Reforming a System is One Thing, Reforming People is Another: Viceroy Toledo & Peru

Francisco de Toledo

In analyzing whether the Toledo Reforms were successful it must first be acknowledged that these reforms occurred within the context the Spanish Empire that had conquered many peoples and that within Spanish colonial rule many mistakes had to be rectified. My intent here is not to argue the ethical axiology of the colonization project itself, but rather, whether the response to faults and mismanagement of the colony by the Spanish Empire were answered by the reforms Viceroy Toledo implemented in Peru during the 16th Century. To be certain, when a technologically advanced group conquers another group by force, usurping its customs, politics, economics, and its entire social structure a great harm is done to the people. This becomes all the more apparent as evidence of rape, murder, the spread of disease, and the enslavement of indigenous peoples comes to bear on our understanding of the situation. Therefore, when I argue that the Toledo Reforms were successful, in no way do I imply that they were free of harm, nor do I argue that they mitigated the harm being done in any way. I only argue that the Toledo Reforms sought to rectify mistakes that the Spanish Empire believed itself to be making. The reforms Viceroy Toledo implemented in the 16th Century Spanish Colony of Peru, both succeeded and failed because while the reforms did not achieve a strict and to the letter materialization of Toledo’s vision, the reforms nonetheless, did achieve an administrative structure that was used for nearly two hundred years during which time there was relative peace and prosperity in the colony, that was for a time accepted by the Andeans.

Immediately after don Francisco de Toledo arrived in Lima, Peru in 1569 he went on a five year trek through the Andes conducting what became known as the General Inspection, implementing a census, surveying the topography and designing a system of laws and procedures that he hoped would harmonize the interaction between the Andeans and Spain. The organization that the Spanish had initially imposed upon the indigenous populations proved not to maximize the population’s productive capacity. The culture, geography, and the needs of the people fostered different constraints than the Spanish were accustomed. As a result, the Spanish could not reap the same volume of resources from the Andes that they initially found there, in part because the Spanish stole a surplus that had accumulated over generations and in part because the Andeans were dying at unprecedented rates.

One of the resources that the Spanish were the most interested in was the silver that had to be mined in places such as, Potosi and Huancavelica, but for the Spanish gaining access to this resource required a cheap or free labor force; namely, the Andeans. However, if the Andeans were not alive, or they could not be accounted for, then they could not be forced to work in the mines in the interest of Spain.

The Junta Magna, which formed just prior to Viceroy Toledo’s journey to Peru in response to the management or lack thereof in the colony, suggested that there “can be no information about affairs in the Indies,”[1] because Spain lacked the necessary infrastructure to provide the required information to control outcomes in the colony. The General Inspection was a direct response to the complications that Spain was having managing its colony and was a component of a much larger project of resettlement of Andeans that was in part justified by providing “at all times the necessary number [of workers] in the mines” via Viceroy Toledo to the King of Spain, Phillip II.[2]

The “Reduccion General de Indios–the General Resettlement of the Indians”[3] was both the purpose of the General Inspection and the result of it. The logic behind it was bring order to the colonial system by increasing the accuracy of population data, centrally locating the Andeans for greater control and Christianization, and making the colony safer for the Spanish. However, the fact that the Spanish wanted to organize Peru to fit Spanish standards and structures, does not mean that the Andeans lacked a complex social structure prior to the arrival of the conquistadors in 1532.

Pre-conquest Andeans lived and organized themselves very differently than the Spanish and much of this organization was owed to the Inca, who formed the Tawantinsuyu Empire (1438-1533), and much of it predated the Inca. The empire was not unlike the Spanish Empire in that a particular group of Andeans who were centrally located in Cuzco controlled most of the Western seaboard of South America and the lives of all the peoples therein. The major cities such as Cuzco were laid out in a grid-like fashion around a plaza that had both running water and sewage systems, much like cities in the Mediterranean.[4] Outside of the cities and the vast majority of the Andes were organized into what has been termed an Archipelago, which were “settlement enclaves at different elevations” that “pooled the products of diverse ecological zones,” so that Andean communities could maximize their access to necessary resources.[5] It was the Incas who implemented the kuraka, (known as a cacique to the Spanish) and was local leader who organized the labor and taxation for a given region. Because of the size of the empire and its ecological variation resulting from elevations that stretched over hundreds of miles of mountains, the king needed a hereditary class of elites to manage localities that he could trust.

The Inca also implemented what was known to them as the mita, which Mumford states “translates roughly to ‘turn-taking,’” was an annual compulsory labor to be fulfilled in rotation by all adult males. The mita was used to build roads (the empire had a system of roads that stretched over 3,000 miles), temples, palaces, for state farming and more. However, this sophisticated society had not developed a system of writing (yet), so they managed this complex network of taxation, redistribution, and labor with a system of data tracking called “khipu” that utilized the tying of knots on rope for accounting purposes. One very important feature of the mita system was a ritual hospitality that occurred in what they called a tamp’u, which were Inca state complexes that were situated throughout the Andes and functioned “to reward workers and their caciques” on the plaza with gifts.[6]  The Tawantinsuyu Empire was highly structured and organized, both within and in between the major cities, and the civilization had a social structure that produced an incredible surplus that the Spanish both envied and respected.

The Spanish Conquistadors who conquered the Inca disrupted the Andean societal structure and also caused many of the problems within the Spanish colony that Viceroy Toledo sought to rectify.

Many of the conquistadors that risked the journey across the great Atlantic Ocean and exploration in the ‘New World’ did so because they were fortune seekers attempting to garner upward social mobility within the Spanish society. Their reward for valor and success in battle was a claim to land, encomiendas, in the Americas within the regions they had conquered and the right to collect tribute from the people therein; they became ‘lords’ called encomenderos. The conquistadors brought with them diseases that the indigenous lacked the antibodies to defend against and they tore through the “New World’ with a fury, leaving in their wake a decimated population. In addition to the diseases, the encomenderos were able to act with impunity shortly after the conquest killing, raping, and enslaving whomever they chose.

This however, posed an increasingly problematic situation as the definition of conquest and justification for involvement in the lives of indigenous people evolved. Queen Isabella was a very pious person and believed that the ‘Indians’ had the potential for conversion to Catholicism from their so-called ‘paganism’. The situation was further complicated because it was believed, although not always adhered to, that Christians should not be enslaved. “We listen but do not obey,” an adage from the Spanish colonies that seems to have fit the actions of the conquistadors very well. The autonomous behavior of the conquistadors undermined the authority of the Spanish royalty, was in the process of destroying the social structure of the Andean people, and caused many revolts to emerge. These are many of the reasons that caused the determination of the Junta Magna and for Viceroy Toledo’s journey to Peru to conduct the resettlement.

Viceroy Toledo sought to establish order in the Peru to streamline the acquisition of wealth by curtailing the power of the encomenderos, creating a clear chain of command, and situating the indigenous population for efficient applications of forced labor. However, the actual outcome was not as clear and straightforward as Viceroy Toledo’s model proposed, and although some reducciones (the newly founded cities) were homogeneous, Peru as a whole was a motley patchwork of social and political structures. One of the parameters that Viceroy Toledo set to establish was that the reducciones were to be self-governing, but Chérrepe actually became “the cabecera or head town” of Guadalupe.[7] Both reducciones were part of one repartimiento and were further segregated by occupations; farmers in Guadalupe and fishermen in Chérrepe, making each reduccion homogeneous.[8] The Condes repatimiento, on the other hand, had a very complex and mixed population; not homogeneous at all.[9]

Mumford argues that the inspectors who established the reducciones within the repartimientos had such variation because thy both acknowledged and accepted the geographical constraints that led to develop the Archipelago social structure in the first place. Thus, what resulted for the most part, was a Spanish system of control that was placed right on top of an existing social structure; both the Kuraka (cacique) and the mita remained as functioning institutions. Mumford suggests that the Spanish were contending with two competing goals when considering how to manage their Andean colony: “cultural survival and cultural change” and that it should be “partly preserved and partly remade,”[10] and in that, Viceroy Toledo was successful in his objective.

A report survives from forty years after the General Resettlement that was written by an Andean born man named don Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, who details the corruption that still existed within the Spanish colonial system in Peru. Guaman Poma reveals that while he agreed with the premise of resettlement, that he disagreed with how the locations the reducciones were selected because they tended to relegate the Andeans to “places with damp and unhealthy soil, stench and pestilence,” while the Spanish selected choice and profitable locations. This had multiple effects; it made it difficult for the indigenous to sustain themselves and pay tributes, made many of them unhealthy, and removed them from lands that were connected to their families like children. Guaman Poma also severely critiqued the priests who were supposed to be responsible for setting the ‘Christian example’ to the indigenous population, promoting Catholicism and educating the people. In stark contrast to this proposed objective he mentions that the priests, “gambled and dueled, extorted gifts from the parishioners, and even falsified Andeans’ wills to get their property.” He also notes that the priests were sexually abusive to women and girls, making some their sex slaves and participating in a form of nepotism with the women’s fathers so as to avoid or deter being reported. He also reports that the priests omitted educating the Andeans because they feared that educated Andeans would assert their rights and report their un-Christian-like and misconduct. Guaman Poma then implicates both the caciques and the cabildos in the corruption and suggests that they followed the examples set by the priests. The most pressing problem that Guaman Poma mentions pertained to the Andeans leaving the reducciones and after the reports of corruption and abuse, it is very plausible that they were seeking more equitable arrangements elsewhere. What is clear is that both the presence of the Spanish and the Toledo reforms had dramatic social impacts on the Andean society, even if they did rectify some of the problems that Toledo and the Junta Magna sought to fix.[11]

In terms of the relative peace experienced in Peru between 1569-1780 by both the Spanish and the Andeans, the Toledo reforms were successful. This is particularly evident when compared to the Tupac Amaru Rebellion (1780-1781), which emerged as a response to the Bourbon Reforms of the 18th Century that restructured the Spanish administration of Peru to correct what the new royalty perceived as mismanagement of the colony. The Bourbon Reforms were criticized by the Andeans for violating the social contract that was established by the Toledo Reforms and which the Andeans had agreed to by imposing harsher “mitas” or forced labor, more stringent taxation, limited autonomy and recourse in the courts for harms done. The new burdens upon Andeans and the subsequent lack of legal retribution that came with them, led to an explosion of violence that lasted for several years and ultimately to over 100,000 deaths, the collapse of the economy and further restructuring of the colonial administration.

By 1826, Peru had won its independence from Spanish colonial rule and thus, brought an end to the oppressive reforms of the 18th Century. By strict comparison, the Bourbon Reforms failed, whereas the Toledo Reforms were successful, at least in terms of Spanish colonial rule in Peru.

[1] Jeremy Ravi Mumford. Vertical Empire: The General Resettlement of the Indians in the Colonial Andes. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012), 77

[2] Mumford, 82.

[3] Mumford, 1.

[4] Mumford, 14-16

[5] Mumford, 4.

[6] Mumford, 25.

[7] Mumford, 126

[8] Mumford, 127

[9] Mumford, 129

[10] Mumford, 4

[11] Mumford, 143-156.


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