Journal of Interdisciplinary History 35.1 (2004) 170-171
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The year was 1599, six decades after the Spanish invasion of the kingdom of Quito in the former Inca empire's northern reaches. On the eve of the seventeenth century, the highland capital Quito teemed with market women, migrant Indians, mestizo artisans, soldiers, aspiring merchants, and established Spanish elite. To the northwest, a shipwreck offthe coast of Esmeraldas has ended in the formation of an Afro- Amerindian community subject not to local Spanish lords but through pacts to the king. In the northern highlands, soldiers have subjugated and enslaved warring indigenous groups; the human booty entered the capital with faces branded, about to be put up for sale. An unsuccessful group of soldiers attempted to bring the Jívaro peoples of the Amazonian basin into the folds of Spanish dominion, only to turn back and make way for later generations of unlucky missionaries. Economic enterprises of gold mining, textile and agriculture fared better; gold prospectors meet ephemeral but great wealth in the mines of the northern and southern folds of the cordillera. Enterprising men, such as a young Flemish banker, climbed the socioeconomic ladder. So too did merchants willing to take the risks of inter-Andean trade. With pirates threatening the coastal port of Guayaquil and rumored cannibals lingering in the jungle, fear was ever-present in the fringes of the colony. This was life in early-colonial society on the periphery.
Such a cast of characters and dramatic events comprises the fast-paced history Quito 1599. Yet, dramatic as the setting may be, the capital and province of Quito are representative of other early colonial societies on the edge of Iberia's American empires. The success of conquest and colonialism was not a forgone conclusion but the product of many sites of contention and negotiation. Lane leads us into these different sites through a series of puzzles illustrating the consolidation of colonial society: For instance, who were the African chiefs adorned in gold jewellery and Spanish clothes; who was the twelve-year-old indigenous slave sold in the Quito market place; how did a merchant live long beyond his death? Puzzles emerge precisely because the period after conquest and before the establishment of mature colonial society was fluid. Moreover, Quito was more similar to such middling Spanish possessions as Oaxaca or Arequipa than to the wealthy and much coveted centers of imperial administration and wealth (Lima, Potosí, and Mexico City). The city of Quito sought with questionable success not only to establish authority within its own plazas but also to control its own frontiers of autonomous maroon communities, bellicose indigenous groups, and pirate-infested waters. Two core themes anchor six narrative journeys—gold-lust and human captivity—subjects relevant to the early modern Atlantic world specifically, and to colonial enterprises more broadly.
Though the quest for gold is a central trope in early colonial history, gold mining [End Page 170] in colonial Ecuador is little known. Quito is better recognized for its textile and agricultural production than its mineral wealth. Lane unearths the significant wealth of early gold production in the remote regions of Quito to the north in Popayán (present-day Colombia) and to the south in Zaruma, the latter region being the oldest still- functioning gold camp in the Americas. Bullion from Quito accounted for almost one-fourth of all gold registered in Seville prior to the mid-seventeenth century, underscoring the importance of this region in the larger Atlantic world. The goldfields became less productive primarily for reasons of subaltern challenge: Indigenous peoples fiercely held Spanish incursions at bay, especially in the Jívaro region. If Spanish miners wanted to keep gold flowing, they faced the reality of having to offer wages, thereby challenging the world-system view of the periphery as one of forced labor alone.
Quito 1599 is an engaging study that will appeal to a wide-ranging audience...