In Search of Tinterillos in Ecuador

Saturday, January 9, 2010: 12:10 PM
San Diego Ballroom Salon A (Marriott)
Marc Becker , Truman State University
The tradition of intermediaries mediating legal or cultural conflicts between Indigenous and white worlds in Latin America can be traced back to the colonial period and even to Spain. Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century in the South American country of Ecuador, semi-professional or petty lawyers known as tinterillos (literally
“ink-spillers,” or quishcas in the Kichwa language) assumed a seemingly ubiquitous presence in rural communities. Often local elites with a bit of education, tinterillos commanded respect among their largely
illiterate Indigenous neighbors because of their ability to read, write, and handle documents. These intermediaries commonly exploited their privileged position for their own economic, social, and political benefit. In negotiating relations between rural peoples and the government, tinterillos often served to legitimize elite interests. Nevertheless, Indigenous peoples came to rely on tinterillos to petition the government, and to challenge landholder abuses. On occasion, rather than being disempowered or victimized, Indigenous peoples negotiated these relationships to their advantage. Tinterillos provide a convenient medium through which to examine how power relations are negotiated between fundamentally different cultures and across deep class divides.