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Fear and Loathing on the Kharisiri Trail: Alterity and Identity in the Andes

Andrew Canessa
The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Vol. 6, No. 4 (Dec., 2000), pp. 705-720
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2661038
Page Count: 16
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Fear and Loathing on the Kharisiri Trail: Alterity and Identity in the Andes
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Abstract

The well-documented figure of the Andean kharisiri (alternatively nakaq, pishtaco) who steals the fat of Indians and sells it to bishops or hospitals has generally been understood in terms of the fear Indians have of outsiders and anxiety about modernity. As such there are similarities with the wider phenomena of organ-stealers around the world. This article, however, examines the cultural specificities of kharisiri beliefs and outlines important differences from these more generalized phenomena. Kharisiris steal fat, and by understanding the role of fat in Andean culture we understand better not only the phenomenon of the kharisiri, but also how he comes so horrifyingly to represent the `racialized' outsider. Moreover, such an analysis also illuminates how the distinction between Indian and non-Indian is understood emically and thus introduces a way of understanding difference that goes beyond analyses based on the categories of ethnicity, race, or class; that is, difference as a boundary between alterity and identity.

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