Although a major comparative study of labor in the silver mines of colonial Mexico and Upper Peru (present-day Bolivia) has yet to be published, a number of monographs have appeared about mining in each of these important mineral producing areas.1 While not all of these works deal exclusively or extensively with the mines’ workers, they have illustrated some important differences in the organization of labor in the two regions. One of these is that forced labor was only used in a limited fashion during the first years of Mexican mining, while most historians concur that in Upper Peru’s most important mines, at Potosí, the government-organized labor draft known as the mita provided a significant portion of the work force throughout the colonial period.2 Another difference is that during the eighteenth century owners in many Mexican mines successfully eliminated the practice of workers taking a share of the ore and imposed a strict wage labor system, while in Potosí a combination of forced labor, salaried labor, and illegal independent prospecting existed into the nineteenth century.3

The purpose of this article is to study the development of a work force in Oruro which was the second most important Upper Peruvian mining center throughout the colonial period.4 The case of Oruro is of comparative interest since, as in the Mexican centers, mine owners at the site were always dependent on voluntary workers, not being favored by the colonial government with contingents of mitayos. Consequently, in Oruro we can see if the absence of forced labor contributed to an earlier development of wage labor in the city than in Potosí. It is logical to assume that this might have been the case because the mita not only provided mine and mill owners with workers, it guaranteed them an inexpensive labor force. Mitayos were paid a wage which was considerably below what was necessary for their subsistence, the difference most commonly being made up by food and other provisions which the workers brought with them from their communities of origin.5 In Oruro, wages were always one of the largest expenses in the budgets of the mine owners. Consequently, there was considerable incentive for them to want to pay their workers as little as possible, and, specifically, to try to prevent them from helping themselves to shares of the ore that often were said to he worth more than their wages.6 The elimination of this appropriation of silver by workers was the most essential step in the creation of a mining proletariat. But while the more complete proletarianization of the work force in Oruro would have reduced labor costs, in Potosí it conceivably could have raised them.7

In fact, however, the evidence seems to suggest that it was not solely, or even primarily, the existence of forced labor which retarded the development of a mining proletariat in Upper Peru. Rather, if the case of Oruro can be considered representative, it appears that the accessibility of agricultural communities to the mining centers, the fact that demographic decline continued longer than it did in Mexico, and the difficulties of enforcing a system based on wages alone were perhaps as important as the mita in preserving a system which included both wages and semilegal ore sharing.8

To study the situation in Oruro, it is necessary to trace the history of labor migration to the city, to discuss how workers were paid, and examine the relationships they had with their employers. However, to really understand the Oruro situation, it is important to consider another dimension of colonial Indian life: the Indian community and the survival of Andean institutions. Since virtually all Indian laborers in the seventeenth century were migrants, questions about cultural continuity and contact with home villages are intimately related to a discussion of the nature of the colonial economic system. A sharp and prolonged separation from communities of origin (where Indians legally had access to land) would have required substantial dependence on remunerated employment and might conceivably have forced laborers to accept even quite unfavorable working conditions. On the other hand, working in places which were relatively close to their home villages might have allowed Indians to return to their communities when employment opportunities were limited.

Bleak and windswept even today, with few paved streets and a layer of dust settling on its sparse trees and shrubs, Oruro must have been even less inviting in the seventeenth century. The city was exposed to the elements at an altitude of 3,706 meters (more than 12,000 feet) above sea level on the altiplano that extends between the eastern and western ranges of the Andes mountains. In this location, a blistering midday sun was followed by subfreezing temperatures at night and the daytime sky was often darkened by dust storms.

But the settlement of Oruro is not the only example of people putting up with considerable hardship during a mining boom. Despite its undeniable climatic disadvantages, Oruro was in a favorable geographical position in a number of ways. Located about 150 kilometers south of the city of La Paz, it was on the main road which linked the Potosí mining center to the Pacific port of Arica from which silver was shipped to Lima. An overland route also linked Oruro to Lima via La Paz, Puno, and Cuzco. Thus, Oruro fell within the core area of Spanish settlement and commercial activity in Upper Peru. It was not, like the most productive Mexican mines, located on the periphery of the zone of Spanish colonization (Map 1).

Oruro was also centrally located with respect to the Andean world. The high plateau was the home of the native grazing economy, and had been a key area of indigenous culture in Upper Peru before the arrival of the Spaniards. Although the herds of alpacas and llamas were somewhat reduced by the midseventeenth century, the area was still of considerable importance in this period.9

Also, Oruro was one of the very few mining centers, other than Potosí, that could be considered a city by contemporary standards. In 1607, Oruro was said to have an Indian population of about 6,000 adult males or approximately 18,000 people. In the same year, there were reported to be 904 Spanish men in the city, many of whom were married and had families.10 Thus, Oruro provides the opportunity to study cultural and economic change among Indians who had entered the labor market in a colonial city without coercion, but who were still in a position to maintain considerable contact with the Andean institutions.

In addition, the city is of interest because in it we can compare two sectors of the immigrant population which are often mentioned by historians; the yanaconas and the forasteros. Since I will later discuss the different characteristics of these two groups in Oruro, it will be useful to briefly define them now. While both forasteros and yanaconas were Indians who were not living in Andean communities, the term forastero (outsider, stranger) was more commonly used to refer to people who had left the villages where their ayllus had access to land and where they were responsible for paying tribute.11 In the seventeenth century, forasteros were found living in mining camps, on haciendas and in other native communities where they sometimes replaced original residents (originarios) who had fled.12 In this period, forasteros generally could identify their family origins with considerable specificity. And, even though they were not living in their communities, they often continued to pay tribute to village officials and sometimes purchased mita exemptions from them as well.13

The term yanacona had servile connotations not associated with forastero. These derived from the pre-Columbian form yana which early colonial chroniclers said the Incas had used to refer to individuals in subservient capacities who no longer were connected to their ayllus.14 Initially after the Spanish invasion the term yanacona was used to refer to Indians who became attached to individual Spaniards as personal servants and retainers. By the late sixteenth century, Indians who abandoned their communities and found employment on agricultural estates were referred to as yanaconas. In the sixteenth century there were also Indians called yanaconas in urban areas. Some of these urban yanaconas were servants in religious institutions. Others functioned quite independently as skilled workers in the silver industry or as artisans.15

Although most urban yanaconas in the seventeenth century were, like forasteros, individuals who had left Indian communities, they characteristically described themselves as not having village origins but as coming from major colonial cities. Yanaconas did not serve in the mita, which was a community-based requirement for men from villages located at certain altitudes in 16 Upper Peruvian provinces. They did pay tribute, however. But, while Indians living in communities paid a tax which was at least roughly based on an assessment of the group’s resources, yanaconas paid a special tribute based on their occupations. This was because they were assumed not to have access to land and the other privileges of community membership.16

By 1606, the Oruro mines were producing significant amounts of silver, and the next year the city of San Felipe de Austria was officially founded at the site. In the first years of mining at Oruro, mine owners recruited Indian workers in nearby villages, paying the least skilled a peso a day, which was twice as much as mitayos in Potosí earned. Soon these trips to Indian communities were no longer necessary as workers came voluntarily to Oruro due to the high wages offered and the other advantages of working in the mining center. These other advantages included Oruro’s aecessibility to their homes and, most especially, the fact that the workers customarily were allowed to take a piece of ore with them when they left the mines. This mineral they either smelted themselves or sold to someone who would refine it. In the early days of mining at Oruro, the surface ores were very rich, and consequently the portion which Indians carried out of the mines was often of considerable value.17

Felipe de Godoy, the secretary of the Audiencia of Charcas, who made an official inspection of the city in 1607, summed up the comparative attractions of Oruro and Potosí as follows;

Many [Indians] go to Oruro because Indians always go where there is the most to be gained. In Potosí the work is excessive, the treatment had, and the mines so dangerous that every day there are deaths. The metals are poor and the profit small. In Oruro the profit is great from the metals the Indians carry to their homes. Besides this, they are right next to their villages and their houses to which they can go every day. The necessities for their survival also cost one-third to one-half less than they do in Potosí.18

It is significant that Godoy reports that Indians “always” gravitated to areas where there was money to be made, since his perception of indigenous economic mentality was strikingly different from that of other colonial commentators who stressed the Indians’ sloth and disinclination to work even when conditions were advantageous.19 Perhaps the fact that they sought out the best economic opportunities was related to the fact that these workers had to buy some items for their subsistence (the things that Godoy says cost less in Oruro than in Potosí). In other words, they needed to work for cash instead of relying solely on peasant agriculture. Yet the fact that they could go to their villages every day suggests that these workers maintained access to land. What Godoy seems to be describing here is an intermediate position between a self-sufficient peasant and a wage laborer. He does not label these Indian workers in Oruro as forasteros or yanaconas—terms which may have been used mostly by fiscal officials in this period. However, since he is talking about Indians from communities who were subject to the mita of Potosí, it seems most likely that these workers were migrants of the forastero variety.

In this particular passage, Godoy does not even mention wages. Instead he writes of the ore which workers found for themselves while they were working for the mine owners as the main incentive to work in Oruro. Elsewhere in his account he does mention salaries, saying that once the rate of a peso a day was established it was impossible to contract workers for less.20 So, it would seem that the salary was a necessary, but not sufficient, attraction to get people to come to Oruro. It was only a portion of the workers’ remuneration in this period, perhaps less than half.21

Despite the fact that the mine workers’ practice of carrying away mineral was viewed by the owners as a necessary evil, there were constant attempts to police the situation and to keep theft within acceptable limits. In the first years of Oruro’s development, there were numerous professional miners in the city. These were Spaniards, or creoles, who were hired by mine owners primarily to explore for veins of mineral and to supervise mining operations. They were also in charge of overseeing the Indian workers in the mines. Felipe de Godoy commented that a large number of these miners were necessary in Oruro simply to minimize theft. Two miners were required for every mine: one to stay in the mine and another to go in and out with the workers who carried the metal. Two more miners were needed to guard the area where the ore was collected at the mouth of the mine. In spite of all this policing, Godoy said that when he arrived in Oruro he found the Cerro de San Cristóbal (one of the mountains near the city with important mines) full of little stands set up by Spaniards at which they would buy stolen ore from the Indians. Clearly, the mine owners in the city had not managed to impose much industrial discipline.22

The mine owners’ control of the situation was further hampered by the existence of independent miners who went up into the hills surrounding the town over the weekends and worked mines owned by other people. At this stage in Oruro’s development, the people who led these expeditions were Spaniards who were described by Godoy as “unmarried men without professions” and “unattached vagabonds.” These weekend miners hired Indians whom they paid three pesos a day for their help.23 Godoy tells us that this system of weekend exploitation was known as “doubling,” and comments sardonically that in this land things are never called by their true names.”24

The problem of workers helping themselves to ore was endemic in Oruro because mine and mill owners claimed that they could not attract a work force without the dual incentives of high salaries and a share of the ore. It was even said that workers attempted to move on to other mines when surface ores in the one in which they were employed were no longer very rich. Godoy commented that this attitude was especially characteristic of the Indians who were the most skilled and hispanicized.25

However, the possibilities for this type of movement to better mines were obviously finite because as the first bonanza in Oruro’s silver industry passed, very rich ore became harder to find in most veins. In fact, after 1650 silver production in the city declined drastically, and it did not begin to show signs of recovery until after 1700. This is illustrated by Figure 1 which shows the royal one-fifth tax, or quinto real, paid on silver minted in Oruro from 1611 to 1730.26

What was the situation of labor in Oruro as the city’s mines’ most lucrative veins became exhausted and as silver production declined? Indians had certain obligations which they always had to meet with money and which precluded a complete return to subsistence agriculture. These obligations included paying at least some portion of their annual tax, or tribute, in cash and frequently paying for an exemption from mita service as well. Furthermore, if communities had lost access to land in different ecological zones in which basic foodstuffs were grown, people also needed money to purchase things they could no longer produce. Consequently, one might assume that even when the ore was not as rich, and when there was less demand for labor, people still had to find some way to earn money—even though the terms of employment were less favorable.

After about 1640, complaints from entrepreneurs about the shortage and high cost of workers stopped appearing in documents. There is reason to believe that Indians who had worked in the mining industry began to lose their jobs. The decline of the ingenios (mills in which ore was ground and refined) in the suburb of Oruro known as Las Sepulturas demonstrates what happened. A slump began in Las Sepulturas in about 1662 due to the reduced amount of metal being mined in Oruro. By 1672, only one mill was functioning, and it employed only 11 workers whereas in 1612 it had had 70.27

According to witnesses, Indians who had lived in Las Sepulturas and worked in the ingenios had left the area. But, interestingly, the reports on the economic condition of the town in 1672 do not say that workers had gone hack to their lands or villages. Instead they maintain that the Indians had taken up residence in the ranchería, as Oruro’s Indian quarter was called. Although the possibilities for employment in Oruro proper must also have been rather limited, perhaps Indians were able to find intermittent work there while they waited for the ingenios to start functioning again. They also probably did some illegal prospecting in other people’s mines and scavenged slag heaps for ore they could sell. Some of the workers who stayed in Oruro may have been entirely cut off from subsistence agriculture and may have been totally dependent on wage labor. Others, who will be discussed further below, may have been able to commute between their homes and the city and found even the reduced money-making opportunities sufficient to warrant staying in Oruro.

Unfortunately, we do not know what Indian workers were earning in 1672. However, we might speculate that if fewer workers were needed wages had dropped. The next record of wages that has been found for the city is from 1714, and by that year the amount paid to unskilled workers was half of what they were receiving in the 1640s: four reales a day.28 This was nominally the same wage which mitayos in Potosí received. In point of fact, there was still one significant difference (in addition to the absence of coercion in Oruro) between mine laborers in Oruro and the mita workers of Potosí. This was that workers in Oruro were still paid by the day not by the task, as were mitayos. This meant that in Oruro, the unskilled workers, or apiris, worked fewer hours for the same pay that forced laborers in Potosí received. According to the 1714 account book, workers in Oruro were also paid in advance, as always had been customary in the city, and the mine’s administrator complained about Indians who accepted money and then didn’t show up for work. Furthermore, laborers continued to help themselves to ore when they left the mines, and this may have compensated for the cut in wages.

Indeed, after 1680 it became considerably easier for Indians to sell the ore which they carried out of the mines. This was due to the development of a system of refining silver which effectively bypassed Oraros major mills and refineries and depended upon what the owners of these mills considered outright theft. In Oraro’s mining industry ore had generally been ground in large, water-powered mills, or ingenios, that were located on rivers outside of the city. The metal was also refined in these mills using a process of amalgamation with mercury, or azogue, to separate the silver from other metals and impurities. These refineries had been built at considerable expense, by the city’s biggest mine owners who were often referred to as azogueros because they refined with mercury. In the late seventeenth century, however, increasing quantities of ore were being ground in small, human-powered mills called trapiches. The people who owned trapiches usually did not own mines themselves and were dependent on ore smuggled out of the mines by workers, which they either purchased themselves or acquired through an intermediary known as a rescatador.29

The trapiche system became widespread in the late 1600s not only in Oruro but in other Upper Peruvian mining centers as well because the Viceroy Conde de Monclova (1689-1705) had relaxed the regulations on commercially sold ore in order to increase government revenues. This liberalization in marketing meant that metal of unspecified origins was easier to dispose of legally, and this in turn encouraged increased mine exploration toward the end of the century. Stolen ore ground in trapiches was probably responsible for a portion of the upturn in silver production in Oruro in the early 1700s.30

While the azogueros in Oruro doubtlessly benefited from the spurt in prospecting at the turn of the century, they also saw themselves losing control of the productive process in the silver industry. They felt particularly hard pressed in the early 1720s because between 1719 and 1722 a severe epidemic influenza, combined in some places with bubonic plague and typhus, struck all of the Viceroyalty of Peru.31 This was the latest in a series of major epidemics that had periodically decimated the region since the late 1520s, when smallpox spread from the Antilles and reached the Andes even before the Spaniards did.32 The pestilence of 1719-22 was one of the most virulent and widespread in South America, affecting areas as far from one another as Huánuco in north-central Peru and Buenos Aires in the south.33

Although the actual numerical decline of the Indian population has not been as thoroughly documented for the Andean region as it has been in New Spain, in general the descent appears to have been somewhat less extreme than in central Mexico.34 N. D. Cook, studying only the area which is now the Republic of Peru, has estimated a preconquest total of about 9,000,000 people, and calculates that by 1620 the Indian population of the region had descended to approximately 600,00o.35 For ten provinces in the center and south of Upper Peru, Sánchez-Albornoz has calculated a 75 percent decline in the Indian population between 1530 and 1722, that is, from approximately 280,000 inhabitants on the eve of the conquest to about 70,000 200 years later.36

However, if population decline in the Andes was not as severe as in Mexico, it does appear to have been more prolonged. The Indian population of New Spain showed signs of recuperation around the middle of the seventeenth century, while that of the Andes (even allowing for under-registration due to the flight of tributaries) apparently did not begin to recover until almost 100 years later.37

Whether Indian population decline was sufficient to actually create a labor shortage in Upper Peru’s mines is debatable, since by the mid-seventeenth century the lower quality of silver ore had reduced the demand for workers.38 Nevertheless, the 1719 epidemic certainly did cause high Indian mortality in Oruro,39 which the city’s mining entrepreneurs claimed had created a scarcity of laborers.40 Perhaps their real complaint was that, since the epidemic, a work force had become more dear and now the azogueros’ primary means of attracting and keeping Indian laborers was the incentive of a share of the ore.

In 1720, in an effort to force the local government to control the trapiche system, the most important mine owners suspended work and allowed their mines to flood. They said they would not begin operating the winches which were necessary for drainage, or resume excavation, until the government took action against the trapicheros and the Indian workers who were stealing ore. They said that 600 Indians were involved in the theft, and that these Indians were able to smell the richest mineral and hide it in their clothing when they left the mines.41

The mine owners were quite right in assuming that they would never be able to convert these Indians into wage workers without strict government enforcement. In Oruro in 1717 the Justicia Mayor de Minas, Joseph Rizo Valmazeda, had issued an order which made it illegal for anyone to buy metals from “any Indian, mestizo or mulatto who works for a wage in the mines.” Although the penalties were stiff, the practice did not stop, and by 1720 the situation had grown worse.42 The employers realized that in the postepidemic period, short of militarization of the mines, they really could not control the problem by totally eliminating theft of mineral. Consequently, they focused on the other side of the problem and demanded that the government eliminate the trapiches. The local cabildo, many of whose members were prominent in the mining industry, caused a number of illegal trapiches to be razed, arrested their owners, and forbade the licensing of new trapiches.43

However, the problem was intractable for a number of reasons. First of all, while there were some workers who probably had no other alternatives but mine work and could have been forced to work full time for a simple wage, the majority did have land to supply some or most of their subsistence needs and probably would have refused to work, or to work regularly, without a share of the ore. Furthermore, the elimination of this practice of taking ore would have required consistent enforcement, not only in Oruro, but also in most of the major mining centers of Upper Peru to prevent the workers from moving to other sites where the terms of employment were more favorable.44 Also, in certain respects, the trapiche system benefited the azogueros. They took advantage of the discovery of new veins which were found by workers whose main incentive was to find ore to sell to trapicheros. In addition, since the trapicheros and rescatadores were very dependent on credit, some of Oruro’s more solvent miners were involved in the business themselves as money lenders.45 Ultimately, the azogueros contented themselves with demanding government control of the most flagrant abuses of the trapiche system, while they took advantage of the efforts of the trapicheros and their workers when they could.

So, if most mine workers in Oruro appear, even as late as the second decade of the eighteenth century, to have been somewhere on a continuum between peasant farming and industrial wage labor, what was the range of their relationships with their original communities? This, of course, is a difficult question to answer because to do so thoroughly would require eliciting information from numerous communities, a much more difficult task than doing research simply on Oruro. However, there are documents available from the city itself which permit at least a partial answer to these questions. The most important of these materials from Oruro are the returns for the city from the 1683 tributary census which was conducted throughout the viceroyalty at the request of the Viceroy Duque de la Palata.

The 1683 enumeration provides information about the origins and occupations of 285 yanaconas and 1,275 forasteros who lived in the city in that year.46 For the forasteros, the census also tells us how long men had been resident in the city. A careful look at these data allows us to draw some conclusions about the permanency of the work force and the workers’ possible contacts with their home villages. It also highlights striking differences between the yanacona and forastero groups.

Before discussing where the forasteros in Oruro came from it is important to distinguish between two pieces of information provided in the census: place of origin and place of birth. Origin meant the community that the persons family had been assigned to in the 1570s during the administration of the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo. In the census, forasteros generally identified their origins quite specifically, stating the township (pueblo), province, parcialidad (hanasaya, hurinsaya), and ayllu to which they belonged. The place of birth was simply a town or sometimes only a province which might or might not be the same as the place of origin.

Examining first the birthplaces of forasteros living in Oruro in 1683 (Table I) we can see that the single most common birthplace was Oruro itself, followed by the province of Paria in which Oruro was located (Map 2). Of those who were born in Paria (156 men), 127 actually had been born in nearby towns that were essentially industrial suburbs of Oruro (Toledo, Challacollo, Las Sepulturas, Sorasora, and Paria) in which grinding mills were located. The fact that more than 50 percent of the men living in Oruro actually had been born in the city indicates that a substantial portion of the migration to the town had not been recent, since it was these men’s parents or even grandparents who first came to the mining center.

After Oruro and Paria, the next largest number of forasteros listed in the census were born in the adjacent province of Carangas and in the city of Potosí. Potosí, of course, was itself an important mining center, and it is probable that men who worked there were attracted to Oruro because of the higher wages paid in that city. Carangas, too, had mining sites, so perhaps immigrants from that province were also experienced workers in the silver industry before they moved to Oruro. Following Potosí and Carangas, the province of Pacajes is the next most common birthplace given in the census. Pacajes is also adjacent to the province of Paria. Thus, it appears that those men who themselves had moved to Oruro, rather than being born there, had generally been born in places which were comparatively nearby and had more or less the same altitude and geographic conditions as Oruro—mostly falling within the area of the Bolivian high plateau. The census does list forasteros whose birthplaces were very distant, but they are a small minority.

As previously mentioned, we do have information on how long many of the forasteros had been living in Oruro. Out of 276 men not born in Oruro or in nearby towns in Paria, for whom the number of years of residence in Oruro is reported, 60 percent have been living in the city more than five years (Table II). If we include the men born in Oruro and its environs, the percentage who had lived there more than five years increases to 85 percent. Thus, Oruro does not appear to have had a transient population of forasteros, since a total of only 119 men are in the one-to-five-years-of-residenee category, and only seven say they have lived there less than one year. What we cannot know, of course, is whether the 432 forastero men who do not report the number of years they have lived in Oruro may be more temporary migrants, coming to work for a few weeks or months, or perhaps only passing through. Even if this were the case, as it must have been for some of the men, the fact remains that the city appears, in general, to have had a reasonably stable population of forasteros who were the vast majority of Oruro’s Indian residents.

However, the fact that they had been living in Oruro for a considerable period of time does not necessarily mean that these people had lost touch with their communities of origin. In Table I we can compare the birthplaces with the origins which are given for all but six of the forasteros listed in the census. This gives us a more long-term view of migration patterns to the city. First, examining the origins of the men born in Oruro we can see that they came from 12 different provinces, some of which were quite far away: Paucarcolla, Azángaro, Lampa, Canas y Canches (Map 1). The greatest concentration, however, came from Paria itself and the nearby provinces of Carangas and Pacajes (43 percent). The province of Chucuito was the origin of another 16 percent of the forasteros born in the city. So, most people born in Oruro had origins in provinces located on the high plateau to which the mining center was relatively accessible. Some of them, such as those with origins in Paria, might have been only a few kilometers away from their native communities.

The same general pattern is repeated for almost all the forasteros in Oruro. If we look at the places of origin for men horn in the nine most common birthplaces,47 we notice that the majority fall within the area of the high plateau between Canas y Canches in the north and Paria in the south, with the highest concentration coming from the provinces closest to Oruro. The overall picture for the forasteros, then, is one of considerable movement (only 22 percent had been horn in their provinces of origin), but movement within the same general region. Certainly, one cannot rule out the possibility that a portion of these forastero men did remain in contact with their original communities.

Although a complete picture of the migration patterns of Indian workers in the seventeenth century will require research on the village level, some of the available information suggests that immigrants in Oruro did, indeed, maintain their rights in their provinces of origin. In his introduction to the census returns the corregidor of Oruro, Luis de Miranda, mentions Indians who were originarios of nearby towns who were living in Oruro.48 Several years after the enumeration, the caciques of the adjacent province of Carangas claimed that one of the faults in the census was that originarios from Carangas were first counted in Oruro as resident forasteros and then listed again when they returned home.49 Also indicating that families remained in touch with, and frequently went back to, their communities of origin is a 1677 letter from the corregidor of Porco, to the south of Oruro, saying that it was difficult to know exactly how many originarios there were in the province because families baptized some of their children in their places of origin and others in places where they also maintained residence.50

If people were able to maintain contact with their communities and to provide some of their subsistence needs through agriculture these may have been factors contributing to the stability of Oruro’s work force. Instead of coming great distances, working in Oruro for a short period of time (perhaps to earn the money necessary for tribute payments), and then returning home, men may have been able to work in Oruro on a more or less regular basis while they still had rights to land elsewhere. Finally, the fact that, according to the census, the vast majority of forasteros in Oruro in 1683 were paying tribute to their village leaders means that at least their communities had not lost track of them. For the migrants, paying this tax may have been a means of ensuring the continuation of their communal rights.

Turning to the birthplaces and origins of the yanaconas a very different picture emerges (Table III). First, about 74 percent of Oruro’s yanaconas claimed to have been born in urban areas51 and to have had no connections during their lifetimes with the communities created for Indians at the end of the sixteenth century. Further, examining the individual returns for the yanaconas who were born in villages reveals that in most cases they either traced their origins to cities where their parents had been yanaconas, or had been listed as yanaconas because Oruro’s census takers had been uncertain of how to categorize them. For instance, Bartolomé Pérez was born in Punata in Cochabamba. Next to his name the census taker had written: “He tells me that his father was a quadroon and his mother a mestiza.” Obviously, the corregidor or his assistant who had compiled the list was not convinced, and thought that Pérez was an Indian. However, since his ethnic origins were not clear, he listed Pérez as a yanacona, which was becoming a catch-all category for people the colonial state treated as Indians but whose roots were obscure.

The majority of yanaconas (65 percent) also traced their origins to cities, with the largest number coming from La Paz (73 men).52 Seventy-nine of the yanaconas in Oruro (28 percent) were born in their places of origin, and most of these were from cities. Forty-four had been born in Oruro and claimed it as their origin. In general, however, among the yanaconas considerable geographical movement was the rule. That this was the case tends to indicate that urban yanaconas and their families were not in the service of individual Spaniards or institutions perpetually. In fact, it seems that, in general, they were a very mobile group who took the initiative in seeking out economic opportunity. Their mobility is demonstrated by the geographical extension of the yanaconas’ migration. While Oruro and La Paz were the most common origins as well as birthplaces for the yanaconas, in general, their birthplaces and origins were not as concentrated on the high plateau as were those of the forasteros. They came from valley provinces such as Chichas, Tomina, and Larecaja and from cities as far away as Lima and Trujillo.

This picture of forasteros being more likely to maintain connections with Andean communities than the yanaconas is borne out by the occupational structure of the two groups (Table IV). Higher percentages of yanaconas were involved in craft occupations (30 percent compared to 14 percent for the forasteros), and a larger portion of this group worked in trade and transport (24 percent of the yanaconas compared with 12 percent of the forasteros). The larger number of yanaconas working as artisans seems to be typical of the group in cities in Upper Peru. In a census of 410 male yanaconas taken in Potosí in 1672, more than 52 percent were craftsmen.53 In 1663, a disgruntled Indian community leader, frustrated in his attempts to track down community members who owed him tribute, claimed that Indians learned trades specifically so they might call themselves yanaconas and avoid obligations to their communities. He said: “They change their dress, use the Spanish language and claim not to know their own [language]. They apply themselves to other trades: the occupations of draper, tailor, carpenter, because with this malicious subterfuge they become free yanaconas.”54

One surprising feature of the information on occupation provided in the census is that low percentages of both forasteros and yanaconas said that they were employed in the silver industry. In part this may be due to the general downturn in mining in the 1680s which meant that fewer laborers were required. However, I believe that the limited number of people who said they were mine workers also reflects the fact that for many people in Oruro employment was part time, or casual. Most Indians probably worked in mines or mills when they could and, when this type of employment was not available, performed odd, menial tasks for the city’s Spanish and creole population. Also, many forasteros undoubtedly had land and community resources to fall back on. Even though relatively few Indians of either category were involved in mine work, it is still striking that even fewer yanaconas worked in the industry than forasteros. Although we know that yanaconas were among the early skilled workers and refiners in Potosí, it appears that by the late seventeenth century they were mostly involved in crafts and commercial activities. The previously mentioned 1672 count for Potosí indicates that only 18 percent of the yanaconas there were working in mining and related activities.

In summary, the 1683 enumeration indicates that the small sector of Oruro’s Indian population that was apparently separated from peasant agriculture and really dependent on earning money was not developing into a mining proletariat, but rather was primarily composed of craftspeople and travelers who brought supplies to the city. While most of these yanaconas seem to have started in these professions as assistants to Spaniards or mestizos, some of them may have evolved into petty merchants or independent artisans.55 This is suggested by the comment of the royal treasurer of the city in 1631. He said that it was difficult to get Indians to work in the mines because they had become hispanicized, had learned new skills, and were involved in commerce precisely to avoid mine work.56 On the other hand, the majority of Indian workers in the city, the forasteros, who were more likely to work in the mines, were resisting efforts to eliminate the customary practice of taking a share of ore when they left the mines. Their ability to do this in the 1720s was probably in part due to the temporary shortage of workers caused by a severe epidemic which coincided with a moderate recovery in the silver industry.

Thus, the census material basically complements the information we have about wages and ore sharing in Oruro. While I do not exclude the possibility that by the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century there was some portion of the Indian population that could be considered to form the core of a mining proletariat, I think this group in Oruro was very small and not representative of laborers in the city.

In some cases, today as well as in the colonial period, it is advantageous for an employer to have workers who have access to land in order to pay them less than a subsistence wage, but clearly there were periods in Oruro when getting and keeping a labor force was very expensive, indeed. And the city’s accessibility to core areas of Andean culture may have contributed to the relatively advantageous position of workers in the site because they did not have to make an abrupt break with their communities in order to work there. If, within a relatively short time after the Spanish conquest, Indians did enter the work force without direct coercion, they also did not permit their labor to be converted into a commodity without any resistance. The fact that most people had access to land and the reciprocal support of their ayllus gave them leverage to resist some of the worst exploitation of the colonial system.

In the end, workers in Oruro probably were not proletarianized any faster than those in Potosí. One might speculate that had the mita been abolished in Potosí, entrepreneurs there would have found it necessary to take drastic steps to reduce costs, and these conceivably could have included the repression necessary to eliminate the theft of ore and force the creation of a wage-labor work force. However, the mita was not abolished in Potosí, but continued to function as a subsidy for the city’s entrepreneurs for the rest of the colonial period.

Not even in Oruro, where the absence of special government assistance in the form of mita might have been an incentive to find other methods of cutting costs, did the azogueros manage to muster the force necessary to impose a simple wage. Perhaps as the Indian population recovered from the 1720 epidemic, which was the last major illness to decimate the area, labor became somewhat less expensive. However, since for Andean miners the separation from their home communities was much less complete than it was for Mexican workers, in most instances Indians continued to have the option of withdrawing to their homes after they had earned enough cash to meet certain pressing obligations.


Peter Bakewell, Silver Mining and Society in Colonial Mexico: Zacatecas, 1546-1700 (Cambridge, 1971) and Miners of the Red Mountain: Indian Labor in Potosí, 1545-1650 (Albuquerque, 1984); David Brading, Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 1763-1810 (Cambridge, 1971); Enrique Tandeter, “La rente comme rapport de production et comme rapport de distribution: Le cas de l’industrie minière de Potosí, 1750-1826” (Thèse de 3e cycle, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, 1980); Jeffrey Cole, The Potosí Mita, 1573-1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes (Stanford, 1985).


On the limited importance of forced, or repartimiento, labor in Mexico’s mines, see Bakewell, Silver Mining, 125-129. On the importance of the mita, see Tandeter, “La rente,” especially 96-111 and Cole, The Potosí Mita, especially 134-136. While probably no historian of colonial Bolivia would say that the mita was unimportant, a number have stressed the need to assess just how important it really was in order to achieve an accurate understanding of the productive process in Potosí. For instance, in Miners of the Red Mountain, Bakewell (p. 134) estimates that at the beginning of the seventeenth century, about half of the Indian labor force involved in silver production was voluntary. Carlos Sempat Assadourian has also said that he believes the mita’s importance has been overemphasized “in the extreme.” “La producción de la mercancía dinero en la formación del mercado interno colonial,” Economía (Lima), 1:2 (1978), 33.


See particularly Brading, Miners and Merchants. 127-128, 148, 277; Tandeter, Trabajo forzado y trabajo libre en el Potosí colonial tardío (Buenos Aires, 1980), 39-40.


Bakewell, “Registered Silver Production in the Potosí District, 1550-1735,” Jahrbuch für Geschichte von Staat, Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft Lateinamerikas, 12 (1975), 86-87, 99-100; John TePaske and Herbert S. Klein, The Royal Treasuries of the Spanish Empire in America, 3 vols. (Durham, 1982), II, x.


In the seventeenth century, Father Antonio de Ayans demonstrated that while mitayos were paid only 10 pesos a month they required 26 pesos simply to teed themselves lor the same period. "Breve relación de los agravios que reciben los indios que ay desde cerca del Cuzco hasta Potosí,” in Pareceres en asuntos de indios, Rubén Vargas Ugarte, ed. (Lima, 1951), 38. Records of contingents of mitayos dispatched from the province of Chucuito during the seventeenth century indicate that each family took a number of llamas loaded with food and provisions to eat during the journey and during the stay in Potosí. “Autos sobre el despacho de la mita de Potosí …. Villa de Concepción, Oct. 24, 1669,” Biblioteca Nacional del Perú (hereafter cited as BNP), B575; “Despacho de la mita de Potosí …. Puno, Nov. 2, 1673,” BNP, B585.


A 1607 itemization of mining expenses indicates that at least 62 percent of a typical mineowner’s expenses was for labor, and this did not include an estimate of the value of ore carried off semilegally. Felipe de Godoy, “Relación de asiento, minas y población de San Felipe de Austria, llamados de Oruro [1607],” Boletín de la Oficina Nacional de Estadísticas (La Paz), 7 (1912), 447.


Because free workers could not be made to complete a certain number of tasks each day as mitayos were forced to, free labor was an expensive proposition in Potosí. Tandeter (“La rente.” 185) calculates that during the late eighteenth century, for a salary that was sometimes as much as 50 percent higher than that paid to mitayos, free laborers, or mingas, often produced 30 to 50 percent less.


These are also reasons mentioned by Tandeter in his discussion of the slow development of wage labor in Potosí. See Trabajo forzado, 39-40.


Jorge A. Flores Ochoa. “Pastores de alpacas de los Andes,” in Flores Ochoa, ed., Pastores de puna (Lima, 1977). 25-26. Flores Ochoa cites a description given by Bernabé Cobo of the area between Oruro and Potosí based on a visit he made there between 1615 and 1618. In it, Cobo discusses the large size and fine condition of the herds in this region.


On the number of Indian men see Godoy, “Relación,” 438, 455. On the number of Spanish men see ibid., 451-453. The estimate of the total Indian population in 1607 is that of Teresa Gisbert and José de Mesa based on Godoy’s figures. They do not indicate why they chose to multiply the number of adult males by three. Mesa and Gisbert, "Oruro: Origen de una villa minera,” Documentos orureños, 2 vols. (Oruro, 1976-77), I, 82-83.


Ayllus were clan-type kin groups which usually traced their origins to common ancestors and generally held land as a group. During the colonial period ayllu members were sometimes separated geographically by the governments policy of congregating the indigenous population into new villages, or reducciones. On this very complex issue, see the articles in Etnohistoria y Antropología Andina (Lima, 1981).


On forasteros in many different contexts in Upper Peru, see Nicolás Sánchez-Alhornoz, Indios y tributos en el Alto Perú (Lima, 1978); "Migraciones internas en el Alto Perú: El saldo acumulado en 1645," Historia Boliviana, 2:2 (1982), 11-19; "Migración urbana y trabajo; Los indios de Arequipa, 1571-1645,” in De historia e historiadores. Homenaje a José Luis Romero (Mexico City, 1982), 259–281; "Migración rural en los Andes: Sipesipe (Cochabamba), 1645,” Revista de Historia Económica. 1:1 (1983), 13-36; "Mita, migraciones y pueblos; Variaciones en el espacio y en el tiempo: Alto Perú, 1573-1692,” Historia Boliviana, 3:1 (1983), 31-59.


Aun L. Zulawski, "Migration and Lahor in Seventeenth-Century Alto Perú” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University. 1985). This point is discussed in detail in chs. 4 and 5.


John V. Murra, Formaciones económicas y políticas del mundo andino (Lima, 1975), 227. 239. Murra has suggested that, at least in certain regions, the situation of yanas with respect to origin and permanence of condition was more complex. See Formaciones, 231-233. 236, 239-240.


Luis Capoche, Relación general de la Villa Imperial de Potosí [1585], Biblioteca de Antores Españoles, vol. 22 (Madrid, 1959), 135; Noble David Cook, ed., Tasa de la visita general de Francisco de Toledo (Lima, 1975), 38-39.


“Noticia del origen de los llamados yanaconas de Perú y a continuación el extracto de lo dispuesto en las ordenanzas del virrey D. Francisco de Toledo y de las leyes de la recopilación de Indias que tratan de los indios yanaconas,” item 14, La Plata, Feb. 6, 1574, Biblioteca Nacional de España (hereafter cited as BN) 20.065-30; Cook, Tasa, 38.


Godoy, “Relación,” 437-438.


Ibid., 439.


For example, in 1603 Father Miguel Agia, in a classic defense of forced labor, wrote: … there is nothing more odious to them [the Indians] than to work, even if it is for themselves … because the Indian naturally is not greedy, while the Spaniard is extremely covetous, the Indian phlegmatic and the Spaniard badtempered, the Indian humble and the Spaniard arrogant, the Indian slow in everything he does and the Spaniard in a hurry for everything he wants, one the friend of giving orders and the other the enemy of service. (Fr. Miguel de Agia, Servidumbres personales de indios [Seville, 1946], 56.)


Godoy, “Relación,” 437.


Ibid., 438.


Ibid., 450. Tandeter has also remarked on the fact that in the eighteenth century, free workers in Potosí required much more supervision than mitayos for whom the task system functioned as a foreman. See “Trabajo forzado,” 37.


Godoy, “Relación,” 452, 458.


Ibid., 452. Marcello Carmagnani discusses a similar system that developed in the Norte Chico of Chile in the beginning of the eighteenth century. There the practice was also referred to as “la dobla” or “the double.” El salariado minero (Santiago, 1963), 52-54.


Godoy, “Relación,” 438.


Although it is not a totally faithful representation of production, because some silver always escaped taxation, the quinto is the most reliable indicator of the fortunes of the city’s silver industry available to us. Although Brading and Cross have calculated mercury consumption as a means of obtaining a more accurate estimate of silver output in some mining centers, it is not possible to do this in Oruro because initially Oruro received no official allotment of mercury at all, and even when it did the consignments were frequently insufficient and azogueros (mill owners) had to buy quicksilver from other sources. See Brading and Harry E. Cross, “Colonial Silver Mining: Mexico and Peru,” HAHR, 52:4 (Nov. 1972), 570.


“El bachiller Francisco Gaitán de Encinas, cura de la doctrina de las Sepulturas, jurisdicción de la Villa de Oruro, sobre que se modere la quarta decimal asignada a dicha doctrina en consideración al descaecimiento que experimienta toda esa rivera por el paro de los ingenios que alli había, Oruro, 1672-1673,” Archivo Nacional de Bolivia (hereafter cited as ANB), Minas 87, no. 1.


“Don Marcelo Gómez de Castro sobre lo que quedó debiendole d. Miguel de Buruega, difunto, 1731-1738,” ANB, Minas 88, no. 17. The accounts included are from the year Buruega died, 1714.


“Autos obrados con motivo de haber soltado los mineros y azogueros de Oruro el agua a sus labores y cesado el trabajo en ellas 1720,” ANB Minas 88 no. 5.


There is no way to know how much silver was produced through the trapiche system in Oruro. Tandeter has determined that in the 1750s, about 38 percent of the silver in Potosí was produced by trapicheros. “La rente,” 194.


Henry F. Dobyns, “An Outline of Andean Epidemic History to 1720,” Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 37:6 (Nov. - Dec. 1963), 511; José Toribio Polo, “Apuntes sobre las epidemias en el Perú,” Revista Histórica, 5 (1913), 77-78.


Dobyns, “An Outline,” 496.


Ibid., 511; Toribio Polo, “Apuntes,” 77-78.


For central Mexico, Borah and Cook estimated a 96 percent decline in the native population between 1519 and 1605. Woodrow Borah and Sherburne F. Cook, The Aboriginal Population of Central Mexico on the Eve of the Spanish Conquest (Berkeley, 1963), 4, 88.


Noble David Cook, Demographic Collapse: Indian Peru, 1520-1620 (New York, 1981), 247.


The provinces are: Yamparaes, Tomina, Porco, Chayanta, Tarija, Sicasica, Cochabamba, Mizque, Carangas, Paria. Sánchez-Albornoz, Indios y tributos, 22-23, 34.


Sánchez-Albornoz, La población de América Latina desde los tiempos precolombinos al año 2000, 2nd ed. (Madrid, 1977), 107-110, 122.


In “Registered Silver Production,” Bakewell has documented the drop in silver production due to poor quality ore for the Potosí district which included many mining sites in addition to Potosí itself.

As in Oruro, the size of the work force in Potosí also apparently declined after the center’s boom years. A 1603 description of Potosí indicates that about 13,600 Indians were directly involved in the mining process and another 14,880 worked in related activities, such as making candles and hauling provisions to the city. Marcos Jiménez de la Espada, ed., Descripción de la Villa y Minas de Potosí. Año 1603, Biblioteca de Autores Españoles, vol. 83 (Madrid, 1965), 377. By 1779, the entire Indian population of the city and outskirts, including women and children who may not have been employed in the mining industry, was only 12,886. Tandeter, “Trabajo forzado,” 14.


“Informes de retasas de Paria, 1725-26,” Archivo General de la Nación, Buenos Aires (hereafter cited as AGN), XIII, 18-4-3; “Retasa de Aciento y Minas de Oruro, 1722,” AGN, XIII, 17-1-4. This 1722 enumeration found only 482 Indians in Oruro and all of its surrounding ranches and industrial suburbs. I assume this to be an underregistration since in their 1720 complaint the azogueros say there were 600 Indian workers in the city’s mines.


ANB, Minas 88, no. 5, f. 4.


Ibid. The azogueros do not say whether these Indians were yanaconas or forasteros. However, the fact that there were a large number of them, combined with census information which will be discussed below, suggests that they were mostly forasteros.


For the first offense, a Spaniard or mestizo was to be fined 100 pesos. A second offense brought double the fine and banishment from the city and its jurisdiction. An Indian, mulatto, or black caught buying ore from a mine worker would receive 100 lashes and a month in prison as would the Indian, mulatto, or black who sold him the ore. Ibid., f. 12v.


Ibid., f. 41.


The process of enforcing wage labor in Mexico’s mines was prolonged. In some sites when the share of ore, or pepena, was eliminated, there were workers’ revolts, and militias had to be formed to restore peace and labor discipline. Brading, Miners and Merchants, 148.


“Antonio de Alos sobre que d. Gerónimo Rodrigues, azoguero y dueño de minas de Oruro le quedó debiendo en razón de servicios personales, 1720,” ANB, Minas 88, no. 9; “Fray Luis de la Presentación … sobre lo que le estan debiendo los ingenios de Polo y Sacasaca, provincia de Paria, 1720,” ANB, Minas 92, no. 10.


Padrón de Oruro, 1683, AGN, XIII-17-1-4.


Oruro, Potosí, Paria, Carangas, Pacajes, Sicasica, Chucuito, Cochabamba, Omasuyos.


Auto de Luis de Miranda, Sept. 16, 1683, f. 2, AGN, XIII-17-1-4.


“Representaciones y quejas de las provincias de Porco, Chayanta, Tarija, Paria, Carangas, 1689-1690,” AGN, XIII-18-7-4.


Corregidor of Porco to king, June 26, 1677, AGN, XII-23-10-2.


Oruro, La Paz, Potosí, La Plata, Cuzco, Cochabamba, and the Carangas mining center.


What yanaconas usually meant when they stated their origins was the city in which their ancestors had first been enrolled as yanaconas on the tribute lists.


I wish to thank Daniel Santamaría for providing me with a statistical analysis of this census. The document itself is in the AON, XIII, 23-10-2, “Padrón de los indios yanaconas de la Villa de Potosí, 1672.”


“Dn. Gabriel Fernández Guarache, cacique principal del pueblo de Jesús de Machaca … con los diputados del gremio de azogueros de la villa de Potosí, sobre puntos tocantes a la mita, Potosí, 1663,” Archivo General de Indias (hereafter cited as AGI), Escribanía de Cámara, 868A.


The residencias of a number of corregidores of Oruro from the seventeenth century refer to Spaniards who performed crafts with the help of Indian workmen. “Residencia de Alonso de Ortega, corregidor de la provincia de la villa de S. Felipe de Austria,” 1658, AGI, Escribanía de Cámara, 857A; “Se tomó residencia de d. Luis de Miranda, corregidor del Asiento y Minas de Oruro,” 1686, AGI, Escribanía de Cámara, 859C.


Royal treasurer to king, Oruro, 1631, AGI, Charcas, leg. 37.