- Negotiation Within Domination: New Spain’s Indian Pueblos Confront the Spanish State
Negotiation within Domination is a book rich in theoretical implications and extensively researched essays. How is it that the Spanish empire managed, without a standing army, to keep a vast indigenous population in political check for three centuries? And what is domination anyway? As Brian Owensby points out in his foreword, the essays collected here “tack back and forth between these two questions” (p. xi). As Susan Kellogg explains, the book examines the ways that indigenous communities and individuals engaged in “conflict resolution, as [it] evolved through dialogue, negotiation, resistance, and conflict between indigenous peoples and the representatives and institutions of the Spanish Crown” (p. 3). It finds a kind of middle ground between scholars who see the destruction of indigenous culture in the wake of the conquest and those who emphasize the continuity of indigenous social forms in the post-contact period. In many ways this collection reflects a recent trend exemplified by Owensby’s work on indigenous society and the law (2008), which emphasizes the fluidity between Mesoamerican indigenous social forms and Spanish legal norms. This collection is also notable and, unfortunately, remarkable for its balance of scholarship by North American and Mexican scholars of Mexico.
The essays are organized principally along chronological lines and move from central Mexico to the southern and northern frontiers of New Spain. Jovita Baber examines the process by which the Tlaxcalan nobility “consciously and strategically negotiated their interests within the [Spanish] empire” (p. 20). This was achieved by Tlaxcalan elites pursuing an “amalgamation” of municipal forms, both pre-contact and Spanish, to assert their privileges, though it is not entirely clear what those forms were. Ethelia Ruiz Medrano offers a reconsideration of a venerable topic of colonial Mexican historiography— the Martín Cortés conspiracy—from the point of view of indigenous elite involvement in the political events of the 1560s in Mexico-Tenochtitlán. This is based to an extent on a translation of the Anales de Juan Bautista, which detail Mexica views of “high-level indigenous politics” (p. 59). If indeed politics makes strange bedfellows, this essay examines a classic case: Franciscans, the Mexica governor of Mexico-Tenochtitlán, don Luis de Santa María Cipac, Alonso Chico de Molina, and Cortés all allied against the policies of expanding taxation and the stripping of encomendero and mendicant privileges championed by the archbishop Montúfar and the crown. Edward Osowski’s discussion of “Indigenous Centurions and Triumphal Arches” shows how Spanish officials were taken aback by the strength of support among indigenous communities for religious festivals like Corpus Christi. Yet Spanish officials distrusted the public economies of construction, markets, and informal economies that sprung up during such festivals. In Osowski’s view the “festival economy afforded benefits for non-elite participants” (p. 100). Likewise, in this process “indigenous town councils [End Page 128] made economic alliances with non-indigenous peoples [and thus] participated in a multi-ethnic Catholic culture, strengthening their negotiating power” (p. 100).
These first essays focus on central Mexico and the following four examine Oaxaca, northern New Spain, and Tabasco. María de los Ángeles Romero Frizzi provides a microhistorical case study of the Sierra Zapoteca to show how indigenous communities “interpret[ed] Spanish power in fundamentally sacred terms” (p. 110). Yanna Yannakakis analyzes the power of custom as a “language of negotiation” in the Villa Alta of Oaxaca—thus, the “preeminence of the local and the particular” (p. 139) was, in her assessment, more powerful than the generic and the centralized in imperial context. As is often the case with these essays, the underlying theoretical issues are nicely discussed without overtaxing detours. In this case, the ideas about consuetudinary law as elucidated by Víctor Tau Anzoátegui are the driving thematic force (as indeed they are in several essays). In his interpretation, law in the colonial period was, at its heart, an adaptation of social...