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August 17, 2007


Tiffany Tam

It is interesting to read about the evolution of encomiendas; I have never realized what an important role they had. Nor did I know of all the restrictions and rules that came along with them. I think that the encomiendas are in a way still slavery although the title of the article makes it seem otherwise. Although it may not specifically define what slavery usually means, it definitely has some characteristics. Something interesting about this article was the economic derivations that came along with the historical background of encomiendas.

Stella Kang

I also didn't know that the encomienda was such a complicated system of rules that were meant to distinguish Indian labor from slavery. After reading the article, I realized that although these restrictions may have been created in order to not reduce "Native Americans to the status of slaves," they were ultimately implemented for the benefit of the Spanish empire; the Crown needed these rules to justify its selfish actions. I think this empire was struggling with desires for power (strong empire) versus morals (religious beliefs). They were against slavery but had to find a way around this in order to expand their empire. Because they had to deal with this push and pull, they ended up with an institutional structure that wasn't as effective.

Kim Luong

As the first system of organization and implantation during early colonialism, the encomienda really represents the way of thought and the structure of society at the time. I think that the article shines a light on a very important facet of this colonial institution—the attempt at finding a balance between amassing wealth in a foreign, untilled land and finding the labor necessary to do so without compromising the virtues/morals/etc. that the Crown wanted to reflect.
The article also brings up the idea that second-generation encomenderos would exhaust their workers and benefit as much as possible before their deaths because of the lack of incentive to turn over a good encomienda. This is an interesting theme that is prevalent throughout history—such as in situations of ending terms of political offices, perhaps?

Dawn Oberlin

This article really opened my eyes to the complex way in which Native Americans were forced to work in the early colonization periods. I had no idea this term encomienda was used to describe the native labor practices that were exercised. It is also interesting to think about how the Crown implemented this form of labor when it was not very productive, even though it was successful in depleting the stock of native labor.

Mark Wes

I find it interesting that the Spanish Crown restricted inheritance on the encomenderos. The system of seizing an encomienda after the second generation, would contribute to a weak institutional framework in the new world. A high rate of encomienda turnover seems like it would be difficult to manage and maintain. Additionally, I wonder what effects this high turnover would have on the treatment of the native population. If an encomienda only has two generations to extract as much wealth as possible from the natives, then I wonder if the natives were treated brutally and cruelly despite the crown's insistence that they are free.

James Wang

The encomienda system shows the Crown to be more concerned with its perception, both by others and by itself, than reality. Not only is the system less effective in using the available resources to produce wealth, but it also lowers the value of human life. Second generation encomenderos worked their native labors under the assumption that there would be no inheritance by their heirs. It was to their advantage to overwork the laborers and deplete the labor force by the time of their own death. In this way, the encomienda system valued human life less than in slavery, where the labor was valued for both present and future generations.

Justin Fong

Yeager poses an interesting discussion on how the Spanish Crown chose the encomienda over slavery. His argument that the encomienda system brought about the root of Latin American poverty is strong, but certainly not fact. It appears that the Crown ultimately rationalized the encomienda system in order justify their conquest of the New World without using "forced slavery." The practice of confiscating the encomiendas from the encomenderos after their deaths drove these landowners to work the natives to death. This resulted in more brutal labor because the encomenderos had no incentives to save and invest.

Anna Romanowska

Yeager presents a very interesting way of explaining slow developement in Latin America. He's idea is similar to Diamond's "Why did human history unfold differently". The differences we observe now are due to differences that occured far back in the history. In the Latin American case the conquest strategy put the Native Americans in disadvantage. The confiscation restirction seems to be the main reason who there were no incentives to improve efficiency and generate more wealth. Also there was no institutional foundation that would support investment and efficiency maximizing labor strategies. Sice Latin America doesn't have labour efficiency traditions it is very hard to rich the western European standards that were developing and excelling simultaneously when Latin America was introduced to a backward system that guaranteed security of the Crawn.

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