- Beyond Black and Red: African-Native Relations in Colonial Latin America
This work represents a significant contribution to the nascent field of Native-African interaction. Matthew Restall weaves together chapters that examine themes through a variety of methodological, theoretical, and even disciplinary approaches. The different modes of analysis provide fresh views on disparate areas, from the Yucatan to Colombia, covering the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries. Rather than treating the experiences of Africans and Natives in a monolithic static manner, the authors consider important distinctions between corporate and individual action. They convincingly argue that actions undertaken by historical actors must be understood [End Page 661] within given circumstances and that they obey a logic born out of living under racialized regimes.
Each chapter makes its own unique and important contribution, but some chapters merit special attention. Stuart B. Schwartz' and Hal Langfur's "Tapanhuns, Negros da Terra, and Curibocas" traces the conflictive relationship between Brazilian Natives and Africans. Indigenous demands coupled with African resistance created incessant problems for the Portuguese. To maintain their dominant position, the Portuguese used Natives as a means of slave control. Occasionally the efforts relied more on inertia, such as the reliance on autonomous indigenous groups to serve as buffers against the spread of maroon communities, and at other times the Portuguese used indigenous trackers to capture runaway slaves. The chapter problematizes the relationship between Natives and Africans by showing the limitations under which the groups operated. Despite seemingly hostile relations, Schwartz and Langfur demonstrate that an intercultural confluence resulted in hybrid religious and cultural forms. The conclusion's warning against historical downstreaming seems appended as it does not relate to the chapter's central themes. Aside from this, however, the chapter serves as a model of historical research for the way in which it succinctly ties together different periods into a seamless but complex narrative.
Norma Angélica Castillo Palma's and Susan Kellogg's "Conflict and Cohabitation" complicates the understanding of how individuals manipulated ethnic labels. They discuss the indigenous city-state of Cholula and rely on individual rather than corporate analysis. The authors show that among the lower social echelons, ethnicity played a smaller role than it did among elites. This confirms the findings of others who have also argued that concerns over identity and ethnicity gave way to more practical considerations for subalterns. The discussion on witchcraft would have benefited from comparisons with Laura Lewis' Hall of Mirrors (2003), a work that covers similar ground in its study of Native and African manipulations of sorcery and power. Overall, the chapter serves as an impressive example of effectively using inquisitional sources to shed light on previously poorly understood elements of the quotidian lives of subjugated peoples.
Far more theoretical in its approach, Neil Whitehead's "Black Read as Red" discusses how identity itself contested colonial power if it failed to fall into the rubrics created by Europeans. By standing outside of reified labels of identity, groups such as the Black Caribs challenged existing labels. By delving into European forms of identity creation that could result in labeling as monstrous anything outside of understood categories, Whitehead shows the necessity of intellectual history in understanding Native and African relations. The Black Caribs represented a fearsome reality of interethnic cooperation that stood in contrast to the attempts of using one group against another in the process of colonial control. The use of long quotes, while illustrative and integrated into the narrative, would have benefited from deeper analysis. Yet the chapter's innovative application of intellectual constructs overrides what may seem a purely stylistic concern. [End Page 662]
The book does have some deficiencies, however. The title seems contrived as the term "Red" never came into widespread use as a label for Natives in Latin America as it did in the United States. The term might have entered into popular discourse, but it did so at a far later time than that discussed in the book...