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Reviewed by:
  • Spectacular Wealth: The Festivals of Colonial South American Mining Towns by Lisa Voigt
  • Ricardo Padrón
Lisa Voigt.
Spectacular Wealth: The Festivals of Colonial South American Mining Towns.
U of Texas P, 2016. 225 Pp.

IN THIS CAREFULLY RESEARCHED AND THOUGHTFULLY CRAFTED BOOK, Lisa Voigt makes a compelling case against José Antonio Maravall’s argument that civic festivals were among the key practices used by church and crown to direct the culture of the Hispanic world during the Baroque period. According to Maravall (and others), such festivals rehearsed the triumph of civilization over barbarism, Christianity over paganism, and Spain over its various ethnic and racial others, thereby serving to impress the masses with the majesty of the Crown or the truth of the Faith. Voigt overturns this argument by carefully examining a series of printed descriptions of religious and secular festivals held in the colonial Latin American mining towns of High Peru and Minas Gerais. According to her, celebrations of Corpus Christi, official entrances of secular and ecclesiastical officials, and other such festivals did not speak with a single voice, but with many. The people responsible for them as sponsors and participants of various kinds did not just hear the commanding voice of God or king and submit to it, but also found ways to express their own agendas and identities as criollos, Amerindians, and Africans.

The book is divided into two parts of two chapters each, with a separate introduction and conclusion. Part 1 deals with criollo patriotism in festival descriptions, with chapter 1 focused on the festivals included in Bartolomé Arzáns de Orsúa y Vela’s Historia de la Villa Imperial de Potosí (1737), and chapter 2 on Simão Ferreira Machado’s Triunfo Eucharistico (1734) and the anonymous Aureo Throno Episcopal (1749). In each chapter, we see how these texts celebrate the identities of the criollo elites of mining boomtowns, often against metropolitan aspersions. Arzáns, for example, uses his accounts of Potosí festivals over the course of a century to defend creoles against metropolitan arguments that the inhabitants of the Americas were less sophisticated, intellectually and culturally, than their European counterparts. The Portuguese texts, meanwhile, portray the mining towns of Minas Gerais as centers of piety and devotion, thereby answering to the claim of metropolitan [End Page 235] discourse that their locations in the far reaches of the empire meant that they lacked the piety of Portugal.

Part 2 is probably the more interesting of the two, insofar as it involves greater interpretative challenges. In chapter 3, Voigt returns to Potosí and Arzáns, but adds Diego Mexía de Ferangil’s El Dios Pan (early seventeenth century) to the mix; in chapter 4, she returns to Minas Gerais, Machado, and the Aureo Throno. In returning to these texts, Voigt’s goal is to examine how Amerindians in Peru and Africans in Minas Gerais appropriated civic festivals for their own ends. Baroque civic festivals putatively included Amerindian or African participants in order to enact the submission of subject populations to king and church, but Voigt demonstrates that subaltern groups were able to inhabit these roles in ways that converted them into celebrations of Amerindian or African identity. She does so by reading against the grain of the criollo narrative, fastening onto places where subaltern agendas peek out through the overt rhetorical program, using comparisons with relevant archival material and ample references to the secondary literature to tease them out. This reviewer was most interested in the discussion of mulattoes in Carijó costumes, which made them look like Tupinamba Indians and African kings at the same time, allowing their performance to mean different things for different publics.

Like Writing Captivity in the Early Modern Atlantic, Voigt’s first book, Spectacular Wealth benefits from the author’s rare ability to move capably and easily between the Spanish and Portuguese speaking worlds. Brazil and Bolivia receive equal attention. As a result, we learn how the same practices of performance and inscription characterize the Iberian Baroque on both sides of the line of demarcation. We also observe fascinating parallels between Amerindian and African festival participation, something that would hardly be possible if the argument did not...


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