When the Spanish founded Colonial Latin America, the cultures socially, physically, and politically united to form a new society. The Spanish, Indians, and African slaves attempted to embed their homeland’s culture into this new society. This formed a clash of cultures because each came with its own set of norms. The go-betweens played a pivotal role during encounters between the cultures acting as interpreters and the Jesuits as Christian converters. As colonial Latin America society was forming and blending cultures, it strained the social hierarchy of each society, individuals identity and honor, and women’s roles. Many go-betweens entrenched themselves in the new culture forming relationships as a personal opportunity for themselves or to convert indigenous to Christianity. Alida C. Metcalf, author of Go-betweens and the Colonization of Brazil 1500-1600 and authors Lyman L. Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera who wrote Sex Shame and Violence the Faces of Honor in Colonial Latin America wrote vivid descriptions of Spanish colonial culture. Colonial America unequally blended Spanish and Indian cultures which formed a new hierarchy in society, formed new personal identities, and brought about Christian conversion.
The Spanish came to Latin America with the intentions of making the new territory mirror the culture of their homeland. The Spanish realized very early in their adventure during the 1500s that “without translators, captains such as Pinzon could not always meet their most basic needs for food and water, nor satisfy their larger desires for trade and information.” The Spanish had to rely on the natives who became go-betweens or middle ground people. Richard White, American historian, “defines the middle ground as ‘in between cultures, peoples, and in between empires and the nonstate world of villages.” This was the beginning of mixing cultures. The Spanish respected the variety of roles and social status in its own society but viewed the indigenous as all the same. They believed that their hierarchy of social structure was superior due to the purity of bloodlines of their nobles and that “honor as well as dishonor was inherited” and not earned. The Spanish set up towns similar to their homeland while the natives lived a more mobile lifestyle in order to find work and lived in villages. When natives believed that another native was challenging their honor with insults or provoking a physical fight, they would physically retaliate. They valued their good reputation and wanted to defend it. When a native questioned a Spanish, he used the courts and this involved interpreters. They were acting under two separate hierarchies within one society. Indian boys, women, “sailors, banished criminals, translators, chroniclers, and mapmakers all became go-betweens in the European process of discovering and encountering Brazil.” These go-betweens often had their own agendas and took advantage of their role as a means to gain a better lifestyle for themselves. In the early 1500s “European men who ‘went native’ became the primary transactional go-betweens in the early brazilwood trade. All these men had to ally themselves with indigenous groups in order to survive; if they did, they had the potential to broker the economic and political relationships between coastal Indians and Europeans.” As these Europeans rooted themselves in the Brazilian society, many married natives. The first generation of mamelucos, the descendants of these mixed marriages, became go-betweens and added another level to society’s hierarchy. These go-betweens “adopted many of the characteristics of the group with whom they intermarried.” The Spanish and Indian women reacted unalike because of their culture’s reality about marriage and attitude about illegitimate or mixed race babies. “Economically powerful and socially preeminent, Spain’s nobility remained the pillar of Old Regime Spain and a constant reminder to the colonists of the...
Bibliography: Lyman L. Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, Sex Shame and Violence the Faces of Honor in
Colonial Latin America (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998),
Metcalf, Alida C. Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil 1500-1600. Austin: University of
Texas Press, 2005.
Nazzari. “Concubinage.” In Sex Shame and Violence the Faces of Honor in Colonial Latin
America, ed. Lyman L. Johnson and Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, 112 Albuquerque: University
of New Mexico Press, 1998.
White, Richard. “Middle Ground.” In Go-Betweens and the Colonization of Brazil 1500-1600,
ed. Ailda Metcalf, 8. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2005.
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