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Spanish Court Records from Late Colonial Guatemala Catherine Komisaruk* - page 5 / 14

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SPANISH COURT RECORDS FROM GUATEMALA

5

individual level and a broader social level—from slavery towards free labor. Indian women’s labor in the Spanish economy

Another phenomenon that surfaces in the court records from late colonial Gua- temala is that of Indian women’s labor in the Spanish economy. While indigenous women’s labor in Spanish Central America and elsewhere in Spanish America has been noted based on other types of sources, court records may offer some new perspectives, as suggested by some of the records I have found in Guatemala.

Spanish administrative records, notably the files of requests for repartimiento (public draft) workers, have been the main source for study of indigenous laborers in the Spanish economy in Central America.7 Using these records, the histor- iography has developed an image of a largely male indigenous labor force in Spanish enterprises. Indigenous women working for Spaniards are mentioned occasionally—such as a molendera (woman to grind maize) or two requested by an hacienda owner to be sent along with a crew of male workers, or wet nurses required as part of the tribute payment from one or more Indian communities. Also, women’s work in spinning thread and weaving cloth in their homes has received substantial attention, particularly in literature describing the reparti- mientos (distribution) of cotton and thread that women were required to spin and weave as tributary labor.8 Based on reading secondary sources, my impression before consulting archival records was that most indigenous women in colonial Central America performed labor at their homes, while men left the home and community at intervals to work for stints abroad. Indeed, this impression was borne out in the archived padrones (censuses taken by the Spaniards for tribute purposes), which reflect a high absentee rate among adult males in numerous Indian communities in late colonial Guatemala.

The colonial court records, because they include investigations into com- plaints and disputes over labor practices, significantly expand the picture of women’s labor. Reading in the court records, I found a few scattered but exten- sively documented cases depicting indigenous women’s migratory, often seasonal or temporary labor for Spanish enterprises and households. Three examples here will suggest some of the ways such records may be useful:

1) A view of women’s seasonal recruitment and labor on a Spanish estate. A 1765 petition by the Indian officers of the communities of Utateca and Joco- tenango, on the outskirts of the capital, accused sugar estate owner doña Manuela Dardón of abusive recruitment and labor practices.9 The Spanish governmental authorities sent a committee to investigate both in the pueblos and on the estate, which was located in rural eastern Guatemala. The resulting document, consisting largely of depositions by various townspeople and workers, provides a portrait of labor on the estate, including repartimiento workers, individually contracted indigenous workers, and various non-Indians.

7Examples include MacLeod 1973, Sherman 1979, and Lutz 1994. 8This literature includes works such as those just cited in note 7, as well as Hill

1992, Martínez Peláez 1994, and Sousa 1998. Sousa has given thorough consideration to

Indian women’s work in spinning and weaving. 9AGCA Sig. A2/leg. 40/exp. 830.

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