Peru’s Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest: Steve Stern

Stern, Steve J. Peru’s Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest: Huamanga to 1640. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press, 1982.

Steve J. Stern centers his monograph on colonial Huamanga, a strategic military and economic region along the route between Lima and Potosí. It was the location of the Huancavelica and Castrovirreyna mercury and silver mines that, along with Potosí, formed the “twin economic pillars” that underwrote much of Spain’s colonial expansion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.[1] The author focuses on Huamanga to answer the questions of how Andeans “met the challenge of European conquest,” the impact their resistance had on the formation of colonial institutions, and what this area can tell us about the broader history of class formation.[2]

Growing out of Stern’s doctoral dissertation, Peru’s Indian Peoples relies on archival resources from fifteen archives, including the AGI in Seville, the BNP and AGN in Lima, municipal, juridical, and ecclesiastical archives in Ayacucho, as well as collections in Madrid, Washington D. C., and at Yale University. From this material, Stern compiled tables on debt, wages, tributary populations, and labor contracts for the cities of Huamanga and Castrovirreyna. His research allowed him to write a fascinating history of the rise of the Taki Onqoy movement, the decline of indigenous ayllus, and how Spanish colonists effectively exploited indigenous rivalries, all from the point of view of indigenous communities. His exploration of this last issue, indigenous rivalries, is especially insightful, employing Marxist and Gramscian theories of class analysis to show how the cooptation of the kuraka class, also known by the Caribbean term cacique, was an essential feature of colonial domination.[3] For example, in chapter two Stern highlights how Spanish encomenderos in the early years of colonization needed favorable relationships with kurakas to extract the cooperation of indigenous communities.[4] Some would give land to these native elite to buy their “collaboration,” which, Stern argues, offered the kurakas a better chance of survival.[5] This chapter makes use of the writings of Spanish jurist Juan Polo de Ondegardo and the Andean writer Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, emphasizing how Spanish courts came to occupy a central role in the adjudication of internal indigenous disputes, opening communities to external intromission.[6]

Chapter three, on the nativist revival movement known as Taki Onqoy, or “dancing sickness,” is fascinating, discussing how Andean religion was employed as a tool of resistance to colonization.[7] The movement called for solidarity and transcending new class divisions among indigenous communities and a rejection of Hispanic culture as part of a battle between Christian and Andean deities, known as huacas, or wak’as. While the Taki Onqoy movement ultimately failed to achieve a neo-Inca insurrection and led natives to accept the “reality of defeat,” Stern argues that the movement scared the Spanish and led them to accept reforms that protected local communities from some of the most outrageous abuses.[8] It also led to the partial implementation of reducciones, as well as the creation of the role of local corregidores that extended colonial rule deeper into Andean society.

Out of these reforms, most importantly those implemented by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo between 1569 and 1581, came new power structures that realigned colonial society. The corregidor, who acted as judge, administrator of the mita and tribute, as well as the executor of the law, was at the center of what Stern the colonial “power groups.”[9] Complementing the work of Golte on corregidores in the eighteenth-century reparto, Stern analyzes the origin of this position as a central element of colonial political and economic institutions. In order to effectively impose state control on indigenous communities and enrich himself and his allies, a corregidor needed to cultivate ties with a series of powerful agents, including local native and Spanish elites, municipal functionaries, rural priests, encomenderos, merchants, and other important members of local society.[10] This “mesh of mutually cooperating exploiters” created ties of kinship, patron-client relations, and internal hierarchies that operated to extract profit from native labor.[11] However, their changing interests sometimes served as a check on abuse, allowing Andeans space to resist through the assertion of their legal rights, playing these elites off of one another.

Stern’s chapters four through six, on the political economy of colonialism, the Spanish justice system, and the political economy of dependence, respectively, present more-detailed examinations of colonial society that would be of most interest to dedicated scholars of the region. His discussion of the mita, the use of wage labor at the mines, and the rise of agricultural haciendas and textile workshops, anticipate other scholarly works, such as Karen Spalding’s Huarochirí, Brooke Larson’s Cochabamba, and Peter Bakewell’s Miners of the Red Mountain. Stern argues that native communities’ use of the Spanish legal system to demand revision to their tribute payments was a strategy of resistance that frustrated attempts to exploit them, reduced the effectiveness of the mita, and led to labor crises at the mines.[12]

The debate over the role of wages is especially significant, if a bit in the weeds. Stern argues that indigenous resistance to coerced labor played an important role in the rise of voluntary labor agreements and the offer of wages, but, unlike Bakewell, Stern seems unwilling to accord too much importance to this innovation, instead seeing wages as a “more sophisticated” system of labor exploitation, emphasizing the role of force as the ultimate factor in colonial economic institutions.[13] Bakewell, as will be discussed, gave more importance to voluntary work contracts.

Stern’s chapter seven, “Tragedy of Success,” is both fascinating and frustrating. Focusing on indigenous elite and the stratification of indigenous society, he argues that the cooptation of the elite “buttress[ed] colonial domination” and led to decline of the Andean kinship group, known as the ayllu.[14] While Tristan Platt’s work undermines this argument somewhat by pointing out the ayllu’s continued relevance in social and political events of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century, Stern highlights the early transformations of indigenous society that were integral to the imposition and evolution of colonial society, which transformed native Andeans into Indian peasants. Stern argues that by turning indigenous communities against each other, elevating Hispanicized Andeans over their more traditional kin, and providing space for indigenous upward mobility through integration into a market economy, these Andean communities became what he terms a “defeated people.”[15]

The strengths of this chapter are its focus on women, the role of mestizaje, indigenous conversion to Christianity, and the adoption of European economic institutions. However, Stern seems too willing to vilify these new elites. Given his early focus on indigenous internal rivalries, it would have been interesting to see how these changes in the early-seventeenth century compared to pre-Hispanic social relations. For example, while the lack of available sources about the Incan wars of conquest limits our ability to know what happened before the arrival of the Spanish, perhaps similar relationships developed between local Andean ethnic groups and their new rulers from Cuzco. Alternatively, using comparative global studies of how other conquered societies were incorporated into new cultural systems could provide insight into this interesting facet of human social adaptation without the moralistic undertones.

[1] Stern, Peru’s Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest, xvii. [2] Ibid., xvii-xviii. [3] See especially chapters two and seven. While Stern never explicitly mentions Marx and Gramsci in the text, he cites both in his bibliography and their influence can be recognized throughout this work. [4] Stern, Peru’s Indian Peoples, 31. [5] Ibid., 33–34. [6] Ibid., 45. [7] Ibid., 52. [8] Ibid., 75–77. [9] Ibid., 93. [10] Ibid. [11] Ibid., 95. [12] Ibid., 123, 128. [13] Ibid., 92, 157. [14] Ibid., 159. [15] Ibid., 182.

N. H. GILL, 2017

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