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The illegal movement of people in bondage across imperial boundaries has received scant attention, perhaps because so few records detail the activities of French, Flemish, Genoese, Portuguese, and Spanish merchants, slave raiders, and corsairs operating behind the scenes. Changes in exploration between 1530 and 1585 reflected incursions into new areas, especially the Rio de la Plata, Brazil, parts of India and Africa, China, and the Molucca Islands. An examination of three case studies of slaves in the Moluccas, Rio de la Plata, and Myanmar reveals the entangled nature of slavery from the perspective of the indigenous peoples who were deeply involved in and victims of these processes. Key to understanding this development is how notions of sovereignty – the imagined meanings of land, boundaries, and space—helped determine the imperial status of indios in the courtroom.

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