The Art of Being In-between

Native Intermediaries, Indian Identity, and Local Rule in Colonial Oaxaca

The Art of Being In-between

Book Pages: 320 Illustrations: 9 illustrations, 3 maps Published: June 2008

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Mexico, Native and Indigenous Studies

In The Art of Being In-between Yanna Yannakakis rethinks processes of cultural change and indigenous resistance and accommodation to colonial rule through a focus on the Sierra Norte of Oaxaca, a rugged, mountainous, ethnically diverse, and overwhelmingly indigenous region of colonial Mexico. Her rich social and cultural history tells the story of the making of colonialism at the edge of empire through the eyes of native intermediary figures: indigenous governors clothed in Spanish silks, priests’ assistants, interpreters, economic middlemen, legal agents, landed nobility, and “Indian conquistadors.” Through political negotiation, cultural brokerage, and the exercise of violence, these fascinating intercultural figures redefined native leadership, sparked indigenous rebellions, and helped forge an ambivalent political culture that distinguished the hinterlands from the centers of Spanish empire.

Through interpretation of a wide array of historical sources—including descriptions of public rituals, accounts of indigenous rebellions, idolatry trials, legal petitions, court cases, land disputes, and indigenous pictorial histories—Yannakakis weaves together an elegant narrative that illuminates political and cultural struggles over the terms of local rule. As cultural brokers, native intermediaries at times reconciled conflicting interests, and at other times positioned themselves in opposing camps over the outcome of municipal elections, the provision of goods and labor, landholding, community ritual, the meaning of indigenous “custom” in relation to Spanish law, and representations of the past. In the process, they shaped an emergent “Indian” identity in tension with other forms of indigenous identity and a political order characterized by a persistent conflict between local autonomy and colonial control. This innovative study provides fresh insight into colonialism’s disparate cultures and the making of race, ethnicity, and the colonial state and legal system in Spanish America.


The Art of Being In-between develops a nuanced analysis of the Spanish colonial world and the role intermediaries played as mediators between various social groups. . . . The Text makes a notable contribution to Latin American history.” — Patricia Martinez, Canadian Journal of History

“[A] welcome contribution to the growing and exciting historical scholarship on colonial Oaxaca.” — Osvaldo Pardo, Journal of Latin American Studies

“[The book’s] emphasis on the singular aspects of the Sierra Norte and its contextualization within wider colonial Oaxaca make it a valuable regional history. At the same time, the author’s dialectical analysis of the complex mediation processes between indigenous communities and the colonial state will appeal to ethnohistorians interested in other parts of New Spain as well. . . . This book’s engaging style, its accent on individual agency, and its lucid portrayal of colonial relationships will make it attractive to both students and specialists alike.” — John K. Chance, The Historian

“Yanna Yannakakis is to be congratulated for producing an elaborately conceived and elegantly wrought monograph. It is a volume worthy of attention, especially on the part of colleagues interested in issues of indigenous identity, native resistance and collaboration, and how geography shaped the outcomes of colonial rule in a remote but captivating corner of Spanish America.” — W. George Lovell, Canadian Journal of Latin American and Caribbean Studies

“Yannakakis’ work provides an important contribution [and] is a captivating read. . . . Yannakakis contributes essential insights into the roles of native intermediaries with a work beneficial to any scholar of colonial Latin America.” — Mark Z. Christensen, Journal of Social History

“[Yannakakis] has written an accessible, lucid study. She frequently compares the particular history of the Villa Alta to other Mexican regions, clearly revealing the broader significance of this local study. Given the nature of her documentation, however, she necessarily offers a more complete examination of state demands placed on native elites than of local indigenous expectations of their leaders.” — B. R. Larkin, Choice

“As an original work of scholarship, based on archival sources in Oaxaca, Mexico City and Seville, this monograph will be of interest to all colonial Latin Americanist historians. Its coherent structure, clear writing style and compelling thesis also make it an ideal book to assign in graduate seminars.” — Matthew Restall, Social History

“Beautifully written, Yannakakis’s book provides valuable insight into the relationships between the governors and the governed in the Indies, and intermediaries’ efforts in keeping them balanced.” — Claudia Guarisco, American Historical Review

“Yannakakis’ detailed analysis of a variety of sources—land disputes, legal petitions, idolatry trials, indigenous pictorial histories—is a worthy addition to the recent boom in sociocultural history that seeks to contextualize the use of language in the past.” — Paul Charney, Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“Yannakakis’s well-written study offers one of the most engaging and insightful studies of New Spain’s indigenous intermediaries in recent memory.” — Andrew B. Fisher, Journal of Colonialism & Colonial History

“Yannakakis’s work is well researched and engagingly written, and her arguments serve to deepen current exchanges about conquest: indigenous agency, negotiations, and strategies; the conflicted and multifaceted nature of colonial rule; and the need for document-centered historical works that pay close attention to voices traditionally marginalized. This is an important contribution to the fields of social, cultural, and legal history, as well as ethnohistory. Although this work is most valuable to specialists in these fields, its clear and engaging prose will make it of interest also to nonspecialist readers.” — SilverMoon, Latin American Politics and Society

The Art of Being In-between is a very important contribution to understandings of the role of indigenous intermediaries in political and everyday life and of their agency in responding to, even shaping, the colonial legal system as it evolved over a long period of time. Scholars specializing in colonial Mesoamerica, as well as other parts of the Americas, will find Yanna Yannakakis’s arguments highly pertinent to current discussions about law, politics, and state building.” — Susan Kellogg, author of Law and the Transformation of Aztec Culture, 1500–1700

“Meticulously researched and engagingly written, The Art of Being In-between opens new dimensions for social and cultural history in the complex ethnic tapestries of the Sierra Norte de Oaxaca. Yanna Yannakakis’s narrative elevates the historical role of native intermediaries—indios ladinos—in the persistence of communal identities through ethnic rivalries only dimly perceived by colonial authorities. This book illustrates the power of human agency in the negotiations among diverse indigenous peoples, Church, and Crown within the contradictions of colonial rule.” — Cynthia Radding, author of Landscapes of Power and Identity


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Yanna Yannakakis is Assistant Professor of History at Emory University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface ix

Acknowledgments xix

Introduction 1

Part 1. Conflict and Crisis, 1660–1700

1. "Loyal Vassal," Seditious Subject," and Other Performances 33

2. "Idolaters and Rebels," "Good and Faithful Indians": The Cajonos Rebellion and After 65

Part 2. The Renegotiation of Local Rule: Strategies and Tactics, 1700–1770

3. Reform, Resistance, and Rhetoric 99

4. The Pact: Cacique and Cabildo 131

Part 3. The Political Space Closes, 1770–1810

5. Bourbon Officials 161

6. From "Indian Conquerors" to Local "Indians" 192

Conclusion 220

Notes 229

Bibliography 261

Index 275
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Winner, 2009 Howard Francis Cline Memorial Prize

Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4166-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4142-0
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