- Feast of Souls: Indians and Spaniards in the Seventeenth-Century Missions of Florida and New Mexico
Feast of Souls provides a comparative synthesis of the Franciscan mission enterprise in two provinces of the northeastern and northwestern borderlands of New Spain: Florida and New Mexico. The author's purpose is to produce a teaching volume for undergraduate classroom use in accessible language whose protagonists are the indigenous peoples of both regions and the missionaries imbued with the spirit of evangelization in new and largely unknown cultural frontiers. The seventeenth century marks the temporal framework for this study, indeed the formative period of contested hegemony and negotiated colonialism in both of these borderlands. Robert Galgano achieves his purpose, centering his narrative on the religious mission itself, with emphasis on the mixed and often contradictory messages that indigenous neophytes heard and refashioned from the Franciscans' Christian gospel. [End Page 411]
Feast of Souls is a slim, eminently readable book divided into six chapters that roughly follow chronological lines through different phases of early contact, conquest, and mission settlement. Galgano addresses the ecological, epidemiological, and sociopolitical impacts of conquest and mission formation, notwithstanding his principal interest in the cultural clashes of the Catholic call to conversion and the disciplines that Franciscans attempted to impose on the Indians' religious and curing practices. He culls important cultural insights from the ethnographic literature for both regions and is attentive to the cultural frameworks that friars and secular Spaniards brought to the Americas from medieval traditions and the Tridentine canons of the early Counter Reformation.
The book's strengths lie in the simplicity and clarity of the narrative. He compares the importance of chiefdoms among the Timucuan and Apalachee peoples of Florida with the relative independence of individual pueblos in New Mexico. The presence of the English frontier provided a market and physical refuge for indigenous peoples who fled from the Spanish mission system, but at the same time threatened Indians and Spaniards in Florida with aggressive military invasions during the War of the Spanish Succession (Queen Anne's War) of the early eighteenth century. Conflict and rebellion came from within New Mexico, in a series of village-level rebellions that culminated in the well-known revolt of 1680, forcing the Spaniards to abandon the province for nearly two decades.
Feast of Souls reduces the colonial drama to only a few themes related to the missions and focuses on two separate provinces of the vast northern frontier of New Spain. While the comparisons between Florida and New Mexico support Galgano's main points, the narrative generally ignores concurrent historical processes in the neighboring provinces of Nueva Vizcaya, Coahuila, and Nuevo León. The resulting text seems to float suspended above the complicated tapestry of Spanish dominion in the Americas and viceregal developments in New Spain. Classroom teachers would be well advised to problematize the author's contention that the Crown's only motive for sustaining these provinces was its commitment to Catholic evangelization of Indian souls. Florida belonged to the Caribbean basin, with strategic navigational routes and European rivalries for control of territories, ports, the slave trade, and plantation economies. New Mexico, although on the margins of the mining centers of Zacatecas, Durango, Chihuahua, and Sonora that fueled the New Spanish economy, was connected to that colonial economy through the camino real de tierra adentro and provided a defensive shield for both real and imagined incursions by British and French traders and military forces. In sum, Feast of Souls offers students an engaging introduction to the history of two regions that illustrate the complexity of ecological, cultural, and geopolitical borderlands in the Americas.