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The Americas 57.2 (2000) 207-224

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The African Diaspora in the Eastern Andes:
Adaptation, Agency, and Fugitive Action, 1573-1677

Lolita Gutiérrez Brockington

In 1545, miners struck silver in what would become one of the richest veins in the entire New World, the near legendary Cerro Rico of Potosí, in the Andean highlands of Peru. This strike prompted swift action on the part of royal authorities. They sought to rearrange existing land and labor systems and to establish new ones to meet the spiraling economic demands. Simultaneously they had to cope with a dramatic, unprecedented drop in the indigenous population which hitherto had supplied needed labor. The crown turned elsewhere, and authorized the exploitation of another, far more distant group of people. Slaves from Africa became an additional, ongoing source of much needed labor in the Andes.

The now classic works of James Lockhart and Frederick Bowser, path-breaking in their examination of a strong African presence in the conquest and early colonization of Peru, serve as an incentive for this article. While the above scholars looked to Lima and the Pacific coast-to-highland economic axis to examine African slavery and its many and complex ramifications, 1 this work extends the examination far beyond these traditionally established regional parameters. Instead, it will focus on the African experience in a little known, and even less studied, frontier region of the eastern Andes.

Specifically, this study will take the reader to the varied ecological jurisdiction or corregimiento of Mizque, an area southeast of the Cochabamba valley system in the Audiencia de Charcas (today Bolivia). Soon after conquest, this region became an important agricultural producer, and equally important, a major link in the eastern lowland hinterland of Santa Cruz and highland La Plata-Potosí exchange. The villa of Mizque gained official [End Page 207] recognition in 1561, if not earlier. 2 My ongoing research in this region also reveals that the African diaspora, 3 propelled by external and internal economic forces, reached far deeper into the eastern slopes and hinterland of Charcas than has been previously recognized. Here, the corregimiento de Mizque (honey in Quechua), assumes center stage. Royal authorities recognized the region's potential early on in spite of its supposed status as a [End Page 208] peripheral, isolated "frontier." 4 Prominent encomendero families, such as the Paniagua Loaysa clan, had landholdings at least by 1548. Further encouraged by the crown, additional European entrepreneurs moved into Mizque's more temperate zones to control, indirectly or directly, agricultural production for the increasingly demanding markets of Potosí and the fast-growing La Plata (today Sucre). No doubt anticipating future markets, by the early 1560s royal authorities were strongly urging increased settlement of Mizque in order to counter the economically disruptive incursions by the Chiriguanos. These aggressive Indians, themselves resisting European domination, continued to massacre the outsiders as well as repartimiento Indians (Indians affixed to specific communities) and to attack properties well into the early decades of the seventeenth century, if not beyond. 5 Further, throughout this period authorities continually ordered prominent encomenderos such as Fernando Cazorla and the aforementioned Gabriel Paniagua Loaysa to form militia and lead campaigns against the Chiriguano. 6 Also by 1560 Catholic priests were busy attempting to indoctrinate the local Indians. Certainly the astute Viceroy Toledo recognized the region's economic significance and in 1573 called for additional restrictions on Indian landholding in order to make more room for chácara (agricultural holding, often synonomous with hacienda) ownership. 7

The region's European population and attendant market activity continued to expand. The Mizque valley system was producing wheat, corn, barley and other grains, all manner of fruits, beans, potatoes, cotton, lumber, cheeses, honey, sugar, thousands of heads of livestock (especially cattle and sheep) and most important, coca and wine. 8 Yet the indigenous population, like its counterparts throughout the Americas, plummeted. The catastrophic 87% population loss 9 had left the jurisdiction particularly vulnerable to labor shortages early on, just when the Spaniards were exploring means by which to adapt existing native land...


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