When Spaniards explored southwestern Peru during the 1530s, one of the most heavily populated valleys they encountered was that formed by the Colca River in the highlands. The valley’s inhabitants, the Cabanas and Collaguas Indians, attracted the Europeans (as they had the Incas) and were soon apportioned to a few encomenderos. These Indians and their descendants are the subjects of N. David Cook’s small study, in which he traces their population history from the mid-sixteenth century to recent times.

Cook relies on several approaches. He first pulls together totals of the entire population and of tributaries for various dates. All have appeared in print previously but could not be used effectively since they were found in scattered publications. Partly because this type of evidence is sketchy for the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, Cook, in separate chapters, examines the structure of the Colca’s population by employing five censuses and then studies the parish records of Yanque. These approaches enable him to construct rather complete population curves. The data are clearly presented in numerous tables and in the narrative. The text also contains Cook’s observations on the value of the various documents available to historians.

As the author points out, his broad findings are much like those of others who have studied demographic patterns elsewhere in the Americas: the Indian population declined precipitously after the arrival of the Spaniards. Cook, however, provides one of the few elaborations of the trends of one group and he clarifies formerly obscure colonial and national patterns of Andean people. Moreover, by considering four centuries in the history of the Colca’s inhabitants, Cook establishes a major long-lived effect of the conquest: in some regions of the Americas where the Indian population now appears to be quite large, it has yet to recover numerically from the conquest.

This work is part of an on-going effort by Peruvian and other scholars to examine the rich history of the Collaguas. Cook can, therefore, draw on the findings of social and economic historians to explain developments. Still, there are some known aspects of the region’s history that, surprisingly, have been omitted. For example, the regular migration of numerous Indians, such as those in nearby Condesuyos to the Castrovirreyna mines, surely must have spread diseases. Another factor in the recurrence of maladies must have been the frequent contact of residents in the valley with outsiders from the later 1500s onward because of the wine trade between coastal Arequipa and interior Peru. While Cook might have enriched his explanation of developments, he nonetheless provides a sound study of population trends of the Colca’s people.