This Friday is 12 October, a date formerly known as "The Discovery of South America". Today in Venezuela, the date has been renamed to "Day of Indigenous Resistance". It is a huge shift in perspectives and redraws American history with protagonists who, up until recently, were either impotent or inexistent before the spin on Christopher Columbus and the watershed moment when he stumbled upon Caribbean soil. To rename the date expresses a vibrant and complex Latin American history before European colonization and promotes the understanding of indigenous populations as equally present agents in the unfolding of world events, as opposed to the passive subjects we hear or read of in our occidental pedagogics.
The 12 October of the year 1492 was the beginning of a war waged by two parties and between two worlds as historical as each other. At the time, the Incan empire was a dominating force in the region and had colonised and subjugated smaller indigenous groups. The ethnicities that had escaped Incan hegemony were nomadic and more belligerent in nature, or simply lived in regions more distant to the Andean stretch. Agricultural and astrological science were elaborate fields of knowledge recorded orally and used practically on a day to day basis, whilst medicine was the result and the understanding of one of the worlds greatest pharmaceutical warehouses, the Amazon. Nonetheless, on arrival, the Spanish immediately assumed that conquest and victory were guaranteed seeing that the opponent had neither hat nor boots. But the indigenous put up an embarrassing fight for the conquistadors, who had to explain before the crown back at home why they needed further funds. Poets were thereafter shipped out to write propaganda of tough warriors who ate their enemies´ heads for breakfast and who were callous and godless beings. It did no good for the polls if the Spanish were taking time to conquer a people without clothes.
The colonisation of Latin America, as we all know, turned out best for the Europeans but it cannot remain a story of visible winners and invisible losers left behind in the yellowed pages of the history books. And just as there existed tales of triumph and loss before the Spanish came to Latin America, the case remains the same today. War continues, as does resistance. In Venezuela, indigenous populations live, as they have always lived, in territory lusciously enticing to competing parties who, since their first trip to the jungle, have seen but business from the bamboo. The Wayuu, Venezuela´s largest ethnicity, sit on oil-rich land watched over by elite cattle-ranching circles. The Warao in the Delta state also have oil, but more exotically, their waters are affluent in shrimp and blue crabs that sell well in top-end restaurants. The Pémon of the Bolivar state host a land that glitters with diamonds, gold and uranium whilst the populations that live in the Amazon have, well, pretty much everything any goggle-eyed multinational could ever dream of. The difference between today and several centuries ago is that this time, the conquistadors use Mac instead of muskets. Whilst the difference for the indigenous is that they now have constitutional backing.
The 12 October is therefore a call to not only retell history, but also to talk of the present and shape an alternative future. It serves to discuss colonization, both old and current, as a two-way struggle between the dominant and those who refuse to be dominated despite the innumerable forces against them. It's a reaffirmation of indigenous history and a necessary reminder that it isn't over yet.
Follow Stephanie Kennedy on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MontalanKennedy