- Indigenous Roots/Routes in Northern Brazil and the Colorado Basin
The historical study of Indigenous peoples in the Americas has long been guided by the idea of Native Americans being rooted to a deep sense of place. Throughout North, Central, and South America, generation after generation of scholars and novelists have informed readers about the important, often sacred, connections that Indigenous peoples make to the land and a sense of place in giving collective identities their social and cultural meanings. These scholars and writers argue that because Native peoples traditionally lived in subsistence cultures and relied on the local/regional environment to sustain life, land was (and remains), as Native American historian Clara Sue Kidwell and literary scholar Alan Velie observe, “the basic source of American Indian identity” (Kidwell and Velie, Native American Studies [Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2005], 21. See also Joy Porter, Native American Environmentalism: Land, Spirit, and the Idea of Wilderness [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2014]; and Maria Regina Celestino de Almeida, “Land and Economic Resources of Indigenous Aldeias in Rio de Janeiro: Conflicts and Negotiations, Seventeenth to Nineteenth Centuries,” in Native Brazil: Beyond the Convert and the Cannibal, 1500–1900, ed. Hal Langfur [Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014], 77–78).
There’s a great deal to admire about this vast literature. That said, two new, thoroughly researched, and originally argued studies by historians Heather Roller and Natale Zappia demonstrate how students of Indigenous Americans should [End Page 353] not overlook the importance of movement to Native histories. Travel, migration, and exchange, Roller and Zappia remind us, played pivotal roles in reconstituting Indigenous communities and redefining the meaning of Native identities as aggressively expansive European colonial regimes fanned out across the Americas during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries.
Heather Roller’s Amazonian Routes is a stunningly original analysis of settlements in the Portuguese Amazon between 1750 and the early nineteenth century. Roller is particularly attentive to the resilience of Indigenous cultures and how Native peoples, especially Indigenous men, used riverine systems of transportation to build villages and communities, sustaining Indigenous identities in the process (3–4). In other words, the riverine routes that many Indigenous men chose to take had the potential to result in the formation of new villages and a new sense of geographical rootedness.
Roller sets her analysis against the backdrop of the Pombaline reforms of the 1750s. These reforms saw a secular Directorate system assume the administration of villages previously overseen by Christian missionaries. However, Roller details the abandonment of the Directorate system by the end of the eighteenth century, and the emergence of villages in which the legal status of Native peoples became that of free vassals of the Portuguese crown. This context is important, because historians routinely assert that colonial settlements in the Portuguese Amazon constituted artificial creations of the crown, designed to meet the labor needs of the colonial economy.
Roller challenges this consensus. She shifts our attention to local Indigenous actors, revealing a world in which “adaptation and collaboration” enabled Native peoples not only to survive in the Portuguese Amazon, but to thrive (7). Drawing on a rich repository of archival sources, she presents readers with a view of Indigenous villages from the ground up. In Roller’s telling, the villages that missionaries and secular officials helped to found were forged on Native ground; indeed, Amazonian villages were porous places that were shaped by the human movement and agency of Indigenous people (50).
In six well-conceived chapters, Roller persuasively forces us to rethink the master narrative of the Portuguese Amazon. Chapter one provides readers with an overview of early settlement, with particular attention to mission settlements. Chapter two explores issues of labor, especially the labor obligations of indios aldeiados [settled natives] whose participation in collecting expeditions was designed to convince Natives to settle permanently in villages, thereby meeting the...