“Bárbaros” in the Archive: Sources and Methods for the Study of Autonomous Indigenous Peoples in South America

AHA Session 120
Conference on Latin American History 21
Friday, January 8, 2016: 2:30 PM-4:30 PM
Room M302 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis, Marquis Level)
Amy Turner Bushnell, John Carter Brown Library
Yanna P. Yannakakis, Emory University

Session Abstract

In recent years, ethnohistorical scholarship has turned its attention to the form and content of colonial archives. Recent works have built upon longstanding efforts to identify indigenous agency through archives by considering indigenous agency in the organization and production of archives themselves. The archive has become a contested terrain for cultural history, as recent studies have called our attention to indigenous people who wrote and dictated their own documents and those who acted as intermediaries (“go-betweens”) for Portuguese and Spanish officials. While many recent studies have focused on imperial administrative centers in Mexico, Peru, and Brazil, this panel asks: How did autonomous indigenous groups inhabiting imperial borderlands shape archival practices of empires and nation states? Through both their form and content, archives have tended to silence the histories of survival, expansion, and resistance experienced by many autonomous peoples; they also homogenize cultural and territorial diversity during the colonial period. Nonetheless, the mobility and sovereignty enjoyed by independent indigenous groups in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay challenged the ideas of colonial dominance and stability projected by European administrators and priests. Their strategies for survival created alternate histories and offer different representations of autonomous indigenous groups and their territories.

This panel addresses these concerns by expanding the scope of indigenous groups and regions addressed by the “archival turn.” The papers draw from history, anthropology, and geography in order to explore the relationship between indigenous and colonial actors and borderland archives. In doing so, they incorporate new actors and spaces into the study of archives and colonialism in eighteenth and nineteenth century Latin America. Jeffrey Erbig explores how the fragmentation of manuscript materials regarding Charrúa and Minuán indigenous peoples has led to their subordination in histories of the Río de la Plata region. By reading across the geographical limits of individual archives, he seeks to reconstruct forgotten territorialities and recast Charrúas and Minuanes as integral agents to the regional past. Heather Roller discusses the complex results of Portuguese colonial officials’ efforts to interpret and communicate their knowledge of a powerful indigenous group, the Mbayá-Guaikurú of the Paraguay River basin, during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In the correspondence of frontier fort commanders, we find surprisingly frank assessments of the limits of colonial “pacification” and of the power of the Guaikurú to shape the terms of their accommodation with the Portuguese.  Jesse Zarley reconsiders the notion notion of “native intellectual” by examining the extensive correspondence written and dictated by the autonomous Mapuche cacique Francisco Marilúan to his Chilean and Spanish allies during an 1820s civil war in southern Chile. Instead of seeing Marilúan as simply the military leader represented by colonial administrators in an archive, writing and dictating became a strategy for exercising power linked to the maintenance of Mapuche territorial independence. By comparing these local case studies that cut across imperial and national boundaries, the panelists aim to highlight the roles of indigenous agents in shaping borderland archives and of colonial archives in structuring the histories of autonomous native peoples.

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