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Social Order and Mobility in 16th- and 17th-Century Central Mexico  

Tatiana Seijas

Mexico had an exceptionally diverse population during the 16th and 17th centuries, including Indigenous peoples of different ethnicities (in the majority), Iberians, and forced migrants from Africa and Asia, who related to one another in complex ways. Society—a group of people living in a community—was configured differently in each place, based on geographical location, local customs, property distribution, and a myriad of other factors. Faced with such different contexts, historians have tended to generalize about social organization (the way people interacted) from the perspective of the men who produced the most sources. Colonial statutes and official correspondence convey the attempts of Hapsburg officials to maintain a hierarchical social order, but property records reveal a more fluid reality. The acquisition of wealth and achievement of social status by non-Spaniards frustrated colonial ideals for a stratified society that correlated to ethnicity. The success of imperial governance, to the degree it was achieved, depended on its flexibility and how it allowed people to benefit from the colonial economy and to achieve social mobility.


Frontier, Backlands, and Indigenous Presence in Colonial São Paulo  

José Carlos Vilardaga

The residents of the Captaincy of São Vicente, which would become São Paulo in the 18th century, were known in the late 17th century as “Paulistas.” Their reputation in the colonial period was ambiguous: on the one hand, they were viewed as crude and unruly enslavers of Indigenous people; on the other, they were known as skilled backwoodsmen and soldiers. This image derived mainly from a character that would later come to be known as the bandeirante, a member of the expeditions that forged into remote backlands mainly to capture Indigenous people for their own use, without waiting for orders from the Crown or church. This source of labor enabled the internal reproduction of enslaved labor in a region whose economy was based on subsistence and supplying other regions in the high plateau where São Paulo de Piratininga was established in 1554, first as a school, later as a town. As the occupation of the region advanced over the following decades, a network of chapels, parishes, and towns linked by river and overland routes grew up, forming the geographical area of the colonial captaincy. This occupation, which extended to the remote edges of the regions that would eventually make up Brazil and even into frontier lands contested by both Iberian empires, was motivated by a search for Indigenous peoples, a quest for precious metals, a demand for land, and the dictates of political disputes. In this sense, the backwoodsmen were not acting out of a strategic geopolitical motivation, as a certain school of self-congratulatory historiography would have it. In any event, the Paulistas played a role in shaping the internal and external frontiers of colonial Brazil through the 18th century in the context of the boundary treaties. The society formed under these circumstances was intrinsically tied to the Indigenous world, to the backlands, and to frontier living, and resulted in varied forms of crossbreeding and cultural interactions embodied in the mestizo type that became known as mameluco; the violent practices inherent in colonization, however, cannot be overlooked.


Native Brazilians under the Monarchy in Brazil  

Maria Regina Celestino de Almeida

A variety of indigenous peoples active in the backlands and villages of monarchic Brazil presented challenges to the policy of building a national state. The implementation of an indigenist policy that sought to assimilate and incorporate indigenous people as citizens and workers for the Empire was widely debated by politicians and intellectuals who developed different images and political projects for indigenous peoples in accordance with their varying degrees of sociocultural insertion in the various provinces of the Empire. Natives in the backlands were portrayed as savages for whom just wars and enslavement were an appropriate response to any who resisted being assigned to settlements or military bases, while it was proposed that natives in the settled areas be assimilated and their collective lands and aldeias (indigenous villages) be dissolved. Abuse, irregularities, violence, ill-treatment, illegal enslavement, and intensive exploitation of Indian labor by colonists, public authorities, and priests were widely denounced throughout the various regions of the Empire. Indians acted and reacted in a variety of ways, ranging from confrontation to collaboration: they resorted to both legal battles and armed conflict to defend their rights and their land. They fought vigorously in the non-Indians’ wars, both on the frontiers and in the political movements of the Empire, seeking to extract their own advantages from the alliances they formed. There was intense interaction among backlands Indians, aldeia Indians, and non-Indians, including African-descended slaves and quilombolas, and they circulated among both physical spaces and social categorizations, often crossing borders that separated one from another. Many settled Indians remained in their established aldeias, fighting to preserve them. They resorted to the courts in defense of their communal lives and land, affirming their indigenous identities and contradicting the discourse of politicians and intellectuals who considered them assimilated into the general population and civilized, and thus subject to having their aldeias legally abolished. Current ethnogenesis movements have revealed the fallacy of the belief that Indians disappeared in the 19th century.