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Reviewed by:
  • American Pentimento: The Invention of Indians and the Pursuit of Riches
  • Hernán Horna
American Pentimento: The Invention of Indians and the Pursuit of Riches. By Patricia Seed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2001. 299 pp. $29.95 (cloth).

Throughout the contemporary world native and aboriginal peoples face disputes regarding their human rights, political participation, and claims to their ancestral economic resources. Their excluded situation is a consequence of the historical globalization that began in the fifteenth century. Since then, colonialism and neocolonialism emerged in the global system. Natives and aboriginals were subjected to the worst side of the globalization process. We still can witness the legacy of such a development in the form of pentimento leftovers. The cultural differences and traditions of European colonialism are still deterrents to contemporary native ownership rights. Patricia Seed attempts a global view of how European colonialism affected the legal and cultural heritage of native and aboriginal peoples.

Seed's theoretical formulation is based on a comparison of Anglo-Saxon and Iberian views of land and labor. There is even an implicit appeal for an intercultural dialogue. While the British emphasized the utilization of land, the Iberians concentrated on the use of native labor. How those processes and definitions affected the relationship between colonizers and colonized is thoroughly explained. The author makes convincing arguments about how the different legal systems imposed by the European colonial powers are now relevant to the legal technicalities of native struggles for human rights and resources. The question of individual and communal ownership of resources affects native negotiations with multinational corporations and national states in the first and third worlds. Moreover, the United Nations asserted that national instead of international policies defined the status of sovereignty over natural resources during the 1970s.With the end of the Cold War and the expansion of neoliberal globalization, the struggle for native natural resources is an issue that will continue to have relevancy.

All the Europeans who searched for riches away from their homelands had different rationalizations about what was fair, legal, or illegal in the eyes of God. They were God-fearing people. Seed explains how the right to subsoil resources is a prerogative of the Iberian states, which goes back to ancient Arabic and Islamic traditions. In regions colonized by Britain, whoever owned the surface of the land usually owned the minerals underneath. The Anglo-Saxon perceptions of modernization emphasize the development of individual human rights and individual property rights. In their view, the wastelands were [End Page 264] transformed into capital by the individual efforts of the colonizers. Thus, the communal ownership of grounds was archaic. And, since the natives were not using those lands to their fullest potential, they lost their legal claims. On the other hand, the Iberian exploitation, oppression, and plunder of Amerindians were justified on religious and moral principles.

Seed is not skeptical of the stories that the Iberians had about native anthropophagi. In her view, Europeans had practiced survival cannibalism while Amerindians specialized in ritual cannibalism. Although Seed's discourse argues that "native cannibalism neither was nor is at issue," she finds close similarities between Amerindian ritual cannibalism and "the transformation of the Eucharistic into the body and blood of Christ" (p. 97). These are very strong and important analogies for which Seed does not present sufficient research. Apparently, under conditions of necessity, cannibalism has existed in all societies and almost in all epochs, and from the dawn of history. The Europeans who ventured the seas in the fifteenth century looked for anthropophagi, mermaids, and people with tails and one eye. According to the protocols and diaries of "discovery," when the Portuguese discovered Brazil (1500), they did not find anthropophagous people. The difference between Columbus's first journey and his succeeding trips to the New World is that in the first case he specifically answered that the Carib Indians or "Cannibals" did not practice anthropophagi. On the wake of Columbus's discovery, the Iberian elites engaged in a religious, moral, and ethical debate on the justifications for the plunder and colonization of the Amerindians. When in 1503 the Spanish crown sanctioned that only cannibals could be enslaved, it condemned many Amerindians to...


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