Spaniards and Indians in Southeastern Mesoamerica: Essays on the History of Ethnic Relations

By Murdo J. MacLeod; Robert Wasserstrom | Go to book overview

Ethnic Relations and Indian Society in the Province of Guatemala, ca. 1620-ca. 1800

Murdo J. MacLeod

The Spanish colonial province of Guatemala, an area that today would include Guatemala and El Salvador, was and is one of great geographic and climatic diversity. Extremes of altitude and the proximity of the Caribbean and the Pacific have provided a large number of habitats for such a relatively small area. Part of a larger governmental unit called the Audiencia de Guatemala, colonial Guatemala's population contained a majority of ethnic Amerindians and large minorities of African blacks, European whites, and combinations of these three groups, often referred to by people of the time as castas. The four populations also varied widely within each group and, in comparison to one another, in their responses and adaptations to the geographic and climatic diversity. The various ethnic populations also acted upon one another biologically, culturally, and economically.

In the period under consideration here, approximately 1620 to 1800, regional and ethnic diversity was further complicated by change and divergence over time. Each population group and region responded to a long series of pressures and stimuli, to periods of slow change and to periods of accelerated social and economic activity.

The historiography of this increasing diversity and divergence is slight, even by Latin American standards. Much of it has been from the "top down," and has moved quickly to the level of large studies of the whole region. The monographic regional work on which such general studies perhaps should have been based has hardly begun.

The five great Central American colonial chroniclers, Antonio de Remesal, Francisco Antonio de Fuentes y Guzmán, Francisco Vásquez, Francisco Ximénez, and Pedro Cortés y Larraz, began this "macro" tradition, and it continued to flourish in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the works of Hubert Howe Bancroft, Santiago I. Barberena,

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