Analyzing slavery and other forms of servitude in six non-state
indigenous societies of tropical America at the time of European
contact, Vital Enemies offers a fascinating new approach to the
study of slavery based on the notion of "political economy of
life." Fernando Santos-Granero draws on the earliest available
historical sources to provide novel information on Amerindian
regimes of servitude, sociologies of submission, and ideologies of
Estimating that captive slaves represented up to 20 percent of
the total population and up to 40 percent when combined with other
forms of servitude, Santos-Granero argues that native forms of
servitude fulfill the modern understandings of slavery, though
Amerindian contexts provide crucial distinctions with slavery as it
developed in the American South. The Amerindian understanding of
life forces as being finite, scarce, unequally distributed, and in
constant circulation yields a concept of all living beings as
competing for vital energy. The capture of human beings is an
extreme manifestation of this understanding, but it marks an
important element in the ways Amerindian "captive slavery" was
misconstrued by European conquistadors.
Illuminating a cultural facet that has been widely overlooked or
miscast for centuries, Vital Enemies makes possible new dialogues
regarding hierarchies in the field of native studies, as well as a
provocative re-framing of pre- and post-contact America.
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