Episode 13: Alternative Histories

“Los Tres Mulatos de Emeraldas”: Esmeraldas, in what is now Ecuador, became a haven for escaped enslaved people as early as the 1530’s. The maroon communities in the region began with castaways from wrecked slave ships and were later augmented with local indigenous people, and fugitive Spaniards as well. After successfully defending themselves from Spanish efforts to dislodge them in the 1580’s, the leaders of the community decide to sue for peace with Spanish colonial authorities. In exchange for their agreement not to give haven to future shipwreck victims or provide aid to Dutch or English pirates the maroons of Esmeraladas were guaranteed their autonomy. To commemorate this agreement Don Francisco de Arobe and his sons Pedro and Domingo traveled to Quito in 1598 where this portrait was done by indigenous artist Andrés Sánchez Gallque. The mix of indigenous, African, and European elements in the portrait speak to the cultural syncretism that was possible unbound from the caste obsessions of the Spanish ruling class.


Statues are falling like bowling pins and the saucy boys are here to pick up the pieces. The past is a living breathing thing so why should we mark it with static icons of Confederates, slave dealers, and imperialists? Tear them all down we say. Continuing on, we ruminate on the recent emergence of the Capital Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle leading into a broader discussion of alternative social and political spaces in history. By telling stories of ancient communities in southern Mesopotamia, the Paris Commune, the maroon societies of the Americas, and the Pueblo People of the American southwest we suggest that the centering of these sorts of stories can lessen the hegemony of traditional histories, broaden our sense of the possible, and reveal a past that doesn’t just honor the dead in monument form, but “serves the living.”

Residents of Seattle proclaim an autonomous zone in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Such alternative spaces have served to challenge prevailing forms of state authorized spaces through history, a subject we take up in Episode 13.

To hear Episode 13 Alternative History click on the following link:


Sources Referenced and Items of Interest

James C. Scott, Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States (2017)


Ed Kabotie, An Alter-Native View of American History


“True American,” Alternative American flag artwork, by Hopi/Tewa artist Ed Kabotie, with coyote, the “real true American,” a blue field representing the sacred home of the Puebloan people of the Colorado Plateau, including four star points representing the four sacred mountains.and the seven stripes representing the seven Pueblo nations.

Karl Marx, The Civil War in France (1871)


Tim Lockley, “Runaway Slave Colonies in the Atlantic World” (2015)


Sarah Mervosh, Simon Romero, and Lucy Tompkins, “Reconsidering the Past, One Statue at a Time” (New York Times, June 16, 2020)


Friedrich Nietzsche, “On the Use and Abuse of History for Life” (1874)


“To be sure, we need history. But we need it in a manner different from the way in which the lazy bones in the garden of knowledge uses it… That is, we need it for life and action, not for a comfortable turning away from life and action or merely for glossing over the egotistical life and the cowardly bad act. We wish to use history only insofar as it serves living.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

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