Since the 1980s the area known as Postcolonial Studies has gained in prominence and has now become a challenge to important fields within the social sciences and the humanities. Significant new insights have emerged from the postcolonial critique of former studies of the impact of colonialism, as well as of history writing, cultural studies, and studies of gender and ethnicity. It has brought clarification of the cultural embeddedness of the ideas applied in research and the consequences of the cultural blindness pervading many concepts and studies. Furthermore, it has also suggested new ways of conducting research and of examining the relationship between empirical studies and theory.
Although broad in scope, postcolonial studies have almost exclusively been limited to the former British colonies in Africa and Asia. Surprisingly, works on the former French and Portuguese colonies have only recently started to appear, and studies on the American continent (both North and South) have until now been rare. Since the late 1970s discourses of indigenous identities and rights have become increasingly salient throughout Latin America. But although there have been many successful struggles, and rights and entitlements have
been formally recognized, the politics of indigenousness seems not to have gained ground as a basis for alternative post-colonial discussions. It is remarkable that pre-conquest cultures and identities have mainly come to the fore in secluded ‘ethnic settings’ and only included to a minor degree in post-colonial projects advanced by Latin American intellectuals. In this paper we argue that owing to historical processes the term indigenous and its linguistic equivalents have been loaded with a range of negative and inferior connotations, to such an extent that it is hard to imagine any postcolonial
project along indigenous lines. Although Indian groups have been empowered by the global focus on indigenous rights, the dominant perception of the Indian population continues to be one of inferiority and backwardness. The aim of this paper is to discuss possible reasons for the apparent lack of interest in the term ‘postcolonial’ and postcolonial theories among Latin American researchers and intellectuals. It is not the intention here to give conclusive answers. Rather the aim is to explore what concepts have been developed and to analyse and discuss the complexities and contradictions in the way identity has been constructed in Latin America in colonial and postcolonial times, and finally to suggest areas in which postcolonial theories may become especially relevant in the future. Our hypothesis is that the orientation towards Europe, including the identification with European culture and tradition in the identity construction of non-indigenous groups in the Latin American populations, has distinguished the discussion of the colonial past in this part of the world from present-day discussions in other post-colonial areas. Another hypothesis is that the time factor in the processes of colonization and of independence is of crucial importance. However, we can make no claim to be exhaustive in
our discussion. The following items will be considered in this article: 1.The era of Spanish and Portuguese colonization, with the time phase and duration of the colony and the character of the colonial administration; 2.The historical epoch of the independence movements and the construction of the post-colonial/post independence identity of Latin America; 3.The relationship between Latin America and Europe and the exclusion of the indigenous Other in colonial and post-colonial time, adducing the example of the Miskitu Indians on the Nicaraguan East Coast to demonstrate the use of ethnicity to confront state repression and exclusion.