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Yanaconas, in the broadest sense of the word, a colonial-era term for indigenous people and their descendants who were separated from their ancestral communities. The specific circumstances under which that separation had occurred and the precise meaning of the term varied considerably throughout the viceroyalty of Peru, but virtually every usage of the term refers to Amerindians who had been removed—physically, culturally, and economically—from their traditional communities. The Spanish term yanacona is thought to derive from the Inca term yana, personal servant or retainer whose special duties and altered relationship with other community members had, in turn, altered the yana's own relationship with his or her ayllus (kin groups). Consistent with their practice of adapting indigenous terms to describe colonial structures that had only a superficial resemblance to traditional practices, the Spaniards first used the term yanaconas to describe servants from any Andean ethnic group, for the Spanish tended not to observe such differences.

When Francisco de Toledo y Figueroa reorganized Peru's indigenous communities in the 1570s, he differentiated between yanaconas de españoles (of Spaniards), who were in private service to Spaniards, and yanaconas del rey (of the king), who, according to Toledo's reasoning, owed allegiance—and therefore taxes and labor service—only to the crown, which could allocate that labor as it saw fit. Toledo conducted a careful census of the yanacona population, limiting the number of individuals who could claim either type of yanacona status for themselves and their descendants. In the following years, an increasing number of people either sought yanacona status or had it conferred upon them by employers who secured licencias de yanaconas (roughly, yanacona permits) from colonial authorities. Yanaconas enjoyed certain advantages, including reduced taxes and, most important, protection from the Mita (the state forced-labor system), but yanaconas, who participated in a wide range of labor relationships, such as sharecropping, wage labor, and debt peonage, could be brutally exploited by their employers. Although they could not legally be sold into slavery, yanaconas were legally tied to the land they worked, and property transfers often included the services of yanaconas.

Throughout the colonial period, the increasing number of menial laborers having—or claiming—yanacona status was a constant drain on the state labor system. By the eighteenth century, in some areas of the viceroyalty the number of indigenous people who were living apart from their home communities—voluntarily or involuntarily, through yanacona status or migration or flight—exceeded the number of indigenous people still living in those communities and trying to fulfill their tax and labor obligations. Various viceroys tried to incorporate the yanacona sector into the state labor system, but powerful interests kept most yanaconas in the private labor sector. Although the end of colonial rule altered the legal definition of and regulations governing yanacona status, the term continued to be applied to non-European laborers.

See alsoForasteros; Incas, The; Repartimiento; Slavery: Spanish America.


Arthur Franklin Zimmerman, Francisco De Toledo; Fifth Viceroy of Peru, 1569–1581. New York: Greenwood Press, 1968.

Steve J. Stern, Peru's Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest: Huamanga to 1640. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.

Karen Spalding, Huarochirí: An Andean Society Under Inca and Spanish Rule. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1984, esp. pp. 85-88.

Brooke Larson, Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia: Cochabamba, 1550–1900. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1988, esp. pp. 82-87.

Ann M. Wightman, Indigenous Migration and Social Change: The Forasteros of Cuzco, 1570–1720. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1990; esp. pp. 83-85.

                                  Ann M. Wightman