08 March 2008


While crossing the border from Ecuador to Peru, in 1983 (headed to the Rio Napo, in Amazonia), the Peruvian border guards, with shouldered rifles, ordered the two foreigners off the bus, into the guard hut, to search our luggage. They asked one question only: “Tienes algunos mapas?” Did we have any maps? Maps? Deep in the rainforest?

The border dispute between Ecuador and Peru originated when the last Inca divided his empire between his two sons just before the arrival of Pizzaro. The area remained a frontier (etymologically, a region that “fronts”) between the two Spanish audiencias and continued as such with the formation of the modern states of Ecuador and Peru. The two countries fought a border war around 1941, evidently won by Peru. (Ecuadorians peevishly informed us that Peruvians were “monos”--monkeys.)

The Peruvian border guards were confiscating maps published in Ecuador which show the large chunk of Amazonia we were in as part of the national territory of Ecuador. The government of Peru did not want the carto-propaganda to reach the outside world. Cartographically, the two countries are still at war. (It does not help that Chevron has been pumping oil out of the region, to the benefit of Peru--a further affront at the frontier.)

Spatial events which occurred half a millennium previously were being played out deep in the Amazonian rain forest, nearly at gunpoint, on two unsuspecting foreigners.

I wish I could now possess a map of Ecuador showing the contested chunk of rain forest, so I could illustrate that particular rain-forest geography of propaganda.

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