The Americas 60.4 (2004) 645-647
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This work explores marriage and gender relations in Banda Oriental, Uruguay. This border region of the Spanish colonial empire reveals several specific historic features that have been of fundamental importance for contemporary practices and concepts in the context of gender relations. Colonization and social development, for example, did not start in Banda Oriental until the foundation of Montevideo in 1725. At that time social, economic and political processes of colonial formation had already been largely completed in the rest of Latin America. The specific situation in Banda Oriental was also influenced by the fact that colonial developments took place right at the borderline of Indian and Portuguese areas of influence. The [End Page 645] emerging society was defined almost entirely by the ongoing conflict between the Iberian powers seeking to control the Banda Oriental and the struggle by the indigenous population for self-defence.
The author analyses the direct effects of a border region on gender relations and chooses the marital market as a central point of reference. Taking into account a broad range of sources, above all parish and criminal records, this study focuses on providing a comprehensive quantifying set of analyses which are illustrated in numerous tables and graphics in the appendix. To this traditional social and demographic approach the author adds stories of individuals. This provides information on interesting aspects of gender relations, such as on contemporary concepts of love and sexuality, which are not reflected in a purely quantitative source analysis.
After a short introduction into the region of Banda Oriental the study outlines the initiation of relationships between men and women within the context of the moral concepts of a colonial society. The study also examines these relationships within a context of attempts by the colonial power to intensify government influence on marital behaviour by introducing specific reforms. The author then describes the influence of social, cultural and ethnic aspects on marital behaviour. Here he focuses not only on first marriages but also on remarriages, which are of importance for the demographic development of the region. Extra-marital phenomena, such as prostitution, physical violence and the abduction of women (rapto) are discussed as well. In addition, the author tries to reconstruct contemporary concepts of love, honour and sexuality.
The book illustrates that gender relations were, on the one hand, determined by the traditional hispano-Catholic system of morals and values that were also firmly established in Banda Oriental. On the other hand, the complex living conditions in this region also had a decisive influence on the relationships between the sexes. Female and male behaviour and societal attitudes towards women were largely determined by the sense of omnipresent danger and uncertainty, military conflicts, and the remarkably higher number of men in this border region. The lack of women increased the pressure to become married but also enhanced the women's possibilities of choice. In order to have a chance in the marital market men needed to meet higher standards with regard to their social prestige and status. Unlike in Europe and other regions of Latin America widows remarried more often and faster than did men. The prevailing social and ethnic endogamy in Banda Oriental is also conspicuous. According to the author, mixed marriages, amancebamiento and prostitution were not as common as in other parts of the colonial empire. In this context it is particularly striking and interesting that there was only miminal mestizaje in this region. Whereas in other regions a surplus of Spanish men regularly led to interethnic marriages and extramarital relationships this does not seem to have been the case in Banda Oriental. Though it should be taken into consideration that archival records of extramarital relationships like amancebamiento or prostitution have usually turned out to be incomplete. [End Page 646]
Overall, this eloquent study of various aspects of the colonial...