Indigenous Collectives and the Generation and Regeneration of Native History in Colonial Latin America

AHA Session 294
Conference on Latin American History 70
Monday, January 6, 2020: 11:00 AM-12:30 PM
Madison Square (Sheraton New York, Lower Level)
Cynthia Radding, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Cynthia Radding, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Session Abstract

The history of indigenous peoples in Latin America and other regions of the world has conceived of native agency principally in terms of communities and collectives. For the case of the Americas, it is commonly held that in Pre-Columbian times the community was the primary unit of economic production, landholding, ritual, identity, and historical memory. By taking “community” as a given and foregrounding it as the most salient social group, a “before” and “after” view of native history emerged in which the Spanish wars of conquest served as the catalyst for transforming indigenous communities. Well-documented interactions with the newcomers have allowed historians to reconstruct the emergence of institutions that were at once imperial and communal, like the pueblo, cabildo (town council), mission, and cofradía (religious confraternity). These institutions are central to scholarly understandings of what it meant to be “Indian” in colonial Latin America. At the same time, ethnohistorical and philological approaches to native history have underscored continuities in indigenous social and political organization, emphasizing the persistence of a communal ethos that drew upon pre-Columbian forms. Native communities have thus been imagined as unitary and coherent, and along the primary trajectories of continuity and change in relation to a native past before the Spanish invasion.

This panel seeks to rethink indigenous forms of collectivity and collective enterprises during the colonial period in distinct regions of Latin America in a way that moves beyond community and convetional periodization marked by the watershed of conquest. Land claims and boundary drawing, modified inheritance customs, war and rebellion; demands for tribute and labor; Christian evangelization; population fluctuations; the expansion of commercial livestock and haciendas; migration; urbanization – all of these processes required native peoples to generate and regenerate new collectivities that drew upon local and indigenous forms of labor and land tenure, Spanish laws, native forms of governance, perceptions of the sacred, and other peoples’ pasts (like that of medieval Jews, Muslims, or Ancient Greeks). At the same time, the meaning of “we” changed as indigenous peoples redefined themselves in relation to Spaniards, mestizos, African-descended peoples, and other native groups. Panelists will present research on native collectivities unknown or unconsidered, created for particular purposes. What kinds of ideas nourished these collectivities? How were they produced and their boundaries defined? What kinds of internal hierarchies did they engender, and how did they relate to other social groups and institutions? How might their creation inspire us to think more broadly about the making of collective identity in the early modern world, and the range of native peoples’ agency and social action? Our objective is to re-imagine native collectives within communities and beyond, in a dynamic process of formation and re-formation over centuries of colonialism.

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