Philippine indios served in the Spanish armies in the thousands in expeditions of conquest and defense across Spain’s Pacific possessions, often significantly outnumbering their Spanish counterparts. Based on detailed archival evidence presented for the first time, this article extends the previously limited nature of our understanding of indigenous soldiers in the Spanish Pacific, focusing in particular on the problem of what motivated indigenous people to join the Spanish military. The existing historiography of reward structures among indigenous elites is here coupled with an analysis of the way in which military service intersected with other forms of coerced labor among nonelite Philippine indios. An understanding of pre-Hispanic cultures of warfare and debt servitude helps make the case that many indigenous soldiers were pushed into military service as a way of paying off debts or to avoid other forms of forced labor. Thus indigenous participation in the empire was always tenuous and on the brink of breaking down.

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