In Noticias


Sociedades indígenas de la Alta Amazonía: Fortunas y adversidades (siglos XVII–XX). By María Susana Cipolletti. (Quito: Ediciones Abya-Yala, 2017. 361 pp., introduction, maps, chapter bibliographies. $24 paper.)

Robert Wasserstrom, Terra Group

“Until a few decades ago,” begins María Susana Cipolletti in her fascinating book, “it was generally assumed that cultural change came late to lowland South America, during the Rubber Boom [1875–1930]. Thus native societies had supposedly lived in a sort of historical limbo for extended periods. . . . We now know that the emergence, revitalization and decline of indigenous cultures during the colonial period compel us to give up this idea forever.” Historians and anthropologists of a certain age will recall that Amazonia was where you went to study native people who were unspoiled by Western civilization. The turning point came in 1978, when John Hemming published Red Gold: The Conquest of Brazilian Indians, 1500–1760. For the next twenty years, researchers in many disciplines brought Amazonian history sharply into focus. Favorite tropes—about “lost tribes” and “the last of this-or-that”—still hang on as a mainstay of freelance writers, but in scholarship they have mostly gone extinct. Cipolletti is an anthropologist and ethnohistorian whose careful research on far western Amazonia (in this case, modern Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru) fills in our heretofore uncertain knowledge of colonial Spanish Amazonia (the Provincia de Maynas). Historical writing about Maynas has often been overshadowed by scholarship on nearby Brazil. Even the Jesuit missions in Paraguay, a separate and relatively insignificant part of the Spanish Empire, remain better known to most readers. Yet between 1638 and 1767, most of Spain’s immense Amazonian territory (roughly 320,000 square kilometers) was ruled by Jesuit missionaries from their base in Borja on the Marañón River. Jesuit authority stretched from Brazil to the Andean foothills. By 1767, when they were expelled from Ecuador and Peru, they had founded seventy-four missions. Sociedades indígenas de la Alta Amazonía brings together nine essays that appeared in European journals between 1988 and 2011 (Cipolletti taught in Germany), as well as three others that were originally published in Ecuador and Peru. I was particularly impressed by her painstaking reconstruction of the domino effect triggered by eighteenth-century slave trading, when Indians allied with Portuguese slave hunters pushed their prey westward Ethnohistory 65:1 (January 2018) doi 10.1215/00141801-4260856 Copyright 2018 by American Society for Ethnohistory