Tlaxcala under the Aztecs and then the Spanishby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
How did the lives of the Telaxicans change from paying tribute to the Aztecs and later to the Spanish? Describe the Encomienda and Hacienda systems.
After Columbus's discovery of the New World in 1492, the Spanish conquerors established two new systems of rule over the indigenous population of the Americas known as the hacienda and encomienda systems. Originally, the rulers of Spain instigated the encomienda system, a form of feudalism modified to fit the needs and purposes of colonization, in May of 1493 to indoctrinate the natives with Catholicism. In this system, a Spanish encomendero, a conquistador who gained the status similar to that of a landlord, would be given a plot of land, town, or city, and the native population would be required to serve him and work his lands in exchange for military defense and a religious education. However, the system quickly became corrupt since the Spanish overlords cruelly overworked the natives in bad conditions resulting in a terrible form of slavery. The hacienda system, similar to the feudalistic encomienda system except for the fact that they were usually much larger, had its origins in 1529 when the Spanish government granted a large plot of land to Herman Cortez to govern and the title of Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. This entitled him to the services of the natives living in the area. Soon other minor Spanish lords were sent to the New World and given large plots of land to rule in Argentina, Brazil, and New Grenada and were thenceforth known as hacendados. Like the encomienda system, it too eventually became corrupt with the natives becoming enslaved.
Although the encomienda system began with good motives, it quickly became corrupt when the encomenderos treated those natives on their plots of land with cruelty and enslaved them. At first, the Spanish pitied the indigenous popluation since they felt superior in society and religeon; they looked upon the natives as pagan savage children. Thus, they began the encomienda system to ensure the betterment and welfare of the natives. One encomendero would be granted a plot of land and the natives residing on it to work for him and support him. In exchange, the Spanish overlord would provide an education in religion (specifically Catholicism), payment for their labor, and military protection. He was ordered not to enslave or mistreat the natives that resided on his plot of land. The standard for religious instruction reflected Columbus's and Queen Isabella's strict adherance to Catholic doctrine and their desires to spread their faith especially to the New World. 1 In addition, the natives residing on the land only had an obligation to serve the encomendero for two or three years - not their entire lives. Intermarriage between the indigenous population and the Spanish was also encouraged initialy so as to stimulate the native's conversion to Catholicism.2 This intermarriage in part contributed to the new class of Mestizo - who was part Spanish and part native South American.
However, the encomenderos quickly realized their unlimited power over the natives and their freedom to ignore the law since an ocean separated the Spanish colonists and the Spanish government in addition to the fact that the standards for the encomienda system was merely a policy or standard and not official law. Thus, the settlers began to exploit the native's labor and used them to their own means. Each plot of land belonging to an encomendero became self-supportive and similar to a miniature city, but what fragile rights the natives formerly possesed were taken away. They no longer were paid for their labor but forced to pay a tribute of raw materials in the form of food, supplies, and cotton. No longer were they given any sort of education. Now, instead of providing protection, the encomenderos forced the natives to defend themselves. The system which had promised the betterment and welfare of their society now enslaved and mistreated them. Because the natives did all the work for them, the Spanish settlers and encomenderos grew lazy and enjoyed the surpluses produced by the working natives.
It got to the point to that when the Spanish workmen came to the New World, they no longer wanted to work their trades, instead, they wanted to be set up with lands and encomiendas. This attitude became deeply entrenched in their society, as the encomenderos began to see themselves as landed gentry. With that came the belief that the encomendero should not have to work to survive, because the Indians could do it for them in the form of tributes. Thus, the position of the encomendero became a coveted one due to the tributes that the Indians were to pay.These tributes allowed the colonists to live and thrive without having to exert themselves, because of the surpluses that the Indian tributes supplied the colonists that enabled the Spanish to trade and make a profit.3
Things then went from bad to worse. Some of the indigenous population were charged a tribute which they could not afford and starved. Many were abused. Others were sent to dangerous mines where many died. In addition to this, European sicknesses causes plauges to sweep through Central America and South America killing millions of native inhabitants. Ironically, this cruel treatment caused the laborers to be killed off faster than the foolish Spanish conquerors could replace them. These atrocities commited by the Spanish conquerors directly contradicted God's command for masters in Colosians 4:1: "Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven."
Although they were treated with unfair cruelty and unthoughtfulness, in some ways, the encomienda system improved over the native's previous experience with tributes. The gargantuan Aztec Empire had also required tributes from the surrounding nations such as the Tlaxcala. Sometimes, this tribute consisted of material items or gold. But all too often, prisoners were paid as tribute. Every day, the Aztecs believed that they needed to kill people in their temples to appease the sun god and keep him rising each day. Thus, these "tributary prisoners" were taken to the tops of temples and while they still lived, had their hearts hearts ripped out to appease the merciless sun god of the Aztecs.
Thankfully for the native population, key reformers of the encomienda system and defenders of the native's rights like Bartolome de las Casas (? link to bio) entered the stage. Ironically, like several other reformers, Bartolome formerly worked as an encomendero himself until he realized the evil of the system.4 In the end, he convinced King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain to make laws enforcing proper treatment of the natives working on the encomienda plantations - to make into law that which had once been merely policy.
Haciendas had several similarities to the encomienda system but also some key differences. Similarly to encomiendas, haciendas, which usually formed in South America, were made up mostly of local natives (but the Spanish also sent African slaves to work on the agricultural estates) who worked on the plantation to support the conquistador who owned the plantation. Differing from the encomiendas, the haciendas mostly produced agriculteral exports which were sent back to Spain in addition to being self-supportive miniature "empires". Sugar and cocao comprised the largest percentage of the exports. However, in terms of value, silver became the most sought after product of the plantations.5 Also, the haciendas were usually much larger in size than the encomiendas since most focused on farming which requires more space than mining which comprised the main focus of the encomienda system.6
Interestingly, other systems which had formed and would form around the world related to the encomienda such as the former feudal society in Europe during the Middle Ages, serfs in Russia, and a system which had arisen in the Mughal Dynasty in India. In Medieval Europe, a lord would rule over a plot of land, and pesants would work on the plot of land that he owned and the lord would require a tax of the peasant's crops to support himself and his court. In exchange, the lord would provide military protection for the peasants in case of hostile attack. Russia remained in a feudalistic society until the twentieth century. Ruling supremely was the czar (similar to the King of Spain) and under him were the rich nobles (similar to the encomenderos) who owned large plots of land and forced the last class, the serfs, to work for them and support their greedy desires.7 The Mughal dynasty of India also had a similar system in which the Shah would recruit warrior nobles to rule plots of land in return for a tax. These warrior nobles were charged to defend the population of their plot of land in return for the labor and support of the people.
In conclusion, the encomienda system, which initially began with good motives, fell from inocence and became quickly corrupt and the conquistadors, who became entitled encomenderos, exploited the labor of the native South Americans and used them to their own means with cruetly. Perhaps this beginning of the land division by the Europeans reflects the current status of South America's economy. Today, South America continually experiences many land reform movements and protests and many times, erupts with political storms and violence.
up7 Rit Nosotro, "Compare
the 1905 & 1917 Russian Revolutions", From Czardom to Communist State: The
1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions, http://hyperhistory.net/apwh/essays/comp/cw30russia1905vs1917rev.htm
(February 1, 2005)
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