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  • Indian Captivity in Spanish America: Frontier Narratives
  • Susan M. Socolow (bio)
Fernando Operé. Indian Captivity in Spanish America: Frontier Narratives. Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 2008. 289 pp. ISBN 978-08139-2587-5, $22.50.

This interesting book, translated from an earlier Spanish edition, presents a solid overview of the almost 500 year history of men and women captured by [End Page 528] indigenous tribes throughout Spanish America. Indeed, tracing the history of captivity from New Mexico to Patagonia is a formidable task, for unlike Anglo-America, where stories of captivity became a literary genre, Operé is working on a subject in which narratives are few and sources are sparse. Although many men, women, and children were captured by raiding parties throughout frontier regions in Spanish America, we have little information as to their names, lives, and experiences. Operé, who sees these captives as "fundamental characters in the transformational dynamics of the frontier," has managed to piece together a coherent chronology and provide some vivid examples of captives, while also examining the context in which raiding occurred.

Operé follows a rough chronology in his discussion of captivity. He begins with the early captives: Juan Ortiz, taken captive along the coast of Florida in 1528; the missionary Father Ávila; some nameless male and female castaways; and Alvar Nuñez Cabeza de Vaca, the intrepid explorer, castaway, and captive who left a firsthand account of his experience and is discussed at length. The second chapter focuses on the Indian raids (malocas) along the Araucanian frontier of Chile. Beginning in 1541, the Spanish advance to the South was met with indigenous resistance by several tribes. Chief among them were the Mapuche, who killed Governor Pedro de Valdivia and attacked settlements south of the Bio-bio River until the third decade of the seventeenth century. Among the captives discussed are Francisco Núñez de Pineda y Bascuñán, who spent six months as a captive of the Mapuche, and Juan Falcón de los Angeles, a Dominican priest. During these years, the malocas not only seized men and women, but also traded captives across the Andes. Operé points out that not all the non-Indians found in their camps were Spaniards and/or captives. Fugitives, deserters, mestizos, and mulattos also joined the Mapuche, and the author believes, helped to transform indigenous culture.

Operé continues the story of captivity in Spanish America across the Andes to the pampas, where native peoples indigenous to Chile began to arrive in the late seventeenth century. In addition to adopting some of the material culture of the pampas tribes, the Araucanians introduced to the region the raiding of Spanish settlements and forts for cattle and captives. Only a series of expeditions undertaken by the Argentine government in the decade of the 1870s, the so-called "Conquest of the Desert," finally ended these malones. In these raids, and possibly in all raids in Spanish America, women and young boys were the preferred booty seized by the Indians; adult men were usually killed. While women and boys could be incorporated into indigenous society as laborers, slaves, wives, mothers, concubines, and trade goods, men were viewed as too dangerous and too difficult to control. [End Page 529]

Operé then moves to the northern frontier (New Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, and the northern provinces of present-day Mexico) where indigenous tribes resisted European conquest for four centuries. Spaniards and later American settlers engaged Chichmecas, Comanches, Pueblos, Apaches, and Utes along what the author sees as a "series of juxtaposed minifrontiers," where both sides took captives. In addition to a discussion of the Pueblo Indian revolt of 1689–1693, in which taking of women captives was common, the author discusses Mexican and American men and women kidnapped by the Comanches and Apaches well into the nineteenth century. Like captives in the Río de la Plata, these individuals could be traded to other tribes for goods and animals. Operé believes that during this period, captives comprised between 10 to 20 percent of the total Indian population.

The last two chapters are something of an addendum. Chapter six tells the story of Helena Valero, a Venezuelan girl captured by a Yanomamö tribe along the...


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