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© 2018 | Jaime Gómez

Improving Indians' domesticity.

March 13, 2018

In every Indian community where the government's Indian Affairs Division had personnel, there was at least one "home improver." I found reports from the 1960s and 1970s where different home improvers described their activities. One report that caught my attention was written by Lupe Lozano Asprilla in 1971, describing the activities she expected to do in La Guajira region (see image). In her account, Mrs. Lozano explains that one of the activities she expects to do is to "demarcate female and male activities at home and at the land. It is deplorable to see how the woman is charged with the heaviest duties [such as] carrying water from far away wells, obtaining firewood, and also shepherding the animals and doing women's specific chores. In this way, the woman is forced to overlook her legitimate role as housewife." In another excerpt of the report, she writes that it is important to encourage in the Indian's home "the classification of places or areas to perform every daily act of human life: dining room, living room, bedroom, bathroom, etc."(1) Apparently, home improvers were troubled by the characteristics of the homes they visited. For example, another report that lists the activities to be performed in 1966 in the area where the Nazareth's Indian Boarding School is located, includes "the construction of corrals, etc., to prevent that animals and people share the same space" and "the building of walls [...] to separate the children's bedroom from their parents' bedroom."(2) Other activities assigned to the home improver, listed in different documents, were: teaching Indians "elegant ways of having fun", "promoting an aesthetic taste"(3), "introducing etiquette norms"(4), sewing and the "building of smoke-free stoves."(5) These two latter activities were listed under "domestic economy."



So far, I have not been able to find more information about the work of home improvers in the Indian Affairs Division. However, I believe the figure of the home improver is based on the rural extension programs promoted by the Organization of American States - OAS since the 1940s trough its Instituto Interamericano de Ciencias Agrícolas - IICA  (Inter American Institute of Agricultural Sciences). These rural extension programs, heavily supported by the U.S., were modelled after similar programs developed in the U.S. between the second half of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. The main objective of these programs were to improve both agricultural production and rural inhabitants' lives.(6) Two reasons make me believe that the origin of the figure of the Indian Affairs Division's home improver is related to the rural extension programs promoted by the OAS: first, the fact that by 1960 the government's Indian Affairs Division was part of the Colombian Ministry of Agriculture; and, second, a book published by the OAS in 1960 with advice (from sociology) for those involved in rural programs, which includes advice for home improvers. This advice covers subjects that relates to the activities performed by the home improvers working for the Indian Affairs Division.(7)



(1) CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3/98.4.1

(2) CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3//34.3.1

(3) CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3/98.4.1

(4) CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3/25.1.2

(5) CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3/21.1.1

(6) Otero, Jeremías, Dardo Selis. "La Revista 'Extensión en Las Américas'. Influencia de los EEUU en los Servicios de Extensión Rural Latinoamericanos."  Extensão Rural 23, no. 1 (2016): 42-57.

(7) Alers Montalvo, Manuel. Sociología. Introducción a su Uso en Programas Agrícolas Rurales. Turrialba, Costa Rica: IICA, 1960.


Image: Heading of report written by home improver Lupe Lozano in 1971, describing the activities she expected to do in La Guajira region (source: CO.AGN.AO/100.MGOB[2]-3/98.4.1)


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