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Spanish Court Records from Late Colonial Guatemala Catherine Komisaruk* - page 9 / 14





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the Spanish court ruled largely in her favor, the Indian officers in Ciudad Vieja stonewalled her efforts to take control of her property, siding instead with her brothers. Francisca García herself described the Indian governor’s reaction in terms of the breach in her connection to the community: “that since I am not going with my husband to live in the pueblo I do not have a right to the in- heritance.”

From the point of view of Indian officeholders throughout the region, towns- people’s physical presence in the community was a necessary condition for the payment of tributes and other obligations that comprised community membership. Paradoxically, though, people typically needed to leave their pueblos to earn wages. As historians have described for various regions in Spanish America, these departures, evidenced by high numbers of absentees from Indian communities, contributed much to the growth of the Hispanized population. In Guatemala, the administrative records of the colonial government’s assignment of tribute laborers contain repeated complaints by Indian officials that the frequency and duration of workers’ return trips to the native community were diminishing.13 Indeed, the same lament was at the core of the judicial petition by the Utateca and Joco- tenango officials about doña Manuela Dardón in the example described above. Francisca García’s court case further illustrates some of the broad patterns that emerge in the records of such legal petitions by communities—patterns of Indian women’s out-migration and return migration, labor in the Spanish economy, remittances and investment, links to native communities, and Hispanization. García’s case, like a number of other lawsuits pursued by individuals, adds to the picture by revealing a longitudinal portrait of one person, showing broad social transformations reflected in an individual life.

Limitations and need for caution in using these sources

Most of the judicial records for the late colonial era in the AGCA are from the Guatemala City courts. Therefore most of the depositions are by people who lived in or near the city, or had reason to come into the city. Further, the depositions are mainly limited to Spanish speakers, although occasionally an interpreter was em- ployed by the court to translate for a non-Spanish speaker. But those who litigated in the Spanish courts were necessarily connected in some way with Hispanic so- ciety. Even those named only as witnesses in court cases were at least connected to Hispanic society through a neighbor or acquaintance.

Another limitation inherent in court records is that the testimonies were given orally, whereas the surviving records are transcriptions or summaries written by notaries. The records therefore reflect notarial practice, and are not necessarily full and accurate transcriptions of speech. Oral depositions in the judicial system were not free-form narratives; in most cases the speaker responded to a specific interrogation or set of questions or accusations. The interrogatorio often struc- tured the order of the narrative, and at times apparently suggested to the speaker what his or her statements should be—either through leading questions or because of the pressure placed on the speaker to defend herself against accusations.

13For Guatemala, many of these complaints appear in documents housed in AGCA, Signatura A3, legajos numbering in the 220s and 2560s.

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