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  • Blacks of the Land: Indian Slavery, Settler Society, and the Portuguese Colonial Enterprise in South America by John M. Monteiro
  • Carolyn Arena
Blacks of the Land: Indian Slavery, Settler Society, and the Portuguese Colonial Enterprise in South America. By John M. Monteiro. Edited and translated by James Woodard and Barbara Weinstein. Cambridge Latin American Studies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2018. 291 pages. Cloth, paper, ebook.

Since Alfred W. Crosby Jr.'s The Columbian Exchange, scholars of colonial history have known that European settlement in America involved imposing crops—in particular European staples such as wheat and grapes—on Native lands.1 John M. Monteiro's newly translated Blacks of the Land reminds scholars that exchanging European for Native American crop production was not a passive enterprise of merely scattering seeds. Monteiro shows that Europeans—especially the Portuguese wheat farmers of São Paulo—undergirded this ecological conquest with violence and the enslavement of Indigenous peoples.

The new translation of Monteiro's 1994 book from Portuguese to English provides an exciting and valuable service to historians of the Americas.2 Perhaps most significantly, his research provides an important basis for comparisons with other systems of Indigenous and African enslavement throughout the hemisphere, as Monteiro's book preceded by almost a decade the foundational works on North American Native captivity and enslavement by Alan Gallay and James F. Brooks.3 The translation will also deepen English-reading audiences' understandings of Brazilian history gained from scholars such as Hal Langfur, Alida C. Metcalf, and Stuart B. Schwartz, who have written on Indigenous actors and plantation expansion.4

Monteiro demonstrates that the highest concentration of Native captive laborers in São Paulo was taken there from 1630 to 1680 to work on the landholdings of settlers in that region during its "golden age of wheat production" (104). Rather than a locally consumed staple, wheat was a major [End Page 830] export commodity. Wheat from São Paulo and the Indigenous people who cultivated it provisioned Brazil's growing coastal cities to the north such as Rio de Janeiro, as well as the Portuguese troops fighting in Angola, and those engaged in military ventures in sugar-producing northeastern Brazil. Native captives were also critical for the transporting of goods, marketing in towns, and acting as porters and auxiliaries on military expeditions. Indigenous enslavement and wheat production thus literally and figuratively fed the military and capitalist ventures that created the Portuguese Atlantic.

Each chapter builds Monteiro's narrative of how Paulista society was organized through the institution of bandeiras—expeditions into the interior forests of South America, or sertão—for the purpose of trade and enslavement. The first describes how Native resistance to these incursions led Paulista settlers to rely on coercion rather than negotiation to bend the Native population to their will. The crown established the first colony-wide policy toward the Indigenous population in 1548 (mirroring the Spanish New Laws of 1542 forbidding Indian slavery), which admonished settlers for enslaving Native peoples while also acknowledging it as customary. This created "an often ambiguous and contradictory body of legislation" (23) regarding Indian slavery. In 1570, the position was slightly clarified, allowing enslavement in cases where captives were taken in "just wars" (27) authorized by the king or governors (a caveat that was also similar to Spanish law). Captives could be ransomed as slaves if captors believed that they would otherwise be tortured and cannibalized in Indigenous societies. This leniency of interpretation allowed for a de facto, if not de jure, practice of Native enslavement. Even some Jesuit missionaries charged with conversion of the Native population supported enslavement, although their official stance was as protectors and educators to "free" Indios who came to live in their reducciones. Monteiro makes clear that, ideological gradations aside, all Paulistas—bandeirantes, landed settlers, and missionaries alike—saw themselves as masters and Indigenous peoples as cheap labor. Those who acted on this belief drew Native peoples from the sertão onto European-controlled missions or farms and plantations. This further benefited all Paulistas by clearing the land for settlement and hastening "the disintegration of their [Indigenous] communities" (29).

The second chapter details...

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