Indigenous Spies and Sojourners in Colonial Brazil

Monday, January 6, 2020: 10:00 AM
Gramercy (Sheraton New York)
Heather Flynn Roller, Colgate University
There is a tendency to think of autonomous native peoples as innately or instinctively resistant peoples—or, at the other end of the spectrum, as naïve, unaware of the dangers they faced. But these groups often knew a great deal about the colonial world and the possibilities and threats that it represented. Many actively sought to experience parts of that world—often at a distance, but sometimes up close—through reconnaissance, raids or violent encounters, and visits to trade or exchange gifts. Autonomous native peoples were also plugged into vast and varied networks of information. Captives of diverse origins often lived among them, and these individuals could answer their questions and perhaps convey a deeper understanding of European ways. Native peoples also crossed paths with people who had, against the odds, escaped from colonial captivity: the indigenous prisoners who managed to return home, or the fugitive slaves and runaway mission Indians whom they encountered and sometimes incorporated into their groups. As they had always done, independent Indians exchanged stories, rumors, and warnings with other native groups—though many of these interethnic networks were severed by European conquest. Drawing on the histories of several indigenous nations during the eighteenth century, this paper considers how still-autonomous Indians in the borderlands of Brazil acquired knowledge about Europeans, colonialism, and life in the colonial sphere.
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