Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Dec 14 08:44:37 UTC 2000

Arnold Zwicky wrote:
> i'd always assumed that english INDIGENOUS 'native' was
> a borrowing from french or spanish or both.  in any case,
> it seems to be pretty well established.

I have no idea whether Arnold's assumption about English INDIGENOUS is
It does make sense in the context of how the cognate "indigena" is used
in Latin American Spanish.  Let me expand on that statement.

Spanish "indigena", for "native", and its derivatives have been well
established in Mexican Spanish for a very long time.  "Indio" (Indian),
and particularly its diminutive, "indito", began to take on pejorative
associations in Mexican social life as early as the sixteenth century.
"Indigena" gained favor in official documents, where it served as a
euphemism for a term which had become an insult. The initial phonetic
similarity between "indio" and "indigena" helped establish "indian" as a
secondary meaning for "indigena". By the end of the Colonial Epoch,
however, "indigena" was used much less frequently in official documents.
(At least that's my impression, based on reading stacks and stacks of
Mexican historical documents during the last 40 years.)

"Indigena" gained, or regained, a lot of currency about a century ago
(particularly in Mexico and Peru) with the establishment of the first of
two politico-social movements that took on the label "indigenismo"
(which means, more or less, "indianism".)  Indigenismo ca. 1900 was a
paternalistic, top-down assertion of the importance of Indian culture.
Its primary expressions were literary, rather than activist.  The only
people who could assert even a literary solidarity with Indians, when
Indians were the victims of racism and exploitation, were those who felt
full security in occupying a dominant position in the society as a
whole.  This "indigenism" was a game for upper-class intellectuals.
Their programs for "resolving" what they saw as "the Indian question"
were aimed at rapid and effective assimilation.  In short, they proposed
to solve the Indian question by merging Indians into a rural peasantry
or the urban lower class.

A different kind of indigenismo, more concerned with social activism in
favor of indigenas (read: "Indians") arose in the 1920s; it was most
prominent in Mexico and Peru. The movement still was dominated by
non-Indian, upper-class intellectuals, of course.  This movement got a
firm base out of the First Inter-American Indigenist Congress, which
took place in P√°tzcuaro in the Mexican state of Michoac√°n in 1940.  The
Congress attracted delegates from most parts of the Americas, from
Canada to Argentina.  The delegates were a mix of intellectuals (such as
anthropologists, sociologists, and historians) and high government
officials.  (John Collier, an anthropologist who had been a major
architect of FDR's Indian policy in the U.S., was an exemplar of both
kinds of participants.)

The Patzcuaro Conference led to the formation of the Interamerican
Indigenist Institute (III), which eventually gained official connections
in just about every nation in the Americas that had any substantial
Indian population, and a series of national organizations within Mexico,
Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru, and other countries.  Mexico's Insituto
Nacional Indigenista (INI) developed a series of regional development
programs aimed at "Mexicanizing" Indians, and
INI's sister organizations in other countries followed parallel paths.

If the currently P.C. English "indigenous" actually was a borrowing from
Spanish, the borrowing most likely took place in the context of the
activist indigenista movement. Alternately, if the English word predates
the first indigenist movements, those movements may have lent a new
currency to a little- used word.  The term may very well have gained
some currency because of its use by John Collier, and by his successor
as head of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, anthropologist Phileo Nash.

For something on the order of 30 years, Indians (particularly in Mexico,
Guatemala, and Peru) have been rejecting the paternalistic indigenismo
of their national governments and demanding power from below.  One
reflection of thie development has been a growing rejection, by some
sets of Indian activists, of the word "indigena" and a preference for
the word "indio", Indian. (Another aspect of the same trend is the
insistence, on the part of those who speak particular Indian languages
of Guatemala, that the names of their languages should be spelled with
the characters appropriate to the phonemes of those languages rather
than by following the spelling conventions of the colonialist powers.
The major visible evidence of this demand comes in the form of marking
phonemic distinctions between glottalized and non-glottalized
consonants, and in the substitution of the non-Spanish letters K and W
in words formerly spelled with Spanish QUE, QUI or HUA, HUE, etc.)

-- mike salovesh   <salovesh at>    PEACE !!!

P.S.:  My feelings of discomfort about the top-down paternalism of
Mexican-style indigenismo hardened in 1958, when I read what was then
the official motto of Mexico's Instituto Nacional Indigenista.  That
motto read "civilizar al indio es ridimir la patria".  Literally, that
means "to civilize the Indian is to redeem the fatherland".  The slogan
entirely ignores the fact that Mesoamerican Indian cultures were highly
civilized (i.e., based on cities) for many centuries before the
Conquest, while much of the population of the Iberian Peninsula lived in
scattered rural hamlets.

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