Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage: Governing through Slavery in Colonial Quito

Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage: Governing through Slavery in Colonial Quito

Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage: Governing through Slavery in Colonial Quito

Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage: Governing through Slavery in Colonial Quito

Synopsis

In this pioneering study of slavery in colonial Ecuador and southern Colombia--Spain's Kingdom of Quito--Sherwin Bryant argues that the most fundamental dimension of slavery was governance and the extension of imperial power. Bryant shows that enslaved black captives were foundational to sixteenth-century royal claims on the Americas and elemental to the process of Spanish colonization. Following enslaved Africans from their arrival at the Caribbean port of Cartagena through their journey to Quito, Bryant explores how they lived during their captivity, formed kinships and communal affinities, and pressed for justice within a slave-based Catholic sovereign community.
In Cartagena, officials branded African captives with the royal insignia and gave them a Catholic baptism, marking slaves as projections of royal authority and majesty. By licensing and governing Quito's slave trade, the crown claimed sovereignty over slavery, new territories, natural resources, and markets. By adjudicating slavery, royal authorities claimed to govern not only slaves but other colonial subjects as well. Expanding the diaspora paradigm beyond the Atlantic, Bryant's history of the Afro-Andes in the early modern world suggests new answers to the question, what is a slave?

Excerpt

The Governor wrote to me that you had sent him seventeen black slaves and
that you ought to send more. It seems to me that you ought to send one hundred
black slaves and a person in your confidence ought to go with them.

—King Ferdinand, 1507

Slavery is the punishment even of the greatest crimes….
But those who bear their punishment patiently, and are so much wrought
on by that pressure that lies so hard on them that it appears they are really more
troubled for the crimes they have committed than for the miseries they suffer,
are not out of hope but that at last either the Prince will by his prerogative,
or the people by their intercession, restore them again to their liberty.

—Thomas More, Utopia, Book 2, 168–69

In 1592, Francisco Auncibay, one of the three royal justices (oidores) serving on Quito’s high court (audiencia), penned a treatise to King Philip II. The treatise concerned the indigenous population and territories of Popayán and proposed that the king invest 1 million pesos of gold to subsidize the importation of 2,000 enslaved captives from the “land of Guinea” to colonize the area and mine area riverbeds laden with gold. Describing the region’s humid climate; horrible roadways; multilingual, ungoverned, and rapidly declining “indios” (indigenous populations); and rivers with gravel beds laden with gold, Auncibay’s petition reads more like a treatise on government than a mere economic rationale regarding economic capital and labor.

Auncibay’s petition points to a scarcely considered aspect of slavery—the ways that enslaved Africans were fundamental to claiming New World territories and the development of colonial sovereignty. The justice’s petition reveals racial slavery as a settlement of foreign, deracinated (removed from their homelands), and non-European subjects. It reveals conquest, enslavement, and slave trading as early modern modes of constituting colonial societies and systems of rule. Auncibay’s proposal suggested more than a labor arrangement . . .

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