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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 ?
Here I will examine the accounts of Indies produced by Guevara and Munoz de Ribera within the context of the encomienda system.
The Spanish monarchs, again, were ambivalent, and in 1542 Charles V decided to abolish the encomienda system.
The encomienda system was also ah attempt to control the indigenas' land.
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.
In contrast, under the Spanish encomienda system large numbers of Andean men were constantly removed from their communities for both labor in the encomenderos' enterprises and for military service in expeditions against "hostile" tribes, or in the many civil wars among the Spaniards themselves.
The indigenous peoples were considered "true humans" but also as "souls to be converted" and this meant they could be enslaved under the 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.
Little more than the first of his three-part, fifty-book history was published at the time, largely due to the opposition of the Dominican friar Bartolome de Las Casas, who contested Oviedo's support of the encomienda system, and it was not until 1851-55 that Jose Amador de los Rios published an imperfect edition of the entire history.
The book provides firsthand insights into the encomienda system (a form of indentured slavery); the destruction of entire peoples, cultures, and religious (a "holocaust of natives .
And finally came death, a massive demographic collapse of the native peoples, accelerated by the imposition of slavery and encomienda systems of coerced labor.