“It is not what one might expect… from the stories at home.
They live not like kings.”
  –Licentiate Cepada, Spanish Provincial Judge

    After waiting for years to fulfill his dream of leaving Spain to see the New World, a man named President La Gasca finally received his opportunity. Prior to his departure however, he received a letter from Licentiate Cepeda, a judge in one of the Spanish provinces in the New World. In his letter Cepeda cautioned his friend that, despite his eagerness to see the wonders of this hemisphere, the conditions of settlement were not what he perhaps expected. Cepeda warned, "They live not like kings(Cepeda 13)."

    The idea that the Spanish Conquistadors lived lavishly upon the labor and exploitation of the indigenous population has long been the typical conception of life in the New World. This perception is not entirely accurate. While the Spanish did indeed live off the exploitation of the Indians, it was not always a lavish lifestyle and certainly not at first. The conditions initially faced by the conquistadors were filled with struggle against the natural elements, financial difficulty, threat of violence and the necessity to adapt to the conditions of this "New World." These factors, along with the conquistadors’ close interaction with the indigenous people created a new type of culture, and a new class of elite, far different from that which they left behind in Europe.

    The Conquistadors first arrived in the Andean region in early decades of the 16th century. In the Spanish push across Central America to the Pacific coast in 1513, a young captain named Francisco Pizarro gained invaluable experience that would eventually help him earn the infamous reputation as the Conquistador of the Inca.  In 1526, these Conquistadors led their own exploration from Panama to the Andes and into contact with the Inca Realm(Gabai 15). By 1532, Inca Atahuaplla had been captured and the Spanish presence was entrenched enough to bring the first wave of settlement to populate their expanding empire.

La Villa Hermosa de Arequipa

    La Villa Hermosa de Arequipa was a typical Spanish settlement in southwestern Peru. By late 1540, only eight years after the Spanish Conquest of the Inca, this Peruvian town was beginning to blossom as a hub of Spanish activity in the Andean region. Largely occupied by merchants, entrepreneurs and up-and-coming Haciendados, the population of this village reflected the changing face of Spanish presence.  According to  scholar Keith Davies, in 1540 La Villa Hermosa de Arequipa was "no more than a camp. The only signs of Spanish presence were fifty or so settlers, a gallows and a cross, and boundary markers for a future plaza, streets, house plots and public buildings(Davies 6)."

    The Spanish settlers in La Villa Hermosa de Arequipa had many difficult factors confronting them. Even constructing a roof over one’s head was difficult. The Spanish were not used to the materials with which they had to build and pressure from the home government required that permanent housing be erected by 1541(Davies 8). This meant that Spanish settlers were forced to erect hastily constructed homes that turned out to be little more than shacks. Settlers in La Villa Hermosa de Arequipa did not even have roofs sufficient for protection from rain, walls to keep out insects, or doors to stop snakes and other animals from intruding. In this initial stage of settlement homes were a far cry from what is typically pictured for Conquistadors.

    Even food and material for basic survival were difficult to come by for the settlers in Peru. Davies explains, "Finding food was no less difficult. Many colonists probably seized whatever they could from local Indians, for they had little opportunity to plant crops or to organize regular deliveries of native foodstuffs(Davies 8)." For the first several decades following the arrival of the Spanish in the Andes, there was extremely limited infrastructure. This lack of basic road networks, ports and means of communication made supply difficult, and often impossible. Davies concludes, "Efforts to supply the community by importing Spanish products through rude ports on the Pacific proved disappointing. Such trade was miniscule(Davies 8)." At this point in Spanish expansion throughout South America, the crown’s emphasis was on funding expensive exploration in order to expand the land under its jurisdiction. Second on Spain’s priority list was the extraction of mineral wealth and raw material. This left very little effort of funds to be devoted to improving the condition or infrastructure of their settlements.

    In addition to poor lines of supply and difficult living conditions, the Spanish settlers also had to contend with a climate completely unfamiliar to them. As they struggled to carve out a living, they met sweltering heat and swarming insects. The settlers of southern Peru knew these conditions as well as anyone. Davies reports, "This initial opposition (to settlement) soon proved well-founded; given the blistering heat of late summer and constant mosquito attacks, the new residents must have found La Villa Hermosa de Camana inappropriately named(Davies 13)." The conditions were so bad that the officials in the region feared the abandonment of the entire settlement and even postponed a planned trip by Francisco Pizarro to the region due the climate and its affects on the settlers.


In addition to poor housing, uncertain trade and misconceived wealth, the Spanish settlers also had to deal with the regular threat of violence.  James Lockhart, one of the most respected historians of the Inca and Spanish conquest, paints a realistic picture of the situation when he concludes, "The greatest hazards to the conquerors left in Peru were Indian conflicts and the Spanish civil wars, which took an almost equal toll. More men seem to have died in subsequent indigenous rebellions than in the conquest itself(Lockhart 60-61)." One of the largest civil wars occurred in 1537 between the forces of Diego de Almagro and those of Francisco Pizzaro. Alamagro had entered the southern region of Peru; an area already controlled by Pizzaro and made claim to the territory. Later that year a civil war erupted and culminated in the death of dozens of Spanish soldiers and settlers and even the eventual assassination of Francisco Pizzaro in 1541(Lockhart 132).

    When a civil war or rebellion swept through an area, it not only took the lives of those engaged in it or those unfortunate enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, but this violence disrupted every facet of life for the Spanish settlers. In 1548, a civil war between Gonzalo Pizzaro and La Gasca broke out in the region surrounding La Villa Hermosa de Arequipa. By the time this conflict was settled at the battle of Jaquijanguana in April sons, daughters and wives had been stolen away by the victors, land grants had been rebuked, encomiendas had been stolen and inflation had ruined the prices of maize. These factors were not isolated to this conflict, and all of them destroyed the lives of noncombatants caught in the fray of every violent conflict.


    Although the Spanish did not introduce this idea of tribute labor to the Andes they expanded it to an extent which had never been seen. As explorers led their expeditions to conquer the Inca they took the labor of Indians as tribute from their newly acquired subjects. Governors of newly conquered lands offered tributes of Indian laborers to prospective settlers. In order to convince settlers to stay in their province they "were induced to stay by being awarded allotments of natives to help them farm. The allotments, or repartimientos, were granted to the custody… of the recipient Spaniard(Hemming 145)." If a settler had a large amount of personal wealth or was connected to a powerful family name, the greater the amount of tribute. It was through this encomeindas system that wealth was built in the Andes region and it was the centuries of exploitation under this facet of Spanish life that left perhaps the most indelible mark on Indians of Andes.

    It was also through the encomeindas system that the Spanish oligarchy was able to develop in the Andean Region. Because individuals controlled the dolling out of tribute, so they controlled the distribution of wealth. Encomenderos lived outside their Haciendas and collected the tribute of their Indians in the security of Spanish neighborhoods. John Hemming explains, "The natives were forced to carry their tribute to the town house of the encomendero, who was rigorously forbidden to live within his repartimiento(Hemming 354)."  The development of this "absentee" control over the Hacienda allowed for an upper class to develop in the New World and as on the continent of Europe, this wealthy segment of society acquired their status through the labor of others. Davies explains the significance of this trend as it applied to the settlers of La Villa Hermosa de Arequipa. He writes, "encomiendas frequently enabled early Arequipans to acquire the possessions associated with wealth and to mimic elite practices(Davies 141)."


    As wealth began to be established there was a transition that began to take place from the rough life of the initial settlement to the entrenched presence of the Spanish.  Shacks with rickety walls and porous roofs were eventually replaced with brick walls and solid overhangs; uncertain income from spotty trade was replaced by guaranteed income from tribute.  As more Spanish began to acquire wealth, marriage also became increasingly more important. Initially, Spanish settlers had married the princesses of powerful chiefs in order to ally themselves and establish power. Even Pizzaro married a native, the beautiful daughter of Careta whom he had defeated in battle. This marriage provided Pizzaro with "valuable allies and [the] subjugation [of] the country with the help of the inhabitants themselves(Kirkpatrick 51)." Eventually though, the power in the region was transferred from the Inca to the conquistadors.  Because land equaled power, daughters of Spanish settlers with land quickly became the most attractive means for acquiring power. This meant that arranged marriages, among the growing wealthy classes, became the norm. Initially, settlers rarely married outside their immediate community. Davies explains, "Members of the elite rarely wed outside their circle before 1600(Davies 152)." However, the shrinking availability of suitable partners eventually forced settlers to look outside of their immediate community to find appropriate partners. Despite this transition, social status was still a necessity.
 The closing of the "marriage loop" hardened the grip of the elite on power and wealth. Note this diagram:

As this loop closed, suitors had to look further and further from their local communities for appropriate mates. The presence of fewer and fewer suitable partners led to a diluting of the elite ranks. This phenomenon is one of the single most important facts in understanding the development of life in the New World for the elite.

Unique Culture

         Because settlers had to contend with the struggles of difficult living conditions, poor infrastructure and constant violence a new "aristocrat" developed. Although the Spanish in the Andean region were just as concerned with social position as those who lived in Toledo, their expectations naturally had to be lowered. To make matters worse (or better, depending on your perspective) there seemed to be a phenomenon of the most wealthy settlers moving back to Spain after initial settlement. James Lockart insists that even though the "most experienced and best-born men, with the largest shares, returned to Spain," Peru was not left with only "plebeian mores and out of contact with the accumulating traditions(Lockhart 52)." He insists that while this factor did increase the numbers of those who were able to gain access to the elite, the Spanish in Peru, and the rest of the Andes did not suffer any irreparable cultural harm. There were still a large enough number of men with good names and strong family connections who did settle permanently in the Andes to ensure the successful transfer of culture.

    This is not to say that a different culture did not develop in the Andes. Due to the difficult conditions of settlement, a little bit of the "shine" was taken off the traditional Spanish hierarchy. Houses were not as grand and clothes not as modern or well cared for. Also, the conditions of marriage forced many aristocrats to look outside their social and economic circles for brides or grooms. This influx of different background brought the Spanish into contact, in intimate familial ways, with new customs and traditions. It is out of these conditions that a different type of New Word elite emerged. This elite, although similar in many basic manners such as speech, custom and most attire, was very different from the elite that remained in Toledo. James Davies concludes:

    In many ways, particularly in their social practices, the differences between colonial elite’s were more than a matter of degree in kind. Their ability to indulge in aristocratic habits depended on financial resources and influence. Because most Spanish had only limited amounts of each during the seventeenth century they had to settle for less: smaller landholding, fewer mayorozgos, less pretentious lifestyles, less support for the church, fewer titles and even less prestigious marriages(Davies 158).
     Factors such as smaller land holdings and less prestigious marriages as well as the inevitable mixing of cultures led to a very distinct social elite in the New World. However, the elite was not the only segment of society in the Andes to develop attributes different from their Old World counterpart. The relationship between the common laborer or tradesman and the wealthy was more amenable in the region of the Andes than in Spain. There was much more interaction on many more levels than what existed between the different social classes in Toledo. The fact that many of the wealthy had come over on the shame ships, indeed on the same expeditions as common laborers, and carved out a rude existence during the initial days of exploration caused there to be a smaller perceived gap between the rich and the poor Spanish in the Andean Region. The social structure was also much more complex in the Andes than in Spain. There was more depth and a greater complexity to the New World social hierarchy. James Lockhart supports this conclusion when he writes, "The hierarchy of occupations made up a far more complete, articulated and realistic system of social organization than the noble-plebeian distinction(Lockhart 39)."

Social Changes