Monday, May 1, 2023

Yannakakis, "Since Time Immemorial: Native Custom and Law in Colonial Mexico"

Duke University Press has published Since Time Immemorial: Native Custom and Law in Colonial Mexico (2023), by Yanna Yannakakis (Emory University). A description from the Press:

In Since Time Immemorial Yanna Yannakakis traces the invention of Native custom, a legal category that Indigenous litigants used in disputes over marriage, self-governance, land, and labor in colonial Mexico. She outlines how, in the hands of Native litigants, the European category of custom—social practice that through time takes on the normative power of law—acquired local meaning and changed over time. Yannakakis analyzes sources ranging from missionary and Inquisition records to Native pictorial histories, royal surveys, and Spanish and Native-language court and notarial documents. By encompassing historical actors who have been traditionally marginalized from legal histories and highlighting spaces outside the courts like Native communities, parishes, and missionary schools, she shows how imperial legal orders were not just imposed from above but also built on the ground through translation and implementation of legal concepts and procedures. Yannakakis argues that, ultimately, Indigenous claims to custom, which on the surface aimed to conserve the past, provided a means to contend with historical change and produce new rights for the future.
Advance praise:

“Rejecting an older bibliography that romanticized Native customs as ancient and autochthonous, Yanna Yannakakis studies how customs were formulated, how they changed, and how they became central to both law and politics during the colonial period. Rather than conserving a past, she astutely points out that customs enabled a host of different actors to adjust to a present and dream of a better future.” — Tamar Herzog

Since Time Immemorial is a compelling study of how Indigenous communities in colonial Mexico adapted European concepts of custom to their own communal lifeways. It shows how they advanced those reformulated versions in Spanish courts of law, responding strategically to global changes and challenges in the name of local custom, ironically. As with her first book, The Art of Being In-between, Yanna Yannakakis has written a classic in the field of Latin American history.” — Kevin Terraciano

More information, including free access to the Introduction, is available here.

-- Karen Tani