Colonialism and holiness in the Mariana islands: The blood of martyrs (1668-1676)

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In this article I analyze the conquest and colonization of the Marianas islands (1668-1676) as an example of the construction of the Catholic frontier in the Spanish possessions in the Pacific. One of the main objectives consists of analyzing martyrdom as one of the strategies used by the Jesuit missionaries to convert the Marianas islands to the Catholic faith. The first Jesuit martyrs-Diego Luis de San Vítores, Luis de Medina, and Sebastián de Monroy, SJ, among others-were elevated to the category of «distinguished heroes» of the Catholic Reformation who died as victims of the unbeatable barbarians in defence of Christian faith. Martyrdom, as longing and culmination of the missionary experience, turned those peripheral spaces into central points of reference wherein would end up rooting Christian dogma.

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Comprehending the ramifications of the Spanish galleon (1565–1815) in the Pacific is vital for constructing more nuanced and balanced narratives of world history. Scholarship on colonialism in the American continents has long emphasized the outcomes of European contact on the economies, technologies, health, and cultural identities of its native populations. However, such research is rarely informed through comparison with Pacific Island societies that also engaged with—and were eventually colonized by—the Spanish. Provisioning the galleon ships that crossed the Pacific and sustained their religious mission fueled the economy of the Mariana Islands. This chapter integrates archaeological and documentary insights on the impact of Spanish colonialism in the Mariana Islands, an archipelago between Manila, Philippines and Acapulco, Mexico. This archipelago was a stepping stone for the Spanish galleon and its indigenous population, the Chamorro people, offering a unique and understudied example of early modern colonialism. We examine the material consequences of Spanish colonialism on Chamorro diet and food production, trade and political economy, labor and gender relations, and contemporary heritage and identity. Finally, we consider directions for future research on Spanish colonial-period archaeology in the Mariana Islands.