Literature (CMC), Modern Languages (CMC)
In Juan León Mera’s Cumandá, o un drama entre salvajes (Ecuador, 1879), the River Pastaza and the journeys the novel’s characters take on it form the centerpiece of the narrative. The novel presents rivers as problematic, problematized spaces of shifting meanings. The river is a space of mediation between humans and the natural world, a landscape that both supports humans and is inimical to them. Thus the eponymous, indigenous heroine of Mera’s novel at first navigates the Pastaza with exceptional grace, and yet, once she rejects her clan and tribe, she is unable to traverse the river as easily as she once did, and, ultimately, the “savage,” pagan Indians are more adept at using the river. Although Cumandá attempts to hide from her pursuers along the riverbank, the river no longer protects her, and she is captured and sacrificed. Using concepts from ecocriticism and cultural geography, I explore the ways in which this foundational novel deploys and represents the fluid space of the river as a means of commenting on and framing discourses of race, gender, and national identity. Indeed, an ecocritical analysis helps reveal ways in which Mera’s text reformulates, even displaces, such issues and offers fresh possibilities for a national future, one in which whites and indigenous peoples can meet peacefully and coexist in nature rather than struggling for dominance over the river and one another.
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“Identity, Engagement, and the Space of the River in Cumandá.” Troubled Waters: Rivers in Latin American Imagination. Eds. Ana Mutis and Elisabeth Pettinaroli. Hispanic Issues On Line 12 (Spring 2013).127-144. Web.