The subject of native demographic decline in Colombia following the Hispanic Conquest has been relatively unexplored, at least in terms of scientific analysis along Cook-Borah or similar lines. Consequently this well-documented and carefully reasoned monograph, treating the first century of social-economic-demographic change in the New Granadan province of Pamplona, is rightly seen by its author as the kind of local study indispensable to sound conclusions regarding the Santa Fe audiencia as a whole. Employing the Pamplonese documentation in the Archivo Histórico Nacional at Bogotá—above all visita and doctrina records for 1559, 1560, 1601-1602, 1623, and 1641—Colmenares presents a wealth of new information, replete with graphs and statistical tables.

The first two of his five chapters reconstruct the pre-Hispanic population in its traditional way of life and describe the introduction and organization of the encomienda system. The last two examine as the authentic basis of criollo society, the exploitation of the Indians in the economic sectors of mining and agriculture. These chapters also cover the effects of this exploration upon the number, size, and composition of the aboriginal family and upon the new pattern of pueblo distribution that resulted from Spanish policies of urban concentration. It does not appear that the results bear out T. Lynn Smith’s debatable contention in his Colombia: Social Structure and the Process of Development concerning a wholesale displacement of Indian cultivators from the fertile plains to the poor hillside soils in favor of livestock ranching. (Colmenares does not discuss the contradiction.)

For the demographic problem, Chapter III is the core of the whole work. Here Colmenares computes the causes, rate, and numerical extent of aboriginal population decline. He argues for a pre-Hispanic figure of 30,000 that fell by one-third within a year of the Conquest, further sank between 1550 and 1600 to 8500, descended to 4500 between 1623 and 1641, and then gradually leveled off to a low point of under 3000 by 1775. As usual with estimates of this type, the results are not always certain or even persuasive. The difficulty is that their basis is inevitably conjectural extrapolation, incomplete, possibly atypical evidence, and tendentious data provided governmental officials by caciques, encomenderos, doctrineros, etc. The last is sometimes insufficiently discounted. A number of items are particularly open to question. One is the thesis of a 33 1/3 percent fall-off in eight months between 1559 and 1560 and a “vertiginous descent” by 50 percent between 1623 and 1641, for which, despite the discussion of changing methods in mining and agriculture, no real explanation is offered. Also dubious are the adoption of a 4.4 index for indigenous family size, the usual failure to collate Indian decline with that of seventeenth-century criollo society, and the too ready resort to European diseases as a causal factor long after the partially mestizized natives must have acquired some measure of immunity.

Such reservations, however, do not diminish the high value of this compact but substantial monograph as an important regional study in New Granadan socio-economic evolution. Colmenares has also made a prime contribution to the current debate over Indian demographic decline throughout Ibero-America in the colonial epoch.