Imperial Subjects: Race and Identity in Colonial Latin America

Paperback (Print)
Buy New
Buy New from
Used and New from Other Sellers
Used and New from Other Sellers
from $12.78
Usually ships in 1-2 business days
(Save 48%)
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (8) from $12.78   
  • New (2) from $19.17   
  • Used (6) from $12.78   


In colonial Latin America, social identity did not correlate neatly with fixed categories of race and ethnicity. As Imperial Subjects demonstrates, from the early years of Spanish and Portuguese rule, understandings of race and ethnicity were fluid. In this collection, historians offer nuanced interpretations of identity as they investigate how Iberian settlers, African slaves, Native Americans, and their multi-ethnic progeny understood who they were as individuals, as members of various communities, and as imperial subjects. The contributors’ explorations of the relationship between colonial ideologies of difference and the identities historical actors presented span the entire colonial period and beyond: from early contact to the legacy of colonial identities in the new republics of the nineteenth century. The volume includes essays on the major colonial centers of Mexico, Peru, and Brazil, as well as the Caribbean basin and the imperial borderlands.

Whether analyzing cases in which the Inquisition found that the individuals before it were “legally” Indians and thus exempt from prosecution, or considering late-eighteenth- and early-nineteenth-century petitions for declarations of whiteness that entitled the mixed-race recipients to the legal and social benefits enjoyed by whites, the book’s contributors approach the question of identity by examining interactions between imperial subjects and colonial institutions. Colonial mandates, rulings, and legislation worked in conjunction with the exercise and negotiation of power between individual officials and an array of social actors engaged in countless brief interactions. Identities emerged out of the interplay between internalized understandings of self and group association and externalized social norms and categories.

Contributors. Karen D. Caplan, R. Douglas Cope, Mariana L. R. Dantas, María Elena Díaz, Andrew B. Fisher, Jane Mangan, Jeremy Ravi Mumford, Matthew D. O’Hara, Cynthia Radding, Sergio Serulnikov, Irene Silverblatt, David Tavárez, Ann Twinam

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The essays . . . offer important insights into the complicated processes of social formation in the colonies. . . . [H]istorians, as well as advanced undergraduate and graduate students, will find much to think about in this provocative work.” - Karen B. Graubart, Catholic Historical Review

“This is a pioneering study of the constructions of socio-cultural identities in colonial Latin America. . . . [An] innovative collection of essays.” - David J. Robinson, Journal of Latin American Geography

“While scholarly in content, these short essays are readable and could be included in an undergraduate syllabus. The volume is crisply edited; many of the essays refer to each other. I highly recommend the volume for college and graduate courses. The essays invite comparison of different regions, in addition to offering intriguing lessons about the multiple ways that identities evolved in the colonial era.” - Deborah Kanter, The Americas

“This volume presents a superb collection of essays covering the muddled, confused, overlapping, and changing dimensions of identity-making in the Hispanic colonial empires of the New World. . . . The authors of these essays expose us to all these intensely real aspects of life in the Spanish and Portuguese empires of the Western Hemisphere. This volume should be required reading for those trying to understand how people related to one another, government, and institutions in these colonial empires.” - Sheldon Avenius, History: Reviews of New Books

“It is imperative that historians incorporate a number of perspectives to enhance our understanding of this unique period, especially within the studies on race and identity. Imperial Subjects does just that. The respective authors approach the subject through a variety of perspectives, incorporating unique themes, all of which are backed by a solid archival research.” - Larry V. Larrichio, Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“[T]his volume provides an excellent collection of well-researched and well-argued essays. Together they represent the most recent and cutting-edge scholarship on this topic. . . . The diversity in time period and geography make the collection highly useful to those researchers and scholars interested in comparative studies of race and ethnicity. The manageable length of each essay, in addition to the excellent introduction and conclusion, make this work an ideal text for introducing students to current research. Overall, the high calibre and diversity of research presented by Imperial Subjects make it a notable addition to the literature.” - Robert Schwaller and Matthew Restall, Social History

“Grounded in solid archival research and informed by sound, up-to-date theoretical approaches, these essays break substantial new ground in showing how ‘ordinary’ people experienced living in the Spanish and Portuguese empires. Anyone wishing to sample the best in recent scholarship on colonial Latin America should begin with this book.”—Cheryl English Martin, author of Governance and Society in Colonial Mexico: Chihuahua in the Eighteenth Century

“This excellent and necessary collection brings together some of the most important scholarship on race in colonial Latin America. Importantly, the contributors do not assume racial and ethnic identities to be static, nor do they take hybridity as a given. Rather, they examine the social identities that emerged from ‘contact points’ between institutions and individuals.”—Pete Sigal, author of From Moon Goddesses to Virgins: The Colonization of Yucatecan Maya Sexual Desire

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822344209
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2009
  • Series: Latin America Otherwise
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 723,750
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Andrew B. Fisher is an Assistant Professor of History at Carleton College.

Matthew D. O’Hara is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Imperial Subjects


Duke University Press

Copyright © 2009 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-4420-9

Chapter One


Aristocracy on the Auction Block

Race, Lords, and the Perpetuity Controversy of Sixteenth-Century Peru

Early in 1565, Don Antonio de Ribera rode into the valley of Jauja with a group of Spanish horsemen to confront the valley's indigenous lords. One of those lords, Don Felipe Guacrapaucar, had recently visited the royal court in Castile as a noble vassal of the king and had returned with a coat of arms and other signs of the king's favor. Ribera himself had made a similar visit to court not long before. The honorific "don" which the two men shared, an aristocratic marker jealously guarded within Hispanic society, seemed to place them in the same class. However, on instructions from the colony's governor, Don Antonio confiscated Don Felipe's and the other lords' Spanish weapons and horses, implements of power which were also marks of noble identity within the Spanish idiom. Henceforth, as "Indians," they would no longer have the right to own or use them.

This chapter examines the events that led to this confrontation in Jauja and those that followed it, an episode from the very beginning of race formation in Spanish Peru. In the 1530s, some four decades after Columbus's first landfall in the Caribbean, Spaniards invaded the Andes, overthrew the Inca empire, and established the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru. They meant what they said when they called America a New World, new for both colonists and colonized: a Spaniard crossed the Atlantic precisely in order to become a new person, while indigenous people had no choice but to become different from whom they had been-they became "Indians." People of all backgrounds struggled to shape their own identities in this chaotic environment. But neither Spaniards nor Andeans knew just what the word "Indian" was going to mean.

Its meaning was important for both the landscape of identities and the institutions of power. Spanish officials exercised direct authority over Spanish colonists but governed indigenous Andeans through the already-existing power structure: the Andean lords whom they had found governing the provinces when they arrived. These lords-called kurakakuna, kurakas, or caciques, depending on the context-had ruled their people under the authority of the Inca kings, and expected to continue to do so under the authority of the Castilian king. For them, "Indian" was less significant than "lord" in defining who they were. The evolving relationship between these two kinds of identity would help shape colonial rule.

Meanwhile, a class of Spaniards-the encomenderos-tried to define their own identities as lords in colonized Peru. In gratitude for their service to the king, especially military service during and after the conquest, the Crown had granted them encomiendas (trusts), a limited and temporary overlordship over specific Andean kurakas, which the encomenderos wanted to improve and extend. They differed from the kurakas in background: most kurakas were born lords, but most of the early encomenderos came from far less exalted families within their own culture. What raised them above the kurakas was the fact of conquest-one of the empirical realities that would, over time, make possible the imagined reality of "race."

Two themes linking the chapters in this volume are race and identity. Both are familiar concepts, used and often misused by generations of historians to make sense of people and the past. Both are today the subject of epistemological debate, which is part of the motivation of this volume. Juxtaposing the identity of race with that of lordship shows how indeterminate both were at the dawn of the colonial era and brings to light the contingent series of events that helped define both.

Kurakas and encomenderos wanted the same thing: to rule the Andes on behalf of the Spanish king. To obtain what they wanted the two groups engaged in an extraordinary bidding war, known to historians as the perpetuity controversy, in which each tried to buy the status and privilege of aristocracy from the king. He sent a commission to investigate the competing offers. But in the end he disappointed both sides. Instead of ruling through hereditary lords, whether Spanish or indigenous, the Crown created new officials whose power derived from appointed political office, not lordly status. It was in this context that the king's governor banned kurakas from owning arms and horses, markers of nobility, and sent the encomendero Don Antonio de Ribera to disarm his indigenous counterparts. While repudiating both groups' aspirations, the Crown further stigmatized the kurakas as racially barred from the status of Spanish nobility.

Yet this was not the end of the story. While the Crown stripped encomenderos of virtually all aristocratic power, it could not marginalize the kurakas: it needed their cooperation to control their indigenous subjects. Ironically, the conquered kurakas fared better than the conquering encomenderos in retaining their identity as lords. In spite of everything, the kurakas succeeded in converting themselves into a hybrid aristocracy within the Spanish empire.


The valley of Jauja, in central Peru, was home to the Wankas, one of the many different ethnic groups the Incas had ruled, whose labor and fertile lands made their kurakas and encomenderos rich. In the struggle between native and Spanish lords, Jauja produced a leader for each of the two camps: the encomendero Don Antonio de Ribera and the kuraka Don Gerónimo Guacrapaucar, Don Felipe's father. In the year 1554, the two men fought side by side against the enemies of their king. They fought to defeat a rebellion by certain encomenderos against royal attempts to limit the power of their class, the last of a series of civil wars which had roiled the viceroyalty since its founding. Other encomenderos, however, remained loyal to the king. Ribera was one of the loyalist captains, leading men on horse and foot against the rebel leader, Francisco Hernández Girón. As the wet summer gave way to fall and winter the two sides skirmished and maneuvered. The king's knights-for so they saw themselves, living out a medieval dream of glory at the ends of the earth-wore down the rebels month by month. At last a loyalist band including Guacrapaucar's Wanka fighters defeated Girón in Jauja.

Don Antonio de Ribera had fought at the beginning but was not present for the victory. His fellow loyalist encomenderos had sent him as their representative to the Spanish court, to ask the king, ironically, for the same thing for which Girón had rebelled: more power for encomenderos. They had originally had the right to Indian labor but were now limited (at least theoretically) to collecting tribute; the typical encomienda, furthermore, was limited to two lifetimes, those of the original recipient and his heir. On behalf of his peers, Ribera asked for two things. First, for perpetuity: the right to pass their titles to their descendants indefinitely; and second, for jurisdiction: the authority to appoint judges over their Indian subjects, as Spanish lords did. These two rights, together, would make the encomenderos' office tantamount to aristocracy.

Encomenderos argued that enlarging their powers would be good for the viceroyalty, by giving its natural leaders a stake in peace. The current situation was a vicious cycle in which Spaniards rebelled against the king, then switched sides at the last minute to help the king defeat the rebellion, receiving new or larger encomiendas as a reward. With no standing army except the encomenderos themselves, the Crown could not break the cycle. Don Antonio de Ribera was well qualified to discuss Peru's troubles: he himself had sided with the rebels in an earlier civil war, before proclaiming his loyalty and taking up arms against the king's enemies.

More important than Ribera's arguments, however, was the offer that accompanied them: to purchase perpetuity and jurisdiction from the king. There was nothing corrupt about the proposed transaction. In the social thought of the era, it reflected the complementary roles of subject and king: the subject offered a servicio, or service (possibly in the form of money), and the king gave a merced, a gift or reward. Ribera caught the king's attention with an extravagant offer. In exchange for perpetuity and jurisdiction, the encomenderos of Peru would collectively pay the Crown 7.6 million pesos-twice the national debt of the chronically cash-strapped monarchy. The offer came at an opportune time. Charles V, who was both king of Spain (1516-55) and Holy Roman Emperor in Germany, was worn down by failed wars with France and other European rivals. He was preparing to abdicate the Spanish throne, passing it to his son Philip II (1555-98) under the shadow of bankruptcy.

Were the encomenderos' hopes realistic? It seems incongruous to imagine them as seigneurial lords over Andean vassals, since historians have emphasized the limitations on an authority which was only temporary and included no rights over Indians' land or labor. The encomendero, however, was much more a lord than this description implies. It is not just that he could demand labor and land from his subjects illegally (although he often could). More significantly, the status of Castile's territorial lords was close enough to his own to make the transition seem feasible.

Castilian lords, like colonial encomenderos, had little direct control over their subjects' lands and labor, compared to lords elsewhere in Europe. In underpopulated Castile, where true feudalism never evolved, land was less valuable to a lord than subjects were; he acquired the former as a means of getting the latter, going to great lengths to induce peasants to settle on his land. But once they were there he could neither force them to leave nor to stay against their will. Castilian peasants were subject to few of the demeaning forms of personal service common in other countries and lived in tight-knit, self-governing communities that controlled their lands in exchange for annual payments to the lord. In their organization and autonomy they resembled Andean peasant communities, and Castilian lords' rent was structurally equivalent to encomenderos' tribute; the two forms of limited lordship were remarkably similar, although historians have downplayed the resemblance. Besides collecting rent, Spanish lords' one form of authority was the right to judge crimes and disputes, which provided both fees and influence over their subjects; this was what the encomenderos sought in 1554. Finally, with respect to encomiendas' early expiration date, encomenderos had an encouraging precedent. In the past, Castilian kings had granted most seigneurial titles for a single lifetime only, like encomiendas in the New World. But during the fifteenth century, they changed this system, rewarding their supporters with new titles that they could pass on to their descendants-what one historian has called "one of the most radical social revolutions of Castilian history." In bargaining for perpetuity, the Peruvian encomenderos sought to recapitulate what the Castilian aristocracy had achieved not long before.

The institution of the New World encomienda seemed designed to encourage such hopes. Based on a Castilian feudal grant, it required the encomendero to serve the king in arms. Frequent rebellions meant that encomenderos such as Ribera pulled on their chain mail regularly in the king's service (if not, as in the case of Girón and other rebels, against him). The life they led, along with the chivalric romances they read, confirmed their self-image as medieval knights. To encourage settlement, the Crown had even offered to make common-born settlers hidalgos-minor nobles-and to raise those already noble up a rank. The medieval frontier of the reconquista had offered such opportunities; why should the new frontier promise anything less?

The 1550s, in fact, were an unusually propitious moment for the encomenderos' hopes at the Spanish court. Although Charles V saw his hopes in Europe dashed by military defeats, it seemed still possible to rescue the situation-to redeem lives and treasure already sacrificed-with new cash. Both the abdicating emperor and his son Philip wanted to keep fighting. Philip immediately placed the Peruvian proposal at the top of his agenda. Following debate among his advisors about the dangers of alienating so much power, Philip decided to sell the encomenderos half of what they wanted: perpetuity, but not legal jurisdiction. He appointed a commission to go to Peru to negotiate a sale on these terms. But he ordered them to proceed cautiously and keep all options open: he had heard that the kurakas were considering a counteroffer.


In that same year, 1559-five years after Don Antonio de Ribera departed for Spain, and as the king was preparing to send commissioners to Peru-a group of kurakas met to formulate a response. The kurakas, representing seventeen encomiendas in the region of Lima, appointed two Spanish friars to represent them at the Spanish court, Bartolomé de las Casas and Domingo de Santo Tomás. Speaking in the kurakas' name, the friars offered the king one hundred thousand pesos more than whatever the encomenderos might bid, and a minimum of two million pesos if the encomenderos could not muster a bid for what the king was prepared to sell (perpetuity without jurisdiction). In exchange, the king would not appoint new encomenderos when the current ones died off but (under his own overlordship) would restore "the old political order they had in the time of the Inca kings, because in this consists their entire conservation."

Although the kurakas had served the Inca empire, as they did the Spanish, their authority was independent of it. The Andes were a patchwork of local ethnic groups with their own histories and customs, and most had lived under Inca rule for less than a century before the Spanish arrived. The Incas depended on the local lords for the same reason the Spanish did later: to control their subjects and deliver tribute and labor. With the Spanish conquest the kurakas exchanged one empire for another, and the difference, at least initially, may not have seemed very great to them.

Each encomendero received tribute from one or more kurakas. As overlord, the encomendero depended on the kuraka for his power, but the kuraka did not depend on the encomendero for his own. The historian Karen Spalding called kurakas the "cutting edge" of colonialism, since their local knowledge and authority made Spanish rule possible. This cutting edge could be a double-edged sword for the conquerors: the kurakas' knowledge of both worlds could also help them thwart the Spanish. Many colonists despised and feared the kurakas, but the viceroyalty could not function without them.

The kurakas' identity was therefore enigmatic. They were subject to abuse from even low-ranking Spaniards. Yet colonists accepted them as the Andeans' "natural lords" (señores naturales)-in the words of a kurakas' petition in 1581, "like the dukes and counts and marquises in Spain." Militarily, politically, and economically, almost any encomendero was superior to almost any kuraka, yet kurakas had the greater right to be called "lords."


Excerpted from Imperial Subjects Copyright © 2009 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Read More Show Less

Table of Contents

Foreword Irene Silverblatt ix

Acknowledgments xiii

Introduction: Racial Identities and Their Interpreters in Colonial Latin America Andrew B. Fisher Matthew D. O'Hara 1

1 Aristocracy on the Auction Block: Race, Lords, and the Perpetuity Controversy of Sixteenth-Century Peru Jeremy Mumford 39

2 A Market of Identities: Women, Trade, and Ethnic Labels in Colonial Potosí Jane E. Mangan 61

3 Legally Indian: Inquisitorial Readings of Indigenous Identity in New Spain David Tavárez 81

4 The Many Faces of Colonialism in Two Iberoamerican Borderlands: Northern New Spain and the Eastern Lowlands of Charcas Cynthia Radding 101

5 Humble Slaves and Loyal Vassals: Free Africans and Their Descendants in Eighteenth-Century Minas Gerais, Brazil Mariana L. R. Dantas 115

6 Purchasing Whiteness: Conversations on the Essence of Pardo-ness and Mulatto-ness at the End of Empire Ann Twinam 141

7 Patricians and Plebeians in Late Colonial Charcas: Identity, Representation, and Colonialism Sergio Serulnikov 167

8 Conjuring Identities: Race, Nativeness, Local Citizenship, and Royal Slavery on an Imperial Frontier (Revisiting El Cobre, Cuba) María Elena Díaz 197

9 Indigenous Citizenship: Liberalism, Political Participation, and Ethnic Identity in Post-Independence Oaxaca and Yucatán Karen D. Caplan 225

Conclusion R. Douglas Cope 249

Bibliography 263

Contributors 291

Index 293

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)