Wandering Peoples: Colonialism, Ethnic Spaces, and Ecological Frontiers in Northwestern Mexico, 1700–1850 / Edition 1by Cynthia Radding, Walter D. Mignolo, Irene Silverblatt, Sonia Saldivar-Hull
Pub. Date: 04/30/1997
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Wandering Peoples is a chronicle of cultural resiliency, colonial relations, and trespassed frontiers in the borderlands of a changing Spanish empire. Focusing on the native subjects of Sonora in Northwestern Mexico, Cynthia Radding explores the social process of peasant class formation and the cultural persistence of Indian communities during the long/i>
Wandering Peoples is a chronicle of cultural resiliency, colonial relations, and trespassed frontiers in the borderlands of a changing Spanish empire. Focusing on the native subjects of Sonora in Northwestern Mexico, Cynthia Radding explores the social process of peasant class formation and the cultural persistence of Indian communities during the long transitional period between Spanish colonialism and Mexican national rule. Throughout this anthropological history, Radding presents multilayered meanings of culture, community, and ecology, and discusses both the colonial policies to which peasant communities were subjected and the responses they developed to adapt and resist them.
Radding describes this colonial mission not merely as an instance of Iberian expansion but as a site of cultural and political confrontation. This alternative vision of colonialism emphasizes the economic links between mission communities and Spanish mercantilist policies, the biological consequences of the Spanish policy of forced congregación, and the cultural and ecological displacements set in motion by the practices of discipline and surveillance established by the religious orders. Addressing wider issues pertaining to ethnic identities and to ecological and cultural borders, Radding’s analysis also underscores the parallel production of colonial and subaltern texts during the course of a 150-year struggle for power and survival.
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Reading 'Wandering Peoples' brought to my mind a pleasant afternoon I spent several years ago traveling from San Ignacio Rio Mayo, Sonora, to Alamos, Sonora, with four Mexican friends, at least two of whom occasionally referred to themselves as Mayo Indians. We were going to Alamos because one my friends, Joel Casaraz, wanted a treatment from 'Don Juanito', a 'real Indian' who was famous as a 'sobador' or masseuse. We developed quite a discussion as to just what it means to be 'Indian' in Sonora, since two of my companions considered themselves 'Mayo Indians' but not 'real Indians' like 'Don Juanito.' We wondered why certain other people we knew were 'Mexicans,' 'real Indians' or something in between. Our results came down to differences in life style, dress (they wore boots, he wore sandals) and language (they spoke primarily Spanish, he spoke very fluent Mayo). But they all had the same Mayo genes, were similar in appearance, and had grown up in Mayo speaking villages. Finally, Jonatan Ramirez gave the conclusion we all accepted: to really understand you've just got to know the history of these lands for the last five hundred years! I welcome a book like Wandering Peoples for the insight it gives into that history. Someone seriously interested in the history of Sonora and its peoples will want to go become acquainted with this book. There are chapters meriting study from the historian, and other chapters are more for an anthropologist. Wandering Peoples deals with the late Colonial to early National period in central and northern Sonora. Radding knows her stuff, and shows an intimate knowledge of the region and its history. I especially appreciated understanding of the variation in interests among Spanish and Indian groups. She defines 'social ecology' as an approach based in the ecological relations that guide the 'political implications of resource allocation,' and determines how people 'ascribe cultural values to their claims to land and labor.' Clearly, the indigenous peoples had very different concepts of land use and mobility that would directly clash with the Spanish agenda. There is a good discussion of native history both before and after the arrival of the Europeans, in particular describing land-use patterns that conflicted with Spanish concepts. There is a good treatment of the difficulties imposed by the climate and the unstable nature of agricultural production, and how these forced a dispersed settlement pattern. It seems almost surreal how little things have changed: lack of water is the major obstacle to life and development in Hermosillo and most of Sonora to this day. The discussion of the pre-Columbian archaeology is quite good. She focuses especially on the Trincheras and Rio Sonora traditions. There follows the history of Spanish colonial exploitation of Sonora differed primarily because of the lack of large-scale polities that could be easily tapped into, and due to the degree of nomadism practiced by northern groups. The Crown relied on evangelization for a Spanish presence, primarily embodied in members of the Jesuit order, such as Padre Eusebio Kino. The expulsion of the Jesuits in 1767 left other Spanish colonists free to ensnare the Indians in debt servitude, even as Bourbon reforms continued to break up communal lands into private holdings. Radding explains how Indian households responded by becoming considerably more flexible; they accepted new members who had lost their own families, and temporary sexual unions formed while males were away at mining camps. These impermanent family structures clashed with Spanish, particularly missionary, ideals, and were yet another source of ethnic conflict. The migration of Indians away from the missions undermined the communal land system, the invasion of the region by cattle herds led to increased erosion and destruction of agricultural land. Men joining the military for long campaigns against the raiding, no