Review

Author(s): Claudia Leal
Review by: Claudia Leal
Source: The Americas, Vol. 69, No. 2 (October 2012), pp. 262-264
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23269846
Accessed: 14-03-2016 03:40 UTC

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262 Book Reviews

This short review cannot do justice to the richness of this book. It is an important con
tribution to the contemporary history of both countries, a valuable reference for the

scholarship on migration and the transnational movements of ideas and political prac
tices, and a suggestive insight into the evolution of political ideas in Latin America.
Rafagas de un exilio is a careful, intelligent, clearly written, and unflinching attempt to

add the balance and depth of history to the engagement of memory.

Columbia University
New Tork, New Tork

Pablo A. Piccato

Africana, Slavery, and Diaspora Studies
Blacks and Blackness in Central America: Between Race and Place. Edited by Lowell
Gudmundson and Justin Wolfe. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010. Pp. viii,
416. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $89.96 cloth.
This collection of essays came out of a 2004 conference on the history of the African
diaspora in an area stretching from Panama to Guatemala. It includes five articles on
the colonial period and six that focus on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. They
were written by 11 of the leading scholars in the field, three of them from Central

America. By compiling the articles into a single volume the editors remind scholars of
Latin America, as well as those who study the African diaspora, of the role that African
people and their descendants have played in shaping these societies. Blackness is much
more typically associated with the insular Caribbean and Brazil. The editors suggest,
however, that an examination of the Central American experience will not only help to
fill in gaps within African diaspora studies, but by highlighting different kinds of expe
riences may even break new conceptual ground.
The first five articles are solid and together provide a good picture of the Caribbean
coast in the eighteenth century. Not surprisingly, most of them are centered on slavery,
although they acknowledge the importance of free blacks. They show that many of the

region's slaves had a great deal of autonomy, a condition apparently rooted in the sub
ordinate role of slavery, especially on the frontier. Russell Lohse recounts how, in the

absence of their owners, slaves in Matina (Costa Rica) managed cacao plantations,
which needed sometimes as little as two slaves. These men (for slave women remained
in the Central Valley) provided for their own needs and participated in Caribbean trade

networks. In this manner they blurred the distinction between slave and peasant. So
did the slaves building the port of Omoa in Honduras, as studied by Rina Caceres: they

received wages and were responsible for their own reproduction. Both Caceres and
Lohse attribute the flexibility of slavery partly to what they call the humid and
unhealthy climate of the coast. It made plantation owners live elsewhere and con
tributed to the replacement of subsistence rations by daily wages in Omoa. In a simi
lar setting—the hot, humid, and forested Pacific coast of Colombia—slavery, although

of paramount importance, was also relatively flexible. Catherine Komisaruk gives fur

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Book Reviews 263

ther evidence of slaves' autonomy through freedom of movement and maintenance of
crops, but away from the coast in Guatemala and into the nineteenth century. She con
centrates on slaves' ability to use the legal system to negotiate the conditions of their
servitude.

Slavery lost importance relatively early in Central America and as Komisaruk reminds

us, the descendants of Africans mixed with other Hispanicized free people and were
eventually considered to be part of the general category of ladino, an umbrella term
used to designate those considered non-indigenous. In his study of the sugar planta

tions of Amatitlan (Guatemala), Paul Lokken emphasizes that the category gente
ladina, which emerged during the second half of the seventeenth century, included
persons of African descent. He shows, therefore, that ladinos are not simply mestizos

(understood as the mixture of Spanish and Indian), as has been generally thought.
Alfonso Munera (Fronteras imajjinadas, 2005) has made a similar claim for the term
libres de todos los colores in New Granada, which has been equated to mixed-bloods by
many historians. He reminds us that free blacks were also part of this category. Both
Munera and Lokken seek greater recognition for the role that African descendants
played in the histories they study, a role partially masked by social classifications and the

ideological readings of them.
In his fascinating study of the Mosquitia, Karl Offen contributes to our understanding
of colonial social categories as he delves into the ways that Mosquitos classified them
selves internally and vis-a-vis others. Mosquito understanding of social divisions owed
much to the complex Caribbean realities of migration, trade, and war that several arti
cles in this volume highlight. They divided themselves into Sambo (those who mixed
with African survivors of a shipwreck) and Tawira, a division made along color lines, at
least according to a British observer. The Tawira distinguished themselves from "wild

Indians" (even capturing and selling them as slaves). Furthermore, the term 'Mosqui
tomen' suggests that they viewed themselves as part of a larger international commu
nity, along with Englishmen and others. However, Offen and other authors of this
book tend to impose more recent understandings of race onto the colonial realities
they study. Komisaruk, for instance, defines the colonial concept of calidad as race or
rank. Magali M. Carrera (Imagining Indentity in New Spain, 2003), among others, has
pointed out the importance of properly understanding the logics of colonial classifica
tions as opposed to those developed in the nineteenth century, which popularized the
concept of race as we understand it today.
The section on the post-Independence period is less gratifying. Three of the six articles
deal with Nicaragua and span an array of periods, geographies, questions, and methods.
The remaining pieces are an odd mixture. Lara Puttman explains how the international
crisis—especially the pressure to comply with eugenics-based U.S. immigration policy—
led Central American countries in the late 1920s and early 1930s to shift from welcom

ing the abundant West Indian migrants to firmly closing their doors to them. Ronald
Harpelle's article on "company wives" in the United Fruit Company's "white zones"

seems out of place. Although Mauricio Melendez's meticulously researched lists of

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264 Book Reviews

Costa Ricans and Nicaraguans with African blood (including the Somozas) allow him to
demonstrate the diffusion of blackness, his article lacks analysis.
By focusing on the relation between race and place in the national imaginary, Juliet
Hooker makes real the editors' claim that off-the-beaten-path histories have the poten
tial to help broaden our understanding of the African diaspora and Latin American his

tory. She presents a compelling argument about how the racialization of the Mosquito

Coast played a crucial role in the process of defining citizenship in Nicaragua. The

British recognition of the Mosquito kingdom created much anxiety among
Nicaraguans, who considered the coast inferior and savage and viewed it as increasingly
black and foreign. Incorporation into Nicaragua, achieved at the end of the nineteenth
century, was therefore critical for national formation, but it led to a process of "nation

alization" that paradoxically, but not surprisingly, meant disenfranchisement for the
regional populace. Justin Wolfe's piece similarly highlights the links between race and

place, but at the local level. Liberal politics from the 1940s through the 1960s had as

protagonists men from San Felipe, a barrio in Leon (one the two most important
Nicaraguan cities at the time), known for its Afro-descendant population. While their
poorer casta background influenced these politicians' positions, they did not identify
themselves by race but rather blended into the category of ladino and associated them
selves with place. Wolfe further explains that these men's political success (and identity)

came at the cost of less radical politics. Lowell Gudmundson analyses in detail the rare

and telling 1883 census, which included race categories, for four towns with African
descendents in western Nicaragua.
All those interested in the history of Black Latin America will find this book useful.
They will enjoy its maps and photographs, and will not forget its suggestive cover.
Universidad de los Andes

Claudia Leal

Bogota, Colombia

Public Memory of Slavery: Victims and Perpetrators in the South Atlantic. By Ana Lucia

Araujo. Amherst, Mass.: Cambria Press, 2010. Pp. xix, 500. Figures. Tables. Bib
liography. Index. $134.99 cloth.
Ana Lucia Araujo's work has its moments of reinforcing and redirecting several dis
courses that are quite important to modern and postmodern intellectual conceptual
izations. However, for the most part, those moments are fragmentary and narrative,
more anecdotal than analytical. To be sure, Araujo's work is important, as witnessed by
what it does and what it evokes. What it does is evidenced in her introduction and the
book's first and last chapters.

The introduction attempts a juxtaposition of memory and history and serves as a ref
erence to the book's title and thesis. Yet, it overlooks the ways in which many con
temporary historians begin their work: from the vantage of memory. They look for the

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