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Alliances and Partnerships in Lowland South America

Allies and Partners in Amazonia

During the colonial era in lowland South America, Indigenous responses to missionisation, enslavement, and displacement often led to short-term and long-term alliances and partnerships with European individuals and organisations. These strategic allied relations with outsiders varied in both form and content. Differences in local leadership patterns, political organisation, values, and other sociocultural elements contributed to the diverse array of partnerships in the region. These strategic relations can be seen across Amazonia in both the past and the present.

The pressures and demands of colonisation, which formed the context for many past alliances with outsiders, also greatly varied across lowland South America. Local individual partnerships between Indigenous people and Europeans were formed within specific and contingent historical and cultural situations. Furthermore, these outside partnerships were not merely unilateral arrangements, but were formed in shifting multilateral contexts that often involved various relations with other Indigenous societies who were seeking survival and local advantage. Through frameworks of alliance and partnership, local groups strategically sought to defend their territories, curb or counter raids, prevent forced missionisation, and enhance trade opportunities.

Conference Theme

This conference seeks to explore diverse strategies, patterns, and goals concerning alliance and partnership in the past and present in Lowland South America. In connexion with this, we will examine different forms of leadership, political organisation, (a)symmetry, symbolism, and ritual practice as they relate to relations with outsiders in Amazonian contexts with an emphasis on the colonial period. We suggest the following questions to focus discussion but these should not be seen as limiting presentations: (1) who were the mediators and what was the character of their role in forming and keeping alliances? (2) Did partnerships formed in contexts of missionisation differ from those in contexts of plantations and other extractive settings? (3) What positions did frontiersmen, soldiers, and landowners occupy in such relations? (4) What part did exchange and trade, but also raiding and warfare, contribute to these interactions? (5) Did relations of alliance occur at the level of individual leaders and villages, or multi-village polities? (6) Did local partnerships and alliances tend to become more or less complex and diverse over time? And did they always disadvantage indigenous partners equally?

In relation to these questions, the conference presentations could focus on topics ranging from particular forms of political organisation and leadership structure to ‘cultural’ values and symbolism. They can consider local contexts involving both war and peace, as well as trade and denials of reciprocity. Both symmetrical and asymmetrical relations formed with outsiders will be examined. Marriage, affinity, and forms of ‘friendship’ and ‘trade partnership’ are also topics of concern, as well as related practices, such as endogamy and exogamy. Race, ethnicity, and gender emerge as key areas for examining the politics of regional alliances and partnerships.

Alliances and Partnerships in Lowland South America: Online conference Wednesday, 14 April 2021