In the present volume, Margarita González of the National University of Colombia updates and revises her 1970 study of the resguardo indio in New Granada, both incorporating the results of subsequent archival research and exploiting insights afforded by the expanding bibliography on the Indian communities of Spanish America. She focuses primarily on the population of the upland Santa Fe-Tunja districts, which functioned in an essentially agricultural environment; but she also includes some reference to Mariquita and Antioquia, where mining played a significant role. The analysis ranges chronologically from the introduction of the system of resguardos in the late sixteenth century to their disintegration toward the end of the colonial period. The archival sources are limited to materials drawn from the Colombian National Archive. One-fourth of the text consists of an appendix of selected documents, nearly all new additions.
The book essentially divides into two sections, one defining the institutional character of the resguardo, the other treating its interplay with the outside society. Regarding the former, the congregation of Indians into segregated communities expressed the crown’s desire to isolate the native population from outside influences, to affirm administrative control over Indian labor, and to define Indian tribute as royal patrimony. González argues that the emerging arrangement legally denied village lands a commercial personality. Subsistence plots held in individual usufruct complemented much larger fields worked collectively to produce tribute, primarily com and potatoes. The corregidor represented the means for entering this produce into the market economy.
In the chapters on the relationships that developed between the resguardos and the outside community, González shows how the emerging hacienda system, although it relied on draft Indian labor, concurrently strengthened itself at the expense of the villages that provided the labor. Indians found that salaried employment on the haciendas was preferable to forced assignments, while creole landholders persistently expanded their properties at the expense of the ill-defined boundaries of the resguardos. On another level, mestizaje also contributed significantly to the dispersion of the village populations. The widespread, albeit extralegal, practice of renting vacant lands to outsiders eventually drew the villages into the market economy, hastening their institutional disintegration.
This work is a carefully reasoned effort. It contains few surprises, but stands nevertheless as a handy introduction to Spanish Indian policy in colonial Colombia. Unfortunately, the volume lacks both bibliography and index.