Spaces of Authority, Links of Loyalty: Four Centuries of Transgression in Colonial Brazil, South Africa, and Cambodia

AHA Session 175
World History Association 7
Saturday, January 5, 2019: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Salon 6 (Palmer House Hilton, Third Floor)
Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, University of WisconsinMilwaukee
Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, University of WisconsinMilwaukee

Session Abstract

This panel examines changing loyalties and betrayals in three regions from the seventeenth through the twentieth centuries. The contemporary nations of Brazil, South Africa, and Cambodia each have long histories as contact points between indigenous and colonial peoples. This similarity provides a productive foundation on which to build a comparative study of multivalent loyalties in diverse colonial contexts. This panel investigates the ways in which colonial regimes sought to create spaces in which they could govern effectively—avoiding disruptive insurgency and ensuring economic productivity. Creating such spaces of authority did not, however, engender loyalty to the state. In fact, political loyalties functioned quite differently in colonial settings compared to other states or kingdoms, be they imperial metropoles, independent polities, or subject territories. This panel’s critical investigation of loyalties in three different spaces of authority provides a robust challenge to indigenous-European binaries that continue to shape colonial histories, despite more than two decades of scholarly critiques of the premise. Focusing on shifting loyalties—and their ruptures—starkly dissects categories of “indigenous” and “European,” revealing the many ways in which affinities of language, religion, trade, politics, and knowledge production shaped interactions within communities and across borders.

Litrel’s study of Lusophone records of Dutch Brazil in the seventeenth century and Mitchell’s analysis of ethnography in South Africa reveal poly-colonial spaces: there were multiple layers of European settler presence. Therefore, these layers affect how indigenous populations interact with colonial forces, and how colonial forces interact with one another. In Noseworthy’s study of modern Cambodia, the spaces of authority were additionally complex because in-between migrant populations loyal to external religious authorities positioned themselves locally, nuancing the familiar indigenous-European framework. In each case, we gain a greater sense of the complex ways that loyalties shifted because of transnational movements—of people and of ideas; of how loyalties were interpreted as bound to specific social or political identities; and of how betrayals might be interpreted as an aspect of identity.

Taken together, the cases ask: What are the dimensions of betrayals, and how do they arise? Do betrayals result in shifting loyalties? What are some other causes of loyalties shifting, besides betrayal? When loyalties shift, what new structures are created? Are there previous loyalties that are maintained, and why? In each case, we suggest that loyalties themselves must be interpreted with layered meanings and are never even simply bidirectional, let alone monodirectional, relations.

See more of: AHA Sessions