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Conflict in Colonial Sonora: Indians, Priests, and Settlers by David Yetman (review)

From: Southwestern Historical Quarterly
Volume 117, Number 3, January 2014
pp. 322-323 | 10.1353/swh.2014.0009

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Note regarding changes to the book reviews section: The publishing world is undergoing a revolution in product delivery that no longer restricts the choice in book form to cloth or paperback. Electronic and print editions in various formats each require a separate ISBN, prices vary on a frequent basis, and there are increasing opportunities for self-publication that defy traditional bibliographical organization. Consequently, with this issue the editorial board of the Southwestern Historical Quarterly has decided to streamline the headers that introduce book reviews by removing ISBN, format, and pricing information. The rest of the publication data will be provided based on the print copies from which reviews are done, and in those cases where a book appears in electronic format, the publisher’s listing will be employed. We hope the change does not produce too much inconvenience.

When small-time conquistador and government-sponsored andaluz Pedro de Perea arrived in Sonora in 1626 to take up the post of capitán of the presidio of Sinaloa, he was accompanied by Jesuits who, buoyed by their evangelizing mission, set about appropriating the best farmlands at the small indigenous settlement of Tuape on the Rio San Miguel. Perea’s actions prevented native people from working their ancestral ciénagas in the area. Rather than accept starvation, these Eudeve-speaking Indians migrated to the “prosperous but distant mission” at Mátape in order to resume their crop growing of dietary staples including corn and beans. There, under the direction of their Jesuit benefactor Daniel Ángelo Marras, who provided land and water for irrigation, they proved themselves successful and, apparently, resilient farmers.

The Perea/Jesuit/Tuape triad involved in the ancestral land episode illustrates the conflictive dynamics of frontier interaction that form the basis of David Yetman’s Conflict in Colonial Sonora: Indians, Priests, and Settlers. Like other studies devoted to viceregal Mexico’s maneuvering to legitimize conquest and maintain control of its border spaces, this assemblage of Yetman’s previously published essays and new material foregrounds reciprocal relationships. Such interactions emerged as much from internal conflicts among native peoples as from persistent divisions among groups perceived to be outsiders, here comprised of the military and clergy. From the settler and missionary perspective, indigenous communities represented challenges to expansionism, a belief that pervaded colonial Northwest Mexico over the course of a century and a half. Yetman’s Sonora unfolds as a highly charged socio-economic environment replete with ongoing personality clashes between the ranks of the Jesuits and the Franciscans; among settlers, here comprising military personnel of varying rank and importance; and, Native peoples, including the Pimans, Opatan, and the Seris, who alternately accommodated, aligned with, or, resisted their subjugators. Such colonial identities represented disparate groups challenged by limited resources, competing ideological agendas, and the need to support–with enthusiasm or, conversely, lack thereof–the expansionist efforts of Iberian viceregal administrators.

Yetman conveys the idea of “shifting alliances and changing opponents” among all three groups, here convened as the colonial era takes shape in Sonora and described as a triad of “roughly univocal forces with mostly clear interests” (2). Informed by scarcely researched archives of the period 1626–1771, the text’s seven chapters interlace borderlands competitors embodying complex psychological characteristics. Formatted thus, the author suggests a kind of collective desperation among groups and within individuals. Some readers will find Yetman’s fourth chapter, devoted to sorcery among Native practitioners of the occult, an ill-fitting interlude in an otherwise cohesively arranged study. The vast array of indigenous communities described by name will overwhelm the uninitiated while at the same time assert the multiplicity of such identities predating Iberian incursion; the latter will satisfy some Native Americanists even though such potentially confusing nomenclature has historically been a challenging effort, at best. An appendix explains the Tuape Indians’ legal struggle to retain their lands while a perfunctory glossary provides definitions of the book’s most commonly used terminology.

Yetman’s narrative conveys the ideological climate of a region and time period wherein religious orders and military units enhanced their separate agendas through various means, including violence and coercion, while manipulating the life ways of indigenous peoples. In turn, Native people readily appropriated the colonial...

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