The creation of a colonial society begins rather than ends with conquest and the imposition of foreign rule, but that rule, if it is to last, cannot be based only upon the threat of physical force. The society that existed in the Andean area prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquerors functioned through a complex web of social relations that regulated social, economic, and political intercourse among its members, and determined their access to the goods and resources produced by their fellows. The long process of colonization involved the fragmentation of the social relationships holding that society together, and their replacement by other relationships which tied the members of the subject society to their conquerors and limited their internal solidarity.

Thanks to the work of several scholars, we now have a relatively good outline of the colonial system imposed upon the members of Andean society by their Spanish conquerors.1 More work needs to be done, but it is possible to present a picture of the Spanish colonial institutions, legal and extra-legal, affecting the Indians. This background permits us to alter our focus, move closer to native society, and ask how those institutions, and the Spanish presence itself, affected the internal organization of Andean society. The term “Andean,” as used in the following discussion, refers to the indigenous system of social organization and to the people who shared that cultural and social framework, in contrast to that of the Europeans.

In the following pages, I want to examine one aspect of the transformation of Andean society under Spanish colonial rule, contrasting the very different character of economic transactions between Spaniards and the kurakas, the Andean ethnic elite, in the sixteenth century and tire eighteenth. In this analysis I want to underline the fact that colonial rule did not consist merely of the extraction of surplus from the Indians by members of Spanish society, but rather, in the course of two-and-a-half centuries, modified the entire social, political, and economic system of the conquered society. I will discuss the social context of the kuraka's activities in the sixteenth century in some detail, then characterize the commercial role of the eighteenth-century kuraka only briefly, as it is already better understood, and go on to deal with some implications of these differences for an analysis of the transformation of native society over time. I do not intend in these pages to trace the dynamic of that transformation, a far more ambitious and complex task.

A further purpose of this paper is to draw attention to the wealth of data available in two kinds of sources that historians have recently begun to utilize. The first type consists of contracts which record in detail the economic transactions between members of Spanish and of native Andean societies in the early decades following the conquest. These contracts can be found in the provincial notarial archives, a number of which contain material dating back to the sixteenth century.2 The second, and now more accessible type of material consists of visitas, which are detailed descriptions of native ethnic groups, including the answers of native respondents to questions put by the Spanish inspector. Two of these have recently been published.3 These data make it possible to obtain a far more precise idea of the internal organization of Andean society than could be derived from more traditional, general sources.

For the members of Andean society, access to goods and resources was articulated through kinship ties. It was to one’s kinsmen that one turned for the extra labor needed to build a house or harvest crops. Kinsmen cultivated the lands of relatives who were away doing mita service or other tasks. It was from kinsmen that a new household unit claimed land and the labor needed to work that land, and to whom that household owed specific services in return. While this is still the case in highland peasant society, the sixteenth-century web of kin ties was far more extensive. Sixteenth-century Quechua dictionaries define the Andean term “ayllu,” now designating a localized kin-group, as any kindred.4 The traditional ayllu can be defined as any group whose members regard themselves as “brothers” owing one another aid and support, in contrast to others outside the boundaries of the group. The social system consisted of a series of nested units defined in kin terms, whether real or mythical. At each level of the society, a person made his claim to goods and resources on the basis of his membership in one of these units, from the household up to the boundaries of the ethnic group, whether that be the extensive Kingdom of Chucuito or the relatively tiny society of Huarochirí.5

At the more extensive levels of the society, each of these kindreds was represented and supervised by a kuraka. The Quechua term “kuraka” can be loosely translated as “lord” or “chief.” In the great dictionary of Diego González Holguín, the word is defined as “lord of the people,” or “he who speaks for all.”6 The kuraka, unlike the Inca provincial governor, was an integral member of the group over which he exercised authority and for which he spoke, tied to the rest of its members by kinship, reciprocal loyalties and obligations. A specific definition of the rights and powers of the kuraka is difficult. There were clearly substantial differences in the privileges and power of kurakas of ethnic groups of different size and organization, from the herders of the high puna to the farmers of the irrigated coastal plain. Within the ethnic group, there were kurakas representing distinct levels in the hierarchy of nested social groups. The principal kuraka functioned as representative of the ethnic group as a whole, and below him ranged the lords of the component kindreds down to the chief of a single settlement or ayllu.7

The kuraka’s major function was to be the representative of his community and guardian of the social norms that regulated relationships between the members of the society. The kuraka was responsible for settling disputes among the members of his social group, for maintaining its rituals, and for enforcing the claims of the weaker or less prosperous members to goods and resources. Under the Inca Empire, the kuraka was also responsible for enforcing the obligations of the community to the state, organizing work on state lands, sacrifices to Inca deities, and so forth.8

In return for their role as guardians of community norms, the kurakas received special access to the goods and resources of their communities. In the province of Huánuco, the Indians subject to the principal kuraka cultivated and harvested his fields, herded his llamas, built his house and wove clothing for him. The Indians performed these labors as community tasks, after the work on the fields of the Inca and the major deities, and then passed on to cultivate smaller amounts of land for the kurakas lower in rank. In each community, lands were assigned to the kurakas, and cultivated by the Indians subject to them.9 As a result of his greater access to goods and resources, the kuraka was in a position to widen the network of reciprocal rights and responsibilities through which a member of Andean society called upon the aid and support of others. He did this by judiciously distributing his wealth among his kinsmen, reaffirming and reinforcing their obligations to him. The kuraka's access to special services by virtue of his office was not automatic, however. He, like other members of the community, had to request the aid of his kinsmen, and was expected to reciprocate in some form. A kuraka in Huánuco, for example, specified that when he desired the aid of his subjects, “he begs the Indians to give it to him because there is no specific thing that they are obliged to give him.”10

The Spanish conquerors recognized the kurakas as leaders of their communities. Spanish law put the local chieftains as well as members of the Inca elite nominally on the level of the European nobility, granting them a legal status equivalent to the hidalguía of Spain. Members of the Indian nobility were not subject to labor service, nor to the sumptuary regulations which applied to other members of Indian society. The crown granted them the right to hold personal estates and receive service from their Indian subjects by virtue of their social rank and position of authority. Unlike the Indian tributary, who as a legal minor had to have the approval of provincial Spanish authority in order to conclude a contract, the kuraka was fully empowered to carry on independent negotiations and transactions in Spanish society.11 Not all the heads of local kin groups were granted such privileges, however. Specific privileges, such as riding horseback or carrying arms, varied with the rank of the kuraka, as did the amount of labor service that the Spanish authorities permitted the kuraka to claim from his Indian subjects; at the level of the local group, the headman or principal was granted no special privileges at all. In the province of Chucuito, the inspector in 1567 recommended that thirtysix people out of a total population of some 15, 400 be exempted from tribute and granted some services by virtue of their status as kurakas.12

In return for his special status under Spanish law, the kuraka was expected to see that the demands laid upon the Indians by members of Spanish society were met. He was responsible for the collection of tribute owed to the Spanish encomendero, for the salaries of priests and the construction of churches. He had to see that the labor quotas demanded by the colonial state were filled. His special privileges gave him considerable opportunity for personal gain, yet he was also personally responsible for the levies upon the entire social group under his authority.

With this background, we can take a closer look at evidence of the entry of the kurakas into the Spanish market in the sixteenth century. Provincial notarial records and the records of the visitas of Indian communities contain considerable evidence of economic transactions between members of Spanish society and local kurakas. The notarial records show some kurakas participating in the Spanish market system within twenty years after the conquest of Peru. In the 1540s, two Spaniards who had formed a company to share the profit from the collection of the tithe in the jurisdiction of Lima contracted with the kuraka of the province of Huarochirí for labor to collect the tithe in return for a fee.13 The notarial records of the province of Huánuco contain further evidence; contracts involving the kurakas and members of Spanish society appear in the earliest extant notary books of the city, dating from the 1560s.

In examining the activities of the kuraka, we must first discount those cases in which the kuraka was executing the orders of his encomendero. Regardless of the ostensibly contracting parties, such transactions must be considered as commercial exchanges between Spaniard and Spaniard, not between Spaniard and kuraka. The wife of don Juan Sánchez Falcón, encomendero of the Yachas of Huánuco, for example, sent the kurakas of her husband’s encomienda to sell directly to a local merchant the cloth they owed as part of their tribute. The kurakas then gave her the money they received for the cloth, rather than the fabric itself.14 In such cases, the kuraka functioned merely as a messenger; he did not initiate any part of the transaction.

There are many other cases, however, in which the kuraka acted independently rather than as an intermediary between encomendero and merchant. In 1563, for example, the kuraka of the repartimiento of Huaro received 100 pesos and 100 fanegas of corn in exchange for providing Indian laborers to build a wall around the property of a Spanish resident of Huánuco.15 In 1567, the kuraka of the repartimiento of Ichocpincos provided forty Indians to work for six months in the obraje of Pitomama.16

In these transactions a kuraka agreed to supply a Spaniard with a given amount of labor in exchange for a cash payment. While there were also cases in which the Indians sold goods, particularly wool, to Spanish dealers, most of the contracts between Spanish and kuraka contained in the sixteenth-century records consist of an exchange of Indian labor for cash. It is possible to be even more specific. In the great majority of contracts, the kuraka agreed to provide the labor necessary to weave raw cotton, provided by the Spaniard, into a specified amount of finished cloth, in exchange for a cash payment. The agreements were drawn up in terms of a specified number of women’s garments, usually of black cotton. Since the traditional woman’s garment in Andean society was a length of cloth wrapped around the body and pinned, the Spanish parties to the contracts were actually obtaining piece goods. The kuraka received the raw cotton and distributed it to the Indians under his jurisdiction. The finished cloth was delivered to the Spaniard by the kuraka, who received the payment previously agreed upon for the labor. The cloth received by the Spanish entrepreneurs was sold as far away as the mines of Potosí and the Kingdom of Chile.17 In European terms, the system was a kind of primitive putting-out system, with the kuraka as labor contractor.

The practice was apparently fairly generalized. The Indians of Chucuito also wove raw cotton into finished cloth for Spanish entrepreneurs at the request of their kurakas. The volume of such transactions, even judging by the fragmentary notarial records, was considerable. Contracts for the manufacture of cloth realized between Spaniard and kuraka were among the most common transactions recorded by the notaries of Huánuco from the 1560s, the date of the earliest notary records, to the 1580s. The income obtained from any single transaction, however, was relatively small. The standard price for finished piece goods, in both Huánuco and Chucuito, was two pesos per piece of clothing.

One of the principal kurakas of Chucuito supplied his Spanish buyers with more then 200 lengths of cloth a year over a period of four years. One of the Spanish residents of the province noted that he alone had paid the kurakas over 2, 000 pesos to have cotton woven into cloth, which at the price noted above amounts to some 1, 000 pieces of cloth.18 The volume of such activity in Huánuco appears to have been equivalent to that in Chucuito. In 1563, the kurakas of the repartimiento of Siguas contracted to weave raw cotton given them by a Spanish purchaser into fifty pieces of cotton clothing, for which they received only one peso per piece. In 1567, eight kurakas of Huánuco agreed to turn raw cotton into 139 pieces of cloth for a total of 278 pesos. In 1584, the kuraka of the repartimiento of Piscobamba agreed, in his name and those of the other kurakas of his repartimiento, to provide ninety pieces of cotton cloth for 200 pesos.19 This labor was in addition to the obligation of the Indians to provide woven cloth, as well as other goods, as part of their tribute obligations.

These contracts indicate that by the mid-sixteenth century, the members of Indian society were already diverting a portion of their labor, in addition to that required of them by the Spanish authorities, to the elaboration of goods for the Spanish market in exchange for cash. These exchanges took place through the intermediary of the kuraka, who was also the recipient of the payment for the services of the Indians. How did the kuraka obtain access to the labor that he offered in the European market? The Indians were not offering their labor freely on an individual basis, for members of Spanish society were unable to obtain Indian labor directly. A Spanish resident of Chucuito pointed out that

. . . everything given for the manufacture of the cloth is given to the caciques [the kuraka] because the contract is made with them, and if it is not done in this fashion the caciques would not send the cloth nor supply the Indians . . . and if the caciques did not supply these Indians and receive the silver themselves, and if they left it to the will of the Indians, even if the wage were given to the Indians they would not hire themselves out, because as this witness understands they have no need of it.20

Barring the use of force, the Spaniards could not obtain access to Indian labor without the intervention of the kuraka, a situation that they found exceedingly frustrating. Their frustration probably contributed to the resentment they expressed toward the kuraka, and to the familiar depiction of unthinking, submissive natives ruled by tyrannical chiefs.

The inability of the Spaniards to command native labor can be explained without recourse to such stereotypes. The Spanish entrepreneur could not obtain Indian labor because he did not participate in the network of kin ties through which access to labor was articulated in Andean society. While the disposition of the labor offered the Spaniards by the kuraka was conducted according to European patterns of market exchange, the kuraka obtained that labor by calling upon the Indians in his capacity as chief. The services traditionally commanded by the kurakas included the weaving of cloth. Don Diego Xagua, kuraka of the Chupachu, told the Spaniards that he could call upon the Indians subject to him to weave yarn into cloth. In turn, he was obliged to provide food and drink for the Indians during the period they worked for him, and to provide the yarn from his private stores.21

If each transaction between the kuraka and his subjects is examined separately, it appears that the Indians received nothing but a little food and drink in return for the hours of labor spent weaving cloth. A Spanish investigator noted that the Indians who prepared the chácaras and built the houses for don Francisco Nina Paucar of Huánuco were given “nothing but food of coca and ají and some meat during the time that they work and this is the payment that he gives them and this is ancient custom among them.”22 The Spaniard recording the testimony of the kurakas interpreted the food and drink provided the Indians as their payment, an important misconception. He thought in terms of an impersonal market system in which payment was extracted for work performed and each transaction was a discrete, separate relationship between two individuals or groups, terminating with the exchange of goods. In terms of that framework, the Indians worked for almost nothing for the kuraka, yet refused to work for the Spaniards for better wages. There is little wonder at the frustration of the enterprising local Spaniard, eager to obtain the labor that would permit him to set himself up in business.

For the Indians, however, the food and drink provided them was only part of the value received in the transaction. Their return upon their investment in labor was not in the form of a terminal exchange, but part of a lifelong interchange of services and obligations. In return for their labor, the kuraka provided management functions, such as the distribution of llamas or lands left ownerless, the performance of ritual, or the settlement of disputes within the community. He functioned as the source of aid in case of need. The individual who was left without sufficient access to the aid of others through kin ties lacked the means to maintain himself unless his claim to the aid of his fellows was enforced by the kuraka. These long-term rewards, rather than physical coercion or the feast provided for the laborers, constituted the major incentive that led the Indians to respond to the call of their kuraka, even at the risk of neglecting their own fields.

It appears clear that the Indian commoners in the sixteenth century were continuing to respond according to the traditional patterns of Andean culture. But had the kurakas, with their greater opportunities and association with members of Spanish society, begun to modify their behavior and their values to conform to the culture of their conquerors? In the specific case of the market transactions described above, do these activities indicate that the kuraka was transforming his traditional access to labor into the private wealth in property characteristic of the European elite?

One way to answer this question is to ask how the income obtained by the kuraka from the sale of Indian labor was utilized. It is sometimes difficult to distinguish between individual or household rights of access to goods, and those of the community, particularly in the case of the kuraka. A key to this problem might be found in the storing practices of Andean society. When the Inca state called upon the labor of the Indians, the raw materials or the resources necessary to produce the goods destined for the state were drawn from the lands, herds, and stores regarded as the property of the Incas. This pattern was repeated throughout the society. The storehouses maintained by the Inca had their counterparts on the level of the household, and of the community. Each household had its own store of goods, distinguished from the community stores, the sapsi, defined in the dictionary of Diego González Holguín as “goods common to everyone.”23

As noted above, when the kuraka called upon the services of the Indians to weave cloth that would form part of his personal store of goods, he provided the yarn from his own stores. In the case of the contracts between kuraka and Spaniard, the raw material came from outside, or in Andean terms, from the stores of the Europeans. In virtually all of the contracts made between kurakas and Spaniards, except for those involving the sale of cloth owed as tribute, the Spanish party to the contract provided the cotton yarn to be woven into cloth. Since the Spaniard provided the raw materials and the community the labor, the gain from such a transaction would be regarded by the members of the community as part of their common stores.

The community stores, or sapsi, redefined and reorganized by the Spanish authorities as the caja de comunidad, were available to the kuraka as representative of his community in order to meet the needs of the community as a whole. In the colonial period, the goods included in the community stores might be Andean or European; they might have been obtained through Andean patterns of production and exchange or through participation in the European market. They were used to pay tribute, or exchanged for other goods or currency demanded by the Spanish authorities. They were also used to pay for the construction and maintenance of the new state church of the colonial regime: the Catholic Church, staffed by Spanish priests. What was left after meeting Spanish demands, both legal and extra-legal, could be used to meet internal needs of the community.

With this background, the question of whether the kuraka appropriated community income for his own ends can be redefined by asking how the income he obtained from the labor he sold to the Spaniards was spent. There is considerable evidence that many kurakas attempted to use their positions in Andean society to build up private wealth in the kind of property and goods valued by the Europeans. One of the most striking examples of this phenomenon is that of the kuraka of Huanchuaylas, who in 1557 hired an Aragonese estate manager to carry on general agriculture on his lands with oxen, plows, carts, and the labor of his Indian subjects.24 Are the weaving contracts made by the kurakas another example of the efforts of the Andean elite to acquire personal wealth in European terms?

While there were undoubtedly exceptions, most of the income obtained from the labor transactions between kuraka and Spaniard was allocated to meet demands placed upon the community as a whole. In Huánuco, only one of the contracts for the weaving of cloth specified the destination of the sum paid by the Spaniard for Indian labor. In that case, however, the kuraka clearly specified that the corn and money owed him for the labor of the Indians were to be deposited in the storehouse of the repartimiento to aid in the payment of tribute.25 In the province of Chucuito, the Spanish inspector was told that the kurakas spent the money they received for their Indian subjects’ weaving “on ornaments for the church and on wax and on carpenters and masons and on lath and lime and on flutes and other things that are offered, and on paying the teachers who have taught the boys of the church to sing.”26 Don Martín Cusi, one of the principal kurakas of the province, provided the Spanish inspector with a detailed accounting of nearly 2, 000 pesos that he had received for Indian labor, which he had spent entirely on the construction and furnishing of the church building and on salaries for singing and music teachers for the choir.27 The inspector corroborated the kuraka’s accounting by his complaints that the churches of the province were far too numerous and too luxurious in their fittings.

It is clear that the kurakas, in general, did not retain for themselves the income obtained from the labor contracts they concluded. There were exceptions, but in fact there were definite cultural limits to the kuraka’s ability to turn the labor and goods of his Indian subjects into his own personal wealth. The kuraka’s access to labor was defined in terms of Andean society as a reciprocal exchange. In order to be able to continue to call upon the labor of his Indian subjects, the kuraka had to continue to observe, to some degree, the norms of Andean society by reciprocating in some way for those services. This is not to suggest that the exchange was equal in fact, or even that it was regarded as such, but only that it occurred within certain social limitations, however elastic. There is considerable evidence that members of the Andean elite did attempt to extend their powers in pre-conquest as well as post-conquest society, occasionally surpassing the limits regarded as legitimate by their subjects and provoking a response. This is hardly surprising, since such continual testing and redefinition of the bounds of privilege and legitimacy are an ever-present part of political life in virtually any society.

An obvious example of such an attempt to extend the legitimacy of the demands made by an elite was the effort of the Inca state to present its demands for labor from its conquered subjects as part of traditional community reciprocity.28 The frequent rebellions within the empire suggest that the Incas did not succeed in convincing the conquered peoples that their demands were legitimate extensions of the recognized structure of reciprocal rights and duties between kinsmen.29 Such tensions were also present in the relationships between the kuraka and his subjects. While the kuraka was a part of the local community, closely linked to his subjects by kin ties, there are indications of disputes between kurakas and their local kinsmen prior to the Spanish conquest, and there is ample evidence of such conflicts, in addition to the better known conflicts between the kuraka and the Spanish conquerors, from the time of the conquest onward.30

But even if the kuraka did not appropriate the income from the labor of his community for personal gain, the purposes for which that income was spent could be viewed by the Indians as unrelated to their needs. This in fact was the case. When asked by the Spanish inspector the Indians in Chucuito insisted that they received nothing for their labor in weaving cloth.31 The income received by the kuraka was used to pay the charges levied upon the native community by the Spanish authorities—tribute and the maintenance of the Church. But these charges were not actually community expenses to the Indians. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the Inca state had assigned itself lands in the local communities. The major deities, Inca and local, also held lands. These lands were cultivated by members of the community, and the goods from them belonged to their respective holders. Following the Spanish conquest, the lands of the Inca and of the native deities were appropriated by the conquerors. The Spanish authorities regarded tribute and the maintenance of the Christian cult as community expenses. In terms of the logic of the Andean system, however, the Spanish state was carrying on a process of double exploitation, for they had appropriated the lands belonging to the previous state and the state religion, and then, in addition, demanded that the Indians pay for the construction and maintenance of the new state church, as well as secular levies, out of the proceeds of their own lands. In other ways as well, the demands made by the colonial state were outside of the Andean context. They were not phrased in terms of traditional reciprocity, in which the state “begged” for aid in return for feasting, clothing and other gifts, and at least the pretense of assistance.32

Even if the kuraka himself did not appropriate the income from the labor of his subjects, he was caught in the double bind typical of the position of the chief in a system of indirect colonial rule. He was forced to use his authority to call upon the services of the Indians subject to him in order to meet the demands of the colonial authorities. But that authority depended at least in part upon the Indians’ perception of his requests as legitimate in Andean terms. The kurakas access to labor was defined as a reciprocal exchange. Over-use of the services of their Indian subjects without returns perceived by those subjects as equivalent eroded the ability of the kurakas to command those services. In the province of Chucuito by 1567, the principal kurakas were no longer receiving the same services as prior to the Spanish conquest.33 Whether or not the kuraka sought to transform Andean privileges into European-style personal wealth, his structural position as intermediary between the members of native society and the Spanish colonial authorities undermined his ability to call upon the labor of his subjects by virtue of his traditional role in Andean society. To the degree that he became identified by his community as executor of the demands made by the colonial authorities, he had less success in maintaining access to the labor of his Indian subjects.

The contradiction between the kuraka’s role as guardian of community norms, and his role as executor of the demands of the colonial state in itself suggests that the pattern of economic activity delineated above is unlikely to have remained constant through three centuries of colonial rule. Even a rapid look at data relating to the latter part of the colonial period confirms this assumption. If the set of relationships delineated above is contrasted with the context and the nature of commercial activity in the Indian communities of the eighteenth century, the impact of three centuries of colonial rule upon the social organization of Indian society becomes clear. By the eighteenth century, not only many of the kurakas, but also substantial numbers of the wealthier members of Indian society were actively involved in mercantile relations on the European pattern. They had converted the land and goods that they once held as part of the Andean community into private possessions, and traded these in the Spanish market for goods that they resold to the Indian villagers. Many villages trafficked as a unit in foodstuffs and other goods for the European market, which suggests an intermediary stage in which the community as a whole devoted a portion of its resources to producing for an outside market in order to obtain income to meet community needs.34 Other sources, however, reveal the presence of a local private merchant sector in the Indian villages, which was composed of Indians described as principales, “important people,” who stocked the shops that they had established in their communities with liquor, imported cloth, and other European commodities bought from Spanish merchants for sale to the members of their communities.35 Some of these local merchants were kurakas or members of kuraka families; others probably were not.

Other Indian traders operated on a substantially greater scale. Perhaps the most famous of eighteenth-century Indian merchants was José Gabriel Tupac Amaru, who sparked the greatest native rebellion in the Peruvian viceroyalty since the sixteenth century. He was the kuraka of the province of Tinta and obtained a substantial income from trading in quicksilver and other merchandise between Lima, the mining region of Potosí, and other areas of the Andean highlands.36 The commercial activities of these more privileged members of Indian society, from the kurakas to the relatively wealthy members of village society, show clearly that at least by the latter part of the eighteenth century many people who were regarded as Indians by both themselves and the Spaniards were full participants in European patterns of economic activity. They functioned as middle-men, of greater or lesser rank, in the commercial system of the colony, carrying on private business activities for their individual gain.

A summary of the contrasting economic orientation between the kurakas of the sixteenth and of the eighteenth centuries may provide a background for an evaluation of the extent to which at least this aspect of Andean society had changed during the centuries of colonial rule. In the sixteenth century, the kuraka sold Indian labor, as well as some of the resources and products of the native economy. The goods offered by the eighteenth-century kuraka or other Indian merchants came from outside the community, differing in no way from those sold by non-Indian local merchants: liquor, cloth, and other miscellaneous items either produced within the colony’s Spanish economy or imported from abroad. In the sixteenth century, the kuraka sold the labor of the members of Andean society to the Spaniards; in the eighteenth century, he, together with more privileged elements of the rest of Indian society, distributed the goods of the Spanish economy to the rural Indians.

The kurakas in the sixteenth century distributed the labor they offered to the Europeans through the mechanism of market exchange, but they obtained it by calling upon Andean modes of labor mobilization. In the eighteenth century the kurakas bought their goods in the European market and distributed them to the Indians in the same fashion, through an exchange of goods or currency largely unrelated to Andean patterns of social obligation and responsibility. The sixteenth-century kurakas still functioned as representatives of their communities, recognized as such by those communities despite the fact that both their search for personal advantage and their colonial role as fulcrum in the system of indirect rule undermined their traditional authority. While the eighteenth-century kurakas may still have retained the loyalty of their communities to a considerable degree, in their economic activities they acted as individuals seeking personal gain.

In the course of two and one-half centuries, the kurakas, once an elite integrated into Andean society, were gradually incorporated into the group of provincial merchants, administrators, and landowners. This does not imply that they no longer thought of themselves as Indians, or that they were not regarded as such by other social groups in Peru; the example of Tupac Amaru II is indication enough on that score. Nonetheless, whatever their definitions of themselves or contemporary definitions applied to them, Tupac Amaru II and others like him were far more like their Spanish and creole contemporaries in their social relations and behavior than they were like their sixteenthcentury antecedents.

How did this change take place? Essentially, to discuss the changing context of the economic activities of the kuraka is to discuss the transformation of the structure of Andean society under colonial rule. Far more study will be necessary before we have a systematic understanding of this process, and even to describe fully what is known is beyond the scope of this short paper. Here, I want only to bring out some of the major factors involved in the change, with the hope of stimulating further thought and investigation on this and related problems.

The transformation of the kuraka’s activities began with the conquest itself, as noted in the discussion above. The presence of the Spaniards introduced new elements, such as demands for Andean goods by groups entirely outside the social system regulating their distribution. The kuraka as intermediary between the two societies was in a particularly advantageous position to exploit the situation so created. For a while, the dislocations accompanying the conquest may even have increased his ability to obtain the labor of his Indian subjects. The increased possibility during the years following the Spanish conquest that an individual might lose the aid of his kin due to their death or absence would provide an incentive for responding to the kurakas call for service in order to ensure support in case of future need. This incentive did not last many years beyond the Spanish conquest, however, for the fragmentation of the native community and the loss of its population eventually made it impossible for the kuraka to continue to fulfill his role as provider of aid and assistance in case of need.

On the other hand, the role of the Spanish authorities created new tensions, as did the presence and the demands of the colonial system as a whole. First the conquerors and later the courts represented an outside authority which might be appealed to by either the kuraka or his subjects in an effort to redefine the bounds of the relationship between them. Prior to the Spanish conquest, the presence of the Inca state had also introduced such an outside authority into the local provinces, limiting and redefining the authority of the kuraka. But the Spanish system did not function according to Andean social relationships. It therefore offered an opportunity to break Andean norms and responsibilities by invoking not only an independent authority but also an independent set of values to legitimize changing relationships and behavior.

The demands of the Spanish colonial authorities were an even more important factor in the transformation of the role of the kuraka. The Spanish presence contributed to the erosion of the relationship between the kuraka and his Indian subjects, with the consequent loss of his access to labor. In line with their view of the kuraka as an agent charged with extracting labor and goods from the Indian population for Spanish use, the Spanish encomendero and later the local representatives of Spanish authority made heavy demands on the kuraka for labor. The need of both Church and state for goods not produced within the native economy led to further pressure on the supply of native labor, for it was through the sale of labor that the Andean community obtained most of the income needed to obtain those goods. The relative weight of such levies and their impact upon the social and economic organization of the native community increased steadily as the demographic decline following the conquest accelerated. The major, long-term decline of the native population undoubtedly carried with it extensive dislocation of social relations throughout the society, eroding the productive capacities of the system far more than a mere summary of the volume of the decline, extensive as it was, could indicate.37 The kuraka, charged by the Spanish authorities with maintaining the flow of goods and labor drawn from a steadily declining population to the members of Spanish society, was increasingly forced to requisition labor and goods for the Spaniards with no pretense of reciprocity toward his subjects.

The authority of the kuraka was further curtailed by the introduction into the Indian provinces of Spanish representatives of colonial authority, first the Catholic priest and later, from the 1560s, the corregidor de indios. The resettlement of the native communities carried out in the 1580s under the administration of Viceroy don Francisco de Toledo increased the effectiveness of the Spanish authorities. The concentration of the Indians into a relatively small number of settlements made it possible for those authorities to impose their own demands and limit the kuraka to those services expressly permitted him by Spanish colonial regulations. The active campaigns to eliminate some aspects of Andean traditions, such as native ritual and religious practices, also undercut the role of the kuraka by attacking his function as administrator and guardian of the rituals of community solidarity.38

By the end of the sixteenth century, in fact if not in law, native resources in land, labor, and goods were regarded as a reservoir upon which members of Spanish society could draw with relative impunity. Community funds were appropriated by local officials, the viceregal government, and the Spanish crown itself. Community lands were sold at the royal bidding to offset the growing indebtedness of the Spanish crown.39 Native labor was assigned to Spaniards through the mita or obtained directly by local Spanish residents in the Indian provinces through the mechanism of patron-client relationships. All of these changes undermined and transformed the structure of Andean society, including the socially defined forms of access to labor and the distribution of the goods produced by the members of that society.

For the kuraka, the advantages gained by continuing to observe the norms of Andean society declined steadily, while at the same time it was relatively easier for him to benefit from European patterns of property and exchange because of his exemption from the liabilities imposed upon Indian commoners by Spanish colonial laws. It was difficult, however, for him to make himself into a wealthy member of Spanish colonial society while maintaining his position in the Andean community. If he transformed his access to land and other resources of native society into private property, for example, he could defend it more successfully from absorption by members of Spanish society. Yet that choice meant his alienation from the social patterns of native society and the reduction of his ability to call upon the labor of his Indian subjects by virtue of his social position. He could still obtain labor in the European fashion by offering wages, drawn from his private stores, in return for services, but this choice integrated him still further into European patterns of production, exchange, and distribution.

The alternatives facing the kuraka were also those which confronted, to a greater or lesser degree, other members of Andean society. Many of the more prosperous Indians followed the lead of the kurakas, defending themselves from the loss of their estates by adopting European patterns of economic activity as the corporate resources of the Andean community in land, labor, and goods were steadily absorbed by members of Spanish society. This process was still far from complete by the end of the colonial period, and continued into republican times. The end product of that process, still incomplete in many areas today, is the peasant village linked to the larger society through the activities of a local mercantile elite of petty traders and shopkeepers, many of whose surnames recall their distant connection to the colonial kurakas.


See Luis J. Basto Girón, “Las mitas de Huamanga y Huancavelica,” Perú Indígena, no. 13 (Lima, 1954), 2-28; Guillermo Lohmann Villena, El corregidor de indios en él Perú bajo los Austrias (Madrid, 1957); John H. Rowe, “The Incas Under Spanish Colonial Institutions,” HAHR, 37: 2 (May 1957), 155-159; Manuel Vicente Villarán, Apuntes sobre la realidad social de los indígenas del Perú ante las leyes de Indias (Lima, 1964), for studies of Spanish colonial institutions affecting the Indian population in the Andean area.


The contracts upon which much of this paper is based are contained in the notarial records of the city of Huánuco, Peru, in the archive of don Guillermo Gayoso G., who graciously permitted me full access to the rich materials in his collection. As more scholars investigate local and regional collections, it is becoming increasingly clear that there are rich documentary materials in many provincial and local capitals dating well back into the colonial period.


Iñigo Ortiz de Zúniga, Visita de la provincia de León de Huánuco en 1562, vol. I (Huánuco, 1967) and vol. II (Huánuco, 1972); Garci Diez de San Miguel, Visita hecha a la provincia de Chucuito por . . . en el año 1567 (Lima, 1964). John V. Murra, who was actively involved in the preparation and publication of these visitas, has drawn attention to their value for the reconstruction of Andean social organization. See John V. Murra, “Current Research and Prospects in Andean Ethnohistory,” Latin American Research Review, 5: 1 (Spring, 1970), 3-36.


Fray Domingo de Santo Tomás, Lexicon, o vocabulario de la lengua general del Perú (Lima, 1951) p. 232, defines the term “ayllu,” as “lineage, generation, or family.” Diego González Holguin, Vocabulario de la lengua general de todo el Perú llamada lengua Qquichua o del Inca (Lima, 1952) p. 39, defines the term as “parciality, genealogy, lineage, or kindred, or caste.”


John V. Murra, “An Aymara Kingdom in 1567,” Ethnohistory, 15 (1968), 115-151; John V. Murra, “EI ‘control vertical’ de un máximo de pisos ecológicos en la economía de las sociedades andinas,” in Visita de la provincia de León de Huánuco (1562), II, 430-476; Karen Spalding, “The Shrinking Web,” unpublished mss.


Vocabulario, p. 55.


John V. Murra, “Social Structural and Economic Themes in Andean Ethnohistory,” Anthropological Quarterly, 34 (April 1961), 50; Karen Spalding, “Indian Rural Society in Colonial Peru: the Example of Huarochirí,” (unpublished Ph. D. dissertation, Berkeley, 1968), pp. 174-184. For contemporary descriptions of the kuraka hierarchy, see the Visita de Huánuco, I, 35; Rodrigo de Loayza, “Memorial de las cosas del Perú tocantes a los indios [1586],” Colección de documentos inéditos para la historia de España, 94 (Madrid, 1889), 586.


Murra, “Social Structural and Economic Themes,” pp. 51-54; John V. Murra, “On Inca Political Structure,” in Vern F. Ray (ed.), Systems of Political Control and Bureaucracy in Human Societies (Seattle, Washington, 1958), Bobbs-Merrill reprint A-169, pp. 31-34.


Visita de Huánuco, I, 28, 48, 75.


Visita de Huánuco, I, 28.


“Real Cédula que se considere a los descendientes de caciques como nobles en su raza,” Madrid, March 26, 1697, Richard Konetzke (ed.), Colección de documentos para la historia de la formación social de Hispanoamérica (1493-1810), (Madrid, 1953) III, 67; Recopilación de leyes de los Reynos de las Indias, Lib. VI, tit. v, ley xviii; Lib. VI, tit. vii, leyes iv, viii.


Visita de Chucuito, p. 206.


Libro notarial de Pedro de Salinas, 1546-1548, Archivo Nacional del Peru, Sección Notarial, ff. 211v-213v.


Libro notarial de Hernando de Cazalla, Archivo notarial de Guillermo Gayoso G., Huánuco, Peru, Libro IV, ff. 27-27v (Hereinafter cited as Cazalla, Huánuco).


Cazalla, Huánuco, Libro I, f. cx. In administrative records, the repartimiento is geographically equivalent to the region occupied by the Indians granted in encomienda to a Spanish encomendero. In the sixteenth-century notarial contracts, the term repartimiento is used to refer to the jurisdiction of a kuraka who, together with his Indian subjects, has been assigned in encomienda to a Spaniard.


Cazalla, Huánuco, Libro VI, f. 94v.


The following discussion of contracts between the kuraka and a Spaniard for the manufacture of cloth is based upon approximately forty examples contained in the notarial records of Huánuco from 1563 to 1581, as well as upon the visitas of Huánuco and of Chucuito. On the remission of cloth woven by the Indians to Chile, see Cazalla, Huánuco, Libro IV, f. 44.


Visita de Chucuito, pp. 44, 76.


Cazalla, Huánuco, Libro II, f. c; Libro IV, f. 65v; Libro notarial de Gabriel Martínez de Esquivel, Archivo notarial de Guillermo Gayoso G., Huánuco, Peru, Libro VI, f. 89v. (Hereinafter cited as Esquivel, Huánuco.)


Visita de Chucuito, p. 58.


Visita de Huánuco, I, 28.


Visita de Huánuco, I, 75.


Vocabulario, p. 324.


James Lockhart, Spanish Peru, 1532-1560 (Madison, Wisconsin, 1968), p. 210.


Cazalla, Huánuco, Libro II, f. cx.


Visita de Chucuito, p. 41.


Visita de Chucuito, p. 77.


Murra, "On Inca Political Structure,” pp. 34-36.


See John H. Rowe, “Inca Culture at the Time of the Spanish Conquest,” Handbook of South American Indians, II (Washington, D. C., 1946), 206-209.


See, for example, Felipe Huaman Poma de Ayala, Nueva crónica y buen gobierno (codex péruvien illustré) (Paris, 1936), pp. 768-769, 775, 791, 872-873.


Visita de Chucuito, p. 109.


Murra, “On Inca Political Structure.” p. 34. For a local vision of this process, see Closes y hombres de Huarochirí [1598], trans. José María Arguedas (Lima, 1966), pp. 131-135.


Visita de Chucuito, p. 434.


See for example, Biblioteca Nacional del Perú, Sala de Manuscritos, C-3450; Archivo Nacional del Perú, Sección Histórica, Derecho Indígena, Cuaderno 349; “Informaciones geográficas del Perú Colonial (1803-1805),” ed. with introduction by Pablo Macera Dall’Orso, Revista del Archivo Nacional del Perú, 28: 1-2 (Lima, 1964), 164-175.


See Archivo Nacional del Perú, Sección Histórica, Derecho Indígena, Cuaderno 491.


Lillian Estelle Fisher, The Last Inca Revolt, 1780-1783 (Norman, Oklahoma, 1966), pp. 30-31.


For the most recent efforts to reconstruct the historical demography of the Andean area in the early part of the colonial period, see N. David Cook, “The Indian Population of Peru, 1570-1620,” paper presented at the annual meetings of the American Historical Association, Boston, 1970; C. T. Smith, “Despoblación de los Andes centrales en el siglo XVI,” Revista del Museo Nacional, 35 (Lima, 1969), 77-91.


The “Visitas de Idolatrías,” contained in the Archivo Arzobispal del Perú, throw considerable light upon the relation between religious practices and social organization, as does the Dioses y hombres de Huarochirí. See also Nancy Caldwell Gilmer, “Huarochirí in the Seventeenth Century: the Persistence of Native Religion in Colonial Peru,” (Unpublished M. A. thesis, University of California, Berkeley, 1952); Luis Millones, “Introducción al estudio de las idolatrías,” Aportes, IV, 47-82 (Paris, April, 1967).


According to Spanish colonial law, the crown was the ultimate owner of Indian community lands, although the community retained their usufruct. Lands held by Indian communities in excess of a minimum allotment per person, as established by the royal authorities, could legally be regarded as vacant and available for sale, and such a procedure actually took place on a country-wide scale several times during the colonial period. The Indians could retain the lands by purchase; otherwise they were sold to the highest bidder. For evidence on the sale of Indian lands, see “Instrucciones dadas por el Lic. D. Gonzalo Ramírez de Vaquedaño, el año 1710 para el repartimiento y composición de tierras,” Revista del Archivo Nacional del Perú, 21: 2 (July-December 1957), 443-461; “Relación de las visitas que se han hecho en estos reynos desde el tiempo del virrey Príncipe de Esquiladle . . . 1695,” Revista del Archivo Nacional del Perú, 21: 1 (January-June 1957), 219-235.

Author notes


The author is Assistant Professor of History at Columbia University.