Refracted Processes of Ethnogenesis: Identity Formation in the Imperial Borderlands of the Greater Paraguayan River Basin

Friday, January 5, 2018: 9:30 AM
Madison Room B (Marriott Wardman Park)
Justin Blaine Blanton, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
My paper focuses on the historical construction and articulation of ethnic identities among multiple indigenous groups who inhabited missions founded by the Jesuits in the colonial Spanish province of Chiquitos located in portions of southeastern Bolivia and southwestern Brazil. It examines how native resistance to the imperial developments following the Jesuit expulsion of 1767 and the secularization of the missions impacted the evolution of a unified Chiquitano ethnic identity among the mission Indians that began to emerge a century earlier under different sociopolitical contexts. I argue that the development of a Chiquitano identity did not occur through a monolithic process that began and ended during a neatly bounded period of time. “Becoming Chiquitano” was, instead, a multivalent set of processes that emerged under the Jesuit regime and continued long after the expulsion of the order. These processes refracted to follow different paths during an era of secularization that altered the spatial and administrative organization of Chiquitos and reoriented the province’s indigenous communities. To access and trace the evolving articulations of identity among the Indians of Chiquitos, I examine the hierarchical native councils of each of the ten mission towns. Known as cabildos, the native councils were comprised of officers elected by Jesuit priests to govern the missions as representatives of their different ethnic groups. As the primary institution of internal governance and political culture in the missions, the cabildos persisted after the Jesuit expulsion to maintain authority and assert distinct ethnic identities in the face of late eighteenth century administrative changes.
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