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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).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



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.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
Otros indios del mismo pueblo de Nachen testificaron que ellos cuidaban los puercos y vacas del encomendero en la hacienda de Perales, ubicada en tierras que el encomendero habia comprado de su cacique Marillanga en 15938.
Idealmente, de acuerdo con la legislacion colonial, las iglesias debian ser proveidas por encomenderos u oficiales, y formar parte de los "pueblos de indios", (3) donde los nativos tenian que residir de forma permanente para ser adoctrinados en la religion catolica y facilitar la recoleccion de tributos.
Por el oriente de la Provincia de Tunja, los indigenas de Icabuco y Tibana tributaban sal al encomendero Suarez Rendon, esta sal al parecer la obtenian en las salinas de Gacheta y la trasladaban hasta los aposentos de su encomendero, que se hallaba en la ciudad de Tunja.
En esta ocasion, un grupo de indios entre los cuales se encontraban calchaquies de la estricta obediencia--si nos atenemos a la geografia de control colonial--y otros considerados pulares mataron al encomendero, a su cunado, a otro espanol, a un franciscano que tuvo la mala suerte de pasar por ahi y a muchos indios de servicio.
Estas leyes tuvieron como consecuencia un efimero triunfo de la linea indianista; pero la reaccion de los encomenderos fue tan airada que, en 1545, Carlos V las derogo (14).