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Indigenous Peoples and the Portuguese Crown in the 17th and 18th Centuries  

Patricia Alves-Melo

The native populations of Portuguese America were essential for the implementation of the Portuguese colonial project. Their labor was indispensable in constructing the colony, and political alliances with native peoples ensured the success of the conquest at several crucial moments, and only with the aid of native knowledge it was possible to occupy the land and advance the conquest of the immense territory that became known as Brazil. In this sense, peace was a necessity. Yet, in highlighting the centrality of Indians in the settlement of the Portuguese colony in the Americas, it must also be recognized that the relations established there between Portuguese conquerors and native populations were also historically marked by tension and violence. A war of extermination, often masquerading as a “just war,” and slavery became inseparable parts of colonial strategy. Moreover, access to land and the use of indigenous labor could both constitute secure indicators of success in the conquest of Portuguese America. In the process of colonization the Portuguese Crown was confronted by various forms of native resistance and by the differing interests of diverse colonial agents. During the 17th and 18th centuries the Crown faced tensions, disputes, and contradictions in relation to the slavery and freedom of Indians and the way it solved these conflicts revealed the configuration of its indigenist policy.

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

Indigenous Slavery in the Caribbean  

Noel E. Smyth

From 1492 until the 19th century, Spanish, French, English, and Dutch colonists enslaved hundreds of thousands of Native Americans and forced them to toil in the West Indies. The history of enslaving Indigenous peoples in the Americas has mostly been obfuscated by colonial European record-keeping practices. Indeed, the written records relegate Native slaves to a profound silence and invisibility, similar to archival erasures of enslaved Africans. While the methodological dilemmas of this topic are significant, there is a growing scholarship focused on Indigenous slavery in the Caribbean. The emerging historiography demonstrates how regional and international Indian slave trades were significant to the development of European colonies in the Americas and how Indian slave trades connected European colonies across national and geographic boundaries. The centuries-long legacy of enslavement and dispossession continues to impact Indigenous communities, often in negative ways. Yet despite all the horrors and violence of slavery, there has been a remarkable resurgence of Indigenous identities, communities, and political movements in the 21st-century circum-Caribbean.

Article

Political Economy, Race, and National Identity in Central America, 1500–2000  

Dario A. Euraque

The relationship between historically specific ideas of race and national identity in Central America between the onset of Spanish colonialism in the region, in about 1500, and the end of the 20th century is very complicated. The relationship is rooted not only in the political economy of the region and subregions that were under Spanish colonialism, but also in Spain’s resistance to incursions of British colonialism in the area, particularly on the North Coast, well into the late 18th century, and in some areas of Central America into the 1850s. The nexus between the political economy of nation-state formation in the postcolonial setting deepened after break of the Federation of Central America in the late 1830s, especially after the rise of coffee and bananas as major regional exports. Independent governments in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica tried to impose “imagined political communities” over these exports that would be different from the colonial identities designed by the Spanish imperialism of the past. In this 20th century context, mestizaje, or ladinizaje, became state sanctioned; it promoted racialized national identities in each of these countries, mostly the idea of ethnicity, albeit with critical regional and subregional differences, particularly between Guatemala and Costa Rica. Historiographies that have been influenced by postmodern sensibilities, particularly critical race theory, the new cultural history, and subaltern studies, have influenced recent understanding of the political economy of race and nationality in Central America.

Article

Portuguese America and the Vocabulary of Colonial Poverty (1500–1750)  

Renato Franco

At the beginning of the modern era, in Catholic spaces, the lexicon of poverty was linked to a vast semantic repertoire related to scarcity, impotence, and inferiority that was reorganized in theological and judicial sources after intellectual debates in the 13th and 14th centuries. In the 16th century, when it was possible to observe another moment of change in reflections on the poor in Europe, the political incorporation of the natives of the New World and the advance of the enslavement of Africans added new challenges to governing the “poor.” Not only because it was necessary to extend the use of the vocabulary of poverty to populations that were little or not at all known, but also because the experience of the Americas presented an ethnical dimension of previously unexperienced proportions. In this way, whether in the Iberian peninsula or in the Americas, references to the poor assumed political perspectives that sought to intervene in the daily life of communities and which organized themselves under the ethical and moral precepts of second scholasticism. In Portuguese America, as colonization advanced, religious orders, ecclesiastic institutions, establishments that provided care and welfare, municipal councils, and administrative bodies formulated their own uses of this vocabulary through an intellectual heritage which added new forms of identification of shortage and necessity. Initially, this did not involve recognizing the material penury of city populations. Rather, it was concerned with developing justifications for governing free populations—whether Portuguese, Indigenous, African, or mestizo—which composed the political vocabulary of colonial spaces. In turn, enslaved Africans and indigenous people were integrated into specific social groups, defined by their judicial status and their moral minority, which excluded them from the civic language that characterized reflections on poverty in the Western tradition.