Land Tenure Patterns and the Huasipungo in Cayambe, Ecuador

Prepared for delivery at the Social Science History Association, Chicago, November 19-22, 1998.


This paper analyzes land tenure, debt peonage, service tenancy, and labor relations on haciendas in the northern highland region of Cayambe in the South American country of Ecuador during the twentieth century. Historically, debts which tied workers to the landowners in a feudalistic type of relationship marked power relations on the large haciendas. In Ecuador, the system of sharecropping to which highland peasants were subjected was known as the huasipungo. In a land-labor exchange, the peasants or tenant farmers (called huasipungueros) worked on hacienda land three to six days a week in exchange for small subsistence plots (called huasipungos) usually one to four hectares in size, access to pasture land for a small number of animals, and a meager cash wage. This economic context strongly influenced the nature and development of Indigenous ethnicity in Cayambe and throughout Ecuador. Furthermore, this history of land tenure and changes in rural economies forms an important basis for understanding and interpreting protest actions. This paper explains those economic roots in order to elucidate the nature of rural protest in Cayambe.

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