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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

1999, Vol. 2 No. 2 .

Native Resistance and the Pax Colonial in New Spain
Edited by Susan Schroeder

(Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998).
200pp. Index. Bibl. Hb.: 42.75; ISBN 0-8032-4266-2. Pb.: 18.95; 0-8032-9249-X.

This book is a collection of essays seeking to explode the myth that, after the initial conquest, Native American tribes submitted generally peacefully to Spanish rule until the nineteenth century. What the authors show is that Indians throughout Mexico were always willing to resist the Spanish with varying degrees of success.

Of all the regions of Spain's American empire, Mexico was probably the most stable, which is why the myth of the Pax Colonial emerged. Yet even here, Native Americans continually tested the boundaries of Spanish rule, with violent, if unco-ordinated rebellions occurring regularly. What is fascinating is how the tactics of rebellion changed over time, as cultural adaptation became cultural norm. Indians were always aware of the differences between themselves and the Spanish, yet certain cultural traits brought to the Americas by the Spanish, most notably Catholicism, sometimes formed the basis of resistance to colonial rule. Startled Jesuits occasionally saw their own religion adapted and used against them, especially the stress on a messianic saviour who would save his suffering people from slavery. In this adoption of the 'good bits' of Christianity, Indians in New Spain were joined by the other oppressed mass in the Americas, African slaves. By the eighteenth century, highly developed guerrilla warfare tactics successfully demonstrated the weak military control Spain had over much of her empire. Indeed in forcing the Spanish to the negotiating table to end a long-running dispute, hardly the action of a colonial power in firm command of its empire, Native Americans showed that European control in the America was always, to some degree, superficial.

These are well written and very readable essays, which force us to reassess our assumptions about the submission of any conquered people to colonial rule, even if that conquest happened centuries before.

Tim Lockley
University of Warwick

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