Theses Doctoral

Nymsuque: Contemporary Muisca Indigenous Sounds in the Colombian Andes

Goubert, Beatriz

Muiscas figure prominently in Colombian national historical accounts as a worthy and valuable indigenous culture, comparable to the Incas and Aztecs, but without their architectural grandeur. The magnificent goldsmith’s art locates them on a transnational level as part of the legend of El Dorado. Today, though the population is small, Muiscas are committed to cultural revitalization. The 19th century project of constructing the Colombian nation split the official Muisca history in two. A radical division was established between the illustrious indigenous past exemplified through Muisca culture as an advanced, but extinct civilization, and the assimilation politics established for the indigenous survivors, who were considered degraded subjects to be incorporated into the national project as regular citizens (mestizos). More than a century later, and supported in the 1991’s multicultural Colombian Constitution, the nation-state recognized the existence of five Muisca cabildos (indigenous governments) in the Bogotá Plateau, two in the capital city and three in nearby towns. As part of their legal battle for achieving recognition and maintaining it, these Muisca communities started a process of cultural revitalization focused on language, musical traditions, and healing practices. Today’s Muiscas incorporate references from the colonial archive, archeological collections, and scholars’ interpretations of these sources into their contemporary cultural practices. They also rely on knowledge shared with other indigenous groups related to them.
This dissertation examines the revitalization of Muisca musical and language practices as part of a larger cultural process. This revitalization demonstrates how indigenous communities navigate the challenges of multicultural politics designed, at least in principle, to support ethnic and cultural difference. To this end: I analyze the Andean-oriented musical practices of current Muisca communities in the Bogotá savanna that are performed in public events; and I examine the Muisca affective attachments to música andina and its role in shaping a Muisca indigeneity according to present time. The ethnographic study of Andean music as it is performed in current Muisca cabildos also demonstrate the connection between sound and politics. I explore how Muisca song and language help in dealing with the contradictions of reemerging indigenous groups under the nation’s multicultural governmentality. I study how música andina style, including the stereotype of Andean indigeneity advanced by the sounds, instruments, and lyrics, contributes to the development of a Muisca identity and supports cultural revitalization and official recognition. In this way, I argue that the sonic revitalization provides an aural identity formation beyond the nation-state’s essentialistic parameters of indigeneity, thus contributing to guarantee minimal conditions for survival as an indigenous community.
Out of the different sociolinguistic situations where Muysc cubun (the Muisca language) is used, I trace the details and difficulties of the process of language revitalization through the analysis of a corpus of Muisca songs. It is time to recognize that many of the previous studies of colonial Muysc cubun sources followed the grammarian approach of missionaries, and consequently neglected the description of sound. Most importantly, it is time to pay attention to the sociolinguistic discourse of current Muiscas. Today’s Muisca people who have viscerally lived the long history of silencing, and territorial and cultural dispossession have a say in what has been lost and what can be built. They put forward an update of the colonial reduced general language as part of the way to build themselves as indigenous in the 21st century and rewrite the history of the nation.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Ochoa, Ana M.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
August 30, 2019