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Jorge Icaza: Huasipungo (Huasipungo; US: Huasipungo. The Villagers)
Icaza’s harrowing tale of the cruel treatment of the Ecuadorian Indians is not your García Márquez Magic Realism. It is unblemished realism, written when García Márquez was only six. The story is very straightforward. It tells of the arrogant property owner don Alfonso Pereira who lives well and is therefore perpetually in debt. With the help of his uncle, there is a way to make some money – to exploit the woods he owns (as well as those he does not own) to make railway sleepers (railroad ties if you are American) and then, with the help of the sinister Americans in the background, exploit the area for oil. To do this he must exploit the labour of the Indians and also take the huasipungos, which are somewhat like the sharecropping system in the American South after the Civil War. For don Alfonso Pereira, that is not a problem. He is more than happy to exploit, brutalize and, if necessary, kill the Indians to get his road, to get money from the gringos and that is what he does. Most of the novel describes, in quite graphic detail in some cases, the brutality he metes out and the suffering of the unfortunate Indians who want nothing more than to be allowed to be peacefully work their land. Icaza’s viewpoint is totally sympathetic towards the Indians. Pereira, his family, the priest and others who help him and the sinister Americans are painted as vicious and inhuman. But, of course, they win. The Indians try and fight back but they are beaten and savagely killed. The ones that survive sees their huasipungos destroyed and expropriated. There is no sentimentality in Icaza’s story.
First published in 1934 by Imprenta Nacional
First English translation published 1962 by D. Dobson, London
Translated by Mervyn Savill (UK edition), Bernard M. Dulsey (US edition)