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encomienda (ānkōmyānˈdä) [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 Casas, the system gradually died out, to be replaced by the repartimiento and finally debt peonage. 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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.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 ?
As an example, he said people in Paracale would complain about the Spanish encomenderos who were occupying their mines.
Pese a que se podia cancelar el tributo con dos o tres meses de trabajo, los encomenderos chilenos obligaron a los indios a seguir durante el resto del ano, por salarios que solo les permitian sobrevivir.
Si bien la congregacion estaba a cargo de los encomenderos, son pocos los datos que senalen que esa fuera la tendencia entre los paez.
En los dos siglos de sometimiento de las tierras americanas, nunca hubo suficientes indigenas para los encomenderos; en los virreinatos de Mexico y Peru, se presentaron cambios para orientar a los indigenas como mano de obra para trabajos publicos.
Como incentivo, habia conseguido que los encomenderos de Salta y San Miguel de Tucuman que tuviesen algun titulo sobre los indios del valle de Calchaqui renunciasen a un tercio de las mismas (7), en provecho de los nuevos vecinos de la ciudad por construir, que debia llevar el nombre de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe de Calchaqui (Carta del gob.
Al parecer, en el inicio del proceso de colonizacion del norte de la Provincia de Tunja, la circulacion de la sal estuvo influenciada y quiza controlada por los encomenderos de la zona (18), quienes usando la mano de obra indigena trasladaban la sal desde el Pueblo de la Sal, que estaba a 1500 msnm aproximadamente, ascendian por caminos fragosos desde el piedemonte llanero hasta Chita (19), que se hallaba a 3000 msnm o al Cocuy a 3500 y 4000 msnm, y de ahi nuevamente descendian hasta el canon del Chicamocha a 1500 msnm, para nuevamente ascender a 2500 en la zona minera de Pamplona.