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Although his views on the subject were changeable and difficult to define, Gilberto Freyre was interested in politics from his youth onwards. He had a brief political career as assistant to the Governor of Pernambuco (1926–1930) and as a deputy in the Constituent Assembly (1946–1950), where he spoke for the North East. He had what he called a “quasi-political” career as a journalist for most of his long life and he was also a cultural manager who founded or supported institutions that spread the ideas he believed in. More importantly, his central interests and ideas had political implications. He was accused of “Bolshevism” for his emphasis on the African element in Brazilian culture. His regionalism embodied a protest against centralization and standardization. His lifelong interest in architecture included a concern with housing for the poor that was hygienic and environmentally friendly, and also with the conservation of colonial buildings to serve as an inspiration for a Brazilian style of modern architecture. As a scholar, Freyre supported what he called the “tropicalization” of the social sciences, freeing them from generalizations based simply on European and North American experience. His view of Brazil in terms of culture instead of race implied that the government should be concerned with the health and education of the poor rather than with “whitening” the country by encouraging immigration from Europe. His idea that mixture was the core of Brazilian identity was taken up by governments from Vargas to Lula, while his idea of “Luso-Tropicalism,” claiming that the Portuguese were more flexible and benevolent colonizers than other nations, was used as a defense against critics of colonialism by the Salazar regime.

Article

Laura de Mello e Souza

Popular religiosity in colonial Brazil was marked by the process of colonization, which placed populations of differing ethnic and cultural origins together in dynamic and conflicting ways. On the one hand, the lived experiences of these various populations reflected the beliefs of their continent of origin: Europe, Africa, and America. On the other hand, they were unavoidably intertwined, giving rise to novel forms of religious practice. Heterodox behaviors were notable from the beginning of colonization, adding to the peculiarities of the slave system that constituted colonial life and defined its social relations. In a vast territory over which the surveillance and control of religious institutions—both ecclesiastical and inquisitorial—proved unworkable, daily experiences of religiosity became increasingly distinct from the more dogmatic and “official” traits sustained by the Catholic Church. A particular type of religiosity, as heterodox and mixed as the population itself, took shape within the limits of Catholicism while continuously escaping its confines. Catholicism endured from the earliest times as the guiding orientation of Brazil, supported by the Crown as well as regular and secular clergy alike. The education of the elites was Catholic, and many of the earliest writings about the new land of Brazil came from the quills of the pious, producing foundational images marked by religious metaphors. For these reasons, popular religiosity reveals a great deal about the nature of Brazilian culture, and it is necessary to analyze it within the context of broader dynamics that define popular beliefs that do not always fit within the orthodox guidelines of official Catholicism and erudition.

Article

When the 16th century—the Conquest Century—drew to a close, the territory of what is today called Central America was already organized as a colonial domain. The system of “Two Republics”—segregating autochthonous populations from the Spanish in order to protect the former from the abuses and potential perversions of the latter, but also to better control the former and demand labor, goods, and money from them—was well established, and colonial institutions (Audiencia, royal treasury offices, town councils (cabildos), dioceses, parishes, etc.) had been put in place. The Spanish governing and enriched elite were clearly on top but were surrounded, nonetheless, by a plethora of dominated ethnic groups, such as the indigenous and the African—either slave or free—populations, the non-elite Spanish immigrants, and those of mixed race. The process of miscegenation between all ethnic groups of colonial society, slow and faltering at first, was already a fact in the region, and a caste society was firmly established. At the same time, Spanish settlement in the territory was entrenched, with consolidated cities and established rural properties. Trade and mining were also active, creating economic cycles linked to the global economy, as well as to internal markets. However, resistance and rebellions by the dominated populations and an extended frontier—made of unconquered and uncontrolled zones—as well as the irruption of enemies in the uncontrolled regions, were not absent from the region. What was the destiny of this complex newly born society over the century to come? In Central America, the new century would be characterized by processes of stabilization and consolidation of colonial life in all aspects, but also by strong geostrategical interests, brutal social asymmetries, and an overwhelming peripheral status.

Article

For historians of the Spanish Americas indigenous portraits and casta paintings offer two distinctive lenses for understanding the relationships between indigeneity and colonialism. Both genres of painting anchor indigenous bodies and subjectivities in the racialized practices that were constitutive of, and crucial to, colonialism in the Americas. Indigenous portraits record individual biographies and family histories, offering scholars of the present insights into the lives of people whose desires rarely surface in prose sources. Indigenous portraits also document the economic and material investments people were willing to make in preserving images of lives well lived. In the colonial past, as in the present, indigenous portraits therefore speak to the ways social ambitions fueled identity formation. Cuadros de castas, or casta paintings, are a genre of painting invented and painted in the Spanish Americas in the late 17th and 18th centuries. Casta paintings, like indigenous portraits, describe status and economic wealth; their main aim, however, was to portray the ethnic mixing and concomitant racialized thinking in colonial society. According to the iconography and composition of casta paintings, the mixing of people from Europe, Africa, and the Americas could be ordered and organized such that everyone seemed to have a place and appropriate ethnic designation. Today, casta paintings are understood as persuasive works of art that presented an idealized, hierarchical view of urban life. The painters and patrons of indigenous portraits and casta paintings participated in networks formed by habits of material exchange, patterns of urban mobility, and practices linked to Catholic religious beliefs. Some of these networks stretched across the Americas; others were bound to trade and travel across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The histories referenced in indigenous portraits and casta paintings should be understood, then, as tethered to local concerns, global economies, and cosmopolitan ambitions.