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Anthropology of the Caribbean 

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University of Texas at El Paso 

Sociology and Anthropology Department

Dr. Victor Vazquez 

Due date: Wednesday 12/2 11:59p.m.

Final Written Paper Printed 

“An Anthropological reflection on the inequality conditions in The Caribbean”

The final written paper is a reflection to improve the historical inequality conditions in The Caribbean. 

Final Paper @2000-word (5- 7 pages) research paper due with the following sections.

Be sure that your paper has the main requirements: 

Microsoft word document requirement: (50 pts.) 

A.P.A. Times New Roman, font 12, 1.5 space. 

Name, student number 

Title Anthropological reflection focused on_____________

Topic ___________

 – Cover sheet (name, student, number, title)

 – Abstract – Short summary of the paper. 

 – Index/ table of content (5 pts.)

I. Introduction (Write a short paragraph explaining the general objectives of your anthropological paper, present the chosen country from the Spanish Caribbean and present a short outline as to how you are going to address the inequality, talk about the relevance of this paper) (5 pts.)

 II. Historical Background, Colonialism and Inequality in the Caribbean based on the reading The Anthropology of The Latin America and The Caribbean. (10pts)

Answer the following question:

According to chapter 4, explain the 4 points that represent the legacy of colonialism and the contemporary context in the Caribbean. Review page 103-104 (10 pts.)

III. Anthropological Analysis and Conclusions (Elaborate an anthropological analysis answering the following questions: 

Discuss and summarize one news article, or article from the Spanish Caribbean focused on inequality and explain how this affected the population, the economy, or in general the country. (5pts.)

Discuss your opinion in regards to how the international aid could contribute and address the main problems in Caribbean. How the U.S.A. and the Union European international policy could contribute.  (5pts.)

Conclusions – Suggests solutions and personal reflection how to improve this problem using your anthropological approach, talk about how the anthropological research conducted in the Caribbean could contribute to change the colonialism, dependency mentality in the population. Talk about how to improve the education, collective awareness, Government Services. Final sentences should pertain to your expectations and something that draw your attention on the Spanish Caribbean.  (5pts.)


The Spanish Caribbean means Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico. 

Suggested Topics

• Puerto Rico – Political Status, History, Nuyorican Culture, Migration, Social Movement, Contemporary Problem, Crisis, Political Crisis, Bankrupt, Reggaeton Music, Salsa Music, Corruption, Drug Trafficking, Gastronomy, Art, Future. Estado Libre Asociado – Commonwealth, Poverty, Globalization Impact. Colonization.

• Dominican Republic – History, Border problems, Poverty, Racism, Music, Corruption, Drug trafficking, Migration, Dominicans Community in USA, Sexual Tourism, Gastronomy, Politics, Education, Art, Globalization Impact, Society, Music, Bachata, Reggaeton, Merengue, Contemporary Problems.

• Cuba – History, Political Problems, Castro Revolution, Poverty, Migration, Sexual Tourism, Gastronomy, Socialism, Communism, Surviving, Contemporary Problems, Relationship with USA, The figure of EL CHE Guevarra, Impact of Castro’s Dead, Future of Cuba. 

Other topics: Sport, Music, Culture, Informal Economy, Corruption, How the larger countries took advantage of the Caribbean? Exploitation, Political System, Neoliberalism, Migration, Hurricanes, Natural Resources, Sexual Tourism, Surviving Inequality, Class disparity, Social Movements, Chain of colonialism, Independence, Level of poverty. You can add other topics. 


•Puerto Rico Newspaper:






•Dominican Republic Newspaper:


•Camino – weekly religious newspaper.

•El Caribe (Santo Domingo)

•Clave (Santo Domingo) – free weekly newspaper.

•El Día (Santo Domingo) – free newspaper.

•Diario a Diario (Santo Domingo) – weekly newspaper.

•Diario Libre (Santo Domingo) – free newspaper.


•Cuban Newspaper






-References (at least 5- 10 academic references) (5 pts.)



Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance

T his chapter turns to the Spanish and Portuguese conquests of the sixteenth century and their immediate consequences. It first examines how so few Europeans rapidly undermined most organized resistance and subsequently explores the widespread ramifications of the exchange of plants and animals between the New World and Europe.

Attention then shifts to the colonial period to understand how Europeans attempted to con­ solidate their rule, and ways that Latin American and Caribbean peoples actively resisted the colonial order. Emphasis is placed on the emergence of new societies within the context of colonial rule (ethnogenesis) and some of the lasting political, economic, social, and cul­ tural legacies of European colonialism. The final section focuses on the Quincentennial controversy and how indigenous peoples have taken an active role in redefining the events of 1492.

The European Conquest

For Europeans and Latin American indigenous peoples alike, the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries were momentous milestones in their historical destinies. For Europeans, these centuries constituted the crucial age of exploration and conquest, vital for the kingdoms that spearheaded this undertaking and would later be called Spain and Portugal. For Latin American indigenous peoples, the encounter with and conquest by Europeans meant a rad­ ical, generally unwelcome, and profound transformation of their ways of life.

Voyages, Exploration, and Expeditions On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus, sailing in search of a route from Europe to Asia, landed in what is now the Bahamas in the Caribbean. During this and three subse­ quent voyages, he claimed the New World for Ferdinand and Isabel of the kingdoms of Aragón and Castile, who had sponsored his voyage. In the following two decades, succes­ sive expeditions of Spanish and Portuguese explorers laid claim to and conquered what would later be known as the New World. (For excellent maps of the Spanish and Portuguese expeditions, see Lombardi et al. 1983:21-27.)

Beginning in 1508 (after Christopher Columbus’ last 1502-1504 voyage), more than a dozen Spanish expeditions landed in the Caribbean, the main staging ground from which


Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 77

the conquest of Mexico, Mesoamerica, and South America was launched. In their initial forays into the Greater Antilles, Spaniards easily overwhelmed the small, Arawak-speaking Taino chiefdoms in Cuba, Hispaniola, and Puerto Rico. (Indigenous societies in the Greater Antilles disappeared within the first three decades of the Conquest, while others in the Lesser Antilles fiercely resisted European encroachments for at least another two cen­ turies.) After securing control, especially along the coastlines, and founding the key port cities of Havana and Santiago de Cuba (in what is now Cuba), Santo Domingo (present-day Dominican Republic), and San Juan (today’s Puerto Rico), Spaniards fanned out, in succes­ sive and overlapping waves, in four major directions (Burkhart and Gaseo 1996b; Clendinnen 1987:1-19; Hulme 1986:13-44; Elliott 1987).

One route was toward the coastal areas of what is now Belize and Guatemala, then skirting the Yucatán peninsula, and finally entering the Gulf of Mexico and establishing a beachhead in what is now Vera Cruz, Mexico. From these strategic points, the Cortés (also spelled Cortéz), Diaz del Castillo, and Córdoba expeditions first subdued the Aztec empire, and only decades later, after protracted struggles, most of the Maya city-states, along with perhaps dozens of smaller ethnic polities. A second general course led Spaniards to Central America (specifically to Panama, near the present-day border with Colombia). From there, smaller groups traveled west, into what is now Costa Rica and parts of Nicaragua. Much larger expeditions, such as those spearheaded by Francisco Pizarro, who confronted the Incas in 1532, traveled south/southeast, with offshoots eventually reaching southern Chile a few years later. A third wave of Spanish expeditions—the most prominent led by Jiménez de Quesada—entered South America through the northern Orinoco river system and van­ quished the Chibcha chiefdoms in northern Colombia and Venezuela. The fourth and final general direction of Spanish expeditions was through the Atlantic, entering South America through and establishing the port city of Buenos Aires. From there, the Spaniards made their way south along the coast to the southernmost tip of the continent, although they did not venture far into the interior of the Pampas and Patagonia. (The 1519-1521 expedition by Magellan transversed the straights between Tierra del Fuego and the southern tip of the South American continent and then ventured into the Pacific.) From Buenos Aires, other groups traveled north—again via the major rivers—into Paraguay and southeastern Bolivia.

Meanwhile, the Portuguese were also busy laying claim to South America. Because of the Treaty of Tordesillas, they were restricted to lands in the New World up to 45 degrees longitude, that is, the easternmost sections of present-day Brazil. Between 1500 and 1544, Portuguese expeditions landed along and explored the Brazilian coastlines, eventually establishing important port towns such as Salvador and Rio de Janeiro. From these, Portuguese explorers and missionaries moved into the Amazon Basin and its tributaries during the next one hundred years (Johnson 1987; Schwartz 1987).

Although Spain and Portugal eventually claimed most of Latin America and the Caribbean, they were not without serious rivals. Other European states—England, France, and Holland—also fiercely competed with Spaniards and Portuguese in the New World, especially over the Caribbean islands and the northern coastlines of Central and South America. Indeed, for more than two centuries after Columbus’ arrival, the Caribbean region was intensely contested, particularly after the onset of the African slave trade and the rise of sugar as a major world commodity. Not one single European colonial power managed to


establish either a political or economic monopoly over this region, so that by the end of the eighteenth century, the Caribbean islands and the Atlantic coastlines of Central and South America were shared among Spanish, Portuguese, English, French, and Dutch colonists. Important British colonies included Barbados, Jamaica, and Belize (formerly British Honduras) and, in the Lesser Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago. France secured control over strategic colonies such as Saint-Domingue (known as Haiti after its independence in 1804), Martinique, Guadeloupe, and French Guiana. And Holland secured a foothold in Suriname and some of the Lesser Antilles islands. This changing kaleidoscope of colonial control eventually resulted in a complex linguistic and cultural mosaic throughout most of the Caribbean region (Horowitz 1971a; Mintz and Price 1985; Mintz 1989; Trouillot 1992).

How Did (and Could) It Happen? By 1580, Spaniards had colonized and secured tenuous indirect rule over vast stretches of the Caribbean, Mesoamerica, the Andes, northern South America, parts of Amazonia (especially along the major river systems), and the southern coastlines of Chile and Argentina. These enormous lands were inhabited by hundreds of societies, from small-scale foragers to huge, stratified empires, ranging in population from a few hundred to several million.

For decades after the arrival of the first Europeans, numerous indigenous peoples often retreated into hard-to-reach areas (such as the Lesser Antilles, the Pampas and Pata­ gonia, and the Amazon Basin), thereby remaining outside the effective reach of Spaniards or Portuguese. Indeed, most indigenous societies in southern Chile and Argentina mounted such effective resistance to European advances that they were finally conquered (and forcibly placed into reservations) only in the nineteenth century (Paddon 1957; Faron 1968). Further, significant pockets of armed resistance (e.g., the Lesser Antilles, and among some Incas and Mayas) would continue for many years. Yet, by and large, Spaniards and Portuguese had effectively quelled most organized, large-scale resistance to the Con­ quest. More importantly, by the mid 1530s, Spaniards had smashed the two most important military threats confronting them: the mighty Inca and Aztec empires.

Although colonial rule would be repeatedly challenged along a number of fronts, the European Conquest was a monumental accomplishment, an unparalleled feat for the time. How did this happen? How were the Spaniards and, to a lesser extent, the Portuguese, able to so quickly carry out the Conquest? How were Spanish expeditions, often numbering no more than several hundred, able to defeat their Inca, Aztec, and Maya enemies who, if we are to believe the Conquest chronicles written by Spaniards, mustered tens of thousands of warriors against them? And what does all this tell us about the societies that resisted the European invaders?

At least four interrelated factors enabled the tiny Spanish expeditions to quickly overwhelm the Incas and Aztecs (how and why some Lowland Mayas were able to more effectively resist the Spanish invaders is discussed later). (1) lack of political consolidation of indigenous states; (2) tactical and military advantages; (3) cultural differences; and 14) disease (on the conquest of the Incas, sec Hemming 1970 and Guilmartin 1991; on the Aztecs, see Todorov 1984; Cline 2000; Hassig 1994; on the Maya, see Clendinnen 1987; Sharer 1994:730-748; Collieret al. 1982 compare the similarities and differences between the Inca and Aztec states.)

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 79

1. Lack ofpolitical consolidation of indigenous states. Neither the Inca or Aztec states had achieved a significant degree of political consolidation prior to 1492. Both were politi­ cally fragile, continuously engaged in expanding their borders, subduing neighboring poli­ ties, and putting down rebellions. The Inca and Aztec rulers and elites had not managed to achieve hegemony over their territories—that is, they had not instilled consent, allegiance, and a sense of legitimacy in most of their subjects. As a result, their rule was constantly challenged throughout vast reaches of their empires. (See Williams 1977:108-114; Eagle­ ton 1991:112-116; Crehan 2002 for different interpretations of this concept that is often associated with Antonio Gramsci.)

In 1531, Francisco Pizarro landed in Tumbes, on Peru’s Pacific coast with fewer than 200 Spaniards. He then proceeded south through the western Andes. At that time, the Incas were especially vulnerable, having just emerged from a civil war between the two sons and contenders of the Inca throne, Huáscar and Atahualpa. The immediate spur of this conflict was the sudden death of the reigning monarch (Inca) Huayna Capac, who probably died from a European-introduced disease, and the lack of institutionalized means of succession in the absence of a living monarch.

The Spaniards had extraordinarily good luck in arriving at the end of this civil war, which bitterly divided Inca royal families and drew into the conflict many non-Inca peo­ ples. Indeed, it was through non-Inca subjects that Pizarro received firsthand information about the conflict that ravaged the Inca state, and that the victorious Atahualpa was camped in nearby Cajamarca. Unopposed, Pizarro and his party proceeded to Cajamarca, where they roused Atahualpa and many of his nobles into a walled compound, seized Atahualpa, and slaughtered thousands of nobles and royal family members. Because Atahualpa was considered divine (he was thought to be a direct descendant of the Sun, a key Inca deity) and to be the embodiment of the power and moral authority of the state, his capture essen­ tially paralyzed the state apparatus. For months, Pizarro ruled the empire through Atahualpa, despite the fact that the veteran Inca army, under the command of the feared Rumi Ñahui (Quechua for “eye of stone”), was camped only a few miles away. Pizarro later ordered the execution of Atahualpa, but not before receiving vast amounts of gold from all comers of the empire.

Pizarro then fought his way south to Cuzco, the Incas and their allies unable to stem the Spanish advance. He recruited allies from the ethnic groups who had opposed Inca rule or who had sided with the defeated Huáscar, and who therefore were bitter enemies of Atahualpa. Pizarro’s indigenous allies provided supplies, intelligence reports, and thou­ sands of soldiers. Further, Inca royal families were deeply divided (some Incas who had sided with Huáscar during the civil war allied themselves with Pizarro), and many of royal descent had died in this war. Thus, as an ethnic group the Incas were unable to muster a cohesive stand against the small group of Spaniards and their allies. In November 1533, just months after the death of Atahualpa, Pizarro lay siege to and captured Cuzco. Although some Incas retreated and held out in Vilcabamba, in the eastern Andes, for another forty years (see Hemming 1970), the capture of Cuzco effectively signaled the final defeat of the Inca state.

The conquest of the Aztec empire bore an uncanny resemblance to the Inca experience—and likewise favored the Spaniards. Cortés lands in Vera Cruz in April of 1519 and reaches Tenochitlán, the Aztec capital, unopposed, just as Pizarro had encountered little


resistance enroute to Cajamarca. Why the Aztec ruler Mochtezuma (also spelled Montezuma) did not immediately attack Cortes has been the subject of a great deal of spec­ ulation; one theory is that Cortes was viewed as an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl, the Serpent God, who, according to Aztec religious belief, would return from an eastward direction (Cline 2000:117). As discussed later in this section, other facets of Aztec culture might have played a role.

Arranging a meeting with Mochtezuma, Cortes then entrapped the leader and ruled the empire through him. After a massacre of thousands of Aztec nobles and royalty, and the death of Mochtezuma (he was probably killed by Pizarro), the Aztecs rose up and drove the Spaniards out of Tenochitlán. By May of 1521, Cortés regrouped and, with the assis­ tance of tens of thousands of Tlaxcalan warriors (bitter enemies of the Aztecs), he lay siege to Tenochitlán. Politically divided and weakened, and facing rebellions by ethnic subjects while at the same time confronting the Spaniards and their indigenous allies, the Aztecs surrendered three months later.

2. Tactical and military advantages. In addition to taking advantage of political divi­ sions within the Inca and Aztec states, and of support they received from countless indige­ nous allies, Spaniards also enjoyed superior tactical and military advantages (Guilmartin 1991). These included:

a. Horses. Horses provided crucial advantages in striking power, shock effect, and speed. Unknown to native societies, horses were bigger and more powerful than native Andean camelids and, at any rate, the latter were used as pack animals and never in waging war. (There were no Mesoamerican equivalents to the Andean camelids.) In commenting on the defeat of the Quiche Maya in present-day Highland Guatemala by vastly outnumbered Spaniards, Lovell (1992a:59) states that “The physical and psychological impact of cavalry on a people who had never before seen a horse and its rider in action was as devastating as the material superiority of steel and firearms over the bow and arrow.” Incas and Aztecs may have felt similar awe at the sight of horses, which in any event were especially effective in providing Spaniards with the ability to strike harder, and more swiftly, and to reach further with the sword against foot soldiers. A preferred Inca and Aztec battlefield tactic— fighting in open, massed formations—proved especially vulnerable to cavalry charges by armored horsemen. The Incas did not master the art of the bow and arrow, which might have proved effective against cavalry, and Aztec weapons proved ineffective against Spanish armor.

b. Superiority of Spanish weapons and technology. Spaniards also enjoyed bet­ ter weapons and technology of war, especially steel weapons such as long pikes and razor sharp swords. Pikes enabled Spaniards to strike at Incas and Aztecs almost at will, especially at close range. The Spanish double-edged sword in particular was extraordinarily lethal. For example, Inca weapons such as stone tipped axes and slings were crushing and not cutting or piercing weapons, and therefore Inca body armor, designed to avoid the shock of stone and not the cut of a blade, proved inef­ fective against the Spanish sword, especially in close combat. Spaniards also had superior body armor—steel—that provided better protection against Inca and Aztec projectiles. Spanish cannons, muskets, and crossbows, however inaccurate and

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 81

clumsy, also had superior striking range than, for example, Inca slings and Aztec projectiles.

c. Higher level of social cohesion. Spaniards displayed far greater discipline and ability to fight together as cohesive military units under trying circumstances. At least two factors undermined Inca and Aztec cohesion. The first was that although both the Incas and Aztecs had a professional warrior class, their armies were mainly recruited from members of tribute-paying societies organized along ethnic lines, and who paid primary allegiance to their own ethnic lords. Thus, Incas and Aztecs could not count on continued allegiance from their allies when ethnic lords died in battle, or when leaders switched their allegiance to the Spaniards. Further, most Inca and Aztec warriors were farmers, not professional soldiers. As such, their ability to sustain or resist long sieges was partly contingent on the ebb and flow of the agricultural cycle; some entire ethnic groups abandoned the battlefield and returned home at the onset of the planting and harvest seasons.

3. Culture. The role of ideas, beliefs, and world view in providing the Spaniards with an edge over Incas and Aztecs should not be underestimated. Although eager to enrich themselves and return to Europe as gentlemen (Caballeros’), Spaniards were also driven by a powerful ideology forged during the Spanish reconquest that centered on conquering and converting “pagans” to Christianity, and that impelled them to go on. The fact that so many Incas, Aztecs, and their allies were dying also probably convinced Spaniards that their God was indeed on their side and that they held the moral upper ground.

By contrast, the polytheistic Inca (and Andean) and Aztec (and Mesoamerican) religious ideology and world view was predicated on reciprocity—on a constant give and take between mortals and supernatural deities. (As will become clearer in Chapter 7, this view is an important bedrock of contemporary popular Catholicism.) Hence, continued Spanish successes on the battlefield and the spreading death that engulfed Incas and Aztecs proba­ bly undermined the indigenous peoples’ faith in their gods, and their belief in the ability of supernatural deities to provide assistance during such trying times. For example, during and after the fall of Tenochitlán, Cuautémoc (also spelled Chuauhtémoc), who became the Aztec ruler after the death of Cuitlahua, continued to sacrifice captives to Huitzilopochtli, the Aztec deity of war—to no avail. Indeed, the profound sense of disillusionment and shock that Incas, Aztecs, and Mayas almost certainly felt in the midst of such calamities— that their cosmic order was unraveling before their very eyes and their gods “dying” (Wachtel 1977)—may have also undermined their sense of purpose and ability to continue fighting.

Todorov, in particular, has argued that cultural differences played a crucial role in the Aztec defeat (1984:63-97). He suggests that Aztecs primarily made sense of and reacted to events by privileging communication with the supernatural and the meaning of an event— not so much “what” was happening, but “why,” and what it augered for the future. Commu­ nication with and advice from supernatural deities—and in particular the need to place the utterly alien Spaniards within a comprehensible framework—partly explains, according to Todorov, why Mochtezuma did not decisively move against Cortés before he had recruited large numbers of indigenous allies, that is, why Mochtezuma initially displayed hesitance or ambivalence. Todorov claims that other aspects of Aztec culture—from highly ritualized


rules of battle to their cyclical view of time, in which the past was used to try to understand the present (i.e., the Spanish presence), likewise proved ineffective.

4. Disease. Europeans unwittingly brought with them to the New World pathogens, and in the process unleashed—possibly as early as Columbus’ second landing in Hispaniola in 1493 (Guerra 1988)—an unparalleled wave of pandemics and mass mortality (Lovell 1992b; Lovell and Lutz 1995; Cook 1998; Crosby 1985; Newson 1986, 1991, 1995). Germs and disease were powerful European allies:

Smallpox was the captain of the men of death in that war [the European Con­ quest], typhus fever the first lieutenant, and measles the secondary lieutenant. More terrible than the conquistadores on horseback, more deadly than sword or gunpowder, they made the conquest by the whites a walkover as compared to what it would have been without their aid. They were the forerunners of civi­ lization, the companions of Christianity, the friends of the invader. (Ashburn 1947:98, quoted in Joralemon 1982:112. Cite appears in Miller 2005:162-163)

“These killers,” as Crosby has aptly called them, “killed more effectively in the New [World], and the comparatively benign diseases of the Old World turned killer in the New” (1972:37). Striking populations without biological immunity, European-introduced dis­ eases such as smallpox, measles, chicken pox, influenza, whooping cough, and typhus rav­ aged indigenous peoples with extraordinary speed and viciousness, killing huge numbers. A feeling of what can only be described as terror probably gripped most (see In Their Own Words 4.1).

By contrast, noncontagious local diseases, such as malaria, were spread by mosqui­ toes and skin boring insects and did not equally afflict Europeans. Malaria, though, would partly account for the reluctance of many Europeans to settle in low-lying tropical areas (Gade 1979; Gade and Escobar 1982). Also, European pathogens struck, in a particularly brutal way, the young and the elderly, undermining the ability of local societies to repro­ duce over time. Further, mortality was probably exacerbated by indigenous beliefs and cus­ toms concerning the treatment of the sick and dying. If contemporary ethnography is but a glimpse of cultural responses to illness that might have been present 500 years ago, then responses such as surrounding the sick with family and kin (Bastien 1992) almost certainly enhanced the speed and effectiveness with which pathogens spread.

A sustained defense against Europeans was especially difficult when disease weak­ ened and killed off so many Incas, Aztecs, and their allies, and in doing so ravaged the empires’ key leadership. For example, Cuitlahua, who succeeded Mochtezuma after his death, was himself thereafter quickly struck down by smallpox. The colossal mortality and havoc caused by war and disease also led to food shortages and famine that profoundly weakened native resistance. Finally, and perhaps at a more profound level, mass sickness and death probably shattered Inca and Aztec resolve in sustaining a successful resistance.

The number of people who died within fifty years of the Conquest is astonishing, regardless of which estimates on the size of the indigenous population prior to 1492 even­ tually become accepted. How many people inhabited pre-Conquest Latin America and the Caribbean has been the subject of lively disputes among geographers, historians, and

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 83

IN THEIR OWN WORDS 4.1 Indigenous Views of the Conquest

Early colonial documents written by native elites— such as The Books of Chilam Balam, of the Yucatán peninsula—provide dramatic depictions into how the trauma of conquest might have been interpreted and felt by those whose world was turned upside down:

In those days all was good, and they (the gods) were struck down . . . There was no sin in those days . . . There was no sickness then, no pains in the bones, there was no fever for them, there was no small-pox, there was no burning in the chest. . . there was no wasting away . . . This is not what the white lords did when they came to our land. They taught fear and they withered the flowers . . . False are their kings, tyrants upon their thrones . . . Marauders by day, offenders by night, murderers of the world! . . . this was the beginning of begging, the cause of poverty out of which came secret discord, the

beginning of armed banditry, of sins committed, of looting, of enslave­ ment for debt, the beginning of the yoke of debts . . . the beginning of suffering … (Wachtel 1977:31-32)

The Annals of the Cakchiquels, from Guate­ mala, provides a glimpse into the terror and despair felt by those who faced epidemics and mass death:

First they became ill of a cough . . . It was truly terrible . . . Little by lit­ tle heavy shadows and black night enveloped our fathers . . . when the plague raged … great was the stench of the dead . . . After our fathers and grandfathers succumbed, half of the people fled to the fields. The dogs and the vultures devoured the bodies. The mortality was terrible … We were bom to die! (Burkhart and Gaseo 1996:129)

archaeologists, and estimates have ranged from twelve to more than one hundred million. More specific regional estimates are also instructive: the population of central Mexico (roughly the area under the control of the Aztecs) has been calculated at between ten and twenty-five million; in the Andean region as few as three and as many as twelve million people could have been present; in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (shared by present- day Haiti and the Dominican Republic), some estimates suggest more than one million inhabitants (Denevan 1992a; Lovell 1992b; Borah 1992; Wachtel 1977:86-98; Lovell and Lutz 1994).

Only a fraction of those present at the Conquest survived the ravages of war and epi­ demics, although these numbers, too, are controversial. Also unclear is the exact role that disease played in conjunction with other Conquest-related causes, such as war, disruption of native subsistence systems, or grueling work conditions imposed by Europeans. Never­ theless, most experts agree that about 90 percent of indigenous peoples perished, and that dozens (perhaps hundreds) of societies completely vanished (Casanueva 1991; Borah 1992; Cook 1998; Cook and Lovell 1991; Denevan 1992a; Dobyns 1993; Crosby 1985; Lovell and Lutz 1995). Some numbers are again illuminating: from a maximum of


twenty-five million in the Central Valley of Mexico, perhaps no more than one million were still alive by the late 1500s; in what is now Peru, which might have had nine million people in 1520, less than 600,000 may have been present one hundred years later; by about 1560, there were probably less than two million inhabitants in the entire Andean region of the twelve million prior to the Conquest.

The consequences of mass death and depopulation were far reaching and profound. Indigenous landscapes were greatly altered because local societies were unable to muster the labor needed to maintain fields and irrigation earthworks (see Chapter 2). Depopulation was also an important factor in colonial attempts to group together remnants of different peoples, which in turn spurred the emergence of new ethnic groups and cultures.

Many of the factors that enabled the Spaniards to overwhelm the Incas and Aztecs, such as military superiority, disease, and assistance from native allies, also proved useful against the Maya. However, subduing the Maya proved far more difficult (Clendenin 1987; Sharer 1994:731-748; Lovell 1992a:37-66). The Maya appear not to have hesitated, as did the Aztecs, to confront the Spaniards. Spanish expeditions had reached the Mesoamerican coasts that were under Aztec and Maya control as early as 1517 (some shipwrecked Spaniards had made their way to the Yucatán peninsula in 1511), and the first systematic drive against the Maya began several years later. Yet, it was not until 1696 that Spaniards vanquished Itzá (in Guatemala’s Petén region), the last stronghold of Maya resistance. One important factor that enabled some Maya to resist longer than other ethnic polities else­ where in the Andes and Mesoamerica was that they were divided into more than a dozen rival (and quarreling) polities, and therefore did not form part of a unified, overarching political structure. The absence of unambiguous and enduring splits or cleavages between the Maya city-states in turn meant that, unlike the experience in the Valley of Mexico, where Cortés counted on the unambiguous assistance of the Tlaxcalans, Spaniards confronting the Maya were incapable of mustering a powerful-enough alliance of city- states to their side.

The Columbian Exchange The European Conquest was much more than a military and political undertaking, and the ramifications of that endeavor were felt not only in the New World. Conquest linked two continents and two worlds not merely through the force of arms but also, and perhaps more importantly, through a two-way flow of plants and animals. It is this flow between and con­ sequences in both the New and Old Worlds that is known as the Columbian Exchange (Crosby 1972). See Chapter 9 for more details about the Columbian exchange.

The cultural, economic, and political consequences of the Columbian Exchange were enormous, connecting European and native Latin American societies in manifold, unpre­ dictable, and deeply irrevocable ways. Plants and animals that Europeans brought to the New World—such as wheat, sugarcane, bananas, olives, grapes, horses, chickens, goats, cattle, and pigs-—would, in a drastically transformed colonial context, profoundly alter indigenous societies. First successfully planted in the Caribbean, sugarcane thrived in trop­ ical and semitropieal soils. As European, but especially English, demand for refined sugar increasedin subsequent centuries (Mintz 1985b), sugarcane plantations (ingenios, Spanish; engenhos, Portuguese) spread relentlessly through the Caribbean and coastal areas in

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 85

Brazil, constituting a central pillar of the colonial economy. The spread of the plantation system centered on the cultivation of cane and its processing into sugar. This undertaking required vast amounts of labor that, given the post-Conquest demographic catastrophe and disappearance of most Caribbean native societies, spurred the coerced importation of millions of African slaves to the Caribbean and Brazil. In fact, many more African slaves ended up in the Caribbean than in the United States (Trouillot 1995:17). This slave trade left a lasting and deep imprint on the racial and cultural makeup of the region, especially in the Caribbean and Brazil (Andrews 2004).

Equally important in spurring cultural changes and decisively transforming indige­ nous societies were animals brought to the Americas. Cattle and sheep, for example, multi­ plied rapidly, especially in Mexico’s Central Plateau, the Venezuelan and Colombian Llanos, the Bolivian Altiplano, and Argentina’s Patagonia and Pampas. Horses were espe­ cially important, not only because they played such a crucial role in the European Con­ quest, but also because they multiplied rapidly in open temperate grasslands, such as in the Llanos of Colombia and the Pampas of Argentina, prompting the emergence of horse-based “cowboy” cultures analogous to those in the U.S. plains.

Native crops—manioc, beans, maize, potatoes, and chili peppers, for instance— also made their way to Europe, and in the process dramatically altered not only the diet but also the life chances and subsequent historical development of countless Europeans. Maize, for example, soon became an important crop in central Europe, although it was fed primarily to cattle. The potato—an Andean domesticate—was an especially crucial crop in the destinies of many European societies. When it first arrived in Europe, the potato was considered fit only for animal consumption. Yet, it eventually constituted a basic daily staple in countries such as Germany, Russia, and Ireland. In Ireland, espe­ cially, the potato would loom crucial: landlessness and poverty, coupled with a growing population and the ability of the potato to grow well in marginal soils, led most Irish peasants to not only plant but depend almost exclusively on this crop for their everyday subsistence. The overwhelming dependence on this crop was risky: the potato blight and ensuing crop failures between 1846 and 1849 eventually led to the death of at least one million Irish and spurred Irish mass migration to the United States at the turn of the nine­ teenth century (McNeill 1999).

The Colonial Period

The colonial period, which largely lasted from the Conquest until the early to mid­ nineteenth century, is important for understanding contemporary Latin American societies. It is during these 300 years of colonial rule that the basic structure of Latin American economies—such as the primary focus toward and dependence on the export of key com­ modities and crops for the world market, and the entrenchment of the great Latin American landed estates—coalesced (Stein and Stein 1970; Wolf and Hansen 1972; Galeano 1997[1973]; Bethell 1987). These economic transformations in mm profoundly shaped societies that survived the Conquest. The colonial period was also important because what the ruling colonial elite needed to administer and rule over conquered native populations led to a profound restructuring of indigenous societies and cultures.


Mechanisms of Rule Despite breaking mass rebellion by the late 1500s, Spaniards and Portuguese were nevertheless on decisively weak grounds, politically and economically: no more than sev­ eral thousand colonizers were spread over millions of square miles populated by millions of culturally and linguistically distinct “Indians”—a quintessential colonial construction. Fur­ ther, huge stretches of land, such as Amazonia, Pampas, Patagonia, and the Lesser Antilles, were populated by mobile and small-scale societies, which presented innumerable obsta­ cles to effective control and rule. In densely populated areas in Mesoamerica and the Andes, Spaniards were in a decisively weak position vis-à-vis ethnic leaders who mar­ shaled far more legitimacy, and Spaniards soon realized that alliances with these leaders were vital to consolidating colonial rule. For their part, native rulers and elites also stood much to gain by allying themselves with Europeans, so the entrenchment of colonial rule was also, in part, an indigenous creation (Service 1955; Gibson 1964, 1987; Stem 1982; Farriss 1984).

How to politically subjugate “Indians” and wrench from them the surpluses of labor, crops, and other goods essential to the colonial enterprise was perhaps the most important challenge for the new European rulers. Various means were deployed with varying success to consolidate and ensure colonial political, economic, and cultural control. This section centers on how five important mechanisms of rule profoundly altered indigenous societies during the colonial period and are still relevant in contemporary times. (1) establishment of encomiendas, repartimientos, and a variety of tribute obligations; (2) concentration of dispersed communities into urbanlike settlements; (3) expansion of the state bureaucracy; (4) reliance on indigenous elites as power and cultural brokers; and (5) public rituals and ceremonies.

Encomiendas, Repartimientos, and Tribute. Governing millions of culturally distinct peoples was a daunting challenge for European colonials. Spaniards overcame this difficulty in the early colonial period by awarding encomiendas to those Europeans who had partici­ pated in the Conquest. Essentially a spoil of war, an encomienda was a Spanish crown grant over indigenous labor, whereby “Indians” were entrusted and required to provide labor and tribute to an encomendero. The encomendero in turn pledged to the crown that he would ensure the Indians’ economic well-being and their conversion to Christianity (the latter was an important ideological justification for the Conquest). Encomiendas, which were first tried out in the Caribbean, were often coupled with a land grant called merced or composición (Lockhart 1969, 1992; Gutiérrez 1991:101-108). In the densely populated Andean and Mesoamerican regions, some encomenderos enjoyed the labor and tribute from thousands of households (Stem 1982; Lovell 1992a). Encomiendas were sometimes awarded over entire ethnic polities which, in a strange twist of fate, “helped Indians maintain their iden­ tity” in Guatemala and elsewhere (Smith 1990a: 14)..

The encomienda also served the political interests of the crown. It was useful for the colonial strategy of indirect rule—which had in so many ways also served the Incas and Aztecs—for encomenderos were directly responsible to the crown for the affairs of their encomiendas. Political and economic spearheads of the early colonial state, encomenderos administered their encomiendas through complex webs of reciprocal obligations and favors

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 87

forged with indigenous leaders. Such an arrangement in turn bolstered the position and status of indigenous leaders who, by securing favorable treatment and resources from colonials, enhanced their own legitimacy and moral authority vis-à-vis their communities, as well as social mobility (Spalding 1985). Yet, alarmed by the growing political power of the encomenderos, the difficulty of providing additional encomiendas, and the growing abuses of Indians by the encomenderos (the latter chronicled by the well-known Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas), the Spanish crown enacted (1542-1543) what came to be known as the New Laws, which “prohibited slavery of Indians, regulated the tribute that could be paid by Indians to their encomenderos, and, most important, forbade the granting of any new encomiendas and prohibited the inheritance of those already in existence” (Burkhart and Gaseo 1996a: 156).

Encomiendas were eventually replaced by repartimientos toward the end of the six­ teenth century. The term repartimiento comes from the Spanish verb repartir, to divide or redistribute. Through the repartimiento system, indigenous communities were grouped into administrative units (repartimientos) that provided labor to the state and other colonial elites, but under crown supervision. Forced labor was crucial in colonial thinking, “for it was widely held by the Spanish authorities that unless forced to work under such arrange­ ments, the natives, being inherently slothful, would lapse into corrupt vagabondage” (Lovell 1992a: 104). Repartimientos were assigned mandatory labor quotas which, in the Andes, were known as mitas, a term drawn from the Quechua mit’a (or turn), which expressed labor obligations provided to each other by Andean households and by ethnic polities to the Inca state.

Repartimiento labor was deployed to meet wide spectrum of needs. Some mitas were awarded for public works (such as maintaining highways), others to prominent colonials, who redeployed this labor on their own estates. Labor drafts were also assigned to the Catholic Church. The best known use of mita labor was that channeled to the great silver mines of Guanajuato in Mexico and Potosi in highland Bolivia, both major pillars of the colonial economy (Brading and Cross 1985; Bakewell 1987).

The extraction of labor and other tribute was fundamental to the colonial enter­ prise, but it would not work if indigenous societies could or would not produce wealth that could be appropriated by the colonizers. Above all, it was access to and appropria­ tion of labor that was the linchpin of the colonial economy and state. Yet, coerced labor was also a key mechanism of political and economic control, and an intrinsic experience of the everyday lives of indigenous societies and African slaves on sugar plantations. Many coercive labor practices in different guises and contexts survived well after the end of the colonial period and were a key grievance underlying popular revolts and rebellions up until recent times.

Reducciones. Disease, the ravages of Conquest, and pre-European settlement patterns meant that indigenous peoples were largely dispersed throughout the countryside and beyond the direct coercive control of Europeans. To consolidate its rule, the Spanish crown forcibly resettled indigenous peoples into villages, towns, and urban settlements sur­ rounded by cultivated fields through a policy known as reducciones, sometimes also called congregaciones (from the Spanish to “reduce” or “congregate”). At times, culturally homogenous peoples were grouped together but, when this did not happen, one important,


unintended consequence of this policy was to partially erase cultural differences and give rise to new ethnic identities. The policy of “reducing” indigenous peoples also enabled the colonial state and church to more effectively gather critical information on their new colonial subjects through censuses and administrative surveys, and therefore to enhance surveillance and control.

In frontier areas, missionaries often played a key role in reducing nomadic or semino- madic peoples into mission settlements. Missionaries and mission settlements performed an especially important task in consolidating colonial rule and in transforming local cul­ tures (Langer and Jackson 1995; Burkholder and Johnson 2004:116). Such was the case, for example, among the Pueblo in New Mexico:

At the missions the friars offered young men livestock, meat, and education in animal husbandry in return for baptism and obedience of God’s laws, just as the hunt chiefs before them had taught young men hunting techniques and hunt magic in return for com and meat payments . . . [E]ffective native hunt magic was always dependent on temporary sexual abstinence. This fact was not lost on the friars, who distributed livestock to men who promised to live monoga­ mously. In precolonial times seniors had enjoyed the most meat because jun­ iors were always indebted until they reached adulthood. Now obedient and pious junior men were the most favored by the friars. Thus in a few years, the introduction of European livestock eroded the hunt chief’s authority, dimin­ ished the importance of hunting in Pueblo society, and totally transformed the age hierarchy on which meat distribution and consumption were based. (Gutiérrez 1991:77)

Yet reducciones also had the unintended effect of providing conditions for ethnic and cultural survival. Reducciones eventually ushered in the emergence of indigenous munic­ ipalities (municipios’) or towns (pueblos, pueblos de Indios [Spanish] or aldeias [Por­ tuguese]) that eventually formed the core of “traditional” communities in Mesoamerica, the Andes, and other parts of Latin America. One important outcome of this process of state incorporation was to instill a strong sense of ethnic or cultural identification among many present-day Mayan or Quechua-speaking peoples to their municipalities, aylltis, or pueblos.

Expansion of the State Bureaucracy. One obvious way of ensuring control over con­ quered populations has been to extend the “reach” of the state by expanding its bureau­ cracy. During the colonial period, the ability of the state to “reach” most indigenous communities took hold only after administrative reforms in the 1560s. This reorganization had far-reaching consequences, especially in the heavily populated Mesoamerican and Andean hinterlands, and northern South America. One upshot was to expand the number and authority of local and regional political positions (such as the corregidor, corregidor de Indios, and alcaldes), with indigenous political organization modeled along the lines of the Spanish town government council (cabildo). Another important outcome was the emer­ gence in many (but perhaps not all) Mesoamerican communities of civil-religious cargo systems, especially in Mexico and Guatemala. These are explored further in Chapter 7.

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 89

Political reorganization was in turn facilitated by the policy of reducciones discussed previously and a restructuring of indigenous political systems that would more directly intersect with and enhance the effectiveness of the colonial bureaucracy. For example, “In Guatemala, corregimientos or alcaldías mayores were made up of varying numbers of pueblos de indios—Indian towns or congregaciones governed (usually from a distance) by a corregidor or alcalde mayor represented in each community by native alcaldes (mayors) and regidores (councillors)” (Lovell 1992a: 89). A similar structure was set up in the southern Peruvian Andes, where

a revamped indigenous power structure, dependent upon the state’s benevo­ lence for its tenure and privileges, would serve as local agents of the corregidor and the colonial regime. The major kurakas, who retained their chieftainships subject to the consent of the state, would have to share authority with new native officials. Within the corregimientos, the principal towns of the repar­ timiento districts would seat Indian cabildos modeled after the Spanish munic­ ipal councils. The Indian alcalde (mayor), and other cabildo officials, would together with the kurakas oversee local life and represent the natives before state authorities. (Stern 1982:93)

Many paraphernalia, and political positions and rituals, that emerged during the colonial period are still relevant today, having formed part of “traditional” culture. For example, in some Andean communities, staffs of authority—elaborately adorned staffs made out of silver that signaled colonial-era indigenous political leadership—are still an overt expres­ sion of local political authorities (Rappaport 1994; Rasnake 1988). Further, some contem­ porary rituals of rule (Beezley et al. 1994a) publicly display political subordination to representatives of the nation-state and legitimize its rule. One contemporary example that can be clearly traced back to the colonial period is the New Year’s procession of indigenous ayllu political leaders to local district headquarters in Pisaq, Peru (see Photo 4.1).

These are not mere examples of inert colonial “survivals” frozen in time—cultural practices with their original meanings unchanged that have little bearing on contemporary life—but, in fact, cultural artifacts of the colonial period that have been reinterpreted and culturally reframed to meet new challenges of the contemporary period. For example, authority staffs may have been one pathway through which colonial power structures oper­ ated, but in present-day southern Colombia, their use by indigenous groups, such as the Cumbe, is a powerful means through which the group is able to identify itself as “indige­ nous,” establish claims to such an identity that hark back to the colonial period, and thereby take advantage of the Colombian legal system that awards certain advantages to colonial- era indigenous peoples. In turn, this appropriation of history and the past to revitalize and sustain ethnic identity has served to thwart claims against the group’s communal lands by outsiders (Rappaport 1994).

Local Elites as Power and Cultural Brokers. Indigenous political leaders (generally called kurakas or caciques in Spanish colonial America) were a crucial linchpin in the colonial strategy of indirect rule. Politically and culturally important brokers at the commu­ nity level, it is they who first learned Spanish or Portuguese and adopted European values.


PHOTO 4.1 Ayllu Political Authorities, Pisaq, Peru.

It is they who early on learned to straddle both European and indigenous cultures—to serve as a cultural “bridge” between the European and native worlds—and it was largely through their strategic position that local cultures were transformed during the colonial period. These political leaders were drawn from pre-Conquest native elites, such as members or descen­ dants of Inca, Aztec, and Maya royal families. Many were often eager to ally themselves with and benefit from the European colonial project. It is from within their privileged ranks that these “Hispanicizcd,” or “acculturatcd Indians” (Stern 1982), played pivotal roles in the colonial political economy. They did so by participating in far-flung commercial networks, mobilizing labor on behalf of the colonial elites, or often shielding fellow community mem­ bers from census takers (and thereby enabling them to evade forced labor drafts).

Godparenthood (also called coparenthood; compadrazgo), a colonial cultural and religious ritual complex with deep European roots that quickly flourished in most of Latin America and the Caribbean, also sustained colonial rule. The core of this ritual was the sponsorship of an infant’s baptism—-or of a couple to be married—in the course of which the sponsors became godparents (padrinos, Spanish; padrinhos, Portuguese ) of their god­ children (ahijados, Spanish; afilhados, Portuguese ) and coparents (compadres) of the bap­ tized infant’s or the groom or bride’s parents.

This ritual, generating networks of fictive kin bound to each other through mutual rights and obligations, almost certainly had pre-Conquest analogues in many indigenous societies. Although this may partly account for the speed with which this custom became solidly entrenched in local cultures, another, more important reason had to with its intrinsic social malleability. It was compadrazgos capacity to continuously generate wider social networks and rights and obligations-—often between social unequals—in a seemingly

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 91

endless variety of contexts far removed from its original religious foundation that underpinned its popularity. As a result, compadrazgo ties thrived across the colonial class and ethnic spectrum—between, for example, indigenous and colonial elites, ethnic lords and community members, and estate owners and tenants. (An important exception, at least in Brazil, was the reluctance of plantation owners to establish such bonds with their slaves [Gudeman and Schwartz 1984].) By generating dense webs of reciprocal (although funda­ mentally unequal) obligations and relationships morally justified in religious and spiritual terms, godparenthood served well the needs of many and indirectly bolstered the legiti­ macy of the colonial order’s social and economic inequality. Compadrazgo is a key and vis­ ible feature of contemporary Latin America (Mintz and Wolf 1950; Deshon 1963; van den Berghe and van den Berghe 1966; Osborn 1968; Gudeman 1975; Chamey 1991).

Finally, indigenous elites also played a prominent role in writing (using the Spanish alphabet) accounts of local worlds prior to the Conquest, and in compiling native language dictionaries and grammars. The famous Yucatán Mayan Books of Chilam Balam, the Quiche Mayan Popol Vuh of the highlands of Guatemala, the “Letter to the King” by Guarnan Poma de Ayala, or the equally famous (and unique) Huarochiri manuscript of Peru, to take but a few examples—all of which continue to yield remarkable insights into pre-Conquest life ways and world view, and indigenous visions of the post-Conquest world—were written by or with the assistance of these indigenous elites (Salomon 1999; Sharer 1994:595-597). In their ambiguous and highly paradoxical position in the colonial social order, these Hispanicized elites also spearheaded rebellions that so often shattered the colonial world.

Rituals and Ceremonies. Beezley et al. (1994b) remind us that in addition to force and coercion, successful rule more often than not rests on a widespread acceptance of symbols and legitimacy of the existing social order. In the Spanish colonial world, sponsorship of secular and religious popular celebrations and public rituals often served as a key mecha­ nism through which colonial elites attempted to convey and instill widespread acceptance of Spanish values and key symbols, and therefore reinforce the social, cultural, and economic hierarchy on which the colonial order rested. Rituals such as Corpus Christi in colonial Mexico City, and a myriad of songs and dances, are examples of such attempts to legitimize colonial rule through public ceremonies (Curcio-Nagy 1994; Rivera Ayala 1994). (An important variant of these public rituals and ceremonies is Carnaval, examined in greater detail in Chapter 11.) Many religious celebrations and Catholic holidays at the village or parish level were organized and sponsored by religious brotherhoods or sodalities called cofradías, which were especially entrusted with carrying out celebrations venerat­ ing village saints. Although cofradías were fundamentally a colonial construction estab­ lished to “mediate between community and state” (Smith 1990a: 15), Wolf (1959:216) and Carrasco (1961) suggested years ago that they may have had some pre-Hispanic antecedents. Cofradías often accumulated significant resources (Lovell 1992a:l 13-115) and some were led by indigenous elites (Stem 1982:169). Parish clergy also had an impor­ tant stake in the cofradías, for these provided the parish with an important source of revenue (Rus and Wassertrom 1980:468). Far removed from centers of colonial control and densely populated indigenous areas, Catholic mission settlements often served similar goals (Langer and Jackson 1995). Cofradías still exist in some Mesoamcrican


communities ( Annis 1987:61-63). Further, cofradia members participate in the political­ religious cargo systems (a product of the colonial period as well), which also have the goal of sponsoring celebrations to village saints (see Chapter 7).

Pillars of the Colonial Economy: Haciendas, Plantations, and Mines Haciendas, plantations, and mines were at the heart of the colonial economy, and all deeply structured the subsequent economic, social, and cultural history of Latin American and Caribbean societies. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine the history of Cuba, Jamaica, or Haiti without sugar, plantations, and slavery, or understand the cultural development of Mesoamerica or the Andes without acknowledging how landed estates competed with Indian communities for land and labor. The spread of huge estates in the southern Pampas and Patagonia was partly a result of the natural landscapes that proved amenable to cattle and sheep grazing, but was also due to the difficulties that European colonizers encoun­ tered in subjugating seminomadic societies and appropriating their labor.

Haciendas. The possibility of quickly becoming wealthy and returning to Europe after the Conquest was dashed early on once it became clear that not enough gold or other pre­ cious minerals could be found. Hence, most Europeans opted for settling and availing themselves of two key resources that they could exploit and that would hopefully enable them to achieve a lifestyle far beyond that which they could aspire to in Europe: labor and land. The landed estate (hacienda, Spanish; fazenda, Portuguese) early emerged as a key social, cultural, and economic institution throughout vast parts of Latin America. Its zenith nevertheless occured after independence, and particularly in the course of attempts by liberally-minded national governments to transform indigenous peasants into small-scale, independent, yeoman-like farmers analogous to those in the United States (Wolf and Hansen 1972:145-150; Wolf and Mintz 1957; Taylor 1974).

Some haciendas surfaced early in the colonial period, but scholars disagree on the mechanisms that ushered in their emergence. Some studies have suggested that haciendas emerged directly out of the encomienda system, while others have noted the appearance of haciendas in underpopulated regions devoid of encomiendas (Wolf and Mintz 1957; Mömer 1973; Taylor 1974; Schwartz 1978). Most scholars nevertheless agree that some sort of functional relationship existed between encomiendas and the emergence of many haciendas. For example, many haciendas emerged within or near indigenous communities, and the labor systems that typically emerged in them were strikingly similar to those that characterized encomiendas (Larson 1988b).

Haciendas were of different kinds: some were relatively small, no more than several hundred hectares, while others were huge, consisting of hundreds of thousands of hectares; some specialized in the production of key crops—coffee or sugar, for example—while oth­ ers had a much wider productive base; some produced goods for local markets while many others satisfied the consumption needs of far-flung economic poles, such as mines; some haciendas drew their labor from nearby communities, while others essentially engulfed entire indigenous communities. A slightly different variant of the agro-pastoral haciendas was the cattle and sheep ranches (estancias, Spanish) that emerged especially in Argentina

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 93

and Uruguay, and which formed the productive context within which the famous “gaucho” cowboy culture emerged. Estancias are still an important and prominent feature of the economic and cultural landscapes of Argentina and Uruguay.

Despite these differences, most haciendas had at least three common characteristics. First, they had relatively low levels of technology and capital investments, which limited productivity. This partly explains why many supplied goods to local markets. Second, the bulk of their labor was provided by a dependent and indigenous workforce that spent most of its time working the lands of the hacienda owner (hacendado, Spanish; fazendeiro, Portuguese). This workforce was neither primarily slave nor fully proletarian, for most laborers were granted their own plots of land within haciendas in exchange for their work on estate lands, while others had some sort of access to land in their home communities. Third, in addition to providing labor, tenants were also obligated through a variety of exploitative relationships to provide a wide span of tribute payments (such as a percentage of crops harvested on their own land plots, or a percentage of domestic or grazing animals) to the estate owner. Many were also indebted to estate owners and bound to them through debt peonage and patron-client relationships. The origins of this dependent labor force were various: for example, many indigenous peoples simply lost their lands and independ­ ent livelihood as haciendas coercively engulfed Indian communities; others, fleeing the dreaded mining labor drafts, simply abandoned their home communities and “freely” decided to become resident estate tenants.

The profoundly unequal and exploitative economic, political, and social relationships of the hacienda system constituted defining characteristics of the rural worlds of most Latin American peoples until recent times. These hierarchical relationships also accounted for the landlessness and profound inequality in access to land that underpinned the Mexican and Bolivian Revolutions of 1910 and 1952, and they also were at the core of griev­ ances, political instability, and massive violence in Central America decades after these revolutions.

Plantations and Slavery. Plantations were a particular kind of landed estate, the arche­ type of which was the sugar plantation that played such a prominent role in the history and culture of coastal Brazil, the Caribbean islands, and Central American coastal areas. The typical (sugar) plantation differed from the agro-pastoral hacienda in at least three ways. First, plantations typically required higher levels of capital and technological investments, especially in machinery needed for the grinding and initial processing of sugarcane. As Mintz ( 1996a:295) reminds us, “These technical features .. . introduced more than just an aura of industrial modernity into what were operations which predated, in many cases by whole centuries, the Industrial Revolution.” Second, quite unlike the typical hacienda, the plantations’ resident labor force consisted primarily of either slaves or full-time wage laborers. Third, plantations produced commodities, such as semi-refined sugar, molasses, and rum, that were primarily geared toward European markets. These characteristics mark plantations as quasi-agricultural factories producing for and primarily oriented to the world market (Wolf and Mintz 1957; Mintz 1985a; Ortiz 1970; Moreno Fraginals 1976).

Spaniards were the first to plant sugarcane in the Caribbean, doing so by the early six­ teenth century. Yet, it was the Portuguese who, taking advantage of their African colonies (especially Angola), took the lead in establishing large-scale plantations staffed by increasing


numbers of African slaves, especially along the Brazilian coastal areas of Pernambuco and Bahia (Klein 1986; Burkholder and Johnson 2004:132-139; Schwartz 1987). In fact, it was not until the mid- to late-eighteenth century that most Caribbean island coastal areas were transformed into vast plantations worked by a predominantly slave population that provided sugar and its byproducts for an expanding urban working class in Britain and other European countries, and therefore drew Africans, Europeans, and Latin American and Caribbean peo­ ples into global webs of economic, political, social, and cultural relationships (Mintz 1985b). In Puerto Rico, sugar plantation agriculture reached its peak in terms of capital investment, efficiency, and technological innovations after the U.S. annexation of 1898 and the massive inflow of capital from major U.S. corporations (Ayala 1999; Dietz 1986).

The expansion of sugarcane plantations went hand in hand with the intensification of the African slave trade. Between 1551 and 1810, almost one million Africans were enslaved and shipped to Spanish America, most to the Caribbean. During that same period, almost two million slaves reached Brazil (Burkholder and Johnson 2004:134). Hundreds of thou­ sands of others (and perhaps as many as one million) were eventually shipped to the English and French colonies of Jamaica, Saint-Domingue, and Martinique. More African slaves eventually reached the tiny island of Martinique—less than one-fourth the size of New York City s Long Island—than the United States (Trouillot 1995:17). In fact, ten times as many African slaves reached the Spanish and Portuguese colonies than the United States, and more than one hundred million people of African decent currently live in Latin Amer­ ica and the Caribbean—three times as many as in the United States (Andrews 1994:363).

African slaves—legally no more than chattel—faced extraordinary levels of mortality and unimaginably difficult, grinding, and cruel labor conditions. Small wonder that a priest wrote from the Brazilian city of Bahia in 1627 that “A sugar mill is hell and all the masters of them are damned” ( Schwartz 1987:67). Yet, slaves were able to carve out a degree of auton­ omy, a scope of “freedom” in their everyday lives far removed from the gaze and surveil­ lance of plantation masters (Mintz 1996b; see Chapter 9 for a further discussion of the role of slaves in food preparation and cuisine). As such, they creatively forged novel and lasting Afro-Latin and Afro-Brazilian traditions based on an amalgam of African, indigenous Latin American, and European cultural elements. These lasting contributions in religion and rit­ ual, dance and music, and popular celebrations arc examined in subsequent chapters.

Mines. Mining, especially silver mining in Mexico and Bolivia, was the second most important pillar of the colonial economy and royal coffers. The production and export of silver linked vast territories and peoples into complex fields of regional relationships by spurring the production of agricultural and other goods to supply the mines and the grow­ ing mining populations (Bakewcll 1987; Larson 1988b; Larson and Harris 1995). Silver and later tin mining would especially consolidate Bolivia’s position as an exporter of raw commodities, serve as a powerful symbol of dependency and exploitation, and, as such, be an important catalyst of the 1952 revolution and subsequent nationalization of the mining industry (Barrios de Chungara 1978; Dunkerley 1984; Nash 1992).

Early attempts to supply mines with African slave labor proved unsuccessful because most Africans eventually died off, and it was the forced labor drafts that supplied most mines with their laborers during the early colonial period. Eventually, though, most mine workers would be drawn from members of indigenous communities who, by trying to

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 95

avoid the mita, eventually opted for settling in the mines as “free” wage earners and discarding their identity as “Indians.” That this process went hand in hand with an acceler­ ated decline of the Indian population registered in colonial censuses does not indicate the sudden shedding of indigenous culture and the uncritical adoption of “Spanish” values and norms. Rather than resulting in a process of cultural loss or displacement, the centurics- long process of adaptation to mine work ushered in the emergence of culturally distinctive and oppositional cultures in, for example, Bolivian and Chilean mining communities (Nash 1979; Klubock 1997).

Resisting the Colonial Order The formal end of the Conquest, and the progressive entrenchment of the colonial system and its mechanisms of rule and exploitation, entailed anything but an acceptance of the legitimacy of the new social order—ever so tenuous in vast reaches of Latin America and the Caribbean. Members of indigenous and slave communities rejected colonialism and the plans that colonizers had for them in many ways, and how they contested the colonial order had profound effects. Resistance to colonial rule largely took two forms: (1) outright, organized rebellions and (2) more evasive, “everyday forms” of resistance.

Rebellions. The colonial period was sprinkled with many instances of rebellion against colonial rule. Most were highly localized—taking place in specific haciendas or plantations—some were more regional, and most were brutally suppressed. Some revolts had a wide geographic scope, entailed a wide participation of a cross-section of indigenous and/or slave communities, and represented a very serious threat to the colonial order. In order to explore what these rebellions reveal about indigenous (and slave) societies and cul­ tures, and also some of their long-term consequences, this section focuses on three exam­ ples of these latter, mass rebellions that signaled a major breakdown of European colonial rule and legitimacy: (1) the Pan-Andean rebellions of the late 1700s, (2) the Yucatán Caste War of 1847, and (3) the Haitian slave revolt of the late 1700s.

1. The Andean Rebellions (Thompson 2002; Stem 1987a; Szeminski 1987). During the eighteenth century, waves of rebellions struck the Andean region, threatening the stabil­ ity of Spanish governance. Of the one hundred revolts between 1720 and 1790, two stand out: the 1742-1752 insurgency in the eastern Andean slopes, and the massive insurrection in 1780-1782. The latter culminated in the 1781 siege of La Paz (Bolivia), which royal troops from Buenos Aires helped to break.

The rebellions bear several interesting resemblances, a brief examination of which per­ mits a glimpse of Andean and indigenous society in the latter part of the colonial period. The vast number who rebelled were common, poor Andeans, many of them peasants, from a wide spectrum of ethnic, racial, cultural, and economic backgrounds. Further, key leaders were often wealthy, elite Andeans, many of whom had profited enormously from the colo­ nial economy. For example, Juan Santos Atahualpa, the leader of the 1742-1752 revolt, claimed to be a direct descendant of Atahualpa, who was captured at Cajamarca by Pizarro. Two centuries after the Conquest, the Andean world was deeply divided by class and privi­ lege, and anything but culturally or socially homogenous.


Culturally and socially, leaders of these rebellions straddled both the largely indigenous Andean and the Hispanic worlds. As such, their worldview was powerfully shaped by Spanish ideas and concepts, reflecting the extent and depth to which the colonial order had made a deep cultural imprint. For example, Juan Santos Atahualpa, who was literate and Jesuit- educated, claimed that he was leading a drive for the return of a redemptive Inca king, a claim and goal that he believed had the full support of (the Christian) God. Likewise, Tupac Katari, a key insurrectionist leader during the 1781 siege of La Paz, is said to have attended mass each day, celebrated by captive clergy. These examples illustrate not only how deeply entrenched in Andean culture Catholic deities had become but also how they were politi­ cally and ideologically mustered and refashioned by Andean rebels to legitimize their cause.

The insurrections were spurred by colonial economic policies tirat impoverished large numbers of nonelite Andeans, including many local leaders. One of the most notorious of these policies was the forced sale of goods (repartimiento de mercancías, sometimes just called reparto) which were, incidentally, not limited to the Andean region. The rebellions were also flamed by attempts of the colonial state to directly meddle in the internal politics of local communities, and undermine the political position and legitimacy of local leaders (caciques, kurakas) and their privileged status within their communities.

The Andean insurrections ultimately failed to accomplish their leaders’ goals. This was only partly because the colonial state was politically and militarily stronger. Equally impor­ tant was that profound economic and social divisions riddled Andean communities. Their leaders especially were culturally in a somewhat ambiguous, almost paradoxical position, having to rationalize revolt against the colonial order by simultaneously drawing on ideas and concepts from the colonial cultural world. A united economic, cultural, and social stand against the colonial state was difficult indeed.

2. The Yucatán Caste War (Reed 2001 ; MacLeod 2000:24-25; Jones 2000:374-379). This conflict, centered primarily in the Yucatán peninsula, began in 1847 and ended in 1901—but not before hundreds of thousands had died. It was brought about by the expan­ sion of cattle ranches and sugar and henequen plantations (henequen is a cactus plant, the fiber of which was used to make rope or twine). Also important were attempts by non-Maya Mexican elites to undermine access to communal land and water supplies, policies that destabilized the political position and legitimacy of Maya elites and marginalized large sec­ tors of the (predominantly Mayan-speaking) Yucatán. Although this half-century long con­ flict occurred after Mexican independence, many policies that sparked it had their roots in the colonial period and worked against non-Maya elites, who had sought to consolidate their own economic and political power independently of the central government in Mexico City, and who would also fight, alongside Maya peoples, against the Mexican army. Hence, although Mayan-speaking peoples were key protagonists of this struggle (and were the ones to suffer the most), the Caste War was not solely an ethnic conflict between Mayas and non-Mayas—the “Whites,” “Mestizos,” or “Ladinos” (see Chapter 5).

Like Andean indigenous peoples during the 1780-1782 uprising, Maya loyalties were deeply divided: some fought against the Mexican army while others fought alongside it, and some leaders (batab) fought against some members of the Yucatán non-Maya elites while others did not. Political factionalism and ethnic cleavages worked against the forging of a common ground against a mutual enemy. (The lack of clear-cut cleavages and

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 97

unambiguous loyalties was also an important dimension of the Guatemalan civil war that racked the Maya highlands in the 1980s.) Maya leaders, like their Andean counterparts more than a century earlier, were often drawn from the literate, elite members of Maya society. As a result, they stood in a culturally ambiguous position between indigenous and non-Maya worlds, and they often legitimized their rebellion by drawing on various cultural repertoires, including the Catholic religion. For example, just before his execution, one captured rebel leader justified his actions by alluding to both The Book of Chilam Balam— a post-Conquest narrative written by Maya elites—and the word of Jesus Christ. Another poignant example of how an amalgam of pre- and post-Conquest religious ideologies sur­ faced among the Maya was the widespread deployment of the wooden cross—the Cult of the Talking Cross—through which “Christ” and the “Father” spoke to and guided rebel leaders. And there are examples of Maya rebels interrupting their offensive operations to take part in village religious celebrations, clearly indicating the extent to which popular Catholicism had become solidly entrenched in Maya culture.

3. Haiti’s Slave Revolution (Trouillot 1995). The westernmost part of the island of Hispaniola was governed by a tiny French and French-speaking Creole elite. Teeming with highly profitable sugar plantations worked by enormous numbers of African slaves, by the late eighteenth century Saint-Domingue was France’s most important colonial possession in the Americas. What began in 1791 as a local revolt in the northern part of the colony quickly mushroomed into waves of rebellions that successfully fought off French planters and drove French armies almost literally to the sea. In fact, in Saint-Domingue Napoleon lost more troops and generals than at the famous battle of Waterloo against the British. The importance attached to and knowledge of this extraordinary historic event has generally been downplayed in North American history books—in what the anthropologist Michel- Rolph Trouillot (1995) has called a “silencing” of Haitian and slave history.

The Haitian case is the only example of a truly successful African slave rebellion in the Americas, and it led to the first independent nation-state in Latin America. What is also strik­ ing about the Haitian revolution is that those who rose up against the French were far from a homogenous population. Indeed, rebels were deeply divided along a number of cleavages: black freemen versus slaves; racially-mixed (i.e., mulattoes) versus blacks, and Creole slaves (those bom in the colony) versus African-born slaves (congos or bossales). Because of eth­ nic, cultural and linguistic cleavages, some fought against while others sided with the French.

Evasive, “Everyday” Forms of Resistance. Resistance to colonial rule was more often less dramatic, overt, and confrontational. The idea of evasive, everyday forms of resis­ tance is based on the work of Scott (1976,1985,1990), who has suggested that mass, pub­ lic, overtly confrontational challenges to colonial rule have been, historically and cross-culturally, rare given the ability of states and elites to ruthlessly suppress them. Far more common, claims Scott, have been less open, frontal challenges that question the legit­ imacy of the colonial order, attempt to interfere with the normal functioning of mecha­ nisms of exploitation and rule, and that, precisely because they are less open and public, leave their participants less vulnerable to repression. One important idea of Scott’s work— which has had an exceptional impact in cultural anthropology, history, and related disciplines—is that colonial rule and control is never totally absolute and all-encompassing, that subjugated peoples have some degree of autonomy and “space” within which they


maneuver, and that ways of resisting colonial rule are often entrenched in everyday lives, rou­ tines, and cultures (Comaroff and Comaroff 1992; Dirks 1992,2001; Cooper and Stoler 1997),

The Latin American experience provides many examples of such everyday resistance to colonial rule. One was to take advantage of and work within the colonial legal system that, although predicated on a fundamental inequality between conquerors and conquered, nevertheless provided indigenous communities—-but not slaves—with some basic legal rights. For example, within a few decades after the Conquest, indigenous communities in what is now the region of Ayacucho, Peru, had become skilled at maneuvering their way through the Spanish legal system and adept at using lawsuits and appeals to stall colonial initiatives and policies. The ability of Andean communities to evade and undermine labor drafts to mining districts provides yet another example: because only those legally classed as “Indians” could be subjected to the mita, indigenous peoples relied on many ways to avoid being legally classed as “Indians” in colonial censuses. Gradually, the colonial state faced increasing difficulties in providing a reliable workforce at the mines and production waned. Because the colonial state imposed tax on the amount of sil ver produced, royal cof­ fers suffered as well. The formal abolition of the state mita was largely a result of these ingenious strategies employed by Andean peoples (Stem 1982; Evans 1990; Wightman 1990; Tandetcr 1991; Powers 1995; Żuławski 1995; Murra 1998).

A strikingly analogous example of working within the judicial system can be observed in contemporary southern Colombia. There, the Cumbe have a long trajectory of relying on written documents—many from the colonial period—to claim and retain their identity as “Indians” (indígenas). These documents enable them to take advantage of the Colombian constitution, which guarantees certain rights, especially over communal land, to those who can demonstrate such an identity harking back to the colonial period. Knowledge of judicial codes and documents has in turn encouraged a literary tradition—an importance attached to the written word—that has often aided the Cumbe to resist attempts by non-indigenous elites to appropriate their communal lands ( Rappaport 1994).

Another way to resist colonial rule was to simply flee to vast stretches of unexplored, difficult-to-reach areas well outside the surveillance and effective reach of colonial officials (see also the discussion of “maroon” societies in the following section on Ethnogenesis). For example, the heavily forested Petén region southeast of the Yucatán peninsula often provided a temporary haven for many Mayan-speaking peoples, many of whom were still being referred to as “Wild Indians” during the eighteenth century (Schwartz 1990:33—46). Further south. Cakchiquel Mayas fled to isolated mountain areas and ravines to avoid trib­ ute and labor obligations, forming dispersed settlements that Spaniards called pajuides, from the Cakchiquel term pajiiyu, which meant “in the hills” (Hill II 1992:121-123). Quechua- and Aymara-speaking peoples likewise evaded the dreaded labor drafts to the mines by fleeing to urban areas, isolated semitropical regions in the eastern flanks of the Andean mountains, or to agro-pastoral haciendas, where they swelled the ranks of tenant laborers (Larson 1988b; Larson and Harris 1995).

Although fleeing was a tactic employed by many, it was an especially important strat­ egy for African slaves who, unlike their indigenous contemporaries, had no legal rights. And although even under extreme hardship many slaves appear to have retained some autonomy over their lives, especially in the realm of food and cuisine (Mintz 1996b)—an important point more fully discussed in Chapter 9—many of them opted for an entirely

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 99

different way of life. Remote and forested areas in the Lesser Antilles and the Central American and northern South American coastlines, especially in Belize, Honduras, Suri­ name, and the Guianas, gave many the opportunity to escape colonial surveillance and pro­ vided a haven from and an alternative to slavery—and to forge new forms of ethnic consciousness that have persisted until the present.


In recent years, anthropologists have increasingly focused on ethnogenesis, that is, “histor­ ical processes of ethnic formation” (Whitehead 1996b:20) or “the rapid formation of entirely new societies and cultures when individuals of diverse backgrounds are suddenly thrown together by fate andforcedto create societies afresh” (Bilby 1996:119). Ethnogene­ sis is a concept “encompassing peoples’… cultural and political struggles to create endur­ ing identities in general contexts of radical change and discontinuity” (Hill 1996:1).

Ethnogenesis is hardly the sole outcome of European colonialism, because the emer­ gence of new ethnic identities is part of the cultural history of any region. For example, the major upheavals spurred by the spread of the Inca and Aztec empires almost certainly resulted in multiple instances of ethnogenesis, and historical and ethnohistorical research suggests analogous processes at work deep in Amazonia prior to the European presence (Whitehead 1994). Nevertheless, the bulk of current research on Latin American and Caribbean ethnogenesis relates it to the tremendous effects of the European Conquest. That many anthropologists focus on how Europeans (often unwittingly) contributed to ethno­ genesis stems partly from the availability of historical records and accounts produced by Europeans themselves, and partly from the fact that “Many of these new societies owe their existence to the major upheavals and displacements of persons associated with European conquest and expansion during the last five centuries, with the African slave trade playing a particularly prominent role” (Bilby 1996:119).

How European administrators, explorers, and missionaries spurred ethnogenesis var­ ied considerably in time and place (Hulme and Whitehead 1992). Among indigenous groups in ethnically diverse Suriname, “The range of ethnic self-ascription increasingly narrowed into either Carib or Arawak identities” (Whitehead 1996b:21), because of how Dutch and English rivals categorized indigenous allies who they recruited to their cause. Elsewhere, European trade spurred the coalescence of new identities in northern South America:

[C]lose historical investigation of Carib origins strongly suggests that the regional dominance achieved by their chieftains by the mid seventeenth cen­ tury, a key moment in the creation of modern Carib ethnicity, was based, in economic terms, on their redistribution of European goods in the Orinoco Basin and the Guayana uplands. (Whitehead 1994:42)

Other processes were also at work. In Amazonia, one response to depopulation

was for a number of tribes.. .to merge. The ethnologist Franz Caspar (1956:221) lived for a while among the Tupari tribe and was told by them that “in the days of their grandfathers and great-grandfathers several small tribes had merged.


Of every man and every women Topto was able to say without hesitation of what extraction they were. There was only one man left out of each of the ‘Vaikorotá’, ‘Aumeh’ and ‘Mcnsiató’ tribes. Five were real ‘Tupan.’ All the rest… were ‘Vakarau’… Even the present language of the tribe, he said, was not the old Tupari, for the minorities had adopted the language of the Vakarau.” (Dixon and Aikhennvald 1999:5-6)

A good example of ethnogenesis is the emergence of maroon societies forged through an amalgam of African, indigenous, and sometimes European cultures (Price 1979). The Eng­ lish term maroon comes from the French marronage, in turn borrowed from the Spanish cimarronaje, which primarily referred to cimarrones, or runaway slaves who forged new lives relatively free of European colonial control (Mintz 1996a:302). Free slave communi­ ties formed by runaway slaves were called palenques in some Spanish-speaking regions and quilombos (originally an Angolan African term) or macambos in Portuguese Brazil. Landers (2004) notes that Spanish complaints about runaway slaves date to as early as 1503 in Hispaniola, reminds readers that maroon societies were also present in Spanish posses­ sions in what is now part of the United States, and that many of their members allied them­ selves with North American Indian tribes.

In Brazil, one of the best known, enduring, and powerful maroon societies was Palmares in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. Palmares, comprised of various settle­ ments primarily populated by runaway slaves as early as the late sixteenth century, was finally defeated by the Portuguese in 1694. One diary of an expedition against Palmares drew attention to streets six feet wide and more than 200 buildings, including a church (Anderson 1996:551). In eastern Cuba, some palenque communities remained relatively free of colonial control for almost 200 years (La Rosa Corzo 2003).

In the Caribbean and Central America, the best examples of maroon societies are the Black Carib, a term denoting a wide spectrum of groups from the Lesser Antilles to the Central American and northern South American coastlines that emerged out of the fusion of runaway African slaves and Carib-speaking indigenous groups. Although virtually all larger and sedentary Arawak-speaking indigenous societies in the Greater Antilles perished within a few decades of the Conquest, many mobile Carib-speaking groups in the smaller and scattered Lesser Antilles not only survived but actively resisted European encroach­ ments well into the eighteenth century (Solien 1971; Basso 1977). In 1796, the Black Caribs in St. Vincent and Dominica surrendered to the British, thus ending the last vestige of indigenous resistance to European colonial rule in the Caribbean. The British then deported the Blacks Caribs to Honduras, and many eventually made their way to Central America (Hulme 1986:227-263; González 1988, 1997).

The process of ethnogenesis that ushered in maroon societies during the colonial period is still relevant in contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean—underscoring how memory and the past anchor the present. For example, in Venezuela,

when invoking the concept of cimarronaje today, the Afro-Venezuelan refers not merely to past history but to a living tradition still determined to resist the domination of a European ruling class. It recognizes that Black Venezuelans remain marginalized, economically oppressed citizens … (Guss 1996:184)

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 101

Further, many maroon groups that maintain their own ethnic identity are scattered through­ out Latin America and the Caribbean. In northeastern Venezuela, the (now Spanish­ speaking) Aripaeño trace their roots to African slaves who escaped from Dutch plantations in Suriname during the mid-eighteenth century. An important component of Aripaeño identity is historical lore that recounts the exodus from Dutch plantations, a central feature of which

entails Pantera Negra, the offspring of an upper-class Dutch white woman and a black slave foreman who worked at the Dutch colonial plantation owned by the father of Pantera Negra’s mother. Upon the couple’s discovery of the preg­ nancy, they fled in the company of other blacks from the plantation and settled in the Caura region … Pantera Negra was born during this journey to freedom or grand marronnage. Upon the death of her parents, Pantera Negra became the ruler of . . . the maroon community founded by her father . . . Pantera Negra . . . demarcates and permeates Aripaeño’s ancestral territory with mythic . . . features that are grounded in historical events and that serve as important markers of their heritage and identity. (Pérez 2003:88)’

In contemporary Suriname the Ndyukua—numbering more than 20,000—arc one of the two largest maroon groups. Not far from the Colombian port city of Cartagena is Palenque de San Basilio, with a distinctive Spanish-based creole language. Between Suriname and French Guiana lie the Aluku and other groups. The emergence of an African-based reli­ gious system was (and has been) crucial for the preservation of a distinct maroon identity. Music has played an equally important role. Indeed, one of the most famous reggae bands—the Wailing Roots—are in fact Alukus (Bilby 2000; see Chapter 11 for further dis­ cussion of reggae music). When in the middle of the seventeenth century Jamaica—then a Spanish colony—fell to the British, many African slaves fled to the interior Blue Moun­ tains. Over the course of time, they intermingled with other Africans fresh from the slave trade, as well as with Creole-born slaves. The result of this cultural miscegenation was the emergence of “the Windward and Leeward Maroons [who] have maintained separate iden­ tities until today” (Bilby 1996:122).

The Garifuna, who trace their origins to the Black Caribs, are some of the ethno- graphically better-known maroon groups (see Photo 4.2).

In present-day Honduras, the Garifuna “identify with blackness and Black culture, but also perceive themselves as more authentic in comparison to other groups since they have managed to preserve their language and unique customs” (Kirtsoglou and Theodos- sopoulos 2004:137). More importantly, by continuing to speak the Garifuna language, per­ forming musical and dance traditions with clearly African roots, and keeping alive oral lore pointing to their original diasporic experience, the Garifuna perceive themselves as quite different from Spanish-speaking Hondurans. Rust (2001) accompanies her brief sketch of contemporary Garifuna in Honduras with maps and photos. Kerns (1997) has underscored the important role of women in religion and ritual among the Garifuna of Belize. As in the case with many other Latin American and Caribbean peoples, contemporary Garifuna cul­ ture is being shaped by migration to the United States and the mass media. For example, Los Angeles is the destination of many Garifuna migrants, and the availability in Belize of

102 chapter 4

PHOTO 4.2 The dance group Nueva Estrella celebrates the 202th anniversary of the arrival of the black community, called Garifunas, from the Caribbean to Honduras, with a performance at Tegucigalpa s Central Park. Honduras.

United States cable programming is having a significant impact on youths and teenagers, many of whom “listen to American rap music along with their own punta rock, wear the baggy jeans and shirts favoured by U.S. hip-hop artists and, it seems, anything else they can find emblazoned with the logos of companies like Nike and Tommy Hilfiger” (Matthei and Smith 2004:278).

Colonial Legacies, Independence, and the Coalescence of Nation-States

The end of the colonial period began in 1804 with the independence of Haiti from France. During the next two decades, most Latin American countries achieved their formal political independence; some in the Caribbean have yet to do so.

The long colonial period left a deep and lasting political, economic, social, and cultural imprint, so much so that many seemingly “traditional” facets of Latin American culture—from religious beliefs to gender relations to ways of organizing into family or kin units—are largely a product, an aftermath, of the Conquest and the colonial period. This heritage was not fundamentally altered by the nineteenth century wars of independence and the formation of modem Latin American nati on-states.

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 103

Independence was of course important to most (nonelite) Latin Americans: many indigenous peoples and African slaves fought and died for independence, although scholars still dispute why they did so. And independence, to be sure, had sweeping impacts on Latin American peoples. For example, the decades following independence witnessed concerted drives by Creole elites to more effectively govern and extract resources from their largely rural populations. These attempts often translated into policies that further stimulated the expansion of haciendas, plantations, and cattle ranches, and the growth of large populations of dependent laborers. These efforts were also paralleled by policies that aimed at under­ mining the economic autonomy of peasant communities by, for example, attacking the foundations of communally-owned lands, or by stimulating the growth of economic enclaves geared toward the production of commodities for the world market.

Yet, the cultures of many societies and social groups that were forged during the colo­ nial period and that cultural anthropologists began systematically studying and document­ ing in the 1930s and 1940s, are strikingly analogous to those of the colonial period. Indeed, a colonial-era Nahuatl- or Maya-speaking peasant in Mesoamerica attending a contempo­ rary celebration of the Days of the Dead (see Chapter 7) would find a great deal of resemblance to how this celebration was practiced in his/her time; an Aymara- or Quechua­ speaking Andean peasant in southern Bolivia 300 years ago would recognize and understand many rituals that punctuate the agricultural cycle today; 200 years ago, Quechua-speaking peasants in Pisaq, Peru, would understand the “rituals of rule” performed today at the begin­ ning of the New Year (see Photo 4.1); and indigenous Amazonians centuries ago would fully comprehend the importance of using hallucinogens during contemporary healing practices (see Chapter 8).

What are some colonial legacies that are especially important for understanding the contemporary cultural anthropology of Latin American societies (Wolf and Hansen 1972; Stem 1982; Mallon 1992,1995; Thumer 1997; Burkholder and Johnson 2004:349-390)?

1. Emergence of syncretic cultures. One important and enduring legacy is the emer­ gence of syncretic cultures, blending elements of European, indigenous pre-Hispanic, and/or African ways of life in manifold ways. This creative amalgam of old and new—the result of a need and struggle to make sense of and forge new and meaningful life ways in the post-Conquest period—in fact lies at the root of much of the so-called “traditional” con­ temporary Latin American culture. There is not one aspect of the contemporary cultures of any Latin American society that has not been heavily inflected by the colonial experience.

2. Enclave economies. In virtually all Latin American countries, an economic system emerged that was marked by a small number of tiny enclaves of capital intensive and/or export oriented industries. These enclaves were deeply connected to and often surrounded by vast hinterlands settled by culturally distinct small-scale agriculturalists (peasants) or slave communities. Controlled by local and sometimes international elites who shared little with the vast majority of indigenous or slave communities, these enclaves would lie at the foundation of the deep political, economic, and cultural divide between elites and popular classes that exemplify Latin American and Caribbean societies to the present day.

3. Political and economic inequality. Deep and lasting political and economic inequal­ ity was a fundamental dimension of the colonial period that was further exacerbated after


independence. This profound disparity in turn partly accounts for the difficulties post­ independence Latin American elites faced in forging a unified national identity, often expressed in contending notions of citizenship and nationalism, as well as different and sometimes antagonistic visions of the nation-state. The result was fertile ground for con­ temporary large-scale popular movements, such as the Mexican revolution of 1910 and the Bolivian revolution of 1952. Indeed, the ongoing Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas, Mexico, and the Central American civil wars of the 1980s which, especially in Guatemala, pitted large numbers of Maya Indians against Hispanicized state elites in a ferocious and bloody conflict (see Chapter 12), is a clear reminder of this social, cultural, and political-economic legacy between the haves and have nots.

4. Cultural and racial divisions. The deep political and economic inequality men­ tioned previously had an equally important cultural and ideological counterpart: a profound divide, in virtually all Latin American societies, along the overlapping axes of culture and race—between “Whites,” “Indians,” “Blacks,” and others. As (Stem 1982:186) argues for colonial Peru—and the argument is equally valid for much of contemporary Latin America—“the Indian countryside … became poor and ‘backward’ not simply in economic terms, but in a social and ideological sense as well . . . colonialism created ‘Indians’ and defined them as an inferior, degraded race” (see Chapter 5). That the bloody civil strife that rocked Peru in the 1980s surfaced in Ayacucho (see Chapter 12)—the most “Indian” region of Peru and where many colonial-era revolts and rebellions were also centered—should remind us that in many ways the colonial “script” is still being played out in the politically, economically, and culturally fragmented societies of Latin America and the Caribbean.

Controversies: The Quincentennial, or Remembering Columbus

When on October 12, 1492 Christopher Columbus sighted and landed on what is now the Bahamas, little did he dream that his arrival would spur such far reaching and lasting transformations in the New and Old Worlds. Neither was he probably cognizant that 500 years later, his landing and the tremendous worldwide consequences that it ushered in would be both remembered and commemorated—as well as marred in considerable controversy.

Public commemorations are highly visible, shared symbolic ritual mediums through which historical events are remembered. But they are much more than that, for public commemorations are also important channels through which different claims of the “truth”—of what “really happened”—as well as their consequences are crafted and even­ tually disputed. “What we often call the ‘legacy of the past,’” Trouillot (1995:17) reminds us, “may not be anything bequeathed by the past itself,” but is invariably appropriated and re-interpreted by social groups with an interest in claiming and legitimizing distinct and often conflicting versions of the past. Further, these renderings often reveal much more about the present than about the “facts” that occurred long ago. The famous and now leg­ endary 1836 “Battle of the Alamo” in Texas—widely popularized by Hollywood and deeply entrenched in U.S. historical lore—provides a well-known example of how a

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 105

historical event—what “happened” and why—is interpreted in radically different ways, and how these dissimilar interpretations reveal much more about contemporary society and culture. Trouillot asks:

Is that battle a moment of glory during which freedom-loving Anglos, outnum­ bered but undaunted, spontaneously chose to fight until death rather than sur­ render to a corrupt Mexican dictator? Or is it a brutal example of U.S. expansionism, the story of a few white predators taking over what was sacred territory and half-willingly providing, with their death, the alibi for a well- planned annexation? (1995:9)

This heightened and continuous controversy surrounding what “really happened” at the Alamo has a great deal to do with the growing political, economic, and demographic importance of the Hispanic/Latino population in the southwestern United States (Chap­ ter 1). But it is also very much related to growing ethnic consciousness and intense efforts by Hispanics/Latinos to revalidate their cultural heritage.

An analogous process of ethnic and cultural validation—and of symbolic appropria­ tions and refashioning of the past—has underpinned responses to and memories of Columbus’ landing in the New World (see In Their Own Words 4.2).

Trouillot (1995:108-140) reminds us that for hundreds of years Columbus’ arrival in the New World was scarcely remembered, much less commemorated, and that it was only in the late 1880s that Spain began planning for a massive commemoration of what would soon be known as the Discovery. This seemingly sudden interest had much to do with attempts by the government to grapple with Spain’s internal conflicts as well as shore up its position vis-à-vis the growing geo-political importance of rival states:

IN THEIR OWN WORDS 4.2 Remembering Columbus

In many indigenous societies, events that took place deep in the past are remembered—literally kept alive—but invariably they are transformed through oral traditions. The momentous impact of the Columbian Encounter is one such example. Among the Kuna of Panama, the conquest and its impact are embedded in traditional historical songs that not only serve as reservoirs of memory but also underpin a sense of ethnic distinctiveness. The following are some segments that surface in a contemporary chiefly chant (Sherzer 1994):

Christopher Columbus who doesn’t like our grandfathers …

The Spaniards entered at the mouth of the Kanir river …

Our grandfathers and grand­ mothers were mistreated …

Our grandfathers were assassi­ nated and they [the Spaniards] cut their stomachs open …

Finally, our grandparents arrived at the river which was called, and there they remained, in poverty …

The Spaniards mistreated our grandparents …


Tom by factional feuds, outflanked in Europe by nearly all the Atlantic states, threatened in the Americas by the economic incursions of Britain, the influence of the United States, and the constant fear of losing Cuba, Spain was in dire need of a moral and political uplift. (Trouillot 1995:125)2

But the cuadricentennial celebration of 1892 was also widely popular in the United States, where large numbers of Italians and Irish had immigrated by the late 1880s, and where ethnic politics “gave Columbus a lobby, a prerequisite to public success in U.S. culture” (Trouillot 1995:123). Celebrating the Discovery was, of course, important to the Italian American sense of ethnic pride, while among Irish Americans, “Columbus played a leading role in making citizens out of these immigrants. He provided them with a public example of Catholic devotion and civic virtue, and thus a powerful rejoinder to the cliché that alle­ giance to Rome preempted the Catholic’s attachment to the United States” (Trouillot 1995:123).

The cuadricentennial celebration was scarcely controversial—but not so the quincen­ tennial. As Lunenfeld notes:

Nations outgrow heroes, the way children must learn to live without Santa. Lenin is being toppled in Russia. The Federal government removed Custer’s name from his national park. It is now Christopher Columbus’ turn at the chop­ ping block. (1992:137)

By the late 1980s, a multiplicity of other “voices” in Latin America and the United States had surged forward in public and academic arenas questioning many conventional interpre­ tations of what “happened” on and after October 12, 1492, as well as how to remember that event. By the early 1990s, many Latin American indigenous groups—as well as Native Americans in the United States—convened to publicly and angrily denounce (and not celebrate) Columbus’ arrival in the New World, an event that they viewed more in terms of conquest and enslavement rather than “discovery” (Brown 1992; Bernstein 1991; Nash 2001:121). And in Latin America, well-known indigenous leaders, such as Domitila Chun­ gara and Rigoberta Menchú (from Bolivia and Guatemala, respectively), conveyed through published interviews their understandings of that fateful date (Chungara and Yáñez 1992; Menchú and Yáñez 1992).

In what would turn out to be an “ocean of print” (Block 1994), scholars, journalists, and others hotly debated how to best interpret the quincentennial remembrance of 1492. In one of the most comprehensive reviews on this issue, Axtell provides a cogent overview of some of the contentious debates:

During the Quincentenary, teachers, scholars, and activists generally lined up on two sides … One camp blamed Columbus and his European successors for all the deaths and misery of America’s natives (and African slaves) to the pres­ ent. Indian spokespersons and their non-Indian supporters in this camp tended to speak in broad generalities about greed, racism and ethnocentrism as the root causes of alleged genocide and ecocide and to include virtually all Euro­ Americans in their indictments. Their writings sought to short-circuit the expected celebratory character of the Quincentenary . . . less by making

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 107

disinterested scholarly analyses of the past than by connecting the grim past of their ancestors and their own far-from-satisfactory present with carefully selected, emotionally charged historical vignettes and images and often elo­ quent expressions of sadness, pain and anger . . . The other camp sought to complicate the moral and historical issues by distinguishing among Euro­ American (and Indian) groups and even individuals, by contextualizing events to avoid anachronism, by emphasizing the impartial role of disease, and by seeking understanding before, if not rather than, judgment. A number of articles defended Columbus and “the West” against the historical attacks and “misperceptions” of the counter-camp, some in mass media publications. (1995:690-691)

Many others sought a more middle ground, recognizing the devastating aftermath of 1492 on Native Americans while at the same time recognizing some positive consequences:

Plainly there is something unhistorical—an abuse of truth—in glossing over the painful episodes in the long process of exploration, colonization and, yes, exploitation that began with Columbus’ voyages. But it is no less unhistorical—no less an abuse of truth—to depict that experience in exclu­ sively negative terms. (Shaw 1991, quoted in Lunenfeld 1992:139)

It is partly this search for a middle ground in an acrimonious and ideologically driven debate that has prompted many scholars to refer to October 12, 1492 as the Columbian Encounter. From this perspective, to allude to the Discovery is unacceptable, for it betrays an uncritical acceptance of a Eurocentric mode of understanding history, while to refer to Columbus’ arrival in the New World solely in terms of invasion, enslavement, or genocide is to adopt an equally uncritical, and no less ideologically narrow, perspective. As Axtell notes:

Encounters are mutual, reciprocal—two-way rather than one-way streets. Encounters are generically capacious: there are encounters of people but also of ideas, institutions, habits, values, plants, animals, and micro-organisms. Encounters are temporally and spatially fluid: they can occur at any time in any place, before or after 1492, around the globe. And, although natives, critics and activists may not approve the idea, encounters are morally neutral: the term does not prejudge the nature of the contact or its outcome. In sum, encounter is a spacious description that jettisons normative baggage to make room for dis­ interestedness and parity. (1992:336, quoted in Axtell 1995:695-696)


Aided by political and ethnic divisiveness in indigenous societies, technological superior­ ity, cultural differences, and disease pathogens, Europeans overwhelmed most organized resistance to the Conquest in a few decades. During the 300 years of colonial rule, Euro­ peans devised numerous strategies for consolidating their rule but were often not entirely


successful. Indigenous societies and African slaves continuously challenged the colonial order along multiple fronts, sometimes through frontal rebellions, but more often indirectly but refusing to pay tribute or fleeing forced labor drafts. Running away to isolated areas, one strategy followed by many (especially African slaves) to defy colonial rule, led to the emergence of maroon societies forged through an amalgam of indigenous, African, and European cultures. Resistance to the European Conquest—what it meant or achieved—still runs deep, as when indigenous societies took an active role in denouncing the Conquest and re-interpreting the 1492 events 500 years later.


1. Explaining the Conquest. How were Euro­ peans able to carry out the Conquest and extend their reach so quickly throughout much of Latin America and the Caribbean? In what ways did indigenous societies consciously or unconsciously aid in their own Conquest? Are there historic parallels with North America?

2. Consolidating Colonial Rule. Success on the battlefield was a relatively quick and easy undertaking compared with the protracted and difficult efforts at consolidating colonial rule. Which economic, political, and cultural mech­ anisms were employed by Europeans to con­ solidate their rule? Were some more successful than others? Why? Where?

3. Contesting Colonial Rule. In what ways did members of indigenous societies contest colo­ nial rule? Were these strategics successful or futile? Why, why not, and where? In what ways did culture play a role or eventually loom important in these efforts?

4. Remembering Columbus. Was Columbus a hero or a villain—or is this perhaps the wrong question to ask? Why was the Quincentennial controversy relevant and to whom? In what ways might this controversy still be significant in a cultural anthropology course or textbook?


Andean rebellions p. 95 Black Carib p. 100 Cabildo p. 88 Cimarrones p. 100 Cofradías p. 91 Columbian Exchange p. 84 Encomendero p. 86 Encomienda p. 86 Estancias p. 92 Ethnogenesis p. 99 Everyday forms of resistance

p. 97

Fazenda p.92 Godparenthood p. 90 Hacendado or fazendeiro

p. 93 Hacienda p. 92 Haiti’s slave revolution p. 97 Hegemony p. 79 Maroon societies p. 100 Merced, composición p. 86 Mitas p. 87 Palenques p. 100 Plantation p. 93

Public commemorations p. 104 Quilombos p. 100 Reducciones p. 87 Repartimiento p. 87 Repartimiento de mercancías

p. 96 Rituals of rule p. 89 Yucatán Caste War p. 96

Conquest, Colonialism, and Resistance 109

ęndnotes 1 As Pérez suggests, women often played important

material and symbolic roles in maroon societies. The essays compiled by Gaspar and Hine (2004) poignantly illustrate how as slaves, runaway slaves, or former slaves, women of African descent were decisive in resisting colonial rule.

2 This “uplift” was not successful, for in 1898— just six years after the celebration of the cuadricentennial—Spain lost Cuba and Puerto Rico (and, in Asia, the Phillipines) to the United States in the Spanish-American War.

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