Forced Labor Systems of Peru

Topics: Spanish colonization of the Americas, Peru, Spanish Empire Pages: 13 (3279 words) Published: April 25, 2014
There has been forced labor in Peru since the beginning of the Inca conquests. What made this system somewhat unique in the New World is that the system did not call for permanent enslavement of people. Often people would work a certain amount of time a year and then go back home. When the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire instead of completely changing the way things were, they simply adopted and modified the Mit’a system. After the conquest of the Inca’s the Spanish also instituted a system called Encomienda. Though not technically slavery both were brutally oppressive systems under the Spanish. It is important to understand the fundamental difference between these two systems. The Encomienda system was where conquistadors were given rights over the native people they conquered. While technically the native people owned their land still, Spanish were given charge of them. Part of the reason for this was that the Spanish could protect the Native people they were charged with from other warring tribes. A big part of this was also to teach the Native people the Spanish language and educate them in Christianity with the goal on converting them. Since the Spanish who were given the land grants did not own the land, it was expected that the people of the land pay tribute to the Spanish. Men between the age of fifteen and fifty were required to donate time to the improvement of the Inca Empire. This often would be in the form of agriculture or infrastructure maintenance. It is also important to point out that generally the mit’a service could be preformed near home. The only exception was 4 months each person’s life would have to be spent in the mines. Though there were exceptions, typically a person would work all but 2 months doing Mit’a work. The only people exempt entirely were royalty and the clergy. During the Inca rule the agricultural lands were divided into four separate categories, field of Temple, Caracas, The emperor and fields of the people. The fields of the people would be for the sick, elderly, widows, and also soldiers who were away with the military. At the beginning of the Mit’a plowing and planting season, workers would work the people’s fields first, then would move on to their own personal fields. After that the fields of the Temples and Caracas would be tended. Finally the emperor’s fields would be tended. The workers would tend to the emperor’s fields while wearing their best cloths and often singing praise to the Inca. This was very important to the success of the Inca Empire because it allowed soldiers to leave their home for months at a time and not have to worry about their family eating. After the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire they kept the Mit’a at least in name. What was once a system that fostered imperial pride was turned into a step above slavery. The Spanish used the Mita as a way to increase the wealth of the Crown and as such would work the Inca much harder than they were used to working. The main source of the Spanish Mita was in the mines. The most common mines that were used were the Potosi silver mine and the Huancavelica mercury mine. Under Spanish rule, over 200 native communities were required to send one seventh of their male population to work in the mines. (Dell 2010) The mita of New Spain is often accredited to Viceroy Francisco de Toledo but in fact this system of compulsory labor had been around since the beginning of the Inca conquests. The Inca name for this system of tribute labor was mit’a. The similarities in these two systems ended with the name for the most part. The most fundamental of changes was that the mit’a was used for infrastructure maintenance and agricultural needs of the Empire. The Spanish mita was for economic gains; the most lucrative was the Potosi silver mines and the Huancavelica mercury mine. When Toledo instituted the mita for the Potosi mines, he did not envision an ongoing need for the system. This was...
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