Clorinda Matto de Turner has recounted the misfortunes that befell the Yapangui family in Killac, Andean, in the late 19th century in her novel, “Birds without a nest: A story of Indian life and priestly oppression in Peru”. Just like the other Indian families, the Yapanguis also have to endure suffering in the hands of the governor, the priest, and their henchmen.
These individuals oppress and abuse the Indians and have no respect at all for their lot. For example, the wool buyers have collaborated with the local authorities so that they can be able to obtain wool from the poor Indians for almost nothing1. The wool buyers also pay the money to the Indians in advance and they are forced to accept very low wages. Furthermore, the Indians can only sell their wool to the merchants, and not to anybody else.
As a result, they have continued to oppress the Indians whose only source of income is the wool. Moreover, the Indians are also expected to pay back the money lent to them at an interest of almost 500 percent.
When the Indians know that the merchants are about to deliver them money in exchange for wool, they abandon their huts for the mountains but this does not deter the collectors from accomplishing their mission. They break into their huts and place the money in such a way that the Indians cannot fail to see it1. At the end of the year, the wool collectors come back to collect what the Indians owe them.
The wool collectors and their men even torture the Indians if they are so reluctant as to refuse to sell their wool to them at a throwaway price. At times, the Indians are even subjected to the cold water bath so that they can disclose where they might have hidden the goods.
Even though the Bishops at the local Peruvian Church are aware that the wool collectors are exploiting the poor Indians, they do not condemn the act. Indian men are also expected to partake in ‘faena’, a form of an unpaid and obligatory labour while their female counterparts are expected to provide sexual favors and domestic chores1.
The Yupangui family has to endure the aforementioned hardship day in, day out. Marcela, the wife of Juan Yupangui, has been summoned to the ‘mita’. This is a form of “service” imposed on the native women by the authorities. Thus, Marcela will have to leave her two young daughters behind and her husband behind. She is fearful that her husband might go crazy and die.
She is also apprehensive of the fate that could await her at the ‘mita’ because “women that go to the ‘ mita * come out — looking down at the ground”1. To make matters worse, the priest has seized the family’s potato crop so that he can recover the money he had lent out to Juan to cover the cost of his mother’s funeral.
With nowhere else to go, Marcela decides to approach Lucia Marin for help. Lucia is married to Don Fernando who is a renowned progressive white. She is an educated and clear-thinking white woman and she empathizes with the situation that has befallen Marcela and her family. She promises to talk to the governor and the priest.
However, the two do not heed her appeals to forfeit the debt that the Yapanguis owes them. Meanwhile, town authorities plan an attack on Lucia and her husband on grounds that they are “foreigners” and interlopers. Juan is killed in the melee that ensues as he attempts to defend the couple1. Marcela also dies, leaving her two daughters in the custody of Lucia. The two orphans are the “birds without a nest”1.
By today’s standards, the novel is insufferably melodramatic. The author provides a revealing look at the circumstances under which the Indian’s political movements emerged in the twentieth century. She has also given the novel a feminine outlook. This has enabled Matto de Turner to reflect on the progressive ideology that prevailed during her time.
Matto de Turner tries to use her literary prowess in an effort to denounce the discrimination that has befallen Indians, especially (female Indians) in Peru. Although her novel lacks the stylistic traits that are now so common with the modern day female narratives, nonetheless, her work is still in terms of its validity and content. The novel depicts Matto de Turner comes as a daring and brave woman who is not afraid to speak out against the medieval laws that were meant to oppress Indians during the late 19th century as well as in the early 20th century.
Matto de Turner, Clorinda. Birds without a nest: a story of Indian life and priestly oppression in Peru. Texas: University of Texas Press, 1904.