Bolivia flag, which represents the indigenous peoples

Bolivia is a Latin American country with a very large indigenous population, making up over 60% of the total population and consisting of 36 different indigenous groups, the largest being Aymara and Quechua. However, despite outnumbering their non-indigenous peers, indigenous Bolivians have still been subjected to much oppression over the course of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Bolivia has long been characterised (?) by divisions between its indigenous and non-indigenous populations and many attempts have been made to supress the indigenous population to try and forge an idea of a homogenous nation. It is only recently, following various reforms such as the 2009 Constitution of Bolivia, that some progress has been made in acknowledging the various ethnicities that exist within Bolivia. This comes through changes such as the renaming of the Republic of Bolivia to the Plurinational State of Bolivia through the 2009 Constitution.

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This Constitution also worked to recognise the Aymara and Quechua languages as official languages of Bolivia in addition to adding the Whipala flag, which represents the indigenous peoples of Latin America, to the list of national flags. While the situation for indigenous Bolivians has improved with the turn of the 21st Century, as Evo Morales expresses in his 2006 inaugural speech, this change in situation is very recent and, up until this point, indigenous Bolivians endured very poor qualities of life with very little opportunity to influence the running of their country. Even now, with a native Aymara president in the form of Evo Morales, there are still issues that face the indigenous of Bolivia.In the 20th Century, before the Bolivian National Revolution in 1952, indigenous Bolivians’ rights were very limited.

They were denied the right to own land and were dominated by those considered to be of higher social status such as those of Spanish and mestizo descent. As Waskar Ari recounts in his book, “the 1874 agrarian reform was passed in Bolivia, officially eliminating ayllus, dissolving Indian representation, and openly appropriating Indian land in the name of civilization and modernity” (2014:5), ‘ayllus’ being the name given to the traditional form of communities in the Andes that consist of groups that govern and teach their own. This reform set the fate of indigenous Bolivians for the start of the 20th Century.

Land was taken from indigenous peoples and distributed amongst the non-indigenous, and many indigenous were left with no alternative but to work under non-indigenous landowners. Many indigenous people working for landowners were abused, as shown when as Kuenzli points out that “in 1905 indigenista author Alcides Arguedas published the story Wuata Wuara, in which he underscored the landowners’ brutality and mistreatment of their indigenous workers” (2013). Kuenzli writes about how we can see the situation of indigenous people during that time through literature. Kuenzli writes that the author “was familiar with the landowners’ treatment of the Aymaras” as he “had been a journalist during the 1899 Civil War and who had witnessed many of the conflicts of 1899” (2013). As such we can assume that his account has some credibility. In this way we can see the way indigenous Bolivians were exploited for their labour and treated inhumanely.

The subjugation of indigenous during this time can be attributed to what Waskar Ari calls “internal colonialism” which he describes as a term which:refers to a broader narrative that applies to colonial legacy, or the repercussions of the conquest from centuries ago, to modern inequality and the reproduction or continuation of a rigid social hierarchy. Internal colonialism is the bedrock on which all economic, cultural, and power relations have been built throughout Bolivian history, despite changing and restructuring. It is internal colonialism that has kept indigenous people peoples and their descendants in a subordinate condition in relation to the other social groups in Bolivia, particularly those of Spanish and mestizo descent.


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