The paper explores how the native lords of the Lupakas (an ethnic group living South-West of Lake Titicaca) used the colonial Spanish law and its legal instruments. In the narrative of colonialism the historiography has emphasized the relevance of Castilian legal institutions in the protection of the Amerindians’ patrimony and resources. For the 16th-century Andes, it is known that the native lords rapidly gained a reputation for ‘litigiousness’ due to their extensive use of the legal channels. In the last decades, several scholars have studied the prominent position of the Andean ‘cacique’ in the Spanish colonial courts. This paper explores such specific dynamics in the South Andean ‘Altiplano,’ not only focusing on how the Lupaka ‘caciques’ used the judicial arena, but also on the terrain of the colonial ‘administrative branch,’ through petitions, personal interviews with the viceroy, and a complex network of collaborators. This practice is an example of ‘interethnic’ legal dialogue, as well as an expression of the ‘polyphonic’ character of the colonial law system. Thus, the colonial law in the Indies was the result of several sources and components, and one crucial space for cultural confrontation and mutual appropriation.
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