A Ladino Indian in Spanish Clothing. Analysis of the Indigenous Nobility in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca (Cuilapan, 16th-18th centuries)

Marlen Donají Palma Silva

The processes that took place after the arrival of the Spaniards abruptly changed the lives of the inhabitants of the regions that now formed New Spain. In this context, two different realities confronted each other. The indigenous peoples sought to ensure that their institutions survived an era of uncertainty. For their part, the Hispanics sought to obtain the tribute from the recently conquered spaces.

At this juncture, the action of the Caciques was decisive as a connecting thread between the two groups. They were seen by the members of their communities as symbols of unification and identity. Meanwhile, their support to the Hispanics meant a great help in the pacification campaigns, the territorial reorganization, and the consolidation of the colonial apparatus.

The research seeks to examine the conformation of the new native leaders and the relationships that these rulers deployed in the central space of Oaxaca. In this way, the thesis reviews the most significant elements that configured the figure of the cacique. Particularly about land tenure. Understanding the legal aspect not as an immovable entity, but as a set of ordinances, experiences, flexibility on the part of the colonial authorities, and a knowledge of jurisprudence of the caciques and their lawyers to take advantage of all the tools they could count on to continue holding their privileges. In addition to analyzing the relationships and social networks that they created and consolidated through the use, they made of their lands and possessions, which allowed them to remain active during the three centuries of Iberian presence.

This project starts from the idea that in the Central Valleys, there was a different cacical configuration. Unlike what happened in other areas, they managed to maintain their preponderance. The good links that developed between the Spaniards and these elites since the conquest allowed the caciques to become a very powerful class. However, they did lose some prerogatives. The access, use, and administration of the lands allowed them to create networks and ties that reinforced their predominant position in the local society and prevented their disappearance.


Image: La gran de villa Cuilapan, c. 1777, Biblioteca Nacional de España (Spain).

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