Norms beyond Empire: Law-Making and Local Normativities in Iberian Asia, 1500-1800

Argene Águila Clasara

In this edited volume, Bastias and other specialists in legal, missionary, women, and social histories propose “a look at the Iberian empires in Asia to think about norms beyond empire” by refocusing to beyond these polities to “highlight the ways in which law-making and local normativities operated beyond colonial rule” and norms to escape “the often too narrow concept of law and to highlight the manifold underlying assumptions (p. 6)” that shaped human life and activity. In the first chapter, Bastias characterised the Iberian empires in Asia during the early modern period as cosmopolitan rather than metropolitan (p. 9-10). Cosmopolitan empires are “tenuous, disparate, and fragmented jurisdictions with many centres that connected settlements, goods, persons, and institutions” (p. 3). This description and distinction of the Iberian empire as cosmopolitan is necessary for it grounds the foundational proposition that the process of imperial normative production during this period was never monolithically controlled by the Iberians.

The cosmopolitan image of the empire where the distribution of power is composite and layered and tolerance for diversity is evident (p. 9) is reinforced by the volume’s structure as a collection of cases or local studies that dealt with the construction of norms in the Iberian colonies in the Philippines and Estado da Índia and the Catholic missions in China and Japan. Chapters 2, 4, and 7 primarily focused on the absorption or integration of local norms in the governance of Estado da Índia and the Catholic missions under the Portuguese Padroado, centred in Goa. In Chapter 2, Xavier focused on how the Foral of 1526 had compiled selections of uses and customs in Goan villages and served as a platform for communication between the locals and imperial rulers. This engagement and the historical developments that arose from the application of the document led to the indigenisation of Portuguese imperial rule. In Chapter 4, Faria analysed how ecclesial and imperial officials in Goa had tried to regulate the relations between Catholics and the non-baptised, and to promote their systematic conversions through the provincial councils (p. 102, 124). Lourenço, in Chapter 7, had problematised how the Inquisition in Goa was forced to adjust or localise its models, which paved the way to the emergence of Gentilidade as a Catholic and local religious offence and the delinquent cristão da terra.

The formation of the localised Hispanic normativity in the Philippines was discussed in Chapters 3 and 5. In Chapter 3, Zamarripa focused on how Spain's political and juridical norms were localised and indigenised in the colony, which was evident in the integration and repurposing of pre-Hispanic institutions and customs such as the barangay. This indigenisation became possible by incorporating the Philippine indios as vassals of the king through the theological and juridical concept of friendship and the administration of justice to them by acknowledging (and integrating into the Spanish imperial order) the jurisdiction of the indigenous nobility over them. In Chapter 5, Camacho tried to analyse the persistence of the pre-Hispanic practices of bridewealth and bride service in the Philippines and the attempts of the Spaniards and the Church to regulate and eventually integrate such practices. Moreover, she also problematised the conceptual translation of these indigenous marriage prestations using the perspectives of moral theology and juridical sciences.

Chapters 6 and 8 of this edited volume focus on the Catholic missionary enterprise in Japan led by the Iberian empires. In Chapter 6, Coutinho Silva studies the marriage practices in Japan during the sixteenth century from Christian and Japanese traditions. There, she uses the mythological image of Janus as a metaphor and a conceptual framework in comparing the descriptions of marriage in Christian and Japanese sources— “the documents they left behind worked just like mirrors: the reports on what they saw were no more than the reproduction of an image because they did not know each other’s language, culture, or normative tradition” (p. 176). Ehalt, in Chapter 8, explores the formulation of norms or rules with the use of casuist moral theology for Christian communities in Japan during the Tokugawa Persecution. This is realised by analysing the dubia that Jesuit and Dominican missionaries submitted to their superiors in Macau and Manila. Both dubia dealt with the oaths imposed by the Tokugawa Bakufu on Japanese Catholics regarding the punishments to be incurred by a community if one of its members aided the foreign missionaries. The Jesuits and the Dominicans agreed that these oaths were invalid yet took two approaches to address the issue (p. 276).

The last two chapters of this book focus on the Catholic missionary enterprise in China during this period. Torres Trimállez, in her chapter on the Hat Controversy in the Canton Conference of 1667-1668, explored the missionaries’ agency in regulating their practices in the field and, consequently, in producing new norms. In formulating these laws, missionaries relied on the practical conditions of the field—which made them practically anthropologists—and the theological, patristic, and juridical corpus. This contextualised approach resulted in a “hybrid reality” where Chinese and European norms converged in the nascent church in China. In Chapter 10, Li focused on the Jesuit work of incorporating Western astronomy knowledge into traditional Chinese ritual practices of marking time and dates, which practically redefined daily life in the Middle Kingdom. Here, Li considered time a norm and a provider of rituals and the calendar a medium of cultural synchronisation (pg. 343-344).

This volume’s contribution to the existing literature lies in its successful attempt to demonstrate the centrality of local normativities in law-making in early modern Iberian Asia, the deviation from the Euro and Iberico-centric historiographical norm, its focus on normativity and the processes of law-making, and decentring the law and empire by putting the colonies at the imperial peripheries at the centre. By putting the colonies and other Asian polities at the centre, highlighting the processes of law-making, and focusing on local normativities, the contributors, then, had unsettled the hegemonic and simplistic dictum of Europeans delivering civilisation to the world and reconfigured the colonies and the colonised from passive participants and mere recipients into active interlocutors. With these deviations from norms and historiographical shifts, readers are compelled to reconsider their notions, ideas, and understanding of the period, the Catholic missionary enterprise, the Iberian empires, and their territorial expansion and governance.