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Encomienda

ENCOMIENDA


Encomienda is a Spanish word meaning "commission." It refers to a system that was used by Spain in the New World to reward the conquistadors (conquerors). The encomienda dates back to earlier times. It was developed in feudal Spain, when the Moors (North African Muslims) occupied parts of the Iberian Peninsula (present-day Spain and Portugal). An encomienda was booty given to a Spaniard who conquered a Moorish province. It was usually the land that had belonged to the Moorish leader of the conquered territory. This practice made its way to the West Indies (Caribbean islands) by 1499: Christopher Columbus (14511506), who is believed to have opposed the traditional feudal system, nevertheless conceded encomiendas to his men. After Spain conquered Mexico and Peru in the mid-1500s, the system was established on the mainland as well. Spaniards were awarded the lands occupied by the Native Americans whom they had conquered. The native inhabitants, who were encomendado (meaning "commended" or "entrusted") to the Spaniards, were expected to pay tribute to the Spaniards and to work for them in the fields or mines. The encomienda system came close to slavery. It proved disastrous to the native populations. Mistreated by their supposed protectors and exposed to European diseases (such as smallpox, and measles) to which they had no immunity, the Indians died in large numbers. As the population declined the Spanish government made regulations to do away with the system. The encomienda became increasingly rare throughout the sixteenth century, and by the end of the following century it had disappeared altogether. The encomienda system was at least partly responsible for the emergence of a new mixed population called Mestizos people who are of white European and American Indian descent.

See also: Mestizo

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encomienda

encomienda (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 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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"encomienda." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved April 25, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/encomienda