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4.3.2 The Encomienda - The Encomienda by Meredith Scott The...

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The Encomienda by Meredith Scott The encomienda system is deeply entrenched in the history and culture of South and Central America, and is one of the most damaging institutions that the Spanish colonists implemented in the New World. The system came to signify the oppression and exploitation of Native Americans, although its originators did not set out with such intent. When the Spanish explorers claimed the lands in the New World, they set up institutions with which they were familiar at home in Castile, and at that time, there were strong links to their feudalistic history. Therefore, the Spanish modified their model of feudalism to fit both the needs and conditions in New Spain and the Caribbean (Chamberlain 2). This form of feudalism, the encomienda system, was created in May 1493, by the Crown in Castile who reserved the right to grant and remove the encomiendas as seen fit. However, encomiendas were only taken away from Spanish in extreme cases (Chamberlain 3). The encomienda itself was a grant of Indians within a geographic region, which were given to an encomendero, the Spaniard who received the grant of Indians. At the start of the system, the sole justification for the Spanish dominion over the Indians was to indoctrinate the Indians in the Catholic faith (Valencia 3). In fact, under the Law of Burgos, any encomendero with 50 or more Indians had to educate one boy in reading and writing and religious doctrine, so that he could teach the other Indians these things (Burgos 26). However, it quickly became an opportunity for the encomenderos to exploit and utilize the Indians to their own ends. This was because the Indians were required to pay the encomendero a tribute in return for protection and religious instruction (Valencia 4). Originally, the Indians which were divided for an encomendero were called repartimientas, but then became known as encomiendas when the original grantee of the Indians died and they were given to a new encomendero (Chamberlain 5). The encomienda system did not entail any land tenure by the encomendero; in fact, the land of the Indians was to remain in their possession, a right that was formally protected by the Crown (Chamberlain 3). However, the encomenderos did often own land nearby their encomiendas and had natives working on plantations (Valencia 11). Another interesting point is that the encomienda grant did not give the Spaniard the right to exercise any political authority or jurisdiction over the Indians (Chamberlain 3). However, these distinctions were very difficult to enforce, because there was an ocean between the rulers making the laws and the colonists in charge of the natives. As time went on, the conquerors of New Spain came to expect the encomiendas as their reward, so the practice became an institution and it eventually became tradition to divide newly conquered territories among the conquerors (Chamberlain 11).
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