- Defiance and Deference in Mexico’s Colonial North: Indians under Spanish Rule in Nueva Vizcaya
Ordinarily, a first book appears at the beginning of an academic career, but Susan Deeds's is the culmination of the many years of research and publication on the ethnohistory of northern Mexico. It is not surprising, therefore, that those who know her work will find many familiar themes. She expands on previous research to draw conclusions about how five indigenous peoples of present-day Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua responded to different aspects of the Spanish Conquest. Her objective is to account for the survival of the Tepehuanes and Tarahumaras as distinct ethnic groups into the twentieth century and the simultaneous demise of the Xiximes, Acaxees, and Conchos. All five were subjected to Spanish demands for labor and pressure from missionaries to convert and move into mission villages. Likewise, all experienced the devastation of disease and the pressures of acculturation from both Spaniards and other ethnic groups, African and Indian, who moved into the frontier. The ways in which native people reacted to these various aspects of the conquest Deeds calls "mediated opportunism," which she defines as "the cultural and environmental creativity that indigenous people showed in responding to Spanish invasion" (p. 196 ). She argues that those who were most successful in using elements of mediated opportunism survived as ethnic entities. Those who, for various reasons, did not were absorbed into the expanding multiethnic, mestizo population of northern Mexico.
Deeds capably describes the interaction among the complex social, economic, and environmental forces that transformed native society, including the mines and haciendas that demanded labor, coerced from the natives through the systems of encomienda, repartimiento, and slavery. Work obligations necessarily drew natives away from traditional activities, so that even paid labor was detrimental to cultural preservation. These entities eroded native culture in other ways as well. Mines not only attracted Spaniards, but also natives from the south, mestizos, and African slaves. Interethnic exchanges led to the creation of a mestizo culture that subsumed some Indian groups. Haciendas grew and encroached on native land. Charcoal making and overgrazing destroyed forests and caused erosion and flooding, resulting in the loss of territory for traditional agriculture and other subsistence activities. A third institution, the presidio, brought more Spaniards to the frontier, enhancing the ethnic mix. Presidios also acted as agents of cultural change by suppressing overt native resistance and enforcing coercive labor systems. Disease, of course, was the most challenging element to native cultural and physical survival, and the resulting precipitous decline in the native population threatened both the mining economy and native culture.
The author discusses various indigenous reactions to these pressures. In the [End Page 527] seventeenth century, Spanish entradas elicited "first generation" revolts that were unsuccessful in repulsing the invaders. Traditional culture seldom offered methods of successful resistance. The only successful technique the author identifies is withdrawal, which worked for both the Tarahumaras and the Tepehuanes. The Acaxees and Xiximes were done in by their high-walled fortresses, useful in defense against other native groups but not the Spanish, and by their traditional enmity, which allowed the Spanish to divide and conquer. But where decentralization may have helped the Tarahumara resist conquest and maintain their culture, it did not help the Conchos, who, the author admits, were "probably even more decentralized than . . . the Tarahumaras" (p. 51 ).
The focal point of Deeds's analysis is the missions, the place where "ethnicity was redefined" and the common link among the various elements of change on the frontier. Missions helped pacify natives, congregated them into villages, and provided essential labor to the mines and the haciendas. They provided security and material benefits to natives and also acted as a vector for disease. This changed by the eighteenth century, during which time the economy of the Jesuit missions declined and their population became less indigenous. This is the weakest part of the author's...