Mujeres indias y señores de la coca breaks a silence, first established in the official record, about the existence of rich Indian women in Potosí, Latin America’s most important and populous sixteenth-century city (160,000 by 1610). Silver mining built Potosí, and indigenous workers chewing the mild stimulant coca leaf extracted and milled the ore. They also purchased prodigious quantities of coca and chicha corn beer in the city’s markets, often trading ore from the mines with the female market sellers. Growers and merchants made fortunes supplying Potosí with leaf from Cuzco’s coca-growing regions. At the Cuzco end of the coca circuit, Spanish colonists and crown officials moved to control most coca fields, and they largely kept other ethnic or racial groups out of the business except as pickers, porters, and mule train drivers. Or so we thought until Paulina Numhauser helped set the...

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