chapter  5
19 Pages

Knowing the past

Plural identities and the antinomies of loss in Highland Bolivia
WithOlivia Harris

History, it could be argued, is local knowledge par excellence. The 'past' can be an object of knowledge insofar as it is exemplified by particular actions or events that have been played out in localities. The idea that people may have little awareness of their own past in the sense of well-documented narratives has come to be seen as almost scandalous. And given the fundamental place of written documentation to the constitution of knowledge of the past, one of the ways in which non-script cultures have long been marked as inferior is because they have no recorded past. The chapter explores both aspects of this configuration: on the one hand, the implications of different ways of knowing the past and, on the other, assumptions involved in attributing identity on the basis of historical narratives. Walter Mignolo, writing of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century, speaks of the 'complicity between alphabetic writing and history' found in the Renaissance view of knowledge.