From American Historical Review, April 2003
Review by Luis F. Calero, Santa Clara University
Gallup-Diaz argues that the main reason for Europe's inability to conquer the region was Spain's strategy of creating a cadre of native surrogate leaders that had no regard for the already existing structures of indigenous social life. According to long-held tradition, power rested on Indian leres or ritual specialists who commanded respect from villagers and were able to influence political decisions such as alliances and policies of resettlement. Instead, Spaniards chose unrepresentative Tule leaders who did not possess the coercive power to mediate dialogue and politics between Indians and outside invaders. By trivializing leres as demon worshipers, Spaniards failed to understand the neurological center of Indian power relations. When Spanish, English, Scottish, and French intruders came into Darié expecting to subdue the region by securing an alliance with a chief or a group of chiefs, they found out that such chiefs possessed little influence to rally the will of the natives.
Through the use of vast and previously unknown archival sources, Gallup-Diaz carefully documents how an estimated population of 20,000 Tule defended and maintained their independence. He highlights in detail each one of the chapters in which European and Indians clashed over the issue of Christian conversion, territoriality, and autonomy. These chapters include entradas and mission work undertaken by several members of the Carrisoli family (1640-1698), the establishment of a short-term Scottish settlement in the northern part of the isthmus (1698-1700), several conquering expeditions into frontier and Indian zones dispatched from Panama's audiencia (1702-1745), and the final years of Jesuit mission work to create Tule reducciones in Darién (1745-1751). Although at various moments there appeared to be a ray of hope for the creation of Spanish rule, ultimately these efforts never succeeded.
This work's contributions to the topic and historiography of Darién are multiple. For the most part, the history of eastern Panama during the early modern period has been rather fragmentary. Scholars have studied Spanish, French, African, Scottish, English, and Dutch incursions into this area in isolation from each other. Gallup-Diaz successfully treats this region in a broader and comprehensive framework of Atlantic history, one in which European powers are seen in their connection to the Tule of Darién. The book's methodology is innovative. Although its first chapter relies on ethnographic data and interpretation, the remaining seven chapters are grounded in careful examination of extremely rich archival materials. The copious use of sources from the Archivo de Indias in Seville deserves special mention. The use of biased documentation is handled deftly by the author, who always keeps in mind that materials dating from this time are skewed, particularly when it comes to portrayal of the Indians. The fact that this book has been published electronically, along with a few primary sources (some in English and some in Spanish), provides a rare opportunity for the reader to check Gallup-Diaz's narrative against the original documents.
Although the title of the book is intriguing, one wonders if it is appropriate. The phrase "door of the seas and key to the universe" is attributed to William Peterson, one of the central figures in the Scottish colonization project in Darién at the end of the seventeenth century. It makes reference to the strategic position of the isthmus, one that unites the Pacific and Atlantic realms. One might object, however, that geographically speaking the title belongs more to the entire area of Panama's isthmus, and to a lesser degree to eastern Panama or Darién.
The very significant contributions made by this work may be enhanced by the following observations. First, while the author's conceptual treatment of Spain's choice in Tule leadership as doomed to failure because it overlooks the natives' structure of power is convincing, one wonders if this explanation is enough. It is important to remember that Darién and other economically peripheral regions in the empire did not become objects of full military campaigns to subdue the Indians, for they offered little in terms of financial gain. The system of Indian leadership devised by Europeans may well have been defective, but Spain's reluctance to involve itself in a full-blown military conflict in Darién may be more fully explained by the crown's increasing concern with the pacification of mineral-rich regions elsewhere such as western Nueva Granada. Second, absent from this work is a discussion of the nature of native life in Darién as shown by the archaeological record. Granted that such studies are few, the question of the original inhabitants is crucial to understanding Spain's role in the region. A comparison between archaeological information and the early documentary sources utilized in this work could shed much light on such matters as Darién's geography of human occupation, population size and density, nomadism and sedentarism, and migration and trade patterns. Last, Spain's colonization attempts came largely from the audiencia of Panama and from Nueva Granada. Reference to the political ups and downs of these centers of government would help the reader to understand policy variations in Darién, since they were intricately connected.
In the final analysis, these suggestions are small matter in comparison to the monumental research and cohesive analysis contained in this book. Gallup-Diaz has indeed produced a masterful work of electronic scholarship.
From Ethnohistory, Volume 51, Number 4, Fall 2004
Review by James Howe, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Door of the Seas and Key to the Universe: Indian Politics and Imperial Rivalry in the Darién, 1640-1750. By Ignacio Gallup-Díaz. (New York: Columbia University Press, Gutenberg-e, e-series of electronic monographs, 2002. Approximately 188 pp., acknowledgments, abbreviations, bibliography, maps, document archive. $49.50 electronic.) 1
The Darién region, comprising the eastern third of the Panamanian Isthmus, was for several centuries both a colonial backwater and a locus of geopolitical rivalry and conflict between Spain and northern European powersconflict in which the indigenous group known as Tule or Kuna played a prominent part. Much has been written on the initial Spanish discovery and conquest of the isthmus, on seventeenth-century English buccaneers, and on the short-lived Scots Colony of 1698-1700, but serious professional histories of the region are scarce. 2 Ignacio Gallup-Diaz's incisive, theoretically sophisticated, and absorbing study of the politics of the "tribal zone" of the colonial Darién advances Isthmian ethnohistory by a whole order of magnitude.
Gallup-Díaz shows that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Spanish authorities tried to control the Darién and to counter pirates and would-be colonists by establishing mission reducciones and, even more, by enlisting native leaders as clients through payments and gifts. He argues persuasively that this colonial system was a joint product of native and imperial expectations and, less persuasively, that Tule chiefs were a completely new development, as the aboriginal system had been dominated by shamans called lele. The core of the book consists of a masterful analysis of a dynasty of mestizo middlemen named Carrisolio, whose founding ancestor, partly raised among the Indians, facilitated Spanish access to the region. Gallup-Díaz shows that the Carrisolios, despite their success in extracting grants and titles from the crown, could not keep ambitious Indian men from establishing their own relations with colonial authorities, and that the system they furthered failed under the strains of imperial conflict and native rebellion.
Gallup-Díaz's impressive mastery of the primary sources, recent ethnohistorical writing, and Atlantic historiography might usefully have been reinforced by a larger dose of South American ethnology, thus avoiding naïve characterizations of indigenous subsistence and kinship and the dubious assumption that chiefs and shamans cannot coexist politically. It might also have encouraged him to justify rather than assume the validity of using myths collected in 1970 to illuminate seventeenth- and eighteenth-century indigenous polities, especially as Patricia Vargas and Mary Helms have used the same collection of narratives (though less satisfactorily) to reach different conclusions. 3 That being said, however, several of the parallels between mythological leaders and their historically known counterparts on which he elaborates are striking and persuasive.
Door of the Seas clarifies numerous outstanding questions, including the political context of well-known pirate narratives, the significance of Indian independence and unity to Scottish claims on the Darién, and the religion and politics of French pirates and colonists in the region. The greatest disappointment is that the book ends somewhat abruptly in the mid-eighteenth century, with the briefest of conclusions, leaving the increasingly militarized conflict of the second half of that century and the denouement that ensued in the 1790s to a later work that, one hopes, the author will provide.
Door of the Seas is one of the first in a new series of electronically published works called Gutenberg-e, a joint project of Columbia University Press and the American Historical Association. Like others in the series, it includes an appendix of original documents. As important as this new venture is, it would be a shame if exclusively electronic distribution kept Gallup-Díaz's excellent monograph from the wide readership it deserves.
Note 1: Each chapter is paginated separately. The price quoted is for the book purchased separately. A year's subscription giving access to all the books in the series costs $195. One-week free trial memberships, in which one can download books without restriction, are currently being offered. Back.
Note 2: The one recent exception, a fascinating study of missionization by a leading Panamanian historian, is hard to find, even in Panama: Alfedo Castillero Calvo, Conquista, evangelisación, y resistencia: ¿Triunfo o fracaso de la política indigenista? (Panamó, 1995). Back.
Note 3: Mac Chapin, Pab igala: Historias de la tradición kuna (Panamó, 1970; Quito, 1989); Patricia Vargas Sarmiento, Los emberó y los cuna: Impacto y reacción ante la ocupación española, siglos XVI y XVII (Bogotó, 1993); Mary Helms, Ancient Panama: Chiefs in Search of Power (Austin, tx, 1979). Back.