First of all, this essay is going to explore the question of how native people were portrayed in the post-colonial period, which can be answered to some extent by the articles of Rebecca Earle and James Sanders. Earle looks at the position of native people in Spanish America through indigenous iconography and commemorative activities, such as street-naming, and indigenous emblems on stamps, flags, or any other official regalia. Earle, and other scholars such as Andrés Lamas and Ignacio Manuel Altamirano agree that external signs and symbols such as street-naming are highly symbolic and matter a lot in terms of revealing the views of elite nationalists. As such, Earle is able to show that during the independence process in Spanish America, from the early 19th century, there began a process of idealization of pre-colonial past and indigenous culture, and during this period native people were portrayed very favorably. However, as time went on the nature of elite nationalism changed so as to reconcile itself with its Hispanic roots, once again relegating indigenous culture to inferiority. As Earle stated in her article: ‘Nation-building…involves forgetting’, and that included the eventual discard of native iconography.
Nevertheless, Earle argues that for a brief period native people and culture were considered commendable and emblematic of freedom. Provinces, cities, and streets were all renamed with indigenous names, and indigenous people who had fought against the Spanish insurgents were glorified. For example, in Chile, the Araucanian people, heroes of Alonso de Ercilla’s sixteenth-century epic-turned-patriotic work were glorified in the public realm. For Spanish American elites, this process also served to eliminate unwanted links to Spain. Coins began to display Indian motifs instead of Spanish rulers, and images of armed Indian people became prevalent as a reminder that the native people of these new nations had themselves been powerful rulers before the Spanish. This had the added benefit of reminding the people that their newfound autonomy was justified. In this way, Indian princesses and Araucanian heroes came to be representative of newly independent states. Despite this, Earle asserts that appreciation for the culture should not be confused with genuine effort to improve the wellbeing of indigenous people, they were merely tools in the endeavor to give Spanish America its own independent past. As Sanders asserts, by the mid-nineteenth century in Colombia, Cauca Indian villages were considered nothing more than colonial throwbacks that needed to be abolished or modernized to transform Indians into productive Colombian citizens. Considering this argument and that of Earle’s, this backs up her point that Indians were less respected than appropriated for elite agendas.
Soon enough, political elites lost their taste for recreating ancient indigenous empires, and instead began to re-embrace the colonial period, heroes of independence, and even their Hispanic past. Indigenous imagery and iconography was replaced with European, and images of leaders of the independence movements. Earle points to the process of ‘statueification’ beginning midcentury, as well as literature and poetry describing the epoch of independence as a time of great heroes and deeds, to illustrate this transformation. She argues that after some time the use of indigenous figures to represent the state was no longer acceptable and indigenous imagery could only be used to represent indigenous people. She points out that in Quito in 1892 a state of Antonio Jose de Sucre was erected, depicting him embracing an Indian woman. This caused outcry, as it was seen as indicating an improper relationship. However, in 1825 a similar plaque had caused no controversy, showing the change in attitude. This idea of declining respect for Indians is furthered by Sanders’ point regarding the influence of pseudo-scientific racist theories denoting indigenous people as an inferior and less capable race, which was widely accepted. Clearly, the post-colonial period was marked with ups and downs in terms of portrayal of the indigenous peoples in Spanish America, but their glorification was short-lived.