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Spanish Court Records from Late Colonial Guatemala Catherine Komisaruk* - page 6 / 14





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Among the individually contracted Indian laborers was a group of women and men from Jocotenango who had traveled together, along with their children, to work for a few months at the estate. Their depositions indicate that Dardón herself recognized and relied on the marital structures among the townspeople in her tactics for ensuring a supply of female labor at her estate. The women in particular noted that Dardón would advance wages to their husbands only if they too (the wives) went to work on the estate grinding corn and doing other work in the kitchen. Significantly, the group included almost as many women (eight) as men (ten). By giving a view deep into labor on a particular estate, this court case illustrates how women’s migratory seasonal labor was integrated with that of men, not only in the system of labor procurement but also in the productive process on the estate itself, where women’s labor was needed to provide food for the male workers.

These phenomena have not appeared clearly in other types of records, and they raise the possibility that indigenous women may have been more frequently involved in migratory, seasonal labor in colonial Guatemala (and Spanish America) than we have recognized based on administrative records. The records I have studied are mostly from the late colonial period; and, like this example of female indigenous workers on doña Manuela Dardón’s estate, most of the cases of indigenous labor that I have studied represent the post-repartimiento, individually arranged labor form that Jim Lockhart has described as belonging to “Stage 3.” I suspect that colonial court records for earlier periods might contain information about women in encomienda and repartimiento-era labor structures. This is an important potential for future research in Spanish American court records. 10

2) A view into an Indian community and the impact there of women’s labor in the colonial economy. In another court case from Jocotenango, this one starting in 1797, the parish priest wrote an alarming appeal to the Audiencia. He feared that the recruitment of indigenous women to serve as wet nurses in the Spanish capital was causing the abandonment and starvation of native infants. The Audiencia ordered an investigation. As was characteristic of the royal govern- ment, it ultimately issued relatively little regulatory response. But the record of the investigation, with its numerous and detailed depositions, contains a wealth of information about indigenous women’s labor in the Spanish city.11 The Audiencia’s investigative committee went to the pueblo and learned of twenty-one Indian women who were serving as wet nurses in Spanish households in the capital; the committee’s notary recorded detailed information on the cir- cumstances of each woman and her children. The investigators also visited a number of urban Spanish households to interview the wet nurses themselves. One wet nurse in particular, a woman named María Contán, gave an extensive depo- sition. She explained her need for cash to cover her absent husband’s tribute

10Lockhart’s stages delineate the pattern that he has identified in transformation of native labor procurement, language, and various other cultural forms; see Lockhart 1992

passim. 11The case is contained in two separate documents, AGCA Sig. A1/leg. 162/exp.

4883 and AGCA Sig. A1/leg. 154/exp. 3063.

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