Notes on reading Black agency in Guatemala: dismantling Black slavery while upholding White supremacy?

Notes on reading Black agency in Guatemala: dismantling Black slavery while upholding White supremacy?

 

 

In “Becoming free, becoming Ladino,” Catherine Komisaruk argues that the Guatemalan Black slavery crumbled before the 1824 dramatic emancipation. Though she acknowledged the arguments of other historians pointing to external causes (from the Haitian Revolution to the emancipation of the Spanish-American colonies), she relies more on internal and gradual developments to explain slavery’s demise.

 

“By the late eighteenth century slavery in Guatemala was increasingly unsustainable. Slaves were availing themselves of legal institutions and social structures to unravel their enslavement, and as the numbers of people of African descent are in free society, so too did the possibilities of slave liberation. Kingship and social networks, as well as passing unstopped into free society, continued as primary mechanisms of emancipation, while the state and reigning social ideologies persisted in legitimizing manumissions… The emancipation law of 1824 essentially ratified a long-term social transformation that was already almost complete.”

This was not a small achievement. Guatemalan Blacks, free and enslaved, neutralized the racial barriers that sustained the institution. And as the free community increased, the pulled away from slavery amplified too, forcing the Guatemalan society to disallow even the very racial terms that had categorized them into “fit” for slavery. They ceased to be Black, African, or Mulatta.

“The records show slippage among racial and ethnic categories… The colonial nomenclature of ethnic and racial labels, which had recognized African ancestry in terms such as negra/o, mulata/o, and occasional Guinea, was ushered out of official use at the time of independence.”

The result, however, was the loss of the Guatemalan African cultural heritage, and the creation of a new cast: ladino, a hispanicized person of color. The term makes a clear distinction between acculturated and assimilated people, moving willingly under the umbrella of a malleable Hispanic culture, and those who stood at the opposite social spectrum, like Indians invested in preserving their indigenous way of life. Though color continued to open and close doors (e.g., Blacks could become ladinos, but could not “evolve” into Whites), culture took up significantly more weight. Yet, this way out of slavery required shedding off conspicuous African forms of identities.

“The enslavement of people of African heritage in Guatemala ended because of a specific kind of social mestizaje: slaves had used physical mobility, access to wages and credit, and the judicial system to mix into free Hispanic society. On the one hand, the ongoing emancipation of slaves contributed to the growing numbers of blacks and mulattos in the free population. On the other hand, this crossing over into free Hispanic society helped occlude consciousness in the nineteenth century of African heritage in Guatemala. Former slaves were absorbed into a free populace whose members increasingly viewed their ethnically mixed society not as Africanized, but Hispanicized, or ladino, a term that came to be defined as Paul Lokken shows, in contrast to the non-Hispanic cultures of the region’s Indians.”

Bibliography

Catherine Komisaruk, “Becoming free, becoming Ladino,” chapter in Lowell Gudmundson and Justin Wolfe, Blacks and Blackness in Central America: Between Race and Place (Duke University Press, 2010), 150-176.

Reviews of Blacks and Blackness in Central AmericaMargaret OlsenFrank Trey ProctorAnne S. Macpherson Claudia LealCristián Castro García, and Glenn A. Chambers.

*Other Komisaruk’s publications:

(2013) Labor and Love in Guatemala: The Eve of Independence  (book)

(2008) Rape Narratives, Rape Silences: Sexual Violence and Judicial Testimony in Colonial Guatemala (article)

(2008) Something Other than Autobiography: Collaborative Life-Narratives in the Americas—An Introduction (article)

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Maria Cristina Fumagalli’s On the Edge: Writing the Border Between Haiti and the Dominican Republic

On The Edge is a book high on my reading list. But Amazon says it will only come out in hardcover by June, 2015, and the price is prohibitive for many of us. We can still urge our libraries to acquire it, and if we see it fitting, find ways to use it in the classroom.

Could not find evidence of a Kindle edition, and could not read even a page from the author’s hands, but in an editorial review Lizabeth Paravisini-Gebert says: “Anchored in a detailed understanding of the history of this complex and deeply conflicted contact zone, and offering insightful readings of the broadest possible range of literary and artistic works, the book challenges static representations of the border, offering in their stead innovative and multi-layered interpretations of the role of mobility and permeability in creating a multi-ethnic transnational territory that both bridges and separates the peoples of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The book’s depth of research and analysis will make it the must-read study for anyone interested in this often-misunderstood contact zone.”

It is definitively needed and promising.

Repeating Islands

9781781381601I love this book, which I read in manuscript form and enthusiastically recommended. This is what I had to say about the manuscript, which offers a most comprehensive study for anyone interested in the dynamics of the Haitian-Dominican border:

Maria Cristina Fumagalli’s remarkable On the Edge: Writing the Border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic offers the most richly nuanced study of the Haiti-Dominican border to date. Anchored in a detailed understanding of the history of this complex and deeply conflicted contact zone, and offering insightful readings of the broadest possible range of literary and artistic works, the book challenges static representations of the border, offering in their stead innovative and multi-layered interpretations of the role of mobility and permeability in creating a multi-ethnic transnational territory that both bridges and separates the peoples of Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The book’s depth of research and analysis will make it the…

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The Great African Slave Revolt of 1825: Cuba and the Fight for Freedom in Matanzas – by Barcia, Manuel – Heuman – 2015 – Bulletin of Latin American Research – Wiley Online Library

The Great African Slave Revolt of 1825: Cuba and the Fight for Freedom in Matanzas - by Barcia, Manuel - Heuman - 2015 - Bulletin of Latin American Research - Wiley Online Library

Allow me to bring your attention to Gad Heuman’s review of Manuel Barcia’s book. He writes: “Barcia’s argument about the role of Africans who in 1825 were seeking an end to their own enslavement rather than abolishing the slave system, provides an important critique of Eugene Genovese’s thesis. More importantly, Barcia has provided a fascinating and richly documented account of a rebellion that, in his view, was an extension of West African warfare in a Cuban setting.”

The Great African Slave Revolt of 1825: Cuba and the Fight for Freedom in Matanzas – by Barcia, Manuel – Heuman – 2015 – Bulletin of Latin American Research – Wiley Online Library.

Review of Évelyne Trouillot’s “The Infamous Rosalie”

Sepinwall makes me want to read “Rosalie.” I appreciate how she relates it to the Holocaust survival accounts. “Rosalie” should accompany me to the classroom.

Another work that is also a scholarly incursion outside of academic writing is Rafe Blaufarb’s Inhuman traffick: the international struggle against the transatlantic slave trade: a graphic history.

Repeating Islands

Rosalie2

“If This is a Woman: Evelyne Trouillot’s The Infamous Rosalie and the Lost Stories of New-World Slavery,” a review by Alyssa Goldstein Sepinwall of Évelyne Trouillot, The Infamous Rosalie (trans. by M.A. Salvodon, foreword by Edwidge Danticat, Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 2013, 132 pp.) appeared in Fiction and Film for French Historians.

You can access the review at

http://h-france.net/fffh/classics/if-this-is-a-woman-evelyne-trouillots-the-infamous-rosalie-and-the-lost-stories-of-new-world-slavery (Fiction and Film for French Historians,Volume 5, Issue 4, February 2015)

Original French edition: Rosalie l’Infâme, Paris: Dapper, 2003 and Port-au-Prince: Éditions Presses Nationales d’Haïti, 2007

Our thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.

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Fischer and Blackburn on French abolitionism

Sybille Fischer’s contention with Robin Blackburn in two block quotes:

Before considering two recent alternative proposals to this view, it is worth pointing out that from a political perspective decidedly different from that of Ozouf, we come across a similar phenomenon. In his monumental study of antislavery between 1776 and 1848, Blackburn comments on Brissot a number of times, usually linking Brissot’s stance on slavery to his “new forward policy which would take France to war in Europe and would reassert metropolitan authority in the Antilles.” 16 Never mind that Brissot had written pamphlets like “Réflexions sur l’admission aux États généraux des députés de Saint-Domingue” (Reflections about the admission of deputies from Saint Domingue to the General Estates) where he advocates a strong autonomy for the possessions outre-mer and says, among other things: “It is impossible that in the whirlwind that sweeps everything toward liberty, the substantial colonies alone remain attached to bodies that are two thousand leagues away from them, and that they should consent to be governed by those.” This proposition raises for Brissot the problem of slavery, since immediate autonomy would have given all the power to the planters. Unsurprisingly, Brissot could not figure out a solution that would have guaranteed both abolition of slavery and autonomy, and he appears to have contradicted himself at various points. Whatever his insights or failings may have been, however, it is somewhat surprising that Blackburn presents Brissot’s view on slavery as unequivocally linked to French colonialism, while also diminishing his import for the slavery question as a whole. At one point we even read the following: Paradoxically by the time the Convention decreed the abolition of colonial slavery in 1794 the Amis des Noirs no longer functioned and most of its members no longer played a role. It is almost as if enlightened abolitionism was as much part of the old order as the exclusif and the acquis de Guinée. Only once this whole superstructure was in ruins could slave emancipation be adopted in the metropolis. 18 No mention here of the fact that one of the leading proponents of abolition, Brissot, did not play a role because he had found his end on the guillotine. No mention either of the fact that the Amis des Noirs and their Girondin supporters had been involved in a publicity war with the representatives of the planters, who, out of hatred of Brissot, had thrown their support behind Robespierre (with whom they shared nothing, of course, except hatred of Brissot), and that the demise of the Girondins has to be counted at least in part as a victory for the planters.

Fischer, Sibylle (2004-04-09). Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (John Hope Franklin Center Book) (Kindle Locations 4183-4203). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.

For some reason, Brissot appears to be an extremely uncomfortable figure in the story. Whatever Blackburn might have in mind in this somewhat obscure paragraph— the vague “as if “ clearly signals an element of speculation and hesitance here— the upshot seems to be that slavery is a premodern phenomenon that vanishes only when feudalism has dissolved. Although this suggestion is quite inconsistent with the overall argument Blackburn pursues in The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, the issue of the Girondins appears to push him to retreat to an economic determinism that is otherwise absent from the book. For the Girondins, antislavery was by and large a strategic matter in the attempt to expand and consolidate the French Empire. In other words, Blackburn locates in the Girondin faction a universalism of liberty that turns into imperialism— an argument we are familiar with from those who, unlike Blackburn, want to discard the whole project of an emancipatory modernity as an imperialism in disguise. Instead of confronting the underlying problem of how to resolve the potential contradictions between a universalist ideal of individual liberty, popular sovereignty, and national sovereignty head-on, Blackburn seems to run away from the problem by giving a one-sided account of the Girondin position in which antislavery becomes a mere posture.

Fischer, Sibylle (2004-04-09). Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution (John Hope Franklin Center Book) (Kindle Locations 4203-4213). Duke University Press. Kindle Edition.

Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the Cultures of Slavery in the Age of Revolution

Fischer, Sibylle. 2004. Modernity disavowed: Haiti and the cultures of slavery in the age of revolution. Durham: Duke University Press.

Fischer, Sibylle. 2004. Modernity disavowed: Haiti and the cultures of slavery in the age of revolution. Durham: Duke University Press.

Look at the sister post.

Sibylle Fischer’s book, Modernity Disavowed, is for the long distances. At eleven years after its publication in 2004, it is still a force in the field, shaping discussions, and inspiring articles, books and dissertations. It is not a historical monograph per se. Instead, it is an intellectual work that draws from literature, history, philosophy and psychoanalysis (some reviewers have pointed out that it relies on history more than on other disciplines).  It also uses a transnational approach to tackling hard questions about the post-revolutionary period in three major Caribbean nations: Haiti, Cuba and the Dominican Republic. Emancipation and nation-building are the book’s major concerns.  A scholarly exchange (in Spanish) over the book, which was published in the Caribbean Studies, 33:2 (Jul. – Dec., 2005), had Clevis Headley and Neil Roberts raising questions about the issues of “Modernity” and “Disavowed,” and then Fischer was invited to respond.

Read an interview that Gina Ulysse gave to Fischer.

Toussaint Louverture's 1801 Constitution consacrated.

Le 1er. Juillet 1801, Toussaint-L’Ouverture, chargés des pouvoirs du peuple d’Haïty et auspices du Tout-puissante, proclame la Gouverneur général, assisté des mandataires légalement convoqués, en présence et sous les Constitution de la république d’Haïty / lith. de Villain, r. de Sèvres No. 11.

Bibliography:

Fischer, Sibylle. 2004. Modernity Disavowed: Haiti and the cultures of slavery in the age of revolution. Durham: Duke University Press.

Two chapters available online:

Chapter 11

Chapter 13

Other reviews

David Geggus

Ashli White

Robert Lawless

Kenneth Maxwell

Kaiama L. Glover

Sarah Franklin

The Tupac Amaru Rebellion

Tupac Amaru II, the late-eighteenth-century leader of the Peruvian rebellion against the Spanish crownCharles F. Walker has written the latest book on the Tupac Amaru’s Rebellion, and it is relevant to the history of the Atlantic World and the Caribbean because it explains well the complex colonial world of the Americas and situates the event within the broader context of hemispheric relations (The Americas to Africa and Europe). Additionally, it serves as an example of a powerful synthesis, modern use of archival material and of a lucid prose that has adopted terms and imagines from current cyber culture and global popular culture (i.e., reference to Hollywood and terms like “out-of-sync”).

The link for the Zotero reference (an account is required; it is free)

The link for the Mendeley reference (an account and Mendeley Desktop installed on your computer are required; both are free)

Tupac Amaru's RebellionWalker, Charles F. The Tupac Amaru Rebellion.Cambridge, Massachusetts : The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014.

See Elliot’s full and helpful review in the New York Review of Books

Below is Feinberg’s short review:

The Tupac Amaru Rebellion by Charles F. Walker. Belknap Press, 2014, 376 pp. $29.95.

Empires that try to coerce their colonial subjects into financing their overseas ambitions do so at their own peril, as both George III of the United Kingdom and Charles III of Spain learned. In Peru in 1780, anger over rising Spanish taxes and the many abuses of the Spanish colonial authorities spurred a Jesuit-educated, middle-class, indigenous merchant who called himself Tupac Amaru–claiming to descend from the last ruler of the Incan Empire–to organize an armed rebellion with the assistance of his wife, Micaela Bastidas. But as Walker explains, the Spanish authorities quickly and ruthlessly quelled the indigenous uprising: Tupac Amaru lacked organizational skills and a clear vision and made major tactical errors, including failing to seize the strategically vital city of Cuzco. During the course of the ethnically polarized struggle, the rebels were unable to win enough public support to survive, and the powerful Catholic Church sided with the colonial authorities. Superior Spanish firepower and brutality proved decisive, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 100,000 people. To succeed, anticolonial rebellions typically require assistance from geopolitical rivals. But for reasons that Walker does not fully explore, the British showed no interest in aiding Tupac Amaru’s challenge to the United Kingdom’s rivals in Spain.

Feinberg, Richard

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2014 Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.
http://www.cfr.org/
Source Citation
Feinberg, Richard. “The Tupac Amaru Rebellion.” Foreign Affairs Sept.-Oct. 2014. Opposing Viewpoints in Context. Web. 28 Nov. 2014.