Spanish Labor Systems And Indigenous People Essay

, Research Paper

In the US it is very common to still hear of the poor way

African Americans were treated in the early part of this

nations History. We hear stories of black slaves working 18

hour days picking cotton and the trauma of slaves being

beaten for disobeying their masters. For many African

American families, it seems, that was the way of life not

long ago. While it is very important to realize what these

African Americans went through, I think it is often

forgotten that indigenous people of Latin America were

exploited in similar ways but through different Labor


From Spain s early arrival in the Caribbean through

their establishment of the Spanish empire indigenous people

were exploited through cheap, slave like labor. One of the

most incredible subjects raised by the documents presented

in Colonial Spanish America is the topic of Labor Systems

that were imposed on the indigenous people. Spain tried to

excuse this exploitation by claiming to save these

indigenous people by teaching them the ways of Christ but

many of the Articles in Colonial Spanish America, Struggle &

Survival, and The Limits of Racial Domination prove

otherwise. Through letters, personal stories, and other

documents these books present accounts that tell about the

labor system used in this area. They tell of the Spanish

labor systems such as the encomiendos and later

rapartamientos and how these operations were run. In

discussing the Labor system that existed during the time of

Spanish rule it is important to understand what labor

systems that were used, why the Spanish used them, how they

justified using indigenous people in such a way, how the

indigenous as well as black slaves were treated in these

systems, and the effects the Labor Systems had on the

indigenous population.

As soon as the first Spanish entradas arrived in the

New World they realized the vast resources that had been

virtually untapped. They saw incredible wealth in the sugar

cane crops and the wood dyes in Brazil, and the silver mines

in Potosi and other northern areas, plus many other raw

resources. At first the Labor systems were very

underdeveloped in Colonial America, the indigenous people

had produced just enough to use what they needed and in some

cses a little extra for some trade with neighboring peoples

but there was no large scale operations anywhere until the

invasion of the Spanish. Spain saw all the resources in the

Americas as great wealth for the Crown and the entrada

leaders saw the opportunity for themselves. They also new

that the development of the resources ultimately depended

on the labor of non-Spaniards. At the begging of the

Spanish arrival there were millions of indigenous people

throughout the lands who were willing to trade and

incorporate the Spanish peacefully. However the early

entrada leaders knew that the most efficient way to fulfill

their greed and honor the Crown of Spain was to exploit the

indigenous people. Examples of these early labor

exploitation s were the encomiendas and repartamientos.

Later with the increase in immigration from Spain to New

Spain there was a shift in demand from the resources of

wealth such as the mines and the wealthy sugar crops to a

more general need of Spanish goods including wheat, cattle

and other general Spanish goods. As more and more Spaniards

arrived in New Spain the demand for Spanish food and goods

increased so Spanish Rule used hidden Labor Systems like the

tribute and work project systems to get the native people to

work their haciendas and to build their churches, homes, and

cities. According to The Limits of Racial Domination the

Spanish believed as long as the Indians exist, the Indies

will exist. The Spanish new that they could live well as

long as they exploited the indigenous people they would live

well. In fact it is quoted in The Limits of Racial

Domination that In the sixteenth century, the white

community lived on the surplus produced by a vast number of

Indians working in a very primitive economic system…

Then by the next century they had changed the economy to one

modeled after the contemporary European design. In summary

the reason that the Spanish used the labor systems they did

is because they knew the people could be exploited. They

were greedy about getting the fortunes for the Crown and

they were processing the primitive economic system into

an economy of contemporary European design . The Spanish

new the easiest and cheapest way to make this transition was

through the use of indigenous labor.

According to lecture the first of the indigenous

laborers worked in the mines. The early mines were worked

through surface diggings and later evolved into shaft

mining. Every mine operator, or minero, sent 1/5 of the

mines wealth back to the crown. Potosi was one of the first

great silver mines. The Spanish ran their mines by

exploiting the indigenous people. The Spanish used different

ways of getting labor. The initial way they did this is

through the use of early encomiendas. Encomiendas were,

according to Colonial Spanish America, a grant of labor and

tribute rights from the crown to an encomendero over a

specified group of Indians. The encomenderos was the man

in charge of an Indian group who would demand manual labor

and tribute from the Indians in exchange for payment,

protection and religious instruction. Later on

repartamientos took place of the encomiendas. The

Repartamientos were different from encomiendas because they

were a designated percent of the male work force that had to

work for the crown instead of a single person or

encomenderos. However, according to lecture, in the 1630 s

the Repartamiento system was abolished by the crown, except

for in the case of mining. The Spanish came to realize that

temporary and permanent wage employment was an easier and

more effective way to get new workers. While this newest

system of Labor seems to be the best yet for the indigenous

people the pay is minimal and taxes were imposed. These

harsh tributes and taxes were put on the indigenous people

to pay the crown. With the over work of native people Spain

began to look to additional sources for labor mainly slave

labor from Africa. At the height of the African slave labor

blacks comprised around 15 percent of the mining labor

force. Over the years there is a mix between races causing

additional racial classes. For example racial classes in

Mexico City around 1753 ranged from the Spaniards, who were

the elite and shop owners and artisans, the Mestizos,

laborers servants and sometimes artisans, the mulattos,

which were laborers and servants and artisans. In Colonial

Spanish America it talks about a multi-racial group of

people suddenly being required to pay tributes to the crown

and being forced into work projects as manual laborers.

With the new work project and tribute laws the Spanish found

ways to expand not only their economy but their newly

founded empire. Cities were constructed, estates were built

for Spanish Viceroys and the development of Haciendas and

Ganados were both built and worked by indigenous people.

Most of the non spanish population had jobs that had

been determined before they were born. Limits of Racial

Domination talks about the fact that a young person had

littel chance of becomming something outside of what their

parents had been. For example if my parents worked on a

hacienda then chances are my life would consist of working

on the hacienda. All of the different types of Labor

Systems that the Spanish employed varied over time and they

seemingly came to be much more fair but the case was not so.

Most of indigenous people were struggling to meet the

demands of the systems and had lacked extra time outside of

the tributes and work project to provide for themselves and

their families.

The Spanish justified their treatment of the work force

in three ways, they saw themselves as protectors of the

indigenous people, they saw themselves as religious saviors

of inferior human beings, living crudely , and they

believed that since the people lived under the Spanish Crown

they should also pay it.. Spain had little problem

justifying the treatment at first, later people questioned

whether or Spain s real reason for being in the Americas was

to save the indigenous people from religious persecution.

Fray Pedro de Gante s questioned all of the labor that the

indigenous people were forced to do. Gante warned that

Indians might simply disappear due to illness and overwork.

In his letter to Charles V he expresses his worry that

Indians are not being saved. He tells about the Indians who

are required to do labor and are not able to go to Mass and

they are not being able to learn about Christ. The Fray

expresses his worry that if the labor is not eased from the

indigenous people than there is now chance of saving these

people. The Fray also expresses great concern for the well

being of the indigenous people. He is worried about how the

labor systems are treating the people.

While it was easy for the Spanish to justify their

labor laws to themselves it seems that the treatment of

indigenous workers was often overlooked. In the early days

of the mines and the sugar plantations work conditions were

very bad. According to lecture the Indians worked in the

mines around huge ore and sugar cane stampers that were very

dangerous. Many workers were injured by machines and

crushed, others where killed from mine shafts caving in.

The conditions in the mines shafts were horrible, they were

wet and cold dirty. The workers got sick from the chilling

conditions and inhalation of fine dusts but they were forced

to continue working. In the early encomiendas and

rapartamientos the native were worked sometimes to death.

In Fray Pedro de Gante s letter he writes of the people who

were once lords of the whole land now being slaves. He

worries that the work that they are forced to do is not

tolerable and says that dogs have better lives than Indians

because get rest and are at least fed. Indians often go

without food. Later in the tributes and work projects they

do get paid for the pay is not enough to make up for the

lose of work at home. Indians are mistreated by everyone

they deal with, he says instead of feeding them they are

abused, physically and verbally.

The section on the Rebellious Slaves in Struggle and

Survival tells about how poorly workers are treated. This

excerpt talks about a slave, Morga, who was shackled by his

owner because he had insulted his owner. The owner branded

him with a letter s to signify him as a slave and he beat

him day after day. Later it talks about Morga working in a

silver mine when one day his owner comes out a flogs him so

violently that it ripped great strips of skin form his body.

Other beatings ranged from hitting him in the teeth with a

hammer to dragging him behind a horse. Even for the free

people life was very hard. The tributes and work projects

had men away from their homes for somethimes a month at a

time. During these times the men must leave their families

at home and the women must seek to feed herself and her

family she must take care of the mans job, find money to pay

tribute and also tend to the children. This case often

leaves indian children with jobs to do of their own at the

ages of ten or twelve. They travel great distances in

search of food and often carry heavy loads inorder to make

their tribute payment every eighty days. With the harsh

work conditions and the tiresome chores at home thousands of

indians died. Overwork, sickness, mistreatment, and

frivolous litgation were major reasons of population

decline. The lands of the Central and South America were

nearly cleared of its native peoples.

The labor systems that were used by the Spanish in

latin America were often harsh and cruel. The jobs that

were performed then would never be allowed today because of

the lack of safety. The treatment of the workers during

that time period also was very cruel and unjust. The scars

left from the labor systems that the Spanish employed on the

indigenous people are still visible today. The Spanish used

the systems because of their own greed and selfishness.

While they believed at the time that they had justified

reasons for doing the things they did we realize how

terrible the actions that took placve really were. It is

important to be able to sympaphize with the indigenous

people of Central and South America. The drastic decline of

those people in the 16th and 17th centuries is visible today

in the loss of the indigenous cultures of Latin America.

While it is not possible to get back what we have lost it is

possible to prevent loosing anything that precious ever



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