In Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage, historian Sherwin K. Bryant reclaims the role of slavery as a governing practice in colonial Quito, a region with a relatively small number of slaves. Perhaps for this reason, traditional historiography had not given slavery a central role in Quito. Our attention has been drawn more closely to the indios mulatos immortalized in Andrés Sánchez Gallque's 1599 painting: a group of African-descended shipwreck survivors who established themselves on the coast of Esmeraldas, intermarried with local Amerindian groups, and remained fugitive for half a century.

Rivers of Gold, Lives of Bondage argues that, in spite of its small numbers, slavery as an institution was key to imperial governance in Quito. But to recognize its importance we need to change the lens through which we view slavery. This means questioning the common distinction between slave societies...

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