- “Strange Lands and Different Peoples”: Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Guatemala by W. George Lovell and Christopher H. Lutz, with Wendy Kramer and William R. Swezey, and: Indians and the Political Economy of Colonial Central America, 1670–1810 by Robert W. Patch
The two books under review, written by experienced historians of Spanish colonial Central America, appear at first sight to be complementary. The work by Lovell, Lutz, et al., despite an excursion documenting Native American demographic recovery into the nineteenth century, deals primarily with the years from the Spanish invasion to the 1620s. The Patch book begins in 1670 and moves quickly to the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries (as is often the case in Central American historiography, the middle years of the seventeenth century receive little attention.)
Both books rely heavily on the archival collections of the Archive of the Indies, Seville, Spain, while ignoring completely all of the Central American archives (Patch) or using the main archive in Guatemala City sparingly (Lovell and Lutz cite only fifteen of its documents, several of them admittedly lengthy and difficult). The two books concentrate on Spanish and Indian economic relationships and use data and insights from biography, geography and land tenure/use, economics, statistics, and political theory.
In many ways, however, the two works diverge. Geographically, Lovell, Lutz, et al. confine themselves to the province of Guatemala, including today’s El Salvador, whereas Patch attempts to cover all of colonial Central America, though not so much Honduras and Costa Rica. Lovell, Lutz, et al. offer a history of early Spanish exploitation and Indian accommodation and resistance; Patch dwells on one Spanish and Indian relationship, the repartimiento de efectos or mercancías. This illegal but largely tolerated institution was a “putting out” system, often of thread and textiles, involving Indian women, as well as a forced collection of basic goods via the tribute tax or other means, for resale by Spanish regional officials at higher prices.
Lovell, Lutz, et al. concentrate on local history within Guatemala, [End Page 255] stressing, among other themes, the prolonged impact of colonial exploitive behaviors on the brutal, divisive history of the modern nation. Patch, influenced by the patterns of global interdependence described by Wallerstein and Frank, accepts some of the findings of Baskes and Ouweneel regarding Mexican colonial repartimientos (though with several reservations), plus recent work about the early worldwide influence of the Chinese trades via Manila with colonial Mexico.1 Thus, he attempts to insert Indian production through the repartimiento system as one of the means “to integrate peasants into the wider colonial and world economy” (7; see also 4). His argument holds, indirectly at best, for such basic foodstuffs as maize, beans, jerky, fish, and cheeses and more directly for such exports as cacao, indigo, and Honduran silver, depending on their boom-and-bust cycles.
“Strange Lands and Different Peoples,” an omnium gatherum of the individual and joint writings of four authors, performs a great service by revising and publishing in one place a diverse and scattered corpus. This scholarship, with its welcome emphasis on Indian demographic history, should put to rest the debate about Indian population decline, especially before the 1580s, and the slow, interrupted recovery after about 1630. Admitting to some informed guesses and to gaps in the documentary record, the authors have amassed a mountain of evidence, apparently conclusive.
The early chapters offer an exhaustive account of the long, destructive, and chaotic conquest of Guatemala. Notable are a full description of the early Cakchiquel uprisings and a discussion of the activities and lasting effect of the rapacious, brutal Pedro de Alvarado. Subsequent chapters examine the reforms of Alfonso López de Cerrato and Diego García de Valverde, two leaders who came later. Although some readers may find the praise of these two men...