Unhealthy Climes: Bodies and Place in Colonial Nueva Granada
This work explores colonial perceptions of the role that the environment writ large, played in shaping individual bodies, characters, and experiences, to determine how the enslaved deployed those ideas in order to influence their own encounters of enslavement. Certainly we know that the enslaved not only availed themselves of the rights provided them through the Spanish legal system, but that they also pushed the limits of those rights so as to expand their impact. They were often astute litigators and at times won their cases against very strong opposition from their masters. While it was not unusual for enslaved women and men to seek either manumission or the right to find an alternative owner in colonial Latin America, in some cases general perceptions of place of birth, the environment and its influence upon the body, were incorporated into their arguments regarding their legal rights. The cases in the documents of Negros y Esclavosfrom the AGN in Colombia provide us insight into how cultural boundaries were forged or breached by ontologies that placed the enslaved body in different environments and how the borders between nature and the body were tested. Though instances when the environment was evoked as an important factor in colonial legal cases were few, even so these examples from the Viceroyalty of Nueva Granada prompt us to inquire into the connection or disconnect between natural surroundings and the bodies that populated them.
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