The Indigenous Societies at the Time of Conquest
Today, as the indigenous Antillean communities of the late fifteenth century have just begun to emerge from the caricatures that have for so long attempted to portray them as docile, cannibalistic, or backward, they are being subjected to new distortions. I am referring to the effects of theorizations that fail to take into account the historical and temporal contexts that are necessary if the social character of these groups is to be portrayed at all accurately. It is not possible, that is, to include under a single name or group identity the great diversity of ethnic groups that lived together, or at least lived, in the Antilles archipelago at that time. The imposition of names such as ‘Tafno’, ‘Arawak’, and ‘Carib’ has allowed, and spread, false historical assumptions, with deplorable cultural effects. The popularization of archaeological terms outside the context of archaeology, and employed without respect for the background knowledge in the field that proper use of those terms would require, has likewise inspired a number of ‘identities’ that are most unfortunate, as they do not take into account the historicity of social processes, the daily life of the people purportedly named, or their human interactions. These ‘identities’ - dehumanized and ‘thingified’, as they are based on nomenclature for pottery (Chicoid, Meillac, Ostionoid, Saladoid) - conflict with the historical documentation and even with common sense (Sued-Badillo, 1994; Hulme, 1986, 1992). The truth is, only a social, historical, integrated and flexible approach can remedy the historiographie harm done by all these previous and partial approaches to past times.
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