The Encomienda System – The Most Abusive and Destructive System in New Spain

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Words: 820 |

Pages: 2|

5 min read

Published: Apr 15, 2020

Words: 820|Pages: 2|5 min read

Published: Apr 15, 2020

Bartolome de las Casas once stated, “Upon this herd of gentle sheep, the Spaniards descended like starving wolves and tigers and lions. ” Las Casas believed that Natives were peaceful and non-deserving of the torment and persecution they received. What made the conquistadors think differently? Desire for gold, to get rich quickly, a doctrine to spread, and increased social rank. Once the Spanish reached the Brazilian shore, they brought with them many customs and traditions from old Spain. One of these customs, The Encomienda system, was established in New Spain and put into effect with the intention to care and provide for the Native Americans but instead became the most abusive and destructive system in New Spain.

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An encomienda meant a Spaniard, the encomendero, was presented with a chunk of land and property rights over a certain population of Natives. If an encomendero had more than fifty natives in his encomienda, they would have to teach one of the boys writing and the concept of christianity. This native boy would then go on to teach the other natives these principles because the Law of Burgos required him to. Europe, and especially Spain and Portugal, believed in teaching their religions as the expected thing and some took risky journeys across the globe to spread the word of the Christian God. Las Casas recalls “The Spaniards enslaved the Indians and made them labor for their new masters harder than they were able to endure, so that some died and others killed themselves. ” On their first arrival, the conquistadors saw nothing they wanted to take from the first natives, the Tupi, and would even trade with them. Until one day they noticed French ships appearing off the coast of Brazil, making the King of Portugal fearful of his claims.

To secure his claims on the new island, he sent more Portuguese settlers to colonize Brazil and suddenly there was something the Portuguese wanted: their land. To the Portuguese, the only way to settle the land was to clear out native land and forest for their own crops. One of the crops that replaced the land was sugarcane, a plantation crop. Because manual labor contradicted with their views of success, the Spanish and Portuguese began attacking and enslaving native people. The Tupi’s are the first to suffer as they take their land and enslave them to do free labor, clashing with their semi-sedentary way of life. But as Chasteen points out, “Extracting land and labor from semi-sedentary forest dwellers meant completely destroying their society, leaving them to die out in the process. ” Another group the Portuguese enslaved, the Tupinambas, eventually died out from contagion running through the close quarters of the sugar plantations. Francisco Cervantes de Salazar remarks “There is no nation so barbarous, so riddled with defects, that some virtuous and intelligent men cannot be found in its midst. ” The Spaniards want to Christianize the Natives wasn’t the only motivation for the Spanish to establish the encomienda system in New Spain.

The Spanish believed was that the Native Americans were too savage and inept to live the Christian way of life. This ethnocentric view motivated the Spaniards to establish the encomienda system. The Spanish took it upon themselves to provide clothes and education for the Natives to be taught about God. The rule was that encomenderos were supposed to pay the Natives for their work and supply them with what is needed to live. What actually ended up happening was the encomenderos demanded the slaves pay them tribute since they had previously provided for the Natives and wanted this favor returned. The encomenderos weren’t even supposed to visit the encomiendas for the sole purpose of cutting down on abuse. Instead, the Natives were supposed to walk the tribute to the encomenderos, often being very long and strenuous walks.

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The Spaniards often took more than they needed to thrive, unlike the Natives which only produced what they truly needed. This alone shows more of the Spaniard’s greedy nature and how they want to progress but will take other’s work as their own to do it. The Spanish colonists wanted to be wealthy but didn’t want to work for it. As a result, the natives were forced to work all day and all night with little or no pay in return for their hard work and the abuse the encomenderos inflicted on them eventually led to the decline in their population. Even when disaster struck, many natives either starved to death to fulfill these work quotas, or would fail and be punished by the encomenderos. Finally, in the mid-1700s the Spanish Crown decided enough was enough and ordered against the abuse of the Native early Americans by the overseas colonists. By then, the abuse had caused eighteen million native fatalities, leading to a large decline of Natives. The Encomienda system legally allowed overworking Natives to death in mines and fields under a guise of Christianity.

Works Cited

  1. Andrews, C. M. (1984). The Encomienda in New Spain: The Beginning of Spanish Mexico. University of California Press.
  2. Chasteen, J. C. (2008). Born in Blood and Fire: A Concise History of Latin America (Third Edition). W. W. Norton & Company.
  3. Cervantes de Salazar, F. (1996). Chronicle of the Narvaez Expedition. Penguin Classics.
  4. Gibson, C. (1964). The Aztecs Under Spanish Rule: A History of the Indians of the Valley of Mexico, 1519-1810. Stanford University Press.
  5. Las Casas, B. (1992). A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies. Penguin Classics.
  6. Lockhart, J., & Schwartz, S. B. (1983). Early Latin America: A History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil. Cambridge University Press.
  7. McAlister, L. (1994). Spain and Portugal in the New World, 1492-1700. University of Minnesota Press.
  8. Mörner, M. P. (1967). The Encomenderos of New Spain, 1521-1555. University of Texas Press.
  9. Restall, M. (2018). When Montezuma Met Cortés: The True Story of the Meeting that Changed History. Ecco.
  10. Townsend, C. (2003). The History of Mexico. Greenwood Press.
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The Encomienda System – The Most Abusive And Destructive System In New Spain. (2020, April 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 21, 2024, from
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