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  • Big Water: The Making of the Borderlands Between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay ed. by Jacob Blanc and Frederico Freitas
  • Federico Ferretti
Jacob Blanc and Frederico Freitas, eds. Big Water: The Making of the Borderlands Between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay Tucson: The University of Arizona Press, 2018. xii + 329 pp. $55 paper (ISBN 97808165371431); $55 electronic (ISBN 9780816538294).

This collective volume is one of the first attempts to compile a history of the "Triple Frontier," based on original research and primary sources, for English-speaking publics. The editors argue resolutely for a transnational approach to a trans-border region whose main centers are respectively Ciudad del Este (Paraguay), Foz do Iguaçu (Brazil) and Puerto Iguazú (Argentina). The volume challenges national and nationalistic narratives which have long prevailed in existing historiographies on the making of the respective frontiers.

Introduced by a foreword by Zephyr Frank, the volume is presented by the editors as a call "for a reinterpretation that goes beyond the material and conceptual boundaries of the Triple Frontier" (p. 6), addressing mobilities and agencies of local populations. These include the Guarani Indians, who have traditionally settled in the region and whose way of life represents spatiality models antagonistic to Western notions of bounded territory.

In the first chapter, "Embodied borderland," Shawn Michael Austin analyzes early imperial rivalries between Spanish and Portuguese colonizers in the region, arguing that "what constituted borders for colonials in the region were indigenous bodies and souls" (p. 26). The chapter analyzes the complexity of local agencies at work, including the collaboration between indigenous leaders and the Spanish Jesuits' settlements which especially flourished in the region, without forgetting the often-hidden histories of revolts whose frequency challenges commonplace readings positing some alleged passivity of Indians and African slaves vis-à-vis colonial exploitation: "As Spaniards put greater pressures on Guarani communities for personal servants, Guarani either responded with violence or withdrew from Spaniards' reach" (p. 32). A constant and fluid state of competition between Paulistas, Jesuits and indigenous leaders rendered the region's boundaries "literally mobile" (p. 45) in the early colonial period.

In the second chapter, "Jesuit missions and the Guarani ethnogenesis," Guillermo Wilde likewise focuses on indigenous agency in Jesuits' establishments, challenging readings that considered them as "isolated and disconnected from the rest of the region's colonial circuits" (p. 55). Drawing upon recent [End Page 221] scholarship on the notion of ethnogenesis, Wilde argues that the Jesuit experience was instrumental in the definition of a Guarani identity in the region, to be understood in its pluralities and mobilities. Therefore, Guarani ethnogenesis can be considered to be strictly connected with complex processes of territorialization, de-territorialization and reterritorialization ongoing in the region during and after the Jesuits' period.

In the third chapter, "Crossing borders," Eunice Sueli Nodari addresses environmental transformations in the areas of West Santa Catarina (Brazil) and Misiones (Argentina) as a consequence of the settling of European colons from the end of the nineteenth century, especially after the 1895 diplomatic solution of the border dispute between Argentina and Brazil over this region. The chapter highlights the role played by colonizing companies which favored the settlement of German workers to foster at the same time the Europeanization of the region and the political integration of a border which was formerly considered far from the respective political centers by both the Brazilian and the Argentinian state.

In the fourth chapter, "Argentinizing the border," Frederico Freitas analyzes how the formation of protected areas around the waterfalls of Iguazú/Iguaçu between Argentina and Brazil served the agenda of both states to integrate the frontier and to strengthen their geopolitical power in the area by "nationaliz[ing] a borderland deemed dangerously open to foreign influences" (p. 122), as the author especially argues for the Argentinian case.

In the fifth chapter, "A devilish prank …," Michael Kenneth Huner analyzes the postcolonial process of production of Paraguayan borders during the era of President Carlos Antonio López by discussing cases in "fragmented, contested, and overlapping sovereignties at the local level, especially in areas well removed from the capital" (p. 132), like the north-eastern town of Salvador. The gaps between urban policed areas and "the unsubjugated monte...