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Cultural Effect Of Labor Systems In Spanish And Portuguese Colonial America

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Upon arriving in what Europeans thought of as "The New World", the men couldn't help but look around and take notice of the vast material wealth the land offered. This was a place of flowing rivers, dense forests, looming mountain sides, and beautiful scenery. But they saw more than just the natural beauty; they saw untouched lands fresh and ripe for the taking. In 1492, Spaniard Christopher Columbus reached what is currently the Bahamas, and in 1500, Portuguese Pedro Alvares Cabral reached Porto Seguro, Brazil. These two men, though they didn't know it then, opened the flood gates of exploration for Central and South America. Over the next 300 years, these locations would change drastically while under Spanish and Portuguese colonial rule. The existence of a colony is to aid the economic well being of the mother country (Burkholder and Johnson, 144) or in laymen's terms, to become the mother county's cash cow. Through pre-existing and newly created labor systems, Spain and Portugal were able to use and exploit the natural resources of the land and people to accomplish the task of creating new sources of wealth and revenue for their home lands. Through the use of forced labor and slavery, the cultural face of these continents began to change along with the former inhabitants, for the life they once knew no longer existed. Over time, a change in cultural identities, class structure, and overall well being of the America's original residents can be directly related back to the implementation of the economic labor systems.

Before the arrival of Europeans to Central and South America, it was believed a population of 35 to 50 million indigenous people inhabited the lands. This was not a culture without a history or belief system as many Europeans would come to believe, but rather, a society rich in tradition with a highly developed civilization dating back to 35,000 BCE (Burkholder and Johnson, 1 & 111). In the years of colonization, the labor and administrative systems that had been in place, pre-European conquest, dictated the difficulty the colonizers would have in taking over the economic systems. In Central Mexico, HernÐ"ÐŽn CortÐ"©s, a Spanish explorer, encountered the Aztec civilization (1248 Ð'- 1521 CE) in 1519 CE, at the height of its reign, boasting a strong form of leadership and advanced society living. As the Aztec empire rose to military and political supremacy over surrounding states, the Aztec rulers took a hegemonic approach to ruling, rather than demanding ultimate power and bending the other societies to their will; they let the other states maintain their cultural identities. After the take over of a state, the Aztecs merely expected tributes on a semi-annual basis. Tributes did not include luxury goods, but rather, clothing, food, and firewood. Through this already present tributary system, it was relatively easy for Spanish conquerors to swoop in and take control after conquest in 1521 CE. The common worker wasn't likely to be aware that they were paying tribute to an Aztec tlatoani (emperor) or Spanish conquistador. In another highly developed society in the highlands of Peru, a similar situation can be seen. The Incan civilization (1197 Ð'- 1572 CE), was the largest of Americas, with the most highly developed political and administrative systems (Burkholder and Johnson, 19) of it's time. The Incan empire was so extensive that a rotational labor tax was implemented, called the mita. Through this system, laborers would work agricultural lands, construct roads, temples, palaces, and so on, for the state. When Francisco Pizzaro reached the northern outposts of the Incan kingdom in 1528 CE, a civil war was raging within the empire, which he used to his advantage. Aligning themselves with the native cultures, the Spanish succeeded in conquering this civilization by 1533 CE. After Spain established strongholds in Peru, they began utilizing the same mita system the Incan administrators had established. In the later colonial years, rather than being a public service, the mita turned into a form of forced labor/slavery system which the colonial economy was built on. In contrast to these advanced civilizations, the indigenous cultures of Brazil were far less structured than those of their neighboring regions, making the settlement and conquest of the land fare more difficult for the Portuguese. Upon arrival in 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral discovered a pristine land inhabited by semi-nomadic tribes whose livelihood depended on what they could catch while hunting or fishing. No centralized governing or labor structure was in place, but the indigenous people were more than willing to help the Portuguese harvest brazilwood at first. After labor demands were raised and indigenous payout was little or nothing, they started to pull away from the relationship (Burkholder and Johnson, 68). At this point, the Portuguese started implementing forced labor which would eventually morph into the adoption of plantation system. In each model of economic and labor structure, the colonizing groups took hold and shaped the people involved to their liking and as will be seen later, cultural affects were soon felt.

Soon after first contact, Spanish and Portuguese alike were flocking to this new world of endless economic possibility and elevated social status. The first explorers were writing home to family and friends bragging of the new settlements in this place that was "like the Garden of Eden" (Haskett, October 31, 2006). Those conquerors who didn't return home with their plundered riches, stayed behind to acquire huge amounts of land through land grants, which became known as encomiendas. Encomiendas were grants of indigenous people in a certain location in which the owners, encomenderos, had the right to tax and summon the people for labor. Along with these rights, encomenderos were responsible for maintaining order and providing Catholic teaching to the people they oversaw. Under this rule, the indigenous people were required to continue working as they had prior to the consignment of the grants such as agricultural and specialized work, but rather than tribute being given to the state, it was given to the encomendero. Overtime, the exploitation of indigenous workers led to the break down of this system. Encomenderos were overworking the laborers, seizing the native land from the people, increased the taxes to ghastly amounts, and basically forced people into slavery. In attempts to rectify the inhuman treatment of these people, the Spanish government employed a set of regulations called the New Laws in 1542. These laws were a first attempt at creating equal treatment by the new Spanish elite, which called for the prohibition of indigenous slavery. After harsh criticism, the Spanish government relented on this issue, and it wasn't until 1791 that encomiendas were



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