What were the positive and negative effects of the encomienda system?

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A negative impact of the encomienda system on American Indians is that it allowed Spanish colonials to extract labor from Native Americans. This formed the basis for the brutal exploitation of the indigenous peoples, who were used as a supply of forced labor. Between this history of exploitation and mistreatment on the one hand and the effects of European diseases on the other, Spanish expansion into the New World led to large-scale devastation to the Native American populations.

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The encomienda system was employed by the Spanish to regulate Native American labor and in theory protect them from abuse.


The system functioned by granting a person a specific number of laborers. That individual was supposed to watch out for their native charges, protecting them from other tribes and teach them Catholic beliefs. In return for this “protection” the natives were supposed to provide tribute in the form of material wealth or labor. Natives who didn’t comply were punished or executed, and they had no say in who became their caretakers or overseers.

The benefits to the Encomendoros were substantial. For almost no toil, they reaped the benefits of native wealth and labor and had the backing of the Spanish crown if things got violent. This was also the first major law brought to the New World where prior to this system war, disease and turmoil were the rule of law. This system allowed the Spanish crown some form of control by forcing conquistadors and puppet native leaders to remain loyal or lose any income they had because the Spanish king kept title to the land.

If you are thinking this sounds a whole lot like slavery, you are correct. The difference between the two was minuscule. Thousands and thousands of natives died under encomiendo law.  There were few, if any, benefits to the natives besides that they did not lose their homes and land since the system allowed natives to keep virtual title. They just had to provide service fees . . . or else.

The system eventual feel apart when religious missionaries saw how violent it was and objected. It was eliminated in the Caribbean first, and then in mainland South America.

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What were the positive and negative effects of the encomienda system for both the Spanish and the native Amerindians?

Even though the Spanish initially established the encomienda system with good intentions such as protection of the natives as well as the spread of Christianity and education, the system eventually did more harm than good to the Amerindians. The native Amerindians were disadvantaged greatly in all aspects of their lives. They were dehumanized and reduced to slave status where they provided forced labor under brutal conditions, some to the point of death. They were denied basic rights and suffered from inequality. Their land was taken from them for exploitation by the encomenderos and their family units were broken because people were separated from each other.

The Spanish mainly gained an economic advantage because they utilized cheap labor for their benefit. The Amerindians tilled the land and worked in the mines in order to pay tribute to the encomendero. Since the Indians culturally paid tribute, the Spanish took advantage of the already established norm to exploit the Indians for economic advantage.

In conclusion, whereas the Indians suffered under the encomienda system, the Spanish, especially the encomenderos, gained economic advantage by exploiting the Indians.

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What were the positive and negative effects of the encomienda system for both the Spanish and the native Amerindians?

The encomienda system (in theory) was a feudal-like system where Spaniards would offer protection and education to the native populations in exchange for labor and money/gifts.

In reality, the encomienda system was a horrible abuse of power and essentially slavery.  It was beneficial to the Spanish because they were able to extract labor at no cost.  Additionally, it enabled the Peninsulares (European-born Spaniards) and Creoles (American-born Spaniards) to maintain power and privileges at the top of the social pyramid.  However, the encomienda system was not helpful to Spanish landowners who wanted to use the encomienda system to its original purpose; it ended up favoring those peninsulares and creoles who were skilled at enslaving and torturing native populations.

For the native Amerindians, there were very little positives.  Negatives include abuse, forced labor, and punishment.  In some situations, when there was a small crop harvest, the farmers were forced to starve themselves in order to send food to the landowners.  In addition, and this applies moreso to Peru, native Americans were forced to work in gold and silver mines, where conditions were so bad that most workers died. 

The encomienda system was later reformed after men such as Bartolome de las Casas informed the crown that if conditions continued under the encomienda system, the entire population would be at risk and the souls of all those involved could potentially be damned (keep in mind that colonial Spanish America was a site for Catholic missionaries).  The new system was relabeled the repartamiento, which also had its flaws.

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What were the positive and negative effects of the encomienda system for both the Spanish and the native Amerindians?

Most of the positives of this system were on the Spanish side.  The encomienda system allowed the Conquistadors to get rewarded for their role in conquering New Spain.  It also was a good way of extracting wealth from the land.  It hurt the Spanish overall, to some extent, by making it harder to attract lots of Spanish to colonize.

For the Indians, the results were mostly negative as they were often abused and exploited.  The main arguments in favor of the system are that the encomenderos treated "their" Indians better than the Crown treated theirs.

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What was the negative impact of the encomienda system for the American Indians?

Encomienda refers to a legal right that existed within the Spanish empire in the Americas for Spanish colonials to extract labor from the Native American population. This practice actually had its origins as early as Hernán Cortés who, according to historian J. H. Elliot, "assigned encomiendas to 300 of his men" (Empires of the Atlantic World, 39). This institution proved the foundation on which the Spanish exploitation of the Native Americans would rest.

Interestingly, as Elliot writes, the Native Americans were actually provided some protections by the Spanish monarchy. Ferdinand and Isabella placed the Native Americans under royal authority as "vassals of the crown... not to be enslaved" (Elliot, 97). However, this did not prevent colonials from desiring the use of large quantities of forced labor. As Elliot writes, the Spanish empire in the New World sought "to mobilize the potentially vast indigenous labour force without infringing too blatantly the letter of the law" (97). It was in this context that the encomienda system took shape.

The encomienda system was brutal, with labor being forcibly extracted from the Native American populations. They were overworked, forced into miserable conditions, and subject to abuse (as can be observed in the writings of de las Casas, who sought to draw attention to the atrocities being committed). At the same time, the Native Americans were also being ravaged by European diseases which they had no immunity against, with Elliot estimating "losses of around 90 per cent in the century or so following the first contact" (64). Thus, the arrival of the Spanish in the Americans resulted in large-scale devastation to the indigenous populations.

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