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New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico

New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico

by John Gledhill, Patience A. Schell

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Bringing together historically and ethnographically grounded studies of the social and political life of Brazil and Mexico, this collection of essays revitalizes resistance as an area of study. Resistance studies boomed in the 1980s and then was subject to a wave of critique in the 1990s. Covering the colonial period to the present day, the case studies in this


Bringing together historically and ethnographically grounded studies of the social and political life of Brazil and Mexico, this collection of essays revitalizes resistance as an area of study. Resistance studies boomed in the 1980s and then was subject to a wave of critique in the 1990s. Covering the colonial period to the present day, the case studies in this collection suggest that, even if much of that critique was justified, resistance remains a useful analytic rubric. The collection has three sections, each of which is preceded by a short introduction. A section focused on religious institutions and movements is bracketed by one featuring historical studies from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries and another gathering more contemporary, ethnographically-based studies. Introducing the collection, the anthropologist John Gledhill traces the debates about resistance studies. In the conclusion, Alan Knight provides a historian’s perspective on the broader implications of the contributors’ findings.

Contributors. Helga Baitenmann, Marcus J. M. de Carvalho, Guillermo de la Peña, John Gledhill, Matthew Gutmann, Maria Gabriela Hita, Alan Knight, Ilka Boaventura Leite, Jean Meyer, John Monteiro, Luis Nicolau Parés, Patricia R. Pessar, Patience A. Schell, Robert Slenes, Juan Pedro Viqueira, Margarita Zárate

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico is a fascinating collection. It gives a broad overview of the ‘resistance boom’ of the 1980s, while providing a serious critique from a more contemporary perspective. It puts scholars from different disciplines into conversation, and it introduces English-language readers to the work of Latin American scholars whose work is not as well known as it should be. This collection will be widely read, and it will stimulate debate.”—Jeffrey Lesser, author of A Discontented Diaspora: Japanese Brazilians and the Meanings of Ethnic Militancy, 1960–1980

“This collection offers extraordinarily rich and historically and ethnographically penetrating analyses of the concept of resistance, developing more nuanced and powerful applications of the concept based on detailed case studies from Mexico and Brazil. The authors are recognized authorities and the each present original work of great interest and value. The essays are outstanding and the introduction by John Gledhill and the concluding discussion by Alan Knight are masterful summaries of the complex issues that emerge in the essays.”—Donald Pollock, University at Buffalo, SUNY

Aleksandar Boškovic

“The wealth of the ethnographic data will certainly be of use for future scholars and interested individuals, and the volume as a whole presents an important addition to contemporary studies of politics and power – regardless of whether one will agree with Gledhill or with Sahlins.”
History: Reviews of New Books - Alan Shane Dillingham

New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico, constitutes a welcome assessment of a major intellectual trend in the contemporary academic world…. the chapter case studies are well suited for introducing undergraduate students to questions of interpretation in history. The volume… should be of interest to specialists regardless of discipline.”
Hispanic American Historical Review - Clifford Welch

“...the interdisciplinary and international aspects of the project, not to mention the ambitious interinstitutional collaboration sustaining it, add refreshing and innovative qualities to the final product.”
Canadian Journal of History - Matthew Rothwell

“Overall, New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico is a welcome addition to the growing literature on subaltern agency in Latin America and will provide ample material for discussions of key historiographical and theoretical issues for any graduate seminar which assigns this book."
Journal of Anthropological Research - Richard Stahler-Sholk

“The volume offers valuable ethnographic material, as well as provocative theoretical refl ections on the resistance studies genre that surged in the 1980s and on the subsequent critiques. . . . The contributors to this volume explicitly challenge what they consider to be the romanticization of resistance, and in the process they pose important questions for scholars employing the concept."
E.I.A.L. - Joel Wolfe

"[A] terrific collection of works by a broad array of scholars working in different fields and in universities on different continents. And, although it is indeed quite specialized, the work is accessible and can be assigned to advanced undergraduates. . . . The book
as a book is certainly worthwhile, and the individual essays can each be read as challenging, interesting, and discrete studies of some aspect of resistance in Brazil or Mexico."

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New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2012 Duke University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8223-5173-3

Chapter One

Rethinking Amerindian Resistance and Persistence in Colonial Portuguese America


During his "Philosophical Journey" through Amazonia in the 1780s, Alexandre Rodrigues Ferreira spent time in Monte Alegre and Santarém, Indian towns noted for their ceramics. His account of the cuias (ceramic bowls) made by the Indian women remains interesting for its detailed description of production techniques and for the evidence it provides of the volume of bowls produced. Europeans purchased most of the production: "The Indian women who know that the whites will buy them [the cuias], make sure to perfect them." But Ferreira seemed particularly interested in one important detail: the Indian women reserved part of their production for their own use, with not only material but symbolic implications:

The cuias are the Indians' plates, cups, and all of their tableware. Each of them reserves one for the Principal [headman] from which to drink water or wine when he visits ... The bowl is distinguished by a shell ornament, attached by a ball of wax covered with beads, and a muiraquita [a sacred green stone in the form of an animal] on top, which serves as a handle for the Principal. They offer it to him on a tray made from patauá palm shafts. No matter how hard I tried to buy one of these, it was not possible, so great is the esteem that they hold for the bowl from which their chief drinks. (Ferreira 1974, 36–39)

What does this exchange tell us about indigenous resistance in colonial Portuguese America? Ferreira was frustrated by the women's refusal to hand over an object of great ethnographic interest, even for a sum of money. Producing Portuguese-style ceramics for the market, the Indian women appeared to be responding to the economic reforms introduced by the Marquis of Pombal some thirty years earlier. But the persistence of distinctive cultural practices left the uncomfortable feeling that the Indians had something to say about the terms of their own transformation.

Based in part on documentary research and in part on the discussion of contributions to the literature on Indians in colonial Brazil, this chapter traces some of the ways scholars have treated the issue of resistance. One feature that the Brazilian case shares with other parts of the Americas is the ambiguous meanings that resistance acquired in the sixteenth century and the seventeenth. The great Jesuit missionary Antônio Vieira captured that ambiguity in one of his diatribes against Indian slavery in Maranhão, when he contrasted the Indians' lack of resistance to epidemic disease with their readiness to flee from plantations and mission villages (compare with Alencastro 2000, 138). While the problem of population decline invites comparison with other parts of the Americas, another part of Vieira's observations points in a different direction: he explicitly compares Amerindian and African slavery, favoring the latter, a point not lost on generations of historians who have focused attention on African slavery and resistance while largely ignoring the indigenous presence, as if the Amerindians had been totally wiped out. Indigenous peoples indeed survived, and although severe population loss had significant effects on territorial configurations, identity claims and power relations had an important influence on conditions for contesting colonial rule. Furthermore, as Stuart Schwartz and Hal Langfur argue in a provocative article, Amerindian and African histories remain intrinsically bound and demand to be studied together (Schwartz and Langfur 2005).

Another issue worth mentioning is the strong potential for dialogue between processes highlighted in the study of contemporary communities and similar processes taking place during the colonial period. First, contemporary "ethnogenesis"—an outcome of identity politics and their impact on guarantees to land and other rights, discussed by de la Peña for the Mexican case in chapter eleven—has important colonial precursors. Second, recent anthropological studies of myth and history have focused on the "domestication of the Other," part of a larger perspective on how indigenous peoples selectively process their relations with powerful outside forces, sometimes with "subversive" implications. For the colonial period, studies on indigenous uses of Catholicism—and of Calvinism, in the short period of Dutch occupation in the seventeenth century—have benefited from this perspective. Third, indigenous participation in migratory movements, labor markets, urban life, the military, and other activities in which indigenous people do not usually appear relevant also raises questions about the boundary between resistance and other actions involving ethnic markers. Finally, Afro-Brazilian claims on quilombo territories, discussed by Ilka Boaventura Leite in chapter twelve, often involve strategies pioneered by indigenous communities in their struggles for land (Arruti 2006; J. H. French 2009). This invites scholars to look into the colonial past for clues to the historical relations between Africans and Indians. Often appearing submerged in national narratives on slavery, mestiçagem, and social exclusion, the significance of this surprisingly neglected topic is apparent from Marcus de Carvalho's discussion in chapter four.

Indigenous History and Resistance in Lowland South America

The problem of resistance has gained ground in studies of indigenous peoples in Brazil over the past twenty-five years, accompanying important changes in the ways Indians are perceived in the public sphere. For the better part of five centuries, themes of destruction and disappearance predominated among social thinkers and policymakers alike. A long sequence of colonial, imperial, and federal legislation treated indigenous peoples as transitional entities, whose cultural distinctiveness would inevitably be lost in the processes of "civilization," "acculturation," or "assimilation." Even social anthropologists, who encountered what they considered practically untouched "primitive societies" in remote areas, tended toward pessimism about the effects of "contact." For the better part of the twentieth century, anthropological writing alternated between the scientific study of exotic social universes and melancholic descriptions of their destruction.

While this duality in work on indigenous peoples in Brazil goes back at least as far as Curt Nimuendaju, by the 1940s postcontact dilemmas occupied a large part of the anthropological agenda. North American-style acculturation studies provided a perspective on culture change directly associated with interethnic contact, but also drew criticism from Brazilian anthropologists for failing to recognize conflict (R. C. Oliveira 1964) or the role of state policy in imposing transformations (Ribeiro 1970). They showed little regard for indigenous perspectives, as their focus was on how contact undermined cultural integrity.

It was from a position criticizing the lack of attention to indigenous logics that Florestan Fernandes contributed a pioneering study of Amerindian resistance. Author of several studies on Tupinambá society, including a remarkable monograph on indigenous warfare, Fernandes (1975, 127–29) asserted that in order to understand the logic of indigenous reactions to innovations imposed from the outside it was necessary to "rotate perspective" by deliberately eliding the contact situation in order to grasp the social, political, and symbolic organization of indigenous societies in their own right. This method informed his essay on "the Tupi reaction to conquest" (F. Fernandes 1975, 11–32), which drew from historical evidence but also inferred much from his own structural-functionalist theoretical model of Tupi social organization, warfare, and religion. Fernandes classified resistance into two types: outright rebellion, doomed to failure since the Portuguese military reaction would lead to the disarticulation of Tupi social organization, and mass flight to areas well away from the presence of Europeans, where the Tupi could restore the "equilibrium" needed to reproduce a vigorous society, according to his model.

This account suggested that the survival of Amerindian societies depended on isolation and autonomy. The contrast between fiercely independent, "authentic" Indians and the dependent, culturally impoverished remains of once vigorous societies became commonplace in government policy, as well as in social and scientific thought since the mid-nineteenth century, even if a few prominent thinkers, notably Darcy Ribeiro (1970), underscored the intrinsic relation between misguided policy and the destruction of indigenous societies.

By the late 1970s, the growth of a broad-based Indian rights movement gave rise to a major paradigm shift. A new "Indian history," first developed to support Indian land claims with historical evidence of occupation, subsequently became an academic field in its own right. Current approaches are illustrated by two recent books of note, Pacificando o branco (Albert and Ramos 2002) and Time and Memory in Indigenous Amazonia (Fausto and Heckenberger 2007), building on pioneer collections such as Rethinking History and Myth (Hill 1988) and História dos Índios no Brasil (Cunha 1992), as well as articles on Brazil in the Cambridge History of the Native Peoples of the Americas (Salomon and Schwartz 1999). In fusing pro-Indian activism with academic research, anthropologists drew inspiration both from the struggles of indigenous peoples and from a growing body of literature that reinscribed history within ethnological research.

In her foreword to Time and Memory in Indigenous Amazonia, Manuela Carneiro da Cunha provides a synthesis of the main contributions. Referring to Pacificando o branco, she notes: "The authors endeavored to look into the modalities by which different Amazonian indigenous groups captured the invasion that befell them. Our historiography renders the events as their defeat: their narrative renders the same events as their labor of domesticating, of pacifying us together with our germs and our commodities." She emphasizes the important theoretical contribution of Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, who, rethinking Lévi-Strauss's idea about the Amerindians' "openness to the Other," focuses on how different groups consider their relation to Others within a framework of predation, which, according to Carneiro da Cunha, "translates into the regimentation of alterity for the production of identity, assimilating one's enemy as a mode of reproduction." This approach affords new insights into warfare, cannibalism, and other themes treated by Florestan Fernandes, and new readings of indigenous perceptions of colonial domination. "Predation, as Eduardo Viveiros de Castro has eloquently shown, is the basic, given, relational mode. Given such assumptions, conversion to Catholicism can be conversely seen by neophytes as predation on other people's God(s) ... what the French called civilizing the native, can be reciprocally seen as the appropriation of foreign practices ... Acculturation can thus be understood as a mode of social reproduction, as a kind of endogenous transformation" (Fausto and Heckenberger 2007, xi-xiv).

While adopting Fernandes's suggestion to rotate perspectives, anthropologists such as Carneiro da Cunha and Viveiros de Castro add history to their approach. For Fernandes, the Tupinambá had to reject all things foreign in order to restore their tribal equilibrium, while according to this alternative understanding, they had to constantly change by seeking to capture and domesticate the Other's symbols, material objects, technology, religion, and discourse in order to remain Tupinambá.

Identity Politics and Ethnogenesis in the Colonial Period

Over the past decades, ethnohistorical research has proved that the impact of European colonization can no longer be summed up as the decimation of native populations and the destruction of indigenous societies. This impact also produced "new peoples and new kinds of peoples," as Stuart Schwartz and Frank Salomon argue (1999, 441). According to Guillaume Boccara (1999), whose work brings new insights to the study of Mapuche ethnogenesis on the southern frontier of Spanish America, "scholars are widely recognizing the constructed nature of social formations and identities, as well as the dynamic character of cultures and 'traditions.'" Boccara replaces the radical opposition between precontact "purity" and postcontact "contamination" with a perspective that underscores continuous processes of cultural innovation through "ethnogenesis," "ethnification," and "mestizaje." For Neil Whitehead, these processes include a broad spectrum of possibilities "ranging from the total extinction of some ethnic formations to the endurance and invention of others" (Whitehead 1993, 285).


Excerpted from New Approaches to Resistance in Brazil and Mexico Copyright © 2012 by Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

John Gledhill is the Max Gluckman Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. He is the author of Power and Its Disguises: Anthropological Perspectives on Politics.

Patience A. Schell is a Senior Lecturer in Latin American Cultural Studies in the Department of Spanish, Portuguese and Latin American Studies at the University of Manchester. She is the author of Church and State Education in Revolutionary Mexico City.

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