In an insightful analysis of the repressive char-
acter of the written word when oral accounts
are transformed into legal record, oral historian
Alessandro Portelli makes a valuable distinction
between legal and historical truth: "Historical
truth is hardly ever more than a descriptive hy-
pothesis; legal truth, on the other hand, has a
performative nature .... Also, legal truth has a
tendency to become historical truth"
(1991: 269).
In the Italian trial of the Red Brigades, which
Portelli analyzes, the prosecution's manipulation
of the defendants' oral testimony can, ultimately,
be measured by years spent in prison. Here, the
power of legal over historical truth symbolizes
the domination exerted by the state over its citi-
zens. The defendants, unable to control the fate
of their testimony once it is translated into the
legal chronicle by the court, are silenced in the
written record; just as the court materially trans-
forms their personal histories via prison sen-
tences, it rewrites the history of their activities,
irrevocably altering future public memory.
This book explores a very different meta-
morphosis from historical to legal truth, in
which Nasa intellectuals from southern Colom-
bia exert a counterhegemonic force over the
written word, transforming a culturally specific
historical vision into legal document in their
struggle to maintain themselves as an autono-
mous people in the face of the homogeniz-
ing schemes of the state.! As I examine the
making and remaking of Nasa historical ex-
pression since the Spanish invasion of the early
sixteenth century, I take as my focus the story
Preface to the
Duke Edition
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