The Pue­blo Re­volt and the Mythol­ogy of Con­quest: An In­dige­nous Ar­chae­ol­ogy of Con­tact by Michael V. Wil­cox, Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, 316 pages

Pasatiempo - - In Other Words -

The Pue­blo Re­volt of 1680 in New Mex­ico, one of the ear­li­est rec­og­nized re­volts on what is to­day U.S. soil, has been a sub­ject of con­sid­er­able his­tor­i­cal and an­thro­po­log­i­cal scru­tiny. Pub­li­ca­tions about the era lead­ing up to the event, and about the event it­self, re­main pop­u­lar and di­vi­sive. Read­ers might re­mem­ber the heated ex­changes of words, letters, and editorials that sur­rounded the 2005 in­tro­duc­tion of re­volt or­ga­nizer Po’pay into the Na­tional Stat­u­ary Hall in Washington, D.C., as New Mex­ico’s sec­ond rep­re­sen­ta­tion (in case you’re won­der­ing, Den­nis Chavez be­came the first fig­ure to rep­re­sent the state there in 1966).

Now an­thro­pol­o­gist Michael V. Wil­cox pro­vides a new in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Span­ish colo­nial pe­riod dur­ing the Pue­blo Re­volt era. The author ar­gues that the un­der­stand­ing of the Pue­bloans dur­ing the Span­ish con­quest as be­ing iso­lated and pas­sive is false; rather, they played an ac­tive part in their own his­to­ries. The bru­tal­ity of tac­tics and the “con­cept of in­tim­i­da­tion through vi­o­lence” as one of the Span­ish ap­proaches to so­cial con­trol, as the author points out, of­ten led Pue­bloans to choose aban­don­ment of their set­tle­ments as their counter strat­egy to guar­an­tee con­tin­ued ex­is­tence. Pre­vi­ous his­tor­i­cal and an­thro­po­log­i­cal the­o­ries and con­clu­sions of Pue­blo dec­i­ma­tion through dis­eases, he ar­gues, were de­rived from faulty pop­u­la­tion es­ti­mates and mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion of his­tor­i­cal sources. It is part of Wil­cox’s the­sis that “mo­bil­ity, aban­don­ment, and re­lo­ca­tion are char­ac­ter­is­tic re­sponses of col­o­nized pop­u­la­tions” to Span­ish vi­o­lence.

Wil­cox’s re­search is in­flu­enced by a re­cently de­vel­oped ap­proach of what he terms “In­dige­nous ar­chae­ol­ogy” — the con­cept of rein­te­grat­ing In­dige­nous ma­te­ri­als, re­mains, his­tory, and re­search with con­tem­po­rary peo­ples and thus mak­ing ar­chae­ol­ogy more rel­e­vant for ex­ist­ing In­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties. Tak­ing the Pue­blo Re­volt of 1680 and the events lead­ing up to it as a case study and a model, Wil­cox fre­quently points out that Pue­blo peo­ple did not dis­ap­pear dur­ing the Span­ish con­tact pe­riod but are alive and thriv­ing to­day — which makes ar­gu­ments by other his­to­ri­ans, ar­chae­ol­o­gists, and an­thro­pol­o­gists about con­flicts, dis­ease, and cul­tural ex­tinc­tion per­haps not in­cor­rect but at least less sig­nif­i­cant. The author’s find­ings in­stead sup­port the no­tion of ac­tive re­treat of Pue­blo peo­ples from their tra­di­tional home­lands into the re­mote ar­eas of New Mex­ico “in an ef­fort to main­tain so­cial dis­tances be­tween them­selves and the colonists.” He re­futes in­flated pop­u­la­tion statis­tics, the num­ber of dis­ap­pear­ances at­trib­uted to dis­ease, and so­cial and cul­tural losses sup­pos­edly ex­pe­ri­enced by the Pue­bloans and points to the fact that very lit­tle re­search has been done on Pue­blo re­mains out­side of the mis­sion-con­trolled pueb­los. It is the lesser re­searched or sim­ply ne­glected set­tle­ments that need greater at­ten­tion, he ar­gues, and he says stud­ies of such places would sup­port his the­sis that Pue­bloans of­ten re­treated when faced with threats from Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors.

Try­ing to closely in­ter­pret is­sues of power and pol­i­tics be­tween con­querors and those con­quered, Wil­cox ex­ten­sively cov­ers the po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious struc­tures of Span­ish colo­nial­ism and the re­la­tion­ships and in­ter­ac­tions be­tween colonists and the Pueb­los dur­ing the Span­ish colo­nial pe­riod. The Pue­blo

Re­volt is a deeply an­a­lyt­i­cal work which gives a well-re­searched view of the var­i­ous Span­ish en­tradas, in­ter­ac­tions be­tween the Span­ish and Pue­blo peo­ple, and Pue­blo ac­tiv­i­ties.

Un­for­tu­nately, the book is not an easy read, and read­ing it en­tails quite a few ir­ri­ta­tions. For one, the Pue­blo Re­volt per se — ad­ver­tised in the ti­tle and on the dust jacket as Wil­cox’s case study — takes up lit­tle space in the book. Also, the habit of cit­ing books’ (or their reprinted edi­tions’) pub­lish­ing dates in paren­the­ses in the text is very mis­lead­ing and con­fus­ing to non-spe­cial­ist read­ers. For in­stance, re­fer­ring to Fred­er­ick Jack­son Turner’s the­sis as “pub­lished” in 1996 makes it dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand the con­text, con­sid­er­ing that his the­sis is from the end of the 19th cen­tury. And to com­pare early-20th­cen­tury words by Charles F. Lum­mis, for whom the Span­ish could do no wrong, with a late-20th-cen­tury quote by San Juan Pue­blo an­thro­pol­o­gist Al­fonso Or­tiz, while sup­port­ing the author’s ar­gu­ment, is not nec­es­sar­ily the most ob­jec­tive way of mak­ing a point.

Much of what makes this book a good work, along with all its qual­ity the­o­ries and find­ings, is en­tan­gled in an­thro­po­log­i­cal the­o­ries; buried in (at times out­dated and need­less) crit­i­cisms of pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions of an­thro­pol­o­gists, ar­chae­ol­o­gists, and his­to­ri­ans; and mired in some­times pa­tron­iz­ing text­book-like introductions. In short, it is a dis­ser­ta­tion — a good one — to which a rather limited ed­i­to­rial hand has been ap­plied. It is not quite un­der­stand­able why editors of the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press couldn’t as­sist Wil­cox in mak­ing this a more read­ily com­pre­hen­si­ble work for a gen­eral aca­demic au­di­ence (they would have also de­tected quite a few ty­pos had they done so). Still, Wil­cox’s re­search is solid, and his points are well taken — “change and pop­u­la­tion move­ments do not al­ways sig­nal the end or the death of In­dian cul­tures,” and set­tle­ment pat­terns and pop­u­la­tion move­ment dur­ing the Pue­blo Re­volt pe­riod de­mand fur­ther re­search.

— To­mas Jaehn

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