowledge resources. The trailer’s repositioning of alternative forms of understanding as

credible, viable modes of knowing that contribute an understanding among many understandings

correspond to the goals of organizations like CEFREC. What’s more, these forms of

understanding are interspersed with images of industry and contemporary technologies,

undermining the common, mainstream conception of indigenity as solely relevant in the past.
“. . . defiant women advancing to meet a better future” (translation author’s own)
The indigenous digital media movement in Latin America represents a fundamental

struggle within and among indigenous communities: indigenous protagonists do not have a clean

slate on which to represent themselves. More specifically, efforts of organizations like CEFREC

must address and attempt to reconstruct external representations that have been forcibly handed

down to them for 500 years—representations that have denigrated cultures, relegated vast ethnic

diversities to the category of "Indian," and perpetuated patterns of colonial subjugation. Yet, the

audiovisual productions being produced today address more than misrepresentation and

exploitation through constructed realities. They must also address the ways in which modes of

understanding have been transformed into a hegemonic construct of totality—the ways in which

a Eurocentric perspective has been presented as the only feasible world viewpoint. The nature of

digital media—with its ability to convey and mirror traditions of orality, through the combination

of images and sounds, as well as serve as sources of ritual documentation—provides a unique

space in which to address these issues of denigration and distortion. It provides a space that

remains outside the hegemonic tool of literacy, which has been used as a method of intimidation

and exclusion for centuries. What’s more, organizations like the CEFREC make consistent,

conscious efforts to avoid power structures that do not foreground the community and emphasize

the collaborative process of audiovisual productions. The multidisciplinary approaches and

extensive scope of the indigenous digital media movement indicate that this is a new age of

representation. It is a new age that is not solely based on transformations in modes and tools of

communication, but equally based on reclamations of rights to representation and alternative

forms of understanding. Rights that have been pervasively denied through hegemonic constructs.

Rights that have been undermined and appropriated by those in power. Rights that have

remained far from forgotten.

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