Indigenous Colonial Archives: Micro-histories and Comparisons.

A project in search of original archival worlds in the long history of Portuguese imperialism.

The research project INDICO explores indigenous African and Asian practices of production, preservation, and circulation of paper records and written documentation in the Portuguese colonial empire. It aims at offering a heuristics for addressing indigenous writing and archival practices as relational formations, simultaneously attached to the exteriority of Portuguese intrusions, and rooted firmly in concepts and practices of autochthonous origin. Imperial historians and students of colonialism have recently emphasized the links between power and knowledge, foregrounding archives as a distinctive feature of European colonial rule. Indigenous knowledge, in contrast, is approached conventionally as an oral tradition that was transformed into written form through the agency of European colonizers alone. This project both departs from and expands innovatively on both these notions, by exploring indigenous knowledge as also a paper archival formation. It is a central hypothesis of this study that the shared histories of European – and particularly Portuguese – colonialism and indigenous societies need to be understood in relation to a proliferation of vernacular archival cultures, literacy, and writing practices, so far little explored. It asks how and why African and Asian cultures of writing, literate mediation, and document curating come into being in the context of colonial interactions; how they look like in relation to both indigenous cultural repertories and forms of governmentality and to histories of colonization, trade, conquest, evangelization, and state administration; and it considers the ways through which the colonizers themselves could relate to these varied archival cultures over time.

The research translates these issues into a set of comparative micro-historical studies on the social life of indigenous colonial documents and their related political, ritual, and social uses amongst distinct communities in Portuguese Asia and Africa. Spanning over five centuries, from the 1500s to the 1960s-70s, the long Portuguese presence in Angola, Mozambique, Goa, and East Timor provides an appropriate context in which to investigate comparatively and over time the historical significance of indigenous archival cultures in colonial encounters. Preceded by an original survey of African- and Asian-origin records in Portuguese institutions, the project will then explore a selection of revelatory biographies of indigenous archives held in, produced and/or put into circulation, for example, by village communities in rural South Asia (Goa), by indigenous kingdoms (reinos) in island Southeast Asia (Timor), and by African states (sobados) in central Angola and Mozambique. Such study aims at offering an unprecedented historical ethnographic reading of Lusophone colonialism and of its cultural legacies, from the perspective of distinct cultural forms of archiving and producing documentation in indigenous societies.

Beyond our publications and conferences, we provide on this website a commented Document Gallery and an extensive curated Database on Indigenous-Colonial Records in Portugal. We hope it provides scholars, archivists, curators, and heritage stakeholders with new ways to reassess the colonial and post-colonial significance of African and Asian documental heritage related to the Portuguese imperial world, and that it may pave the way for an original form of decolonizing the archival legacies of Portuguese imperialism and colonialism more broadly.

by Ricardo Roque, INDICO Principal Investigator – ICS, Universidade de Lisboa

Contact: ricardo.roque[a]

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