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Colonial society was far more complex internally than the Spaniards’ abstract juridical notion of two “republics”—one Spanish and one Indian—would suggest. Within indigenous society itself, there were hierarchical gradations, with the stratum of In-dian nobility and caciques or mallkus at the top. As community representatives, the caciques served as crucial cultural intermediaries with Spanish society and as the indispensable linchpin in the system of indirect colonial rule. Under the institutional regime established by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, they collected tribute, organized mita labor, and preserved local order for the Crown.

In 1638, a century after the defeat of the Charka lords in Cochabamba, Fernando Ayra de Ariutu, the wealthy governor of Pocoata from the Qaraqara territory of northern Potosí, cited his services as well as those of his ancestors in a petition to King Felipe IV. Going back well beyond the Spanish conquest to that of the Inka, he presumed an unbroken continuity in his lineage’s loyalty to the state. In this royal decree, the king recognized the family’s ancient Indian nobility as well as its early conversion to Spanish cultural norms (“being among the first to dress Spanish style”), and granted Ayra de Ariutu the right to display a distinctive shield of arms. The heraldic emblems contain both European and Andean resonances, adding up to a suitably mixed symbol, with different possible readings, of the complex mediation that caciques performed in colonial society. A template for the escutcheon is preserved in Seville’s General Archive of the Indies.

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