Date of Award

2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

Anthropology

First Advisor

Richard M. Leventhal

Abstract

This dissertation has two aims. First, it explores the historical, political and legal apparatuses that have facilitated the formation of contemporary indigenous groups in the proximity of Bogota, Colombia and their recent transformation into branded products of indigenous spirituality. With this framework, it then focuses on how group members attempt to produce indigenous personas who seem to comply with the expectations of their branded form while remaining true to their indigenous-selves; which I found out can be partially revealed as glimpses of sincerity. The two indigenous groups under study are the officially recognized Muisca of the locality of Bosa, an impoverished area in the outskirts of the city of Bogota, and the Muisca of the town of Sesquile, located 45km north of Bogota. Despite the program of ethnic and cultural assimilation towards mestizaje that took place alongside the independence of the country in 1810, the members of these groups have recently claimed to be descendants of the Muisca people who inhabited the area in the pre-Hispanic period, gaining recognition on the basis of an already diluted cultural alterity. Hence, appearing “different enough” from the mestizo majorities to deserve special treatment from a state that embraces multiculturalism has become their priority, and indigenous spirituality has served this purpose by becoming the widely accepted, branded expression of Muisca alterity. Through fourteen months of ethnographic fieldwork, during which I engaged in dialogical interactions and shared affect-charged experiences with Muisca members, I have retrieved various moments of indigenous sincerity and analysed them from a decolonial perspective that uses well-known theoretical frameworks as border theories. By doing so, I have been able to unveil, on the one hand, the apparatuses of colonial domination behind the Colombian multicultural policy towards indigenous people and, on the other, the multiple Muisca-selves that remain concealed behind the brand, and which are constantly re-shaped as members navigate the contradictions between a recently incorporated spirituality and their own approach to indigeneity.

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