The Shoreline: Conceptual boundaries between land and sea in pre-Colombian Andean cosmologies

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Where do you draw the line between land and sea? Should both be part of a conceptually larger dimension? This paper examines a different kind of ‘native space’, the sea - above and below the waves - and how it might have shaped ethnic identities and consciousness in the Andean region.
Using evidence from a previously unpublished source dating to the 1580s, this paper draws on the case of Pedro de Cama, of the ethnic Manteño peoples of the south central (present day) Ecuador. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Manteño were sea farers and marine specialists, with antecedents drawn from maritime cultures and complex exchange systems along the west coast of Central and South America dating back well over two thousand years.
In his petition to the Crown of Spain, Pedro de Cama declared himself to be a sailor, diver and ‘man of the sea’ and this is how the Spanish understood him, as an Indian ‘ladino’ - conversant with Spanish ways and language - their ‘friend’, who provisioned the ships of their navy, who sailed in their galleons, and who, on occasion, even saved their ships from sinking. His account is firmly situated within a Eurocentric conceptual framework; his credentials are those of a seaman from within European colonial definitions of that role.
However, from an ethnic Andean perspective, we are reminded that space should include more than mere earth-bound notions of territory, that the sea itself constituted its own framework of experience. Drawing on pre-Columbian iconographic and ethnohistorical information this paper offers a view on how native space can be interpreted to include an oceanic dimension and complement purely telluric ‘Tierre Firme’ models of space in a more holistic and multi-dimensional view of the native world.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages14
Publication statusUnpublished - 11 Nov 2016
EventEthnohistories of Native Space - The Hutton Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee, United States
Duration: 9 Nov 201612 Nov 2016


ConferenceEthnohistories of Native Space
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityNashville, Tennessee
Internet address

Cite this