You are on page 1of 3

Book Reviews / Colonial Period


Allies at Odds: The Andean Church and Its Indigenous Agents, 1583 – 1671.
By  john charles. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2010.
Illustrations. Maps. Notes. Bibliography. Index. xi, 283 pp. Paper, $27.95.
This book is the first in-­depth study of indigenous church officials in connection to
literacy and legal activism in the Andes. John Charles revisits “mundane” sources from
colonial ecclesiastical tribunals, which historians had hitherto used to trace Indian resistance to Catholicism, in order to bring to life the world of native bailiffs, prosecutors,
sacristans, teachers, and choirmasters. These officials assisted priests with sacramental
duties and mass, maintained church buildings and ornaments, taught Spanish literacy
and Christian doctrine, and enforced public observance of the faith. Like Juan Carlos Estenssoro and Alan Durston before him, Charles is interested in reconstructing
the contributions of these allies of the church, especially in what pertained to post-­
Tridentine debates about linguistic policies, parish administration, and the usefulness
of quipu devices (knotted cords) for confession and conversion. Charles elaborates on the
pioneering works of Rolena Adorno about indios ladinos (lit., Spanish-­speaking Indians),
a privileged group of intermediaries who, like the parish assistants at the center of this
work, “used the Spanish language to bridge the divide between two cultures” ( p. 2).
Ecclesiastic documentation such as parish inspection reports, idolatry trials, and lawsuits
against rural priests put to rest the notion that, “with rare exceptions, Indians could
neither read nor write” ( p. 6). In that sense, this book also echoes recent works by Alcira
Dueñas and Kathryn Burns in calling for a reformulation of Ángel Rama’s early concept
of the Lettered City.
But Charles is also concerned with the role of these church assistants as litigants and
legal advocates of their communities (which they saw as part of their religious duties).
Charles succeeds in showing that a “porous boundary divided sacramental practices from
legal action” ( p. 96). The sources indicate that natives acquired literacy primarily for the
“practical purpose” of litigation in colonial courts, rather than for “the spiritual purpose
of reinforcing the Christian lessons they received at doctrina” ( p. 39). A literate Andean
society emerged in this legal setting. Although scholars had long known about native
litigation against the Andean Catholic Church and its ill-­prepared and abusive agents
(i.e., the works of Antonio Acosta and Bernard Lavallé), Charles is the first to undertake
the analysis of this type of native juridical writing, mainly petitions and formal accusations, as a distinct legal genre. This is perhaps his major contribution. As he notes, the
Indianness of these documents is problematic and cannot be assumed based on the nominal identity of the authors or a literal reading of the contents. It is reductive, Charles
asserts, “to define texts based on assumptions of the author’s ethnicity.” Rather, it is more
instructive “to analyze the positions that a text articulates” ( p. 181). Charles advocates
an approach to legal manuscript culture in which notions of collective authorship and
shared discursive networks take precedence.
Two aspects of Charles’s methodology stand out. First, he applies the concept of
“rhetorical self-­fashioning” — borrowed from Rolena Adorno and, ultimately, from his-

182). but from learning and putting into force the very laws that sought their erasure” ( p. But this task is difficult with the sources at hand. As Charles states. little separated the memoriales of Spanish attorneys from the causas of Andean plaintiffs” ( p. Second. josé carlos de la puente luna. native litigants merged “their literary personae and interests with the moral economy and literary models of the lettered city” ( p. often contributed to the final form of legal petitions and complaints. Charles highlights Andean litigants’ access to “common discursive models and legal guidance” ( p. Paradoxically. As part of their discursive strategies. attorneys. For most native communities. but not necessarily hard to win.556 HAHR / August torian of the Renaissance Stephen Greenblatt — to analyze how native petitioners construed a literary persona. this colonial lawyer seems to imply that court cases involving native plaintiffs were hard to prove. and other literate agents. Charles is careful not to suggest that church assistants “spoke for themselves” in these documents. “the most consequential response to Spanish authority came not from championing the incorruptibility of Andean traditions in a postconquest world. The author’s conclusion that Audiencia rulings in favor of the natives were “unlikely” and that the possibilities of redress or retribution were “slim” ( p. These caveats do not detract from the overall value of this well-­researched and original work.1215/00182168-­1600470 . indigenous litigants “saw advantages in portraying themselves as both poor and empowered” ( pp. for a few decades now. litigation before ecclesiastical tribunals was not essentially different from litigating before civil authorities. the judicial system constituted native authorities as both defenders of their subjects and miserables or “wretched ones. 166). “In terms of form and theme. Instead.” Thus. 165) is based on a debatable reading of a work by jurist Diego de León Pinelo. 178 – 79). Texas State University doi 10. solicitors. seemed to be trapped within the resistance-­and-­continuity paradigm. like official defenders of the crown ( protectores). Allies at Odds is a welcome contribution to a field that. Based on the formal similarities and common structure of these documents with others authored by Spanish reformers and petitioners. Therefore. which lie outside the ecclesiastic repositories researched by Charles. 70). notaries. a fuller reconstruction of such legal networks would require consulting notarial records and court cases aired at the royal Audiencia (high court of appeal) or the Supreme Council of the Indies. 172). Charles sketches the legal networks and paper trails that connected Andean rural parishes with the viceregal authorities in Lima. Charles concludes. he points out different “mediating filters” who.

download. users may print. However.Copyright of Hispanic American Historical Review is the property of Duke University Press and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. or email articles for individual use. .