Hispanic American Historical Review 83.3 (2003) 581-583
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Indios y negros en Panama en los siglos XVI y XVII: Selecciones de los documentos del Archivo General de Indias. Edited by CAROL F. JOPLING. Monográfica, no. 7. South Woodstock, Vt.: Plumsock Mesoamerican Studies; Antigua: Centro de Investigaciones Regionales de Mesoamerica, 1994. Maps. Bibliography. Indexes. xxiv, 612 pp. Paper, $30.00.
This important compilation of primary documents shines light upon the neglected early colonial period in Panama and vastly increases the raw data available to library-bound researchers regarding the experiences of Africans and Indians on the isthmus. The text's markers, which coordinate with the relevant sections of the AGN in Seville, will prove invaluable for those planning a trip to this archive to explore the ethnohistory of Panama's indigenous peoples or the interactions between Africans and Spaniards. Jopling's volume could readily serve as a primary source base for research seminars dealing with the Spanish empire, the Central American region, or the issue of race in the early modern Spanish world.
Jopling's collection deserves a place on the shelf beside Irene Wright's Documents Concerning English Voyages to the Spanish Main, 1569-1580 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1932). Her chronological span, however, is greater than Wright's, and [End Page 581] more important, her thematic selection highlights the experiences of Panama's African and indigenous peoples. However, Jopling's collection does not entirely replace Wright's older and less nuanced one. For example, her chapter on cimarrones treads lightly over the 1577-79 period that Wright found so important and instead focuses upon the events that took place in the crucial 1579-83 period, when the African leaders of several cimarron bands accepted peaceable "reduction" under Spanish auspices. This revealing section provides a compelling and detailed narrative of events, including names and descriptions of individual leaders such as Antonio Mandinga, details about the rebellious former slaves (names and backgrounds), and the location of the villages set aside for the newly "pacified" peoples. While readers of Wright's collections are left with the impression that Panama's Africans were a passive lot, dependent upon European intruders like Drake to provide the necessary catalyst, planning, and coordination for their slave rebellions, in Jopling's collection cimarrones emerge as historical agents in their own right, whose capabilities and motivations can be interpreted by the reader. Likewise, though her chapter on the role of Indians and blacks in the fight against English privateers covers ground similar to Wright's Further English Voyages to Spanish America, 1583-94 (London: Hakluyt Society, 1949), she offers fresh material on the 1596-97 period from a Spanish perspective.
Jopling notes that the majority of historical studies on Panama emphasize the Spaniards' point of view: "These studies do not exclude information on the Indians and the Africans, but the details of their daily lives, modes of survival, and their participation in Panamanian society are considered primarily in terms of their relation to the Spaniards. . . . It is rare for the Indians and the Africans to speak for themselves" (p. xi). Although I would agree with the last part of the statement, I would question her disapproval of studying Africans and Indians "in terms of their relation to the Spaniards." Rather than presenting the experiences of Africans and Indians in utter isolation, I would underline the importance of understanding the history of colonial Panama as the history of the interactions between these three groups, each of which were active participants. Paramount to studying this process of interrelatedness is the concept of agency. Members of the two subaltern groups must be presented as active agents in the region's history, a challenge when drawing on sources almost entirely generated by Spaniards. This volume raises the question of how such histories might be written. I think that this issue has resulted as much from certain problematic attitudes that impeded researchers in the past as it has from deficiencies in the source material.
I found the chronological...