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Discover Mid-America May 2005
Ritual violence regulated power and wealth before U.S. arrival
Captives & Cousins: Slavery, Kinship, and Community in the Southwest Borderlands by James F. Brooks; University of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill and London (2002); 432 pp., B/W illus., tables, maps, paperback, $22.50, 0807853828; uncpress.unc.edu
Southwestern colonial, mestizo,
tribal and pueblo peoples practiced slavery long before Spanish arrival
and did so a good long time after. But it was only with the arrival of
eastern capitalism with white societys need to ascribe ethnicity
and race that the hegemonic and age-old practices of taking captives
for social and political purposes began to narrow to that of chattel servitude.
With the arrival of U.S. power in 1877, slavery officially
ended while racism and classism extended its reach into the area. But
James Brooks Southwest becomes neither a remade Old South nor all
Fred Harvey and Kachina dolls. Rather, its a historical plain upon
which complex cultures meet. In this arena, Brooks is able to sort out
the roots of raiding peoples and the ways in which those practices wended
into history, culture and modern ritual.
Opening Captives & Cousins, Brooks takes
the reader through the reenactment of the romantic conquest of Los Comanches
in an Indian/Mexicano village. In this dusky ceremony, El Capitan, the
Comanche leader, leads his daughter, La Cautiva, and twenty men on a search
for a specially made doll representing the Christ Child, El Santo Nino.
Once the villagers discover they have been violated, they
pursue the intruders, capturing La Cautiva. The Comanches run and when
safely away from the village, turn back with El Nino and with El Capitan
stopping at the houses of the elderly and infirm to invoke the blessings
of the child.
Meanwhile, the villagers take La Cautiva to the head of
a procession to meet the Comanches. When they meet, a rescate or ransom
negotiation begins, in which the terms of release for the prisoners are
The Comanches receive wine, food and cash. To regain
his daughter, El Capitan promised that his people would again revisit
the village on its saints day or when a villager wished to sponsor
a velorio (death vigil). The leaders shake hands and the Comanches
shed their native dress to become familiar villagers who, with their neighbors,
ready themselves for midnight mass.
Conquest normally frames the colonial Southwest story. But
as Brooks shows, the tale is more than one culture overtaking another.
Natives understood systems of honor, shame and prestige among the Spanish
as much as the Spanish recognized these in native political economy. These
became ways in which native and colonizing peoples crafted a locally
negotiated distribution of wealth and power that led not simply to distinction
between captives and cousins or to hierarchies of masters and victims
but to interpenetration of cultures.
Thus rose systems of cooperation, slavery and captive redemption
outside state sanction that served both labor needs in an area of scarce
natural resources and political and diplomatic balances necessary to preserve
and extend culture.
Brooks does not take a stand on whether slavery was a good
or a bad thing in the Southwest, only that, at first, slavery here was
not that practiced in the South where people of one race were enslaved
for one economic purpose.
Captives, whether used for labor, family extension, and
tribal hegemony or to stitch together political powers, occupied a number
of social strata. They could be redeemed in several ways,
including being taken back in raids by the people who lost them.
In effect, slavery established a level of ritual violence
necessary and accepted for regulating power and wealth in the region,
without allowing any one people to gain the upper and unbalancing hand.
Captives & Cousins concerns us also as readers
not merely because it contains a tale of slavery, but complicates and
explains pre-/post-contact native history and how that history influences
modern life. Captives were part of a highly complex system of captivity
and rescue accomplished with accepted practices of raiding and retribution,
trading, and buying and selling. Involved in this story are people who
came to be identified with Kansas, Oklahoma and Colorado after the colonial
period: the Kiowa, Comanche, Cheyenne and Apache.
These people were among the first to encounter Spanish settlers
and Mexicanos moving north into what is now New Mexico. Political shifts
that occurred in the region after contact established a new era of power
relations in which the various Southwest peoples formulated diplomatic
and political relations based on common cultural norms. When balances
tilted toward white hegemony after Mexican Cession, these people scattered
into the southern plains and northern Mexico.
Brooks Captives & Cousins mixes highly
interesting historical analysis with individual and folkloric stories,
creating a tale that is as thought provoking as it is pleasing.
Patrick Dobson is a journalist, poet, and freelance writer and editor based in Kansas City, MO. He publishes and edits the online literary magazine, the poetrysheet. His award-winning columns, editorials, and articles have appeared in PitchWeekly, eKC, and Discover Mid-America. His poetry and short stories have been published in the pages of The Kansas City Star, Review, Friction Magazine, Mid-America Poetry Review, The Same, and Thorny Locust. He is now pursuing a doctorate in history at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
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