What Is Encomienda System?

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He encomienda is a trusteeship labor system that was employed by the Spanish crown during the Spanish colonization of the Americas and the Philippines. In the encomienda, the crown granted a person a specified number of natives of whom they were to take responsibility. The receiver of the grant was to instruct the natives in the Spanish language and in the Catholic faith. In return, they could exact tribute from the natives in the form of labour, gold or other products, such as in corn, wheat or chickens. In the former Inca empire, for example, the system continued the Incaic (and even pre-Incaic) traditions of exacting tribute under the form of labor. The grantees of the encomienda were usually conquistadors and soldiers, but they also included women and Native notables. For example, Doña Marina and the daughters of Montezuma were granted extensive encomiendas as dowries.[1][2]. Puppet Inca rulers established after the conquest also sought and were granted encomiendas. The status of Indians as wards of the trustees under the encomienda system served to "define the status of the Indian population": The natives were free men, not slaves or serfs. Conquistadors were granted trusteeship over the indigenous people they conquered. The encomienda was essential to the Spanish crown's sustaining its control over North, Central and South America in the first decades after the conquest, because it was the first major organizational law instituted on a continent where disease, war and turmoil reigned. Initially the encomienda system was devised to meet the needs of the early agricultural economies in the Caribbean, and was later adopted to the mining economy of Peru and Upper Peru. The encomienda lasted from the beginning of the sixteenth century to the seventeenth century.[3]

The etymology of encomienda and encomendero lies in the Spanish verb encomendar, "to entrust". The encomienda was based on the familiar Reconquista institution in which adelantados were given the right to extract tribute from Muslims or other peasants in areas that they had conquered and resettled.[4] The encomienda system differed from the Peninsular institution in that encomenderos did not own the land on which the natives lived. The system did not entail any direct land tenure by the encomendero; Indian lands were to remain in their possession, a right that was formally protected by the Crown of Castile because at the beginning of the Conquest most of the rights of administration in the new lands went to the crown.[5] The system was formally abolished in 1720, but had lost effectiveness much earlier and in many areas had been abandoned for other forms of labour.[6] In certain areas, this quasi-feudal system persisted. In Mexico for instance it was not until the constitutional reform after the Mexican Revolution that the encomienda system was abolished, and the ejido became a legal entity again. (see also the history of the Chiapas conflict)

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