Cover of Contact Strategies by Heather F. Roller
Contact Strategies
Histories of Native Autonomy in Brazil
Heather F. Roller


360 pages.
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Hardcover ISBN: 9781503628106
Paperback ISBN: 9781503628113
Ebook ISBN: 9781503628120

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Excerpts and More

Winner of the 2022 Friedrich Katz Prize, sponsored by the American Historical Association (AHA).

Winner of the 2023 Howard Francis Cline Memorial Prize in Latin American Ethnohistory, sponsored by the Conference on Latin American History.

Winner of the 2022 Sérgio Buarque de Holanda Prize for the Best Book in Social Sciences, sponsored by the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Brazil Section.

Winner of the 2022 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title, sponsored by the American Library Association.

Around the year 1800, independent Native groups still effectively controlled about half the territory of the Americas. How did they maintain their political autonomy and territorial sovereignty, hundreds of years after the arrival of Europeans? In a study that spans the eighteenth to twentieth centuries and ranges across the vast interior of South America, Heather F. Roller examines this history of power and persistence from the vantage point of autonomous Native peoples in Brazil. The central argument of the book is that Indigenous groups took the initiative in their contacts with Brazilian society. Rather than fleeing or evading contact, Native peoples actively sought to appropriate what was useful and potent from outsiders, incorporating new knowledge, products, and even people, on their own terms and for their own purposes.

At the same time, autonomous Native groups aimed to control contact with dangerous outsiders, so as to protect their communities from threats that came in the form of sicknesses, vices, forced labor, and land invasions. Their tactical decisions shaped and limited colonizing enterprises in Brazil, while revealing Native peoples' capacity for cultural persistence through transformation. These contact strategies are preserved in the collective memories of Indigenous groups today, informing struggles for survival and self-determination in the present.

About the author

Heather F. Roller is Associate Professor of History at Colgate University.

"This beautifully written and deeply researched history opens new interpretations of both peaceful and violent contacts among Indigenous peoples and colonial settlers, missionaries, and traders. Heather F. Roller highlights stories of engagement across Native Brazil, focused on the Mura and Guaikurú's emblematic strategies for autonomy that shaped the sertões and framed the survival of their present-day descendants."

—Cynthia Radding, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"Indigenous people living independently from colonial and national rule used to cover much of the American continent. This book compellingly tells the vigorous histories of key Indigenous societies around Brazil and its western borders. Roller's groundbreaking study is timely, stirring and revelatory."

—Mark Harris, University of St Andrews, Scotland

"It is rare when a respected researcher revisits her work and comes to a totally different conclusion about its meaning. However, that is exactly what Roller has done in her important new book. ... This work is more than informative: it is imperative reading for all Brazilianists and Latin American scholars of the colonial and modern periods. Essential."

—R.M. Delson, CHOICE

"Contact Strategiessets a high standard for ethnographic research that future historians may fruitfully emulate toextract insights from hostile sources that rarely even acknowledgedIndigenous people by name."

—Hendrik Kraay,Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Roller tracks changes and continuities in Indigenous engagement with dominant society through a methodical and far-ranging combing of archival and printed sources... [Her] ability to ground the chapters of this sprawling diachronic study in the patterned initiatives of Indigenous populations is innovative and illuminating." –Seth Garfield,Hispanic American Historical Review

"For anthropologists and historians interested in the trajectories of Indigenous continuity and transformations, this book is an indispensable source of factual knowledge. Roller's methodical treatment of sources and her acknowledgment of the broadness of Indigenous historical agency belong to a historiographical shift that has deservedly been gaining momentum, that is, one that places Indigenous peoples and all their diversity center stage. Contact Strategies does so masterfully and pushes the agenda forward by complicating established notions of contact, adaptation, and integration in colonial and modern Brazil."

—Mariana Françozo, H-LatAm