Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

"Strange Lands and Different Peoples": Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Guatemala

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of History

"Strange Lands and Different Peoples": Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Guatemala

Article excerpt

"Strange Lands and Different Peoples": Spaniards and Indians in Colonial Guatemala, by W. George Lovell and Christopher H. Lutz with Wendy Kramer and William R. Swezey. Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. xvii, 339 pp. $45.00 US (cloth).

Understanding colonial legacies is crucial to interpreting the reality of contemporary Latin American societies. Conquest and colonial rule produced socioracial structures and inequalities that, notwithstanding important changes over more than five hundred years, have persisted into the present. W. George Lovell and Christopher H. Lutz, together with Wendy Kramer and William R. Swezey, offer a compelling reminder that there is little "post-colonial" about Guatemala, a conclusion that could easily be applied to other areas of Latin America. Strange Lands and Different Peoples persuasively demonstrates that hostilities between Mayas and other Guatemalans today have their roots in the violent confrontations between Spaniards and Indians in the sixteenth century. But even though Lovell and Lutz concentrate on the "charged," "adverse," and "antagonistic" relationship between these two groups in the hundred years following 1524, their story is not simply one of doom and gloom. They write a balanced history of conquest and imperialism in a colonial backwater, one that appropriately recognizes the oppression of Spaniards and the resilience of Indians.

Building upon the last few decades of scholarship, Strange Lands and Different Peoples is guided by an "increased awareness of native agency" (p. xvi). The fourteen chapters of this study are divided into four major sections. The first, "Conquest and Resistance," recounts the history of the conquest of Guatemala by following the actions of both conquistadors and indigenous allies and enemies alike. In the second section, "Settlement and Colonization," colonial landholding patterns and the official policy of congregacion (forced resettlement) are analyzed in light of the ways in which Indians altered imperial designs. The third section, "Labor and Tribute," provides a detailed look at the encomienda at the local level to highlight how oppressive this tributary system was for indigenous people. And then in the final section, "Dynamics of Maya Survival," population decline and recovery among the Mayas is outlined from pre-contact times to the early nineteenth century.

An important contribution of this study is its unique approach to the history of conquest. Following in the footsteps of New Conquest History, Lovell and Lutz move beyond the meta-narrative of Spanish victory to provide an account that includes both Spanish and Indian interpretations of events. Most importantly, they recognize that Mesoamerican elites forged alliances with Spaniards based upon pre-Hispanic practices and hence did not view themselves as subjected peoples. They also dutifully note that Indians from central Mexico accompanied Pedro de Alvarado and his men to Guatemala. Conquest, then, was "an indigenous enterprise as much as, if not more than, a Spanish one" (p. 32). But even though Lovell and Lutz stress the importance of indigenous actors in the conquest, they rightly emphasize that Alvarado's ruthless behaviour left a lasting mark on colonial society. …

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