- Creating and Contesting Community: Indians and Afromestizos in the Late-Colonial Tierra Caliente of Guerrero, Mexico
Late in the afternoon of January 13, 1783 the parish priest of Tetela del Río, Br. don Nicolás Vásquez, rested in the hamlet (cuadrilla) of Cacalotepeque as he prepared to trek back to his parish seat.1 Father Vásquez had arrived only an hour earlier to minister to the ailing daughter of Capitán Luis de la Cruz, the mulato leader of the settlement. Cacalotepeque was but one of a number of informal communities scattered across the mid-Balsas River Valley of western Mexico. Consisting mostly of mulato farmers, the hamlet was neither recognized by the colonial state as an Indian pueblo nor held as a private estate. The land it occupied did not belong to its inhabitants, but rather comprised part of the contested territorial limits of two rival Indian pueblos, Tetela and Apaxtla, situated roughly equidistant from both. Much as Afromestizos lacked a stable and recognized position within colonial racial hierarchies, a semi-autonomous Afromestizo community likewise confronted a precarious existence.2 This reality was made abundantly clear to Father Vásquez on that fateful afternoon.
As he conversed with the hamlet’s residents, some sixty indigenous villagers from Apaxtla approached on horseback. Several local men informed Vásquez that the villagers had arrived to steal away the cuadrilla’s corn, inducing him to try to mediate the dispute. The priest’s meddling, however, only sparked long-standing tensions among the three communities. Within a matter of minutes, Vásquez found himself at the center of a brawl between several Indian officials from Apaxtla, the mostly black residents of Cacalotepeque, and a few of their Indian supporters from Tetela. Eventually, Luis de la Cruz ran into his hut and returned with a drawn saber. With the aid of the Tetela villagers and the women of the hamlet, de la Cruz repelled the onslaught and saved Vásquez from harm. Escorted by one of the captain’s sons, the curate rode his mule back to Tetela, his honor bruised further by the Apaxtla party’s whistling and taunts echoing down from the surrounding hills.
As Vásquez left the scene, the Apaxtla villagers directed their scorn at the hamlet, vowing to finish what they had started. True to their word, approximately three hundred men, women, and children returned to Cacalotepeque the following morning, stoned its besieged inhabitants, and knocked down all but one of its humble structures. As their makeshift defense collapsed, the cuadrilla’s inhabitants traded barbed exchanges with their assailants, who disparaged them as “black outsider dogs” and “mulato whores.”3 By word and by deed, Cacalotepeque’s neighbors had made clear their refusal to share the countryside with a settlement deemed non-indigenous to the area. Although an extreme case, the razing of Cacalotepeque is indicative of late colonial developments in the tierra caliente of what is today the Mexican state of Guerrero. In the late eighteenth century ethnic discord spread throughout the region punctuated by outbursts of violence between inhabitants who claimed an indigenous ancestry and those they deemed racial outsiders.
While historians have examined the origins of the colony’s Afromestizo population, its growth and development has been studied primarily for urban areas, thus masking the importance of pueblos and rural estates as critical arenas for Indian-African relations and intermixture.4 When examined, relations between the indigenous peasantry and individuals of African descent have typically been characterized as antagonistic. Such interpretations are usually bolstered by the untold number of village denunciations to colonial authorities against unwanted outsiders to be found in colonial archives.5 At first glance, the razing of Cacalotepeque appears to coincide with this assessment. Yet, the understanding of Indian-black relations has grown more complicated in recent years with the recognition of the skilled means by which indigenous plaintiffs manipulated colonial fears of racial contamination, particularly involving negros and mulatos, to their own ends.6 Similarly, historical inquiry into the relative endogamy or exogamy of Indians and Afromestizos has led to somewhat contrary interpretations of inter-group dynamics. On the one hand, some have suggested that Indians...