Muddied Waters

Race, Region, and Local History in Colombia, 1846–1948

Muddied Waters

Latin America Otherwise

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Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 9 b&w photos, 5 maps Published: April 2003

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes, Theory and Philosophy > Race and Indigeneity

Colombia’s western Coffee Region is renowned for the whiteness of its inhabitants, who are often described as respectable pioneer families who domesticated a wild frontier and planted coffee on the forested slopes of the Andes. Some local inhabitants, however, tell a different tale—of white migrants rapaciously usurping the lands of indigenous and black communities. Muddied Waters examines both of these legends, showing how local communities, settlers, speculators, and politicians struggled over jurisdictional boundaries and the privatization of communal lands in the creation of the Coffee Region. Viewing the emergence of this region from the perspective of Riosucio, a multiracial town within it, Nancy P. Appelbaum reveals the contingent and contested nature of Colombia’s racialized regional identities.

Nineteenth- and twentieth-century Colombian elite intellectuals, Appelbaum contends, mapped race onto their mountainous topography by defining regions in racial terms. They privileged certain places and inhabitants as white and modern and denigrated others as racially inferior and backward. Inhabitants of Riosucio, however, elaborated local narratives about their mestizo and indigenous identities that contested the white mystique of the Coffee Region. Ongoing violent conflicts over land and politics, Appelbaum finds, continue to shape local debates over history and identity. Drawing on archival and published sources complemented by oral history, Muddied Waters vividly illustrates the relationship of mythmaking and racial inequality to regionalism and frontier colonization in postcolonial Latin America.


Muddied Waters offers new ways for thinking about regionalism, a central theme in Latin American history, and contributes to studies that highlight the cultural dynamics of frontier expansion, particularly to a critical reassessment of Antioqueño colonization that focuses on culture, differentiation, and inequality. Appelbaum achieves a study of Antioqueño colonization that integrates analysis of discursive fields with political economy.” — León Arredondo , American Anthropologist

"Muddied Waters disentangles [the] convoluted intertwining racial, regional, and national narrative as it is reflected in the historical development of Riosucio, Colombia. . . ."
— Carlos Pérez, Canadian Journal of History

"Muddied Waters is an important English language contribution to the history of republican Colombia and will be of interest for upper-level undergraduate courses, as well as for scholars interested in any of the topics mentioned." — Joshua Rosenthal , History: Reviews of New Books

"[A]n empirically rich and theoretically provocative look at the historical processes by which race and place have become intertwined." — Jason Paiement , Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology

"[A]n invaluable resource for understanding the extremely complex and contested racial and regional communities of Colombia." — Julie Lirot , Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies

"[Appelbaum] does an excellent job at analyzing local and regional histories as constituent elements of the creation of local and regional identities. . . . [T]his careful study both sheds light on the interconnectedness of racial and regional identities and also enriches our understanding of one of Colombia's national myths-that of the Antioqueño colonization of the coffee zone." — Rebecca Earle, Hispanic American Historical Review

"[F]ascinating. . . . The book will be essential reading for students and scholars of Colombia, as well as those concerned with the study of race, nation-building, indigenous communities and migration and colonization." — Nicola Foote , Bulletin of Latin American Research

"Laid out in complex, yet clear prose, Muddied Waters is an important book for students of Colombia and Latin America. It will also appeal to a wider scope of individuals interested in race, region, colonialism, nationalism, and hegemony." — W. John Green, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Muddied Waters is an outstanding contribution to the history of race and colonization in modern Colombia. It invites revision of current interpretations of Colombian and Latin American regionalism.” — Marco Palacios, coauthor of Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society

”The story of Riosucio illuminates the multiple and complex ways in which discourses of race, region, and nation inform each other. Muddied Waters not only gives us a new way of thinking about postcolonial Colombia, but also offers rich comparative insights into other Latin American societies where race and place have become historically intertwined.” — Barbara Weinstein, author of For Social Peace in Brazil: Industrialists and the Remaking of the Working Class in São Paulo, 1920-


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Nancy P. Appelbaum is Assistant Professor of History and Latin American and Caribbean Studies at the State University of New York at Binghamton.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Illustrations xi

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Riosucio: Race, Colonization, Region, and Community 1

Part I. Country of Regions, 1946–1886

1. Beauty and the Beast: Antioquia and Cauca 31

2. “Accompanied by Progress”: Cauca Intermediaries and Antioqueno Migration 52

3. “By Consent of the Indigenas”: Riosucio’s Indigenous Communities 80

Part 2. The White Republic, 1886–1930

4. Regenerating Riosucio: Regeneration and the Transition to Conservative Rule 107

5. Regenerating Conflict: Riosucio’s Indigenas in the White Republic 124

6. Riosucio on the Margins of the “Model Department” 142

Part 3. Remembering Race, Region, and Community

7. Remembering Riosucio: Imagining a Mestizo Community 167

8. Remembering San Lorenzo: Imagining an Indigenous Community 184

Conclusion: Reimagining Region and Nation 206

Notes 221

Bibliography 267

Index 287
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Winner, 2003 Berkshire Conference of Women Historians Book Award

Winner, Northeast Council of Latin American Studies Best Book Award

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3092-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3080-6
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