Loyal Subjects at Empire’s Edge: Hispanics and Maya in the Belizean Vision of a Colonial Nation at the End of the Caste War, 188098

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 9:10 AM
Salon 12 (Palmer House Hilton)
Rajeshwari Dutt, Indian Institute of Technology
How does Empire operate in frontiers and borderlands during times of conflict? During the second half of the nineteenth century British officials attempted to understand and impose order on northern Belize, an area that was both a frontier of colonial power and the locus of a disputed border with Mexico. Their efforts were complicated by the local ramifications of the Caste War (1847-1901), a long-lasting, violent struggle between segments of the indigenous Maya in southeast Mexico and the Mexican state. During the first decade of the war, thousands of refugees —both Maya and Spanish-descended (or Hispanic)—moved into the northern part of the colony, increasing its population ten-fold. And at various points in the conflict, war-related rivalries between Maya groups over land in the border zone, access to arms and ammunition from colonial merchants, and support from the British government fanned social frictions throughout the area. More generally, the convoluted movements of people and goods, the intensification of race and ethnic mixing, and persistent disputes about the boundary with Mexico gave the frontier a fluidity and nebulousness that constantly challenged easy comprehension and effective control. This paper explores how British colonial officials—keenly attentive to the material interests at stake—used the language of loyalty to impose order and support its vision of a Creole (colonial) nation. The paper also explores how people subject to these efforts, especially the Hispanics and the various Maya groups, attempted to thwart them through alliances across seemingly firm racial and ethnic lines.
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