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Agriculture and Biodiversity in Latin America in Historical Perspective  

Angus Wright

Latin America is thought to be the world’s most biodiverse region, but as in the rest of the world, the number of species and the size of their populations is generally in sharp decline. Most experts consider agriculture to be the most important cause of biodiversity decline. At one extreme of policy argument regarding biodiversity conservation are those who argue that the only path to species protection is the establishment of many more and larger “protected areas” in which human activities will be severely restricted. On the remaining land agriculture will be carried out largely with the presently prevailing methods of “industrial agriculture,” including heavy reliance on synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, heavy machine use, large-scale irrigation schemes, limited crop diversity, and crops genetically engineered to maximize returns from these tools and techniques. Those who argue for these policies largely accept that industrial agriculture of this sort is severely hostile to biodiversity, but argue that the high productivity of such methods makes it possible to limit agriculture to a relatively small land base, leaving the rest for protected areas and other human activities. On the other side of the argument are those who argue that agricultural techniques are either available or can be created to make agricultural areas more favorable to species survival. They argue that even with a desirable expansion of protected areas, such reserves cannot successfully maintain high biodiversity levels if protected reserves are not complemented by an agriculture more friendly to species survival and migration. The policy arguments on these issues are of major human and biological importance. They are also very complex and depend on theoretical perspectives and data that do not provide definitive guidance. One way to enrich the debate is to develop a specifically historical perspective that illuminates the relationship between human actions and species diversity. In Latin America, humans have been modifying landscapes and species composition of landscapes for thousands of years. Even in areas of presently low human population density and extraordinarily high species diversity, such as remaining tropical rainforests, humans may have been active in shaping species composition for millennia. After 1492, human population levels in Latin America plummeted with the introduction of Old-World diseases. It is often assumed that this led to a blossoming of species diversity, but the historical evidence from 1492 to the present strongly suggests the combination of European technologies and the integration of agriculture into world markets meant more damaging use of soils, widespread deforestation, and subsequent decline in species numbers. The exploitation and consequent despoliation of Latin American resources were integral to colonialism and intensified later by national governments focused on rapid economic growth. High species diversity remained in areas that were too difficult to exploit and/or were used by indigenous populations or smallholders whose production techniques were often favorable to species survival. Many of these techniques provide clues for how agriculture might be reshaped to be more friendly both to biodiversity and social equity.

Article

Competing Spanish and Indigenous Jurisdictions in Early Colonial Lima  

Karen B. Graubart

Spanish legal organization required that political communities be represented by a concejo or cabildo, which used customary law to determine and enforce the common good. In the Spanish colonial world, this entailed vesting indigenous communities with jurisdiction and political representation, parallel to that of the municipal cabildo, which represented the common good of most Spanish citizens. Nevertheless, the supposed common good of indigenous and Spanish jurisdictions often intersected or contested one another. In these cases, agents of the Spanish Crown might intervene, or the parties might negotiate new relations. Because Andean cabildos were entreated not to keep minutes of their deliberations or actions, historians have had difficulty in recognizing the role of indigenous authorities in self-governance, and given more credence to the acts of Spanish cabildos and the Crown. But Indian cabildos and caciques took meaningful decisions within their communities, as demonstrated by moments where they came into conflict with Spanish authorities, and as inferred from a small number of documents available for the similar Mexican case.

Article

The Conquest of the Desert and Argentina’s Indigenous Peoples  

Carolyne L. Ryan

The Conquest of the Desert was a military campaign launched by the Argentine state (1878–1885) to remove the Indigenous peoples of the Pampas and Patagonia in order to open the region for Argentine occupation. Then Minister of War Julo A. Roca led the campaigns and subsequently became president of Argentina in 1880. Argentine state makers described this campaign as a necessary step in growing the national economy and making Argentina a “modern” and “civilized” nation. The conquest was also celebrated by many contemporaries as marking the emergence of a “White” Argentina. Despite this rhetoric, Indigenous peoples from the pampas and Patagonia have endured throughout the 19th, 20th, and early 21st centuries. The contentious legacies of the conquest have continued to shape Indigenous peoples’ experiences in Argentine society and with the state through the early 21st century, affecting issues including land rights, cultural recognition, state violence, citizenship rights, historical memory, and social experiences of marginalization and discrimination.

Article

Indigenous Slavery in the Atlantic  

Miller Shores Wright

The capture, enslavement, and exchange of Indigenous peoples of the Americas predates contact between Indigenous Americans, Europeans, and Africans. Indigenous Americans incorporated captives into diverse communities in culturally specific ways that varied along a spectrum from chattel slaves to adopted kin. Upon contact with Europeans and Africans, the demand for Indigenous captives increased vertiginously to satisfy Europeans seeking laborers to exploit as workers and as a means to realize profits in Atlantic markets. Alongside European demands for captives, Indigenous peoples pursued captives to sell to Europeans or adopt to replace loved ones lost to disease, warfare, and slavery. The variation and persistence of Indigenous slavery in the Atlantic was shaped by the adaptation of various culturally specific Indigenous forms of captivity in North and South America toward commodified forms of bondage that had been developed on Atlantic islands and the West coast of Africa. In numerous locales in the Americas—such as the Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil, and Carolina—Indigenous slavery came to define labor relations between Europeans and Indigenous peoples after contact only to be replaced by the importation of millions of enslaved Africans. As the importation of enslaved Africans increased, Indigenous slavery became a labor strategy employed in borderlands between colonial and Indigenous communities. Colonists who could not secure the capital or access to merchants necessary to import enslaved Africans often turned to Indigenous slavery for their physical, domestic, and sexual labor needs. Indigenous communities exchanged captives for European commodities. This allowed for further acquisition of captives deep into the interior of the Americas through the exchange of European commodities or the use of European firearms in captive raids. Colonists frequently employed Indigenous slavery as a colonial strategy in competition with the desires of European imperial policies. With the monopolization of African slavery around Asiento contracts that supplied designated annual numbers of enslaved Africans to Spanish America and elsewhere, European imperial policy came to prioritize merchants who signed those contracts and the taxation, importation, and exportation of enslaved Africans. Colonial metropoles specifically outlawed the enslavement and exchange of Indigenous peoples unless captives were taken under specific conditions: frequently defined in Iberian colonies by “just wars,” ransoms, and accusations of real or imagined cannibalism. Colonists also employed Indigenous slavery as a means of displacement and removal of Indigenous populations, as can be seen in the exportation of Indigenous communities from English colonial possessions in New England, Virginia, and Carolina and in French Louisiana. Colonists and Indigenous slavers quickly learned how to exploit colonial stipulations against the enslavement of Indigenous peoples to blur the sources and nature of captives’ bondage as in Brazil, the Guianas, and New Mexico. The clandestine and illicit nature of Indigenous slavery resulted in the development of variable, adaptable, and persistent forms of Indigenous slavery that in certain forms still can be seen through the exploitation of vulnerable populations that exemplifies modern slavery.

Article

Mexico’s Urban Indians  

Mark Lentz

Mexico’s indigenous population developed urbanism on a large scale before Spanish invaders arrived. Indians constituted the majority in most Mexican cities through the colonial era and, in many cases, after independence. Tenochtitlan, reborn as Mexico City after the Spanish Conquest (1519–1521), remained one of the largest world metropolises and a home to millions of indigenous inhabitants. During the colonial period, migrants from ethnic groups throughout New Spain populated Mexico City, new cities founded by conquistadors, and smaller pre-Hispanic cities that survived the conquest. Though prohibited from residing in the 13-block central district (traza) of cities, indigenous urban residents lived in these nominally Spanish spaces, often as domestic workers. In surrounding barrios, they worked as craftsmen, artisans, and tradespeople. Barrios de indios enjoyed limited self-government under native cabildos. Independence brought about the erasure of racial classifications at the national level, but language, dress, and kin networks continued to set urban Indians apart from more racially ambiguous city dwellers in the 19th and 20th centuries. Rapidly expanding cities swallowed traditionally indigenous pueblos, absorbing their population into greater metropolitan areas. As pueblos originarios were absorbed into cities, such communities struggled to preserve their identities in an urban setting. Economic disruptions in the countryside also pushed migrants from indigenous rural pueblos into cities, a process accelerated during the 20th century. In new residences, urban Indians often worked as vendors, domestic workers, day laborers, and workers in the service industry.

Article

Nueva Cádiz de Cubagua and the Pearl Fisheries of the Caribbean  

Fidel Rodríguez Velásquez and Oliver Antczak

The island of Cubagua, known since the end of the 15th century as the “Island of Pearls,” is a small semi-arid island located in the southeastern Caribbean. Pre-colonially, the island formed part of an extensive network of communication and trade that crisscrossed the southeastern Caribbean and the adjacent coasts. In 1528, a settlement on the island of Cubagua was granted a charter to establish the city of Nueva Cádiz. This city played a central role in the exploitation of and trade in pearls during the the 16th century. During the early modern period, the pearls from this area circulated widely throughout the Atlantic world and inspiredabundant depictions that helped construct notions of the “New World” and brought competitions that forged new relationships between the Hispanic monarchy and American Indigenous populations. After 1540, the city was gradually abandoned. Since, the island has remained uninhabited and relatively unknown academically. However, the history of Nueva Cádiz has played an important role in debates over heritage protection, in museum narratives, and, ultimately, in the identity of the region.