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Rachel Corr
Rachel Corr
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Anthropologist 
Books By Rachel Corr
From The University of Arizona Press
Ritual and Remembrance in the Ecuadorian Andes
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Rachel Corr has spent almost two decades periodically conducting fieldwork in Salasaca, an Indigenous parish of twelve thousand Quichua-speaking people in the Andean province of Tungurahua, Ecuador. She is the author of Ritual and Remembrance in the Ecuadorian Andes from the University of Arizona Press. The Salasacans are a population of around 12,000 Quichua and Spanish speaking people in the Ecuadorian Andes. In Ritual and Remembrance in the Ecuadorian Andes, Rachel Corr, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, combines new research from Church archives with years of ethnographic fieldwork to show how historical actors recentered Catholic rituals and symbols to serve as mediums for sustaining local collective memory. She presents individual testimonies of modern Salasacans who maintain cultural memory through private rituals at local sacred places. This book shows how Salasacans actively shaped and continue to shape their religion through ritual practices linked to the sacred landscape.

How did you get involved in your research community?

My first trip to Ecuador in 1990 was part of a college semester abroad program through the School for International Training. Part of the program involved a weekend ?homestay? with an indigenous family, and that was my first time in Salasaca. Toward the end of the semester, each student was required to do a three week independent study project, so I asked the Salasacan family I stayed with if I could return to live with them and learn more about their customs. During those three weeks I learned a little bit of Quichua, I learned about foods and medicinal plants, and I watched as the grandfather of the family, a shaman, diagnosed illness by using a guinea pig. But I was very surprised when I woke up one morning and the mother of the family I lived with was giving birth in the next room. Her husband, mother and five year old daughter were with her, and it all seemed very natural. Unlike people I knew in the U.S., the family did not have the same concerns as people I knew in the U.S. about children being traumatized by the birth process, and the five year old was not sheltered. I began to think about how different cultural practices of child socialization affected growing up in different cultures. Jim and Linda Belote had written an article about the place of children in Saraguro society in the southern Ecuadorian Andes, and I wanted to study child socialization in Salasaca. When I returned for my senior year of college, I applied for a Fulbright grant to spend a year living in Salasaca to study child socialization.

You write about how Indigenous consultants served as important checks to your anthropological and linguistic interpretations. What was your process for getting their input and how did you incorporate that input into your work?

I immersed myself as much as possible into Salasacan life through participant-observation. Later, I would ask people if I could interview them formally about something I had observed, or some event that needed more explanation. Then I would ask people more detailed questions. After writing up my own analysis, I would then tell people what I thought and ask them if I was ?right.? For example, after interviewing many people about the process of festival sponsorship, it seemed that a lot of money was flowing out of the community at festival time. I drew a chart in my notebook that showed cash flowing out of Salasaca into the nearby towns for the purchase of food, alcohol, music, and other items for the fiestas. I showed this to one of the men I had interviewed, and he clarified the situation from his point of view. He explained that many Salasacan men and women made their cash incomes from working at jobs in these towns, and only some of it goes back into making purchases for fiestas.

What role do you think this kind of collaborative research plays in Indigenous communities today?

Many anthropologists share their interpretations with people they interview, and write about people?s reactions to their interpretations. Anthropologists today recognize the dialogical nature of ethnographic fieldwork, and the need to present the multiple voices present in any society, so I made an effort to present different Salasacan points of view on the issues that I explore in the book.

As an anthropologist, what do you feel your obligation is to your research community and what have you done to meet that obligation?

I tried to represent Salasacan points of view on their religious practices as accurately as possible and to protect people?s privacy, and I would like to have some of my writing translated into Spanish so that Salasacans can read what I have written. Since there are different points of view within the community, I don?t expect everyone to agree with all of my interpretations. Salasacans are aware of the uniqueness of some of their customs, and they are proud of their traditions. When I started doing fieldwork in 1991, several Salasacans expressed interest in having oral histories recorded, and since then some Salasacans have done their own studies and writings about Salasacan culture. Although I haven?t had my work translated into Spanish yet, I did explain the contents of one of my articles to some Salasacans. They said that what I wrote was good, but also corrected some of my information. So I look forward to future collaborations with Salasacans.