Saturday, November 10, 2018

Fernando Santos-Granero's "Slavery and Utopia"

Fernando Santos-Granero is a senior staff scientist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama City, Panama, and a specialist on the Yanesha of Peruvian Amazonia. His books include Vital Enemies: Slavery, Predation, and the Amerindian Political Economy of Life.

Santos-Granero applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Slavery and Utopia: The Wars and Dreams of an Amazonian World Transformer, and reported the following:
I was not sure whether Ford Madox Ford’s Page 99 Test would apply to a scholarly historical work like Slavery & Utopia. But when, for fun’s sake, I tried it, I found that page 99 indeed contained what I consider the crux of the story of José Carlos Amaringo Chico, aka Tasorentsi, the indigenous shaman-chief, whose followers hailed as a divine messenger and world transformer after the collapse of the Amazonian rubber economy in the 1910s. In that page, I discuss one of the central elements of Tasorentsi’s first reported speech to his Ashaninka followers. The message was short and uncompromising: “expel white people from their properties, burn their bones, and seize their children as servants”. For years, throughout the rubber boom era, white and mestizo extractors had been capturing indigenous children and young women to raise as concubines and future “civilized” servants. Slavers violently extricated hundreds of children from their families every year and sent them far away to rubber camps and riverine towns to serve their new masters. This human traffic was conducted mostly by the wealthiest rubber extractors, but also by their local partners, indigenous warriors who raided their own people for their own benefit. It also involved river merchants, ship owners, and even corrupt local authorities. Constant slave raids were a permanent drain on indigenous populations, for raiders not only abducted women and children but also killed all adult men who opposed them. Armed with rifles against bows and arrows, slavers usually won. In page 99, I argue that this system subsisted through much of the rubber boom era because the loss of children and women was somewhat compensated by the wealth in industrial goods obtained by working for rubber extractors. When the rubber economy collapsed, in 1910, and rubber extractors could no longer pay their peons, the system was revealed in all its crudeness. Chief Tasorentsi’s call to seize the white people’s children as servants must be seen as an attempt to recover the vitality stolen by rubber extractors and slavers in previous years. This is Slavery and Utopia’s leitmotif, to wit, Tasorentsi’s permanent struggle through different means –warfare, shamanic rituals and Christian preaching– to redress the unbalanced flowed of vitality between white and native Amazonian people.
Learn more about Slavery and Utopia at the University of Texas Press website.

My Book, The Movie: Slavery and Utopia.

--Marshal Zeringue