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American BaroquePearls and the Nature of Empire, 1492-1700$
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Molly A. Warsh

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469638973

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: January 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469638973.001.0001

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Making “A Machine of Pearls” in the Seventeenth Century

Making “A Machine of Pearls” in the Seventeenth Century

Custom and Innovation in Iberian Pearl-Fishing Ventures

(p.128) 4 Making “A Machine of Pearls” in the Seventeenth Century
American Baroque

Molly A. Warsh

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter considers the place of pearls and pearl fisheries in the context of Iberian crisis of the seventeenth century. As arbitristas, or experts, proposed all sorts of solutions intended to address Iberia’s financial and political woes, this zeitgeist of improvement shaped plans for, and reflections on, pearl fishing around the globe. These pearl-fishing proposals drew on a mixture of custom and innovation. As observers of pearl diving in the Caribbean continued to report horrific suffering alongside remarkably autonomous practices by enslaved workers, the Spanish crown supported proposals for Pacific coast fisheries that relied on diverse skilled crew as well as new diving technologies designed to render enslaved workers unnecessary. The chapter focuses on the Cardona Company voyages to California, which included black laborers as well as levantisco, or Levantine, divers and elaborate diving suits. The chapter also considers how the vexing yet appealing complexity of pearls and pearl-fishing settlements were reflected in a 1680 account of Sri Lankan pearl fishing written by Portuguese author João de Ribeiro and in the 1681 Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de las Indias (the reissue of the body of laws) governing the Spanish Indies.

Keywords:   California, Sri Lanka, Levantiscos, Pacific Ocean, Technology, Diving suits, Cardona Company, Recopilación de leyes de los reynos de Indias, Black laborers, João de Ribeiro

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