Power and Authority: The Subaltern Sectors and the Elites in Colonial Andes
Conference on Latin American History 47
The constant contention for influence and power was a defining characteristic in the history of colonial Andes. It has long been demonstrated that the most vigorous horse that pulled the aristocratic colonial government was its ability to broker between the competing social groups. Despite the seemingly hegemonic supremacy of the elites, the indigenous communities and other subaltern sectors gradually managed to built sophisticated mechanisms in order to fence off or reduce harm. The colonial legal system expected to maintain a separation of the República de Españoles and the República de Indios, became instead an overlapping of jurisdictions that gradually resulted into a hybrid legal system. Through it the subaltern sectors availed themselves with mechanisms that facilitated the defense of what they considered their rights and further advanced their agendas.
Therefore, the power and authority of the colonial government and the ruling elites were constantly checked and contested from below. The subaltern sectors developed forms of response, beyond the “everyday forms of resistance,” against the increasing demands of the colonial government, church officials, as well as the encroachments of the elites on their possessions. The scholars in this panel examine these forms of response that progressively shaped the social, political, and legal interactions among the different sectors of the Andean colonial society.
This panel discusses diverse forms of “adversarial literacy” and mobilization that subaltern sectors generated revealing that power was not always clear in the hands of authorities and the elites. First, a careful study of late colonial commoners’ increasing mobilizations reveals a subtle reinvention of community politics that gradually replaced the caciques with more plebeian authorities. Thus, it is argued that a fundamental factor for the eventual erasure of the caciques was the consistent challenge of commoners from below rather than top down colonial policies as previously considered. Similarly, a second paper examines a cacica’s (a female traditional community authority) contestation over land rights and the social turmoil it generated, in order to shed light on the seemingly contradictory legal discourse it contained. This study complicates the frequent assumptions we make on the authorship of the archival documents, sorting out the interventions of natives, interpreters, lawyers, judges, and the audience. Third, is an examination of juicios de residencia (trials after the tenure of an colonial officer), a little studied, series of official documents in which ordinary individuals had a rare opportunity to examine and assess the performance of colonial officials. The author reveals how some official documents captured subaltern sectors’ views about power, authority, and good governance. Finally, a forth paper examines the inner workings of the Lima Tribunal of the Inquisition. This study sheds light on the largely ignored vital assistance that defendants received from some tribunal officials and black slaves that curved the tribunal’s trials from inside. Thus, together this panel questions previous assumptions and reveals novel ways in which subaltern sectors effectively contested power and authority in the Andes.