The title of this book is partially misleading, for it is much more than a study of a particular Andean province; it is a full-scale reconstruction and interpretation of the process of change in Andean society from pre-Inca times to the late eighteenth century, with the province of Huarochirí as its major point of reference. Spalding builds upon and acknowledges her debt to the work of John V. Murra and many other Andeanists, but she enriches the account at many points with her own insights and the ample material she has found on Huarochirí in Peruvian archives.
The book opens with a chapter on “The Human Landscape.” Spalding gives an excellent description of the difficult alpine environment and what she calls the Andean mode of production, an economic system that compensated for its primitive techniques by the cooperation of large numbers of people and the creative use of their environment. These factors made it possible “to build societies that were seen as comfortable and prosperous by the Europeans” (p. 20). Underlying this Andean mode of production was a system of kinship ties that “provided both the basis of the organization of production and distribution, and the foundation of the political order” (p. 22).
In Chapter 2, “The Sons of Pariacaca,” Spalding examines in detail the organization of Andean society in Huarochirí on its various levels, from the household, the lineage, and the ayllu up to the moiety. I found especially interesting her discussion of competition as a stimulus to group effort and as a mechanism for establishing relative status within the group; and of the role of the wak’as (“deities”) and the mummies of ancestors, regarded as “the overseers of group norms and behavior,” in ensuring the solidarity of “this nested structure of communities” (p. 53). Spalding makes effective use of myth to illustrate these and other aspects of Andean social relations.
Chapter 3, “Tribes Become Peasants,” surveys the rise of the Inca empire and its organization, taking full account of recent research that points to a relatively decentralized Inca state built upon local political and economic structures. In the process, however, “exchange phrased as responsibilities toward kin was translated into labor appropriated by a central authority for the benefit of the ruler and the military and bureaucratic apparatus surrounding him” (p. 78). Noting the internal dissension and revolts that marked the twilight years of the Inca empire, Spalding suggests that the Inca state was “approaching some kind of internal crisis whose solution demanded the expansion of the productive potential of Andean society . . .” (p. 105). I find a striking parallel here with contemporary conditions in the late Aztec empire.
Chapter 4, “The Age of the Conquerors,” tells a familiar story, but tells it well, with many fresh illuminating touches. Like Steve Stern in his book on Huamanga (1982), Spalding explains the initial success of the Peruvian encomienda as a mechanism for extracting tribute and labor from the Indians by an accommodation between the victors and the vanquished, with the kuraka (Indian noble) class acting as brokers in an “often violent and brutal bargaining process” (p. 125). By the 1560s, however, this “plunder economy” was in crisis as a result of an Indian demographic disaster. The crisis was complicated by the rise of new Spanish groups that resented the encomenderos’ monopoly over Indian labor and by the increase of rebellious, messianic moods among the Indian masses. In Chapter 5, “The Colonial System,” Spalding shows how the Spanish state attempted to resolve the crisis by rejecting the feudal pretensions of the encomenderos and taking the economic and political levers of the colony into its own hands. Under Viceroy Francisco de Toledo (1569-80) the state became “a central factor in the expropriation and distribution of the surplus obtained from the native Andean population (p. 157).
In Chapter 6, “The Shrinking Web,” Spalding describes how the changes in the relations of production “over the long run fragmented and eroded the fundamental relationships” that had made possible the modest prosperity of Andean society. The process of impoverishment was accompanied by a growing social differentiation between rich and poor in Huarochirí. Chapter 7, “The Cutting Edge,” examines the relations between the Spanish state and the Indian elite, whose economic and political ambitions the former sought to exploit for its own ends. But a policy of collaboration and acculturation posed many dangers for the Indian elite as it “walked a narrow road in the thin and always shrinking space between European and Indian cultures” (p. 211).
Two concluding chapters, “Belief and Resistance” and “The Challenge to Colonialism,” deal respectively with the Spanish effort to extirpate Indian heresy and the cycle of revolts that swept the Andes in the eighteenth century, focusing on the revolt of 1750 in Huarochirí. Spalding rightly observes that the Andes were the site of massive and desperate rebellions both during the period of European rule and after it—rebellions that make a mockery of the notion of the passive Indian” (p. 334).
In the space of a brief review it is difficult to convey the wealth of information and ideas in this remarkable book. It is—and may remain for a long time—the best work in any language on the process of change in Andean society under Inca and Spanish rule.