The Other West: Latin America from Invasion to Globalization / Edition 1 available in Paperback
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The Other West
Latin America from Invasion to Globalization
By Marcello Carmagnani, Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
America's entry into the Western world is the result of a process whose first phase, from the discovery by Christopher Columbus in 1492 to about 1570, when much of the continent had been transformed into an Iberian territory, entailed the violent destruction of the many native American civilizations and peoples. A longer view, however—from the discovery through the first colonization in the early seventeenth century—shows that precisely because the Amerindian populations declined so rapidly, both natives and Iberians were practically forced to build novel forms of cooperation. As the conquistadors were conquered by a plurality of Amerindian forms, the conquered Amerindians began a process of creative reconstruction that would slowly bring them culturally closer to the Iberians.
In describing how Latin America became Westernized, starting with its discovery by Europe, it is important to note the twofold process of an initial collision between Iberians and Indians in the sixteenth century followed by the cooperation that would define the central phase of colonization, from about 1630 to about 1750. Still, even the collision phase saw trial and experimentation as both groups could not change their historical and cultural reference points quickly enough to accommodate their new reality, one whose outcome was still uncertain, since in the early sixteenth century Iberians and American Indians were only potentially conquerors (conquistadores) and conquered.
Although today we regard Europe and the Americas as groups of nations that also have a continental history, not only geographically but especially culturally, throughout the sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries Amerindians and Iberians had essentially a local vision of their history and culture that offered no framework for interpreting their new experiences. During the phases of clash and cooperation that marked the entry of the Latin American territories into Western history, Spaniards, Portuguese, and Amerindians gradually began to perceive the links between the different areas of the New World and between the New World and the Iberian regions from which the conquistadors had come. Because the European invasion was not simply a matter of arms but also entailed the use of cultural and organizational resources by both parties, I will begin by reviewing the situations of both groups at the time of the conquest, trying to identify what connections might have existed between those who would become the conquered and the conquerors.
Because spontaneity is a distinctive trait of conflict and cooperation alike, annexing the Americas to the Spanish and Portuguese monarchies was no simple undertaking, and its success was in no way inevitable. In fact, in the period from about 1570 to 1600, a number of contrasting trends emerged: the feudal conquistadors and their offspring existed side by side with Iberian-type municipal councils; the latter enjoyed royal privileges and thus came into conflict both with the seigniorial expectations of the conquistadors and with the monarchy. At the same time the native Indian structures continued to fill an important role in many colonized areas, and the perseverance of the native lords and the native Indian nobility helped to mitigate the millennialist longing for a return to a pre-Hispanic life that would otherwise have led the natives to revolt.
Thus the royal officials did not find the West Indies easy to manage, either politically or economically. During the invasion and the early phase of colonization, the Europeans established new modes of interaction to ensure that the New World would continue to remain part of the Iberian monarchies.
The American Indians
Before the Spanish and Portuguese invaded and conquered the Americas, the various native societies had a history of almost forty thousand years, starting with the migration of Asiatic peoples who had reached the continent by crossing the Bering Strait as well as those who had come by sea from Oceania. As the continent that was the last to know the presence of humans, and the only one whose cultures evolved without any contact with Europe or Asia until the arrival of Europeans in 1492, America (or the Americas, since they are technically two continents on one landmass) is unique.
Throughout its prehistory America was marked by the presence of highly diverse populations with different cultures that had little communication; there was also little exchange between the north, center, and south. This diversity is not a negligible factor: because of it, the Europeans, starting with Christopher Columbus, were able to invade the continent between 1492 and 1570. It is important to remember the great differences in language, environment, economy, culture, and even organization of the native peoples, lest we forget that the so-called "Indian" identity was an Iberian construct that lumped together and unified the highly heterogeneous native populations.
These groups included nomadic, seminomadic, and sedentary populations. One feature that distinguished the various Indian societies was the cultivation of plants and the domestication of a few animals. From about 5,000 to 3,000 B.C. the Americas underwent a neolithic revolution similar to that which occurred on other continents; as a result some societies moved to an agricultural phase and developed specific practices of diet and culture that still partly exist today in Latin America. The cultivation of maize, potato, cassava, chili pepper, quinoa, beans, pumpkin, and avocado, as well as the domestication of the dog, turkey, llama, and guinea pig, characterized Mesoamerica (Mexico and Central America); cassava and sweet potato, the Caribbean, or the Tropics; and potatoes and the llama, the Andes (from Ecuador to northern Argentina).
The advent of agriculture was not only a material event but a cultural one. It led to the transition from roving hunter-gatherer groups of no more than 150 to 200 individuals, following a leader and a shaman, to tribal organizations of gatherer-hunters who farmed, had a stable base—the village, which was also their ceremonial center—and developed a complex political and religious structure. This transformation took at least two millennia, with the transition from farming tribes to settled farmers occurring about 3000 to 2500 B.C. Starting in about 200 B.C., the great Aztec, Maya, Chibcha, and Inca civilizations arose from these seigniories (city-states ruled by a monarch or lord), or princedoms.
This anthropological sketch shows that all native Indian organizations, from the hunter-gatherer clans to the more culturally evolved societies, were extremely complex and dynamic and that the evolution experienced by only some of them was not due to greater skills or mental capabilities. Like the transformations in ancient European societies, this evolution grew out of choices dictated by opportunity and need. These choices are expressed, for example, in the language of each culture, since language reflects the system of categories and the structure that the human builds in relation to objects and beings. It follows that no language is elementary because, as Jacques Soustelle paradoxically comments, "of the American Indians I met, the less civilized, the more complex they are" (Soustelle 1967).
Although they were equally endowed with the potential to evolve, not all Amerindian societies made the transition from clans to tribal organizations and from tribes to states. The Mesoamerican and Andean civilizations became great not just because of the opportunities afforded by demographic growth, technological advances (irrigation, roads, silos, etc.), bartering of goods, or the need to manage resources but also through the development of a collective imagination, as evidenced in the calendar and the elaborate religious and political hierarchies. All this led to the birth of complex state organizations ruled from architecturally sophisticated cities, still visible in the ruins of Teotihuacán, Chichén Itzá, Tikal, and Cuzco.
A clearer idea of the cultural diversity that existed when the Europeans arrived on the American scene emerges by correlating the (estimated) populationofthedifferentregionsandtheprevailingtypeoforganization.Although the available information is fragmentary, it is possible to estimate that at the end of the fifteenth century half of the natives lived in complex state organizations and about three-fourths had lived through the neolithic revolution. Before the arrival of Europeans, America was already a complex and dynamic world; the idea that it was static took hold after the conquest for political and ideological reasons (just as ideological is the current idea that, unlike those of Europe, native American societies were harmonious and egalitarian).
Precisely because they were dynamic, both clan-based and state-based organizations had to forge systems of social discipline, a clue to the high degree of tension and conflict that marked all American Indian societies. Hunter-gatherer clans were organized around the extended family, with matrilocal residence, and were always on the move over a vast territory in search of food, carrying with them their bows, arrows, nets, provisions, and the skins of captured animals. The last were the principal barter goods and also served to reinforce lineage bonds, as the skins were distributed to the women, who would make garments out of them.
The extended family was also the basic unit of tribal societies, with the village frequently inhabited by two or more lineages, for farming reasons and for the greater hunting and food-gathering resources that the arrangement produced. Thanks to these more abundant resources, the elders were gradually exempted from work, for age raised one's social status and prestige and was to become the basis of the shaman-chief's authority within the tribe.
In addition to these two types of organization, at the time of the conquest America had two empires—the Aztec and the Inca—and each in turn subsumed numerous city-states. City-states also existed in Central America, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, northern Chile, northwestern Argentina, and in some parts of the Amazon.
All these organizations were the result of a chain of internal transformations, migrations, and intercultural contacts that left their mark in art, astronomy, mathematics, architecture, and engineering. By virtue of long experience and many trials and errors, empires and city-states efficiently managed their diverse environments. They successfully governed large populations through numerous complex systems of discipline and hierarchy that gave different degrees of access to community goods and services.
Unlike clans and tribes, empires and city-states were able to withstand the collision with the Europeans precisely because they had reinforced the clan-based structures that were common on the subcontinent. Two clan-based organizations were particularly important: the calpulli, which was typical of Mesoamerica, and the ayllu, which was widespread in the Andes. Both still exist today in many regions of Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia.
As I have noted, the neolithic revolution gave rise to farming villages that facilitated the shared use of a territory by two or more extended families. In addition to an economic and social function, the Mesoamerican version of this clan system—the calpulli—also filled a political and cultural need because it grouped together several extended and nuclear families that were related to each other, on condition that they all recognize the same divinity as the protector of the entire clan. This homage was for the divinity that had taught the calpulli members a trade, craft, or skill useful to the clan as a whole and meant to be passed down to the next generation.
The religious foundation of the calpulli helps explain why the clan owned all local resources, including land and water. Clan authorities assigned the calpulli members their plots of land and the amount of water they needed to irrigate it. The authorities also managed the village's unassigned land, whose crops supported the nobility, the priestly class, and the lord or emperor. The mechanism for allocating resources to the emperor, lords, and officials was the tribute, an institution that predated the Aztec Empire, undoubtedly born in the final stage of the population's transition to sedentary life with the concurrent rise of a network of villages linked by barter. The calpulli was at once the foundation of the material and spiritual life of the village and its members, and the first level in the vast seigniorial (and later imperial) political organization.
The Andean ayllu had the same dual significance as the calpulli; however, the ayllu put more importance on the role of the territory. The ayllu was a grouping of families believed to originate from a common ancestor in a specific geographic location. Before they began conquering the many Andean seigniories in the second half of the fifteenth century, even the Inca were no more than a territorial seigniory comprising eleven ayllu near Cuzco, in the southern Andes. The ayllu's religious reference point was the ceque, an imaginary line linking the ayllu to a sacred place.
The close link between religion and society was thus a common trait of Amerindian societies. In Mayan and Aztec Mesoamerica this link was manifest in the idea that humans are merely the expression of a twofold divine will, one ruling the upper region—heaven—and the other ruling the lower—Earth. The Andean conception of the world was similar, for they believed that the interaction of the material and the spiritual world informed the principles of Inca society: tripartition, dualism, and the imperial tithe. Tripartition establishes the relation of sacred and secular points, the latter visible in the territorial division into districts. Dualism sanctions the idea of the integration of unequal parts of an ayllu through exogamous marriage. Finally, the tithe defines the political-administrative structure of the empire, especially the tribute system.
Thus Amerindian societies are anything but simple to describe or to understand. It is true, however, that the closer they were to an imperial-type organization, the more stratified they became. The result was an entrenched reverential fear of one's superiors—the elder, calpulli chief, local priest, merchant, warrior, and, obviously, the lord or dynastic ruler. The lord (tlatoani in central Mexico, batab in the Yucatán, kuraka in the Andes), called cacique by the Iberian conquistadors, was the end result of a cultural, political, and social process begun several millennia before the European invasion. Therefore a stratified structure was the distinctive trait of Amerindian societies, visible in the distinction between nobility and plebeians and in the different ranks within these. As I have noted, this strong regimentation was rooted in the belief that the divinity alone is eternal, while humans, and even nature, are extremely fragile.
Although a stratified society made possible significant changes in production and better management of the resources needed to support a growing population, it also led to strain and conflict. Entire ethnic groups were wiped out for rebelling against the emperors, thousands were subjected to forced migration, and infighting erupted to replace lords. Various forms of temporary slavery, as well as human sacrifice, were especially widespread in the Aztec Empire, testifying to the tension between conflict and cohabitation that marked Amerindian societies, just as it did societies worldwide.
The perennial state of conflict in which the nobility and the plebeians lived became crucial at the time of the conquest, because it fostered alliances and ententes with the invaders. In Mexico an Indian lord—a Zapotec from the Oaxaca region—proposed an alliance with Hernán Cortés for the purpose of subduing a powerful Mixtec seigniory. And because of an alliance between the Spanish invaders and the Tlaxcaltec people, Cortés was able to storm Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Similarly, when the meager Spanish expedition led by Francisco Pizarro and Diego de Almagro set foot in Inca territory in 1532, the Spaniards adroitly exploited the complex political game between Atahualpa and Huáscar for succession to the throne of Emperor Huayna Capac, who had died in 1527. Such ententes were more numerous than one might think. One telling example came in 1561, when the lords of Hatun Xauxa, in the Peruvian altiplano, demanded that the Spanish authorities return the goods delivered to Pizarro in accordance with the alliance the lords had formed with him to subdue Atahualpa in Cajamarca.
Conflicts within Amerindian groups also led the conquistadors to try to forge alliances with the tribal chiefs. Because of these ententes, the French and the Portuguese were able to settle in Brazil, where Portugal's alliance with the Tupinamba enabled it to defeat the French. The colonization of Chile and the founding of Santiago de Chile were made possible by an agreement that the conquering captain Pedro de Valdivia reached with the local chieftain.
Excerpted from The Other West by Marcello Carmagnani, Rosanna M. Giammanco Frongia. Copyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of ContentsList of MapsAcknowledgmentsIntroduction. Latin America in World History1. Entry The Invasion The Search for New Connections 2. The Ibero-American World The International Context The Components of the Ibero-American World 3. Revival The International Context: Continuity and Discontinuity The New States Are Born 4. The Euro-American World From European to International Concert Latin America in the International Order Latin America in the International Economy Toward a New Society The Liberal-Republican Political Order 5. Westernization From International Disorder to the New Diplomacy Latin America in the International Economy The Secularization of Society The Westernization of Politics Conclusion. Historical Forms and Trends Bibliography Index
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