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American Pentimento: The Invention of Indians and the Pursuit of Riches

Patricia Seed
Series: Public Worlds
Volume: 7
Copyright Date: 2001
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    American Pentimento
    Book Description:

    An illuminating examination of colonization’s ongoing cultural legacy. Patricia Seed examines how European countries, primarily England, Spain, and Portugal, differed in their colonization of the Americas, with the English appropriating land, while the Spanish and Portuguese attempted to eliminate "barbarous" religious behavior and used indigenous labor to take mineral resources. Seed also demonstrates how these antiquated cultural and legal vocabularies are embedded in our languages, popular cultures, and legal systems, and how they are responsible for current representations and treatment of Native Americans. Public Worlds Series, volume 7

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9261-3
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. American Pentimento: An Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    On a wintry afternoon in November 1992, I was sitting in a conference room at the University of Essex listening to a group of activists on behalf of indigenous people. Many were themselves natives, others their allies from the United States, Europe, and the United Nations. Together they were trying to forge a common ground for international action on behalf of native peoples.

    Yet despite the tremendous desire for shared ground, I kept hearing and observing people talking past each other and missing significant cues in others’ speeches. When a representative of one of Guatemala’s Maya communities began to speak...

  6. 1 Owning Land by Labor, Money, and Treaty
    (pp. 12-28)

    When a representative from one of the many native communities at the 1992 Essex conference introduced the subject of land rights for indigenous peoples, individuals in the audience from English-speaking regions of the Americas responded enthusiastically. Securing land rights, they agreed, should be the first priority for Native Americans. In the years since, however, I have heard identical sentiments uttered in Hindi- and Urdu-inflected English, with rounded Kikuyu and Swahili vowels, in Australian drawls, and in rhythmic Polynesian cadences. Regardless of continent or accent, English speakers from far-flung corners of the earth are talking about obtaining land to right the...

  7. 2 Imagining a Waste Land; or, Why Indians Vanish
    (pp. 29-44)

    When Queen Elizabeth first formally authorized New World colonization, she alluded only to spaces, not to people. Declaring that Englishmen were entitled to take over “Cities, Castles, Towns and Villages,” she said nothing about the people who already lived there.¹ Cities, towns, and villages were implicitly inhabited, but Elizabeth did not acknowledge their residents. Thus Indians first vanish in the formal history of English colonization. Their presence on the land is omitted in the initial and all subsequent official authorizations for settlement.

    Two powerful associations with the wordlandled English colonists to assert that the New World land was...

  8. 3 Gendering Native Americans: Hunters as Anglo-America’s Partial Fiction
    (pp. 45-56)

    A unique characteristic of early English-language writings on the native peoples of the Americas is their fixation on the gendered division of labor. In North and South America there were many societies in which women were the farmers, planting and harvesting crops close to home, while men trekked further afield in pursuit of fish, game, fowl, or exotic plants that could be traded. All the societies encountered by the Portuguese in three hundred years of settlement shared this characteristic, as did many of the communities encountered by French, Dutch, and Spanish colonists. Yet this gendered division of labor is rarely...

  9. 4 Ownership of Mineral Riches and the Spanish Need for Labor
    (pp. 57-71)

    Iberian settlers believed that all the valuable mineral reserves—gold, silver, emeralds, and diamonds—in the New World had become theirs once they had firmly established themselves. Whereas English colonists believed thelandwas rightfully theirs, Spanish and Portuguese colonists considered thatprecious mineral depositsbelonged to them.¹ Like the conventions for pursuing landownership among English colonists, rules governing gold and silver deposits were profoundly familiar to and hence widely accepted among Iberian colonists. Thus the idea of collective ownership of precious mineral deposits remained popular among Iberians.

    According to a long- and well-established Iberian tradition, members of the dominant...

  10. 5 Tribute and Social Humiliation: The Cost of Preserving Native Farmlands
    (pp. 72-90)

    Unlike English officials, who actively encouraged settlers to seize productive native land, Spanish colonial officials made such seizure difficult. Although some have attempted to claim moral superiority for the Spanish based on this, the origin of this policy lies less in a moral terrain than in the Spanish officials’ economic and political interests in such communities.

    After overwhelming the leaders of large native empires in the Americas, Spanish conquerors struck a deal with the survivors. If they would not resist the Spanish presence, the victors would allow them to retain their farmland. However, in exchange, these natives had to meet...

  11. 6 Cannibals: Iberia’s Partial Truth
    (pp. 91-112)

    In 1992, at the Essex conference attended by many indigenous activists from Spanish America, a prominent English historian, John Hemming, gave a talk about the sixteenth-century peoples of Brazil.¹ When I politely taxed him after the presentation with the fact that his extensive historical description of the sixteenth-century coastal Tupis was missing an important dimension of their lives, namely, cannibalism, a Mapuche activist from Argentina leaped to his feet. “You can’t say that,” he interrupted in a raised voice, addressing me, not Hemming. “That’s the excuse they always use to attack us.” As he continued to berate me for having...

  12. 7 Sustaining Political Identities: The Moral Boundary between Natives and Colonizers
    (pp. 113-134)

    The partial fictions that Europeans created of native peoples contain two puzzles. First is that in the American colonies, categorical labels—huntersandcannibals—remained unchallenged by actual contact with the natives. Second is that the popularity of these labels endured throughout the colonial era.

    The failure of concrete encounters to change partially fictitious images of colonized peoples has been partly addressed in another colonial situation. Edward Said, literary critic of nineteenth-century English and French images of Middle Easterners, first pointed out that Europeans’ ideas about “Orientals” were unchanged by ongoing communication with actual people of the Orient. While unable...

  13. 8 Indians in Portuguese America
    (pp. 135-150)

    Whereas English colonists expropriated Indian land overseas and Spaniards expropriated Indian labor, Portuguese colonists at first seized neither. Rather, their pattern, which was subsequently imitated successfully by Dutch and other European merchants, left the means of production in the hands of aboriginal inhabitants. This primarily mercantile model proved inordinately successful well into the nineteenth century in Africa and Asia, where local inhabitants had long been accustomed to producing goods for overseas markets.

    When they arrived on American shores in 1500, the Portuguese simply wanted to bargain with the natives for the price of their goods and leave all the details...

  14. 9 Fast Forward: The Impact of Independence on Colonial Structures
    (pp. 151-162)

    Independence from Spain and England occurred roughly during the same period for most of North and South America, but the new citizens’ attitudes toward their former colonizers differed strikingly. North of the tropic of Capricorn, independent Americans embraced the cultural traits—accents and social attitudes—of their former colonizers. South of this tropic, Americans initially rejected both. The key to the different attitudes toward their former overlords resides in the timing of the nations’ independence.

    By the time self-rule began, Spain, the dominant colonial power in the Americas during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, was gradually declining in power, wealth,...

  15. 10 Continuities: Colonial Language and Images Today
    (pp. 163-178)

    In Africa and Asia, most decolonization occurred when native peoples led costly fights that forced Europeans to withdraw. In the Americas, however, the descendants of European colonizers led the independence movements. Had a similar anticolonial revolution occurred in India, it would have been the British Raj, not Gandhi, who led the revolt against English rule beginning in the 1920s.¹

    Nowhere in this hemisphere did Native American–led uprisings overthrow the descendants of Europeans. Nor were they likely to do so, for the aboriginal inhabitants were nearly extinguished by the arrival of Europeans. Even when their communities gradually began to recover...

  16. Conclusion No Perfect World: Contemporary Aboriginal Communities’ Human and Resource Rights
    (pp. 179-191)

    From Australia to Brazil, and from Alaska to Patagonia, the economic beliefs and political languages of three small European states—Spain, England, and Portugal—continue to operate in often unacknowledged ways, dividing contemporary nations as well as aboriginal communities on issues as important as human rights and the claim to ownership of minerals and land. Nowhere is this division more obvious—and less acknowledged—than in the history of human rights. Not long ago, I was listening to a U.S. citizen introduce the history of human rights in international law. She started by talking about Grotius. In a corner of...

  17. [Map]
    (pp. 192-192)
  18. Appendix: On the Names of Some North American Aboriginal Peoples
    (pp. 193-196)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 197-286)
  20. Index
    (pp. 287-300)
  21. Back Matter
    (pp. 301-301)