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Spanish Court Records from Late Colonial Guatemala Catherine Komisaruk* - page 7 / 14





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debts, for which the Indian governor had been hounding her. She described her contract arrangements with her employer, and she enumerated the ways she had used her earnings of four pesos per month—paying her husband’s debts, remitting some of her wages to several other Indian women (including her mother) in the pueblo who were caring for her children, and still retaining some money to buy clothing for herself. About a year later, the Audiencia investigators returned to the pueblo for a follow-up inquiry, and this report, too, is included in the court docu- ments.

Perhaps most immediately obvious in reading the records of this case is the information it yields about social relationships, childcare and nursing practices, and household structures—particularly in female-headed households—among women in an Indian community. All or almost all of the twenty-one wet nurses were single heads of their families: about half had husbands who were “huidos” or “ausentes,” four were widows, three were reported simply as “alone,” and one had a husband who was reported as “loco.” Most of the women relied on female relatives to take care of their children; several had hired other Indian women in the pueblo as wet nurses for their own infants. Indeed, the frequency and familiarity of wet nursing among these women (who were Spanish speakers) is suggested by the wording used in several depositions. The phrase criar a media leche (literally, to nurse at half milk) was understood to refer to the practice in which a woman breast-fed two children; criar a leche entera (literally, to nurse at full milk) specified that a woman was suckling only one child.

At a broader level, though, the records in this court case are not only about women and female social relationships. The proceedings provide a window onto an entire tributary community’s experiences, particularly those of female-headed households that remained behind in the absence of male migrant laborers and debt-dodgers. The court record reveals that the community also sent female migrants to work in the Spanish economy, and it illustrates how migrant women’s wages were remitted to the native pueblo and invested in both the community coffers (including its amassing of tributes) and in individual households.

3) An in-depth portrait of an Indian woman working in the Spanish econ- omy. A third example from the court records provides an in-depth view of a single life. An Indian woman named Francisca Victoria García described her own history and circumstances in a lawsuit she pursued over an inheritance in 1807.12 Born in the pueblo of Ciudad Vieja (Almolonga) outside Antigua Guatemala, García left home at age the age of six. She traveled some fifty kilometers to the new capital, where she would work for wages in wealthy households. At the time her father dictated his will in Ciudad Vieja, more than twenty years had passed since she left home. For reasons that are not completely clear in the record, a dispute had arisen within the family. The father’s testament excluded Francisca in no uncertain terms, asserting that the disinheritance had been her late mother’s will as well. Francisca then filed her suit, arguing that some of the property in her parents’ estate had been purchased with her wages, on her behalf. In her petition, she described a process in which her parents had regularly come into the new


AGCA Sig. A1/leg. 2958/exp. 27971.

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