Heather Coffey HIST 3401W December 18th, 2012 Socioeconomic Structures and History in Spanish and Portuguese America from the Conquest until Post Colonial Period Throughout the entire history of Portuguese and Spanish occupation of the Americas there were evolving hierarchies, labor regimes, gender relations, sources of wealth, regions of wealth, trade routes, uprisings, economic hard times and high times, etc. A very prominent source behind this constant ebb and flow of the history of Portuguese and Spanish Americas can easily be attributed to the economic forces always at play.
It can be seen in the reasons for the conquest of Latin america and South America, the onset of the colonial period and the rebellions of eighteenth century. It is important to understand the economic drives that were in play in the beginning of the conquest because it would inevitably change the social landscape of Mexico, the outlying islands and South America forever. The Age of Exploration brought upon a wealth of knowledge for the world, and specifically for the Kingdoms of Spain and Portugal it also brought a lot of wealth.
The rivalry between the two kingdoms and need for financial gains led the two to divide the areas of the world where exploration was viable with the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 which divided the lands East of the demarcation line (halfway between the Cape Verde Islands) to Portugal and the lands west of that to Spain. Keeping within these boundaries, explorers such as Christopher Columbus, Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro (among many others) scoured the newly discovered Americas in search of new land, but also new sources of wealth.
Upon reaching the Americas, both in Mexico and the surrounding areas as well as South America, one of the main goals was the search for wealth in Gold and Silver. The hunt for both as well as other rich resources at first led the explorers on a wild goose chase around the alien lands and native people until areas were found and deemed suitable for settlement and a worthy and financially sound decision as it would prove to be for Spain and Portugal. …where have men seen what they see today, fleets entering loaded with gold and silver as if it were iron? Or where was it known or read that so much wealth could come from one kingdom? So much and so great is it that Spain is full of these treasures, and her cities are populated by many rich perusers who have left there. “1 Once regions were settled and indigenous resistance to colonizing efforts were temporarily brought somewhat under control the exploitation of the rich resources of the land began.
There were shiploads of Spanish and Portuguese men (and some women) brought into Latin America to aid in the settlement process, but it was the indigenous that were used in the farming and mining of these resources as well as the upkeep of the households of the white families by the indigenous women. This aided in the creation of the pyramid of the divisions of class and caste throughout all of Mexico and South America, at first drawing distinct lines between “White” and Indian. As time progresses the indigenous succumb to diseases brought by the white people and the population of Indians from all regions declines drastically.
African slave trade was key here as they replaced the vast numbers of Indians lost, but also then entered them into the socio-economic orders. In the times of the conquest and the beginnings of the colonial period the lines of race were much clearer, White, Indian and Black, but this would change and the lines would blur through out the colonial period as races mix. The gender relations between the races began early with, more commonly, the slave women or african or Indian descent brought in to do slave work in white households or to do the “female” tasks of spinning wool, etc. , women were taken in as concubines and thus the blending of white and indian and black began. By the colonial period and beyond there would be upwards of sixteen different names for the gradations in color and subsequently class. The very bottom of the “social” pyramid being slaves, mostly blacks who were immovable in the caste system due to their “involuntary citizenship and thus assumed treachery”3. It’s interesting to see how the need for free and cheap labor brought what would shape the future identities that would become those of the Americas.
Over time the economies of both Spain and portugal became dependent on the goods, tax revenues and tributes coming from Latin America and through times when the “goods” weren’t doing so well they had to rely more heavily on other aspects. There were periods of time when the silver production at Potosi, for instance, wasn’t doing well due to lack of supplies needed for mining. These regions then would be hit heavily with raised tributes from lower social orders as well as enforced and raised taxes on goods traded within the regions as would be the cause of the Repartimiento de Comercio in 1751.
These financial strains as well as the enforced labor of men used as tribute as well (mita) left the majority of the population (lower classes) financially and even physically weak. This continued to grow and grow throughout the colonial period caused great discontent “Conflicts over land distribution, tribute rates, mitt allocations, the succession to ethnic leadership posts, and abuses by local priests and corregidores frequently disturbed local indigenous communities during the eighteenth century. The spread of the repartee often exacerbated such local tensions, leading to an escalation of violence. 4 These issues would like to the uprisings and rebellions that would create chaos for the Spanish and Portuguese throughout the late eighteenth century and on, the most notable being those lead by Tomas Katari, Tupac Amaru II and Tupac Katari in Peru and upper Peru from 1780-1783. The socioeconomic history of Spanish and Portuguese America is a broad topic, hard to even begin to explain in a short paper as this. That being said, I believe that it’s important to understand the impact that it had on the entire region.
The effects that it had on the populations from the declining population of indigenous from illness brought from Europe, to the subsequent new races of people caused by the blending of populations all forced to live together. Also the strain that this would inevitably put on those being taken advantage of by the colonial leaders and Castilian and Portuguese crowns. This entire history from the fifteenth century until the early nineteenth century was put into motion by cause and effect situations led by the greed of men, this need for wealth that would take over and hange the lives of millions. 1. Quote from Pedro Cieza de Leon in the Discovery and Conquest of Peru, Pp. 33. Lecture notes from Thursday, Sept. 27th. 2. Townsend, Camilla. Malintzins Choices: An Indian Woman in the Conquest of Mexico. University of New Mexico Press, Albuqurque 2006. Pp. 35 3. Weaver-Oldon, Nathan. Lecture Oct. 2 . “Critical Ways that Indians and Africans Seen As Different. 4. Andrien, Kenneth. Andean Worlds: Indigenous History, Culture ,and Consciousness Under Spanish Rule, 1532-1825. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque. 2001. Pp. 202-203