This book is a significant and well-documented contribution to the social history of the New Kingdom of Granada. This monograph should be studied in conjunction with a whole series of socio-economic and demographic articles that appeared in the issues of the Anuario Colombiano de Historia Social y de la Cultura under the able editorship of Jaime Jaramillo Uribe.
Germán Colmenares is a young and promising Colombian historian who has already published extensively. Among his monographs are Partidos políticos y clases sociales, Las haciendas de los jesuítas en el Nuevo Reino de Granada, and Fuentes coloniales para la historia del trabajo en Colombia. He is currently writing his doctoral thesis with Fernand Braudel in Paris on the growth and development of the mining industry in the New Kingdom. If the high quality of his past performance is any indication, we may look forward to the eventual publication of a mature and exciting book.
The two most outstanding contributions of this volume are a meticulous study of the decline of the Indian population of the old colonial province of Tunja and some thoughtful analysis of the social implications of this demographic revolution. Tunja then embraced a good deal of the territory from the Sabana north to San Cristóbal and on the west from the valley of the Magdalena to the eastern slopes of the other cordillera, an area of dense Indian population before the conquest.
From a careful study of the records of a series of visitas to the province in addition to other documentary sources, Colmenares has constructed a population curve in which the Indian population spiraled from 196,800 in 1551 to a mere 24,892 in 1755. Such a demographic loss coincides with what happened to the Indian populations in other areas of the Spanish empire in America. As the Indians declined, the creoles and, in particular, the mestizos multiplied. In the early seventeenth century large zones of the province were “reserved” (the resguardos) in community ownership for the still dense Indian population, under which arrangement the Indians enjoyed the usufruct but not title in fee simple. By the middle of the eighteenth century one consequence of the demographic revolution was a sustained pressure by the creoles and the mestizos who hungered for the extensive, often fertile but not efficiently cultivated lands of the Indian resguardos. Prior to 1755 non-Indian encroachments on the resguardos occurred under several subterfuges, such as cofradías and settlers leasing some of these lands at nominal rents. Between 1755 and the eve of the Comunero Revolution in 1781, a creole-dominated audiencia sought to “consolidate” the resguardos, with the result that a good deal of the community lands passed to private hands. This change was accomplished in the face of intense opposition from the Indians. This sharp reaction provided the major cause for the active participation of the Indians in the Revolution of the Comuneros. The reversal of the policy of consolidation after 1778 by the viceregal authorities may be one of the origins of the loyalty of many Indian communities to the royalist cause during the subsequent wars of independence.
Colmenares has added both new data and new insights to these questions, which, however, still merit further study. A series of statistical charts and primary sources adds to the usefulness of the volume. That the book is poorly reproduced on off-set need not detain us. What is important is that Germán Colmenares’ latest publication cannot be neglected by anyone interested in social change in the New Kingdom of Granada.