Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Indian Slavery and Servitude in Colonial Brazil: Empire, Networks, and Race in Maranhão, 1688-1790

The interventions of my project are twofold. First, it seeks to reorient our understanding of Native American slavery in Brazil as a practice that continued well after the arrival of large numbers of African slaves, and even after the enslavement of indigenous groups was outlawed in 1755. Such a view challenges the older but still powerful narrative of "substitution" in Brazilian history—namely that with the arrival of African slaves, native slaves became obsolete. This narrative developed because in many of the coastal areas of Brazil where sugar plantations dominated, the transition to African labor occurred already in the early seventeenth century. Yet in Maranhão, where I situate my story, circumstances were quite different: there, thousands of Native Americans continued to live in bondage well into the eighteenth century. The project's second intervention lies in its questioning of the very categories through which many of the narratives of colonial Brazil are constructed, including those of "Indians" versus "Africans" as well as "freedom" versus "slavery." By demonstrating how colonial administrators and slaveholders found creative ways of continuing to enslave native peoples even after they were legally no longer allowed to do so, the dissertation illuminates how being characterized as mixed increasingly endangered the freedom of people who might have formerly been categorized or categorized themselves as Indians. Yet, the project engages equally the perspectives of the enslaved and those who sought to claim their freedom as it does the perspectives and interests of colonial settlers. To this end, it explores the attempts of various individuals to assert their indigeneity precisely as a means of escaping bondage. Finally, the project aims to explore not only relations between slavers and slaves but also the horizontal relationships that different groups of servile laborers forged as they worked alongside each other in colonial Brazil.