History

1. The encomienda system was established by the Spanish, and was used to exploit and control the indigenous people.  The indigenous were entrusted to a Spanish encomendero, who was supposed to protect and teach Christianity to the natives.  However, the indigenous were demanded to preform labor in sometimes slave-like conditions, with ridiculous quotas demanded.  There were often questions raised about the morality of this system, and the Crown was sometimes hesitant in providing more power to the encomenderos.   The system was most effective in sedentary populations, shown in the Aztec and Inca civilizations.

The repartimiento system was used in place of the encomienda system.  The book describes it as a “temporary allotment of indigenous workers for a given task. The Spanish colonist in need of laborers applied to a royal official explaining the work to be done, the time is would take to complete, and the specific number of indigenous it would require” (41). A difference between the two was the repartimiento system paid the labor force with a salary for their completed work, while the encomienda system involved no pay at all.  However, the system still treated the natives very poorly with little regard to their well being.

The Roman Catholic Church had a significant influence in the colonization of Latin America. During the process, the Church forced all indigenous people to convert to Christianity through the encomienda system. The Church had strong control over the indigenous culture, stated in the textbook, “the Church exercised a virtual monopoly over education. Monasteries housed the first schools and taught reading, writing, arithmetic, and Catholic doctrine” (55).  They even censored books and replaced indigenous monuments with churches.  Their main goal was to remain the strong hold of social order, with the ranks of the wealthy and powerful clergy at the top.

After reading the Aztec Lament, I felt an unimaginable sadness for the helpless Aztec civilization brought about by the Europeans.  Once powerful and dominant, the Aztecs must watch as their homes are burned down, and the city they call home is ruthlessly taken and destroyed by a foreign group.  I feel the author strives to thoroughly detail the pain of loss and fear felt by the Aztecs.  Near the end of the reading it says, “Weep, my people:/ know that with these disasters/we have lost the Mexican nation.”  This shows the devastating realization of how quickly everything they once knew was taken by the invaders.

 

2. The “encomienda” was a complex idea that drew both its origin and power from a variety of places.  Literally translating from the Spanish words”commission” or “charge”, the encomienda was a system that sprung forth from both the desire to expanding the wealth and power of the crown, as well as setting an incentive path for explorers to trail blaze and pursue said path that lined up with the interests of the crown.  The encomienda was a system whereby the crown transferred power over a group of indigenous populace over to a select individual (designated an encomendero).  This power gave that individual the ability to command them at will, including using them to perform hard labor and extract precious metals and exportable goods to further increase the wealth and power of both the crown and the selected individual.  In exchange for this granted power, in theory there was also a bestowed responsibility upon the individual in charge of the population.  This individual was, in theory, responsible for the protection of his designated population, as well as instructing them in the ways of Christianity.  While noble in theory, all too often this system simply lead to a way for an encomendero to exert power and extract as much labor from the populace as possible.

Seeing the damages that this system was reaping upon its subjects, Isabel I ordered the populace to be freed in 1501.  However, this system was widely popular with the explorers and there was severe push back against the dismantling of the encomienda system, finally resulting in its reinstating in 1503 when the crown observed that this newfound granted freedom resulted in no labor from the population, and thus no expansion of the crowns wealth or power.  Support was so widespread for the encomienda (with the exception of those who were placed under its rule), that a revolt almost spread throughout the empire.

Ironically, the encomienda was brought down by one of the very institutions that it was supposed to protect: Christianity.  The two reasons that the system was modified was due to moral objections to the system through the teachings of Christianity, as well as demographic pressure from the increasingly subjugated populace enslaved under its rule.  These pressures resulted in a shift towards the repartimiento system, a system setup where there was only a temporary allocation of the populace dedicated towards a very specific task.

Contrary to all the attempts by both the Spanish and the Portuguese to maintain various different systems of control in Latin America, the Catholic Church was the only institution held in high regard and exercised respected power of rule in the new colonies.  The Church increasingly dominated every aspect of the colonies lives, and as such was used as a vehicle to maintain control and influence.  It was increasingly important in affecting the direction and development of Latin America, as it was used as a vehicle to drum up pious donations, which in turn were used to purchase profit producing areas of land, all of which in a continual cycle that helped fuel the power and resource of both empires.  In addition, the church had a monopoly over education, one which was used to keep appointed elites in power and appease the masses by indicating that their current struggles were preordained and had rewards in the next life, therefor to control unrest.

Finally, the powerful poem entitled “Aztec Lament” illustrates all the horrors one imagines when thinking about what life would look like if they were conquered and ruled by a foreign power.  The stark visuals of what sound like a smoldering earth, shattered cities and cries of despair truly paint a remarkable picture of the pain and suffering the indigenous endured at the hands of their conquerers.

 

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