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(ānkōmyān`dä) [Span. encomendar=to entrust], system of tributory labor established in Spanish America. Developed as a means of securing an adequate and cheap labor supply, the encomienda was first used over the conquered Moors of Spain. Transplanted to the New World, it gave the conquistador control over the native populations by requiring them to pay tribute from their lands, which were "granted" to deserving subjects of the Spanish crown. The natives often rendered personal services as well. In return the grantee was theoretically obligated to protect his wards, to instruct them in the Christian faith, and to defend their right to use the land for their own subsistence. When first applied in the West Indies, this labor system wrought such hardship that the population was soon decimated. This resulted in efforts by the Spanish king and the Dominican order to suppress encomiendas, but the need of the conquerors to reward their supporters led to de facto recognition of the practice. The crown prevented the encomienda from becoming hereditary, and with the New Laws (1542) promulgated by Las CasasLas Casas, Bartolomé de
, 1474–1566, Spanish missionary and historian, called the apostle of the Indies. He went to Hispaniola with his father in 1502, and eight years later he was ordained a priest.
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, the system gradually died out, to be replaced by the repartimientorepartimiento
, in Spanish colonial practice, usually, the distribution of indigenous people for forced labor. In a broader sense it referred to any official distribution of goods, property, services, and the like.
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 and finally debt peonagepeonage
, system of involuntary servitude based on the indebtedness of the laborer (the peon) to his creditor. It was prevalent in Spanish America, especially in Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru.
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. Similar systems of land and labor apportionment were adopted by other colonial powers, notably the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the French.


See L. B. Simpson, The Encomienda in New Spain (rev. ed. 1966); J. F. Bannon, Indian Labor in the Spanish Indies (1966).



a form of exploitation of the Indian population in the Spanish colonies of America between the 16th and 18th centuries. Indians, who were nominally free, were “entrusted” to the Spanish colonialists, or encomenderos, to whom they were required to render payment in clothing, gold, or food and to perform corvée in the mines and on the estates of the encomenderos. In the 17th and 18th centuries the encomienda existed alongside other forms of colonial exploitation, such as the mita and peonage. The encomienda was officially abolished by royal decrees issued between 1718 and 1791, but in the majority of Spanish colonies it was retained until the early 19th century.


Al’perovich, M. S. “O kharaktere i formakh ekspluatatsii indeitsev v amerikanskikh koloniakh Ispanii (XVI-XVIII vv.).” Novaia i noveishaia istoriia, 1957, no. 2.
Ivanov, G. I. “Enkom’enda v Meksike i vosstaniia indeitsev v XVI v.” Uchenye zap. Ivanovskogo ped. in-ta, 1964, vol. 35.
References in periodicals archive ?
Lovell and Lutz meticulously turn to overlooked manuscripts like tribute assessments (tasaciones) and lawsuits (pleitos) to reconstruct the burdens of the encomienda system.
The evolution of Hispanic America with the legacy of the encomienda system introduced by the conquistadors illustrates the consequences of extractive institutions.
The word was later applied to Indians who had escaped the Spanish encomienda system.
William Bivin notes that Queen Isabella's sixteenth-century encomienda system, ostensibly intended to further the spiritual education of Indians, in fact reduced them to servitude and changed their status to one of perpetual inferiority, sub-humans capable only of receiving charity, but with nothing linguistically or socially to contribute to the larger social or ecclesiastical good.
He also persuaded Charles V to abolish slavery and to end the encomienda system through the promulgation of "New Laws.
on the development of the encomienda system or capital transfers from the Americas to Europe.
Though Cortes--who admitted its defects but could think of no better alternative--argued for the retention of the encomienda system (the grants of land and almost feudal rights and prerogatives over the Indians), it was eventually abolished by the Council of the Indies, in theory at least.
First, the Franciscans were highly critical of the military conquest of the Indians and of the encomienda system in general.
While landowners, or encomenderos, were obliged to follow a set of laws mandating that the native Guarani be treated decently and be provided with Christian instruction, the encomienda system quickly deteriorated into a legalized form of slavery.
These infections appear to have been aggravated by the extreme climatic conditions of the time and by the poor living conditions and harsh treatment of the native people under the encomienda system of New Spain.
11) On the eve of his landing in the archipelago, the religious orders--led by the Augustinians--had launched a vocal protest against the violence meted out by Spanish conquistadors in the subjugation of the indigenous population, a violence prolonged (in their eyes) by the outrageous physical demands of the newly instituted encomienda system.
The outrage provoked by the depredation of the encomienda system, joined with Las Casas's hatred of force as totally incompatible with the Gospel, led to his outspoken advocacy of the American natives.