This book is a solid and useful addition to our growing knowledge about socio-ethnic-economic conditions in Nueva Granada during the colonial period. The young author, a former student of Jaime Jaramillo Uribe, holds a joint appointment in history at the University of the Andes and the National University. The territorial scope of the study is confined to the colonial provinces of Santa Fé and Tunja and the temporal limitation is 1810. The resguardo under the early Republic (1810-50) receives no attention, since quite rightly the author considers this to be a chapter in the history of liberalism.
The resguardos, which were set up in the first half of the seventeenth century, were large and potentially fertile tracts of land that were reserved for the exclusive use of the still dense Indian population. Non-Indians were prohibited by law from living in these areas and continued Indian possession depended in theory upon them cultivating the land. The Indians did not hold the land in fee simple and merely enjoyed its usufruct. Hence they could not sell these lands nor rent them to non-Indians.
By the middle of the eighteenth century fundamental demographic changes had corroded the underpinnings of this policy, which was inspired in part by Habsburg paternalism. The Indian population had drastically declined, and the creoles and mestizos had sharply increased. Creole and mestizo farmers and parish cofradías were illegally renting large tracts of resguardo lands. The visita of fiscal Francisco Antonio Moreno y Escandón in 1778 resulted in a widespread change in land tenure in which the resguardos were greatly reduced in size. Creole and mestizo farmers received the lion s share of the Indian community lands with the now greatly diminished Indian population resettled on much smaller units. On the eve of the outbreak of the Comunero Revolution, the visitor-general-regent Gutierrez de Pifieres, suspended further “consolidations” of resguardo lands, but he did not attempt to undo the widespread changes in land tenure that had taken place during the previous decades.
This book is divided into two parts: an analytical essay of some 77 pages and 115 pages of well-chosen documents from the Archivo Nacional. In both the essay and in the documents there are abundant data on the origins of the resguardos, conflicts between the Indians encomenderos and landowners, changes in the mobilization of Indian labor, tribute, the rise of mestizaje and agrarian conflicts in the second half of the eighteenth century.
This book adds some new insights and much new data to the previous studies of Guillermo Hernández Rodríguez, Juan Friede, Indalecio Liévano, Magnus Mömer and Germán Colmenares, and as such it represents a solid contribution.