Suzanne Alchon: Native Society and Disease in Colonial Ecuador (1991) explores the relationship between epidemic diseases and indigenous populations in the north-central highlands of Ecuador in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Alchon argues that appreciating the role of epidemics in everything from food security to politics is critical to understanding changes in regional history in the early Spanish colonial period (133).
Population levels in colonial Quito stabilized by the end of the sixteenth century following their initial collapse after conquest. A demographic boom sparked a century of economic growth, now known as Quito’s epoca de oro, a golden period that Alchon argues ended with an epidemic in 1690, killing as much as half of the colony’s indigenous population (89). A subsequent shortage of indigenous workers, used to provide forced laborers for Spanish enterprises, coupled with an earthquake in 1698, and the gradual opening of the Spanish textile trade to European imports at the end of the seventeenth century, crippled Quito’s textile market and erased a hundred years of demographic and economic gains (99).
By N. H. Gill
Quito, September 2020