The encomienda system developed in the Antilles (the islands of
the West Indies except the Bahamas) when the group of settlers Columbus
brought with him on his second voyage to the New World were, essentially,
unwilling to work (Vigil 218). They solved this problem through forced
Indian labor. Queen Isabella I of Spain considered the native people
"free crown vassals" (Vigil 218) and instructed Governor Nicolas de
Ovando, Comendador Mayor of the military order Alcantara, to inform the
Indians that they had to pay tribute to the crown equal to the other
subjects. But the Indians refused to have anything to do with it,
resulting in a series of royal decrees starting in 1503 that resulted in
the encomienda system.
As legally defined in 1503, an encomienda consisted of a grant by
the crown to a conquistador, soldier, official, or others rewarded for
assisting in the conquest, of a specified number of Indians living in a
particular area. The receiver of the grant, the encomendero, could exact
tribute from the Indians in gold or labor ("Encomienda"). Basically, the
natives were gathered into villages under the supervision of a trustee and
forced to work in the construction of buildings, in mines, and in the
cultivation of the soil. In turn, the trustee (the encomendero) was to
civilize, Christianize, and protect the Indians (Thomas 51). Through this
system, the crown intended to both reward deserving conquerors and
settlers and to incorporate the Indians into Christian civilization by
placing them under the protection of responsible individuals (Vigil 218).
However, the system quickly became corrupted.
Although the enc...
... middle of paper ...
As improvements of these economic systems continue to be made, the
situation of the Latin American people also continues to improve,
hopefully ensuring a brighter future for the entire region.
Delpar, Helen. "Hacienda." Encyclopedia of Latin America. New York:
McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1974.
Delpar, Helen. "Latifundium." Encyclopedia of Latin America. New York:
McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1974.
"Encomienda." Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
"Hacienda." Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
Thomas, Alfred Barnaby. Latin America: A History. New York: The MacMillan
Vigil, Ralph H. "Encomienda." Encyclopedia of Latin America. New York:
McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1974.
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