The Art of Being In-between: Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Author:||Christensen, Mark Z.|
|Publication:||Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529|
|Issue:||Date: Summer, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 4|
|Topic:||NamedWork: The Art of Being In-between: Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Yannakakis, Yanna|
The Art of Being In-between: Native Intermediaries, Indian
Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca. By Yanna Yannakakis (Durham
and London: Duke University Press, 2008. ix plus 290 pp.).
In recent years, scholars have examined the roles of indigenous intermediaries in the Andes, Central Mexico, and even the Yucatan. Yanna Yannakakis now brings this scholarship to Oaxaca's Sierra Norte. Her work examines the district of Villa Alta from 1660-1810 through documentation ranging from civil and criminal cases to indigenous pictorial histories, and located within Mexican, American, and European archives. Such textual evidence combines with secondary sources to create individual case studies that show how "through their negotiations, native intermediaries achieved more than the immediate goal of local autonomy; they actively shaped colonial political culture and the state itself" (p. 23). Her use of "thick description" and engagement of theoretical discussions surrounding identity and hegemony illustrate the work's admitted eclectic methodology, and betrays the influences of anthropology, history, cultural history, and postcolonial theory. Indeed, the work goes beyond a simple historical narrative to use native intermediaries to complicate the definitions of "indio," "center" and "periphery," and "resistance."
Divided into three parts, the work begins with the 1660 rebellion over the onerous burdens of the repartimiento that spread throughout various districts of the Sierra Norte. Yannakakis uses this event to springboard into the roles of indigenous intermediaries in "creating spaces" for negotiation within the colonial state and in preserving local autonomy. The work highlights the legal struggle between caciques serving as indigenous intermediaries and the alcalde mayor of Villa Alta to examine the stratagems of both sides. In the process, Yannakakis illustrates the multilayered performances and tactics of indigenous intermediaries who attempted to satiate both Spanish officials and native communities. Instead of polarizing such intermediaries as either exploiters or defenders of their native communities, the work suggests a more nuanced balance between personal interests, the expectations of Spanish rulers, and native communities. The author argues that native intermediaries successfully established a semiautonomy that benefitted all parties by operating within two distinct systems of power: the colonial state and the "shadow systems." Both systems consisted of social and cultural networks that paralleled the official colonial system of the state.
Chapter 2 addresses how the balance and accommodation intermediaries achieved following the 1660 rebellion collapsed under the region's subsequent idolatry campaigns. Specifically examining the Cajonos Rebellion of 1700, Yannakakis reveals the mediating roles of native fiscales (priests' assistants). Charged with the spiritual maintenance of their communities, fiscales served as the priests' intermediaries in their absence. However, when the fiscales of the pueblo San Francisco Cajonos reported the community's idolatrous practices to the local Dominican priest, the community revolted and killed the fiscales for threatening their religious semiautonomy. The work uses the response of colonial officials, including executions and the doubling of the number of parish priests, to argue for the breakdown of the region's semiautonomy and the Church and state's reconstruction of a political order more acquiescent to their interests. The resulting polarized environment of "good Christians" and "idolaters" was one that left little room for intermediaries seeking to find a religious middle ground.
However, Yannakakis uses the following two chapters (representing Part 2 of the work) to illustrate how native intermediaries renegotiated local rule in the aftermath of the Cajonos Rebellion that saw the centralization of Church and civil power. This centralization, encouraged by Bishop Angel Maldonado's desire to create cabecera-sujeto hierarchies within the parishes, opened up new political opportunities for indigenous brokers. The beneficial political and economic semiautonomy of cabecera status fueled both Spanish/Zapotec struggles, and preexisting interpueblo conflicts. Yannakakis exposes the communicative strategies and rhetoric of native intermediaries through a civil suit over cabecera-sujeto status in the parish of San Juan Yae - San Juan Tanetze. According to the author, communicative skills allowed native brokers to balance accommodation, resistance, and negotiation as they employed both local custom and Spanish law to pursue individual and communal interests while demonstrating their legitimacy and fealty to their Spanish audience.
Intermediaries became increasingly valuable as the region's demographic recovery inspired increasing land disputes. Through a variety of documents including the Lienzo of Tiltepec, Yannakakis examines a pact between the cacique (Miguel Fernandez de Chaves) and cabildo of Tiltepec to demonstrate the symbolic role of caciques in arbitrating territorial and political rights. This chapter demonstrates how Chavez represented a new kind of native elite that employed both the traditional privileges of cacique status and new, colonial adaptations of language, dress, and legal knowledge to serve as intermediaries.
Part 3 of Yannakakis' work holds the final two chapters that examine the impact the Bourbon Reforms and indigenous intermediaries had on each other. Revealing how native intermediaries continued to work in mitigating the effects of the reforms, the work argues that the Bourbons largely reduced the role of such brokers who were expected to simply carry out Spanish policies instead of negotiating them. Similarly, Chapter 6 examines the Bourbon-era ideology's effect on indios conquistadores. Although their service in the Conquest and in upholding the colonial order as a coercive force once entitled indios conquistadores to privileges, such privileges declined under the Bourbon era's attempt to homogenize the indigenous identities of "loyal vassals," "good Catholic Christians," "indios conquistadores," "caciques," and "principales" to simply "indio." In the end, Yannakakis argues that the Bourbon Reforms weakened the role of native intermediaries who served as the keystone of the colonial system, thus opening the door for Independence.
Overall, Yannakakis' work provides an important contribution by extending the discourse surrounding native intermediaries and state formation into colonial Oaxaca, and expanding our understanding of the tactics such intermediaries used. Indeed, her case studies provide telling examples of the techniques and rhetoric indigenous intermediaries exercised to serve as both state makers and gatekeepers in their roles to promulgate the colonial system and defend local customs and autonomy. Although the work is a captivating read, the difficulties of employing such a multifaceted methodology that marries a variety of disciplines are evident at times allowing intermediaries to become occasionally lost in theoretical applications and extensive context. That said, Yannakakis contributes essential insights into the roles of native intermediaries with a work beneficial to any scholar of colonial Latin America.
Mark Z. Christensen
The Pennsylvania State University
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