Criminal Lines, Indian Colours, and the Creation of a Black Legend: The Photographs of ‘Los Bandidos de la Halancha’, Bolivia

by Lisa Trever


The author’s discovery of a set of inscribed photographs of the ‘Bandits of La Jalancha’, made in La Paz, Bolivia in 1871 and now in the collections of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, has made possible the identification of the photographed gang’s leader ‘Salvador Chico’ with the Afro-Aymara anti-hero known in contemporary folklore as El Zambo Salvito. On their photographic journeys out of Bolivia, Salvador and his men were transformed into anonymous ‘Indian bandits’ and became generic illustrations of ethnic Aymara types in the service of racialised evolutionary science. Back in La Paz, however, the photographs were forgotten but the legend of the infamous son of an African slave from Chicaloma, a coca-producing hacienda in the region of Yungas, grew in the public imagination. Whereas nineteenth-century racial discourse only recognised his indigeneity, twentieth- and twenty-first-century folklore and illustrations have instead emphasised his blackness. In tracing the split legacies of Salvador of Chicaloma, through exported photographs and the formation of local legends, this work reveals how identity was constructed, evacuated, and made anew. This fluidity of representation was made possible, in part, by the relative archival invisibility of afrodescendientes in Andean South America, whose lives and histories remain largely uninscribed.

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