Che Guevara

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Who are some indigenous people mentioned in The Motorcycle Diaries?

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The first indigenous people that Guevara meets on his trip are the Aracanian farm laborers near San Martin de los Andes in Argentina (43). Guevara states that they are suspicious of white people "who continue to oppress them" and answer his questions "by shrugging their shoulders and saying 'don't know' or 'maybe,' quickly ending the conversation."

In Chile, Guevara states that, unlike in Argentina, the Anglo Saxons had not mixed with the natives, "thus preserving the purity of the indigenous race." Most notably, he talks about a "drunk, feeble-minded Mapuche man who looked like a criminal" (71).

In the chapter "The Land of the Incas," Guevara talks about the Quechua race, who "didn't achieve a level of cultural splendor, but they did make considerable advances in the fields of architecture and the arts." The Quechua include the Incas and are, in his opinion, "the most powerful indigenous race in the Americas." Along with the Colla race, who Guevara doesn't go into much detail about, the Quechua race are the dominant ethnic group in Peru.

Other indigenous people that Guevara mentions in his diaries include the the Yagua tribe (144) and the Aprista tribe (96).

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There are numerous references to the indigenous peoples of Latin America throughout Ernesto Guevara's The Motorcycle Diaries.  These references frequently emphasize the victimization of the native populations at the hands of European and North American colonizers. Some of these references are fleeting and seemingly innocuous; others are more substantive and indicative of the young Argentine physician's growing anger over the enduring legacy of colonialism.  An example of the former would include the following brief description of when Guevara and Alberto enter a Chilean town amid grandiose expectations of these two visiting Argentine doctors: "We spent the whole day fixing and conditioning the bike while every now and then a dark-skinned maid would arrive with little snacks."  This is the first such reference, and presages the growing distinctions between the well-to-do Spanish, German, Austrian and North American emigres and colonizers and the often desperately poor indigenous populations.  

Similarly, while still in Chile, Guevara describes, totally in passing, the elderly gentleman in the slum in which he is treating destitute patients: "a drunk, feeble-minded Mapuche man who looked like a criminal..." [Mapuche are an indigenous people of Chile]

Another example: "Our spirits lifted by the timid kindness of the cholos..." [Cholos are Mestizos Indians]

It is in Peru where Guevara makes more substantive references to indigenous peoples.  In describing the Incas and their legacy, Guevara is duly impressed with the contributions of these native peoples.  Describing his impressions of ancient Incan monuments and the colonial influences that followed, Guevara writes,

"The anguished Indian, waiting for the terrible vengeance of his gods, saw instead a cloud of churches [the Spanish conquistadors' legacy] rise, erasing even the possibility of a proud past.  The six meter walls of the Inca Roca Palace, considered by the conquistadors to be useful only as weight beareres for their colonial palace, reflect in their perfect stone structures the cry of the defeated warrior.  But the race that created Ollantay [an epic Inca drama] left something more than the conglomeration of Cuzco as a monument to its grand past."

Later, towards the end of his and Alberto's journey, Guevara offers the following encounter with another indigenous tribe:

"On Sunday morning we visited a tribe of Yaguas, the Indians of the red straw...Their way of living was fascinating..."

Guevara was clearly impressed and touched by the plight of the indigenous peoples he encountered during his travels.

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