Topic:What was the significance and relevance of Potosi in the colonial society? Discuss the importance of Potosí as a mining center, large urban setting, and a land of opportunities for Europeans and Amerindians in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
During the colonial period sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; Potosi was one of the most important and relevant regions in Latin America. Its importance was based on the great opportunities of mining, economic grow, land and jobs, etc that Potosí offered at the colonial time. Though the colonization process, Potosi became one of the largest cities in population and most important mining centers, creating at the same time a lot of jobs for Europeans, Amerindians and slaves producing merchandise to import to the old world. Potosi was created following the model of a traditional society of European customs. However, to understand Potosi's importance and relevance we must take a quick look to Potosi origins and history. Today, Potosi is completely different but its importance during the colonial time remains throughout history.
The city of Potosí sits at an altitude of 4,090 meters above sea level, being the highest city in the world. The city is well-known for its cool weather and sometimes freezing rain. Potosi was founded 1546 at the foot of the hill . The city was born under the name of Villa Imperial de Carlos V, in honor of then Spanish king Carlos V. Its founder was Juan de Villarroal. Large-scale excavation began in the site immediately and the first shipment of silver was sent to Spain .
Potosi was constructed following the Europeans models. The streets were called and divided like in Spain. At that time more than eighty six churches were built that means that in almost every corner there was a church and the city's population increased to nearly 200,000, making it one of the largest and wealthiest cities in Latin America and in the world. Probably around 1669 to 1672, many mints were established to coin silver and water reservoirs were built to fulfill the growing population's needs.
Potosi style of life was also very likely European style. It was generally characterized by male domination, expressed in the customary right of fathers to arrange marriages for their daughters. The women play their role at the house places like the Convent where places that offered the opportunity to women to display their capacity for leadership in administration and management of resources. The church played the most important role in everyday life, making rules and telling the right way to live for Spaniards and Indians .
Opportunities to create large urban setting and own land were available only for Europeans. Because Potosi was a city that was growing during the 16th and 17th century it was easy for Europeans without that much education or money to own lands and business like "Haciendas". "Haciendas" depended on a system of plantation slavery, which relied heavily on the labor of African slaves. Africans were brought into the colonies to replace the indigenous peoples who had died in large numbers following contact with the Europeans .
According to the book "Silver and Entrepreneurship in Seventeenth-Century Potosi" by the year 1561, 20,000 Indians were reported to work in the mines, or to work on unimportant tasks such as making candles and bread, and selling fruits an other things to eat. These 20,000 Indians that were reported to work in the mines were actually force to work on it.
Spaniards created different systems to make the Indians work in the mines; for example the "Encomienda system" where the Indians had to work for the Spaniards for free to received Christian teachings. Other system that the Spaniards created was the "Repartimiento System" where the business men ask the Crown for workers and the Crown send Indians to work. But one of the most important systems that make Potosi grow faster during the 16th and 17th centuries was the "Mita...
References: Peter Bakewell. Silver and Entrepreneurship in Seventeenth-Century Potosi Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press.1988.
Benjamin Kenn, Keith Hayness. A history of Latin America Seventh Edition. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. 2004.
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