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Spanish Court Records from Late Colonial Guatemala Catherine Komisaruk* - page 11 / 14

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SPANISH COURT RECORDS FROM GUATEMALA

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large population of domestic servants is not well depicted in court records. I have found very few court cases dealing with children in service, although censuses and frequent allusions to child servants in other depositions suggest a large num- ber of children (most of them indigenous girls) living in Hispanic homes working for their bed and board if not also a cash wage. I have found a couple of records in which parents litigated for their servant children, but I suspect that most servant children were either orphans or their parents were not members of the Hispanic city and would not have appealed to the Spanish courts.

Informal unions. Spanish civil court records have been a fruitful source for the study of informal unions. Such unions are often mentioned in passing as part of a deposition about a separate dispute, indicating the frequency of illicit relation- ships in the society. (For example, neighbors and crime witnesses might identify each other as “el concubino de Fulana” or “la amasia de Fulano.”) Further, a sig- nificant number of court cases were brought specifically by spouses to complain about a marital partner who was involved in an extramarital affair. (Most but not all the complainants were women. I have also found a few cases in which parents came to court to complain about their unmarried children’s love affairs.) These are rich sources that have enabled me to analyze informal unions and marital separations as important social structures.

Somewhat to my surprise, especially given the frequency of marital separa- tions and illicit heterosexual relationships, I have not found any court cases that are suggestive of homosexual relationships. Unfortunately, because parish records for Guatemala City are limited in their availability, I have not been able to verify whether people reported homosexual activities that they observed in their com- munity to their priest. Nor have I found cases of homosexuality in a sample of Inquisition records that I examined from the late colonial period.

Meanwhile, though, I have begun to think that the absence of homosexual relationships among the informal unions I have found in civil court records may be a function of the court records themselves—of the limited purposes for which court records were generated. Typically, the concubinatos or amistades ilícitas that the courts looked into had been reported by a wronged spouse or lover (or sometimes a disappointed parent). Wronged spouses would have suffered eco- nomic repercussions, and this was typically part of their complaint. Wives who came to the courts charging their husbands with amancebamiento typically complained that the husband was misspending his money on the amasia and not giving enough money to the wife. Husbands who reported their wives for amance- bamientos complained that their wives were not in their house regularly preparing food. Parents who brought charges to court to try to end their offspring’s pre- marital relationships (and these are less frequent in the court records than spousal complaints) probably feared the economic repercussions of an out-of-wedlock birth or a marriage to a partner of lower status than their child. Perhaps homo- sexual relationships, if they were detected by parents or spouses of the people involved, were not reported to the civil courts because they didn’t pose any of these threats to existing social structures that the courts served to protect. Homosexual relationships would have been in a sense extraneous to the often- contentious economic and social structures of marriage and inheritance.

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