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9 - The Politics of Vegetating in Arturo Burga Freitas’s Mal de gente

Felipe Martínez-Pinzón
Affiliation:
Brown University, Rhode Island
Javier Uriarte
Affiliation:
Stony Brook University, State University of New York
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Summary

The Peruvian author Arturo Burga Freitas (1909–79) published two literary works on the Amazon: Ayahuasca: mitos, leyendas y relatos de la amazonía peruana (1939), a collection of short stories, and Mal de gente (1943), a short novel. His work can be positioned as part of a growing interest in indigenous Amazonian culture by Latin Americans in the first decades of the twentieth century. Amazonian cosmogonies were an important strand of the novela de la selva. In the Peruvian Amazon, particularly in Iquitos, where Burga Freitas was born, a number of contemporary writers such as Juan Ramírez Ríos (1909–76), Francisco Izquierdo Ríos (1910–81), and Arturo D. Hernández (1903–70), placed Amazonian myths at the centre of their artistic production. Whilst Hernández and Izquierdo Ríos often incorporated Amazonian folklore as a source of local colour or the picturesque, Burga Freitas presents indigenous myth as a valid interpretative matrix and a fundamental part of life in the Amazon. In Mal de gente, the focus of this essay, the vindication of indigenous myth is accompanied by a critique of non-indigenous views of the Amazon, particularly the trope of the region as an untapped capitalist frontier.

At the centre of Burga Freitas's Mal de gente is the story of a young European, Edmond Rice, who, like a number of protagonists of the Spanish American novela de la selva, with which this novel shares many characteristics, travels to the Amazon for the purposes of work and ends up falling in love with a local woman and settling permanently in the jungle. Set during the rubber boom, the natural world depicted in Burga Freitas's novel is a zone of exploitation, characterized by hard labor and the plundering of tropical products. The novel refers to the search for rubber by Europeans as well as the harsh conditions of the indigenous laborers who were forced to collect the latex. Yet, countering this assessment of nature as a commodity and of the jungle as a capitalist frontier is the view of the Amazon as a mythical space, capable of enchanting outsiders and inducing a permanent state of lassitude and oneness with nature.

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Intimate Frontiers
A Literary Geography of the Amazon
, pp. 177 - 192
Publisher: Liverpool University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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