The Repartimiento system was a form of forced labor used by Spanish colonists in Latin America during the 16th and 17th centuries. It was a form of indentured servitude that was used to supply labor for public works projects and to work in the mines. The Spanish Crown would issue a repartimiento, or allotment, of natives to a particular Spanish colonist, who was then responsible for providing the native with food, clothing, and shelter. In exchange, the native would be obligated to provide labor for a certain period of time. The repartimiento system was used to acquire workers in the absence of a free labor market or wage labor.


Forced labor in the Spanish colonies

The distribution (Spanish pronunciation: [repaɾtiˈmjento]) (Spanish, “distribution, partition or division”) was a colonial labor system imposed on the indigenous population of Spanish America. In concept, it was similar to other tribute– work systems, such as the mit’a of Inca Empire or the corvee of Ancien Régime de France: Through the Indian pueblos, the Amerindians were recruited to work for cycles of weeks, months or years, on farms, in mines, in workshops (works) and public projects.

Establishment of division and decline of encomienda

As new laws from 1542, the division was installed to replace the encomienda system that came to be seen as abusive and promoter of unethical behavior. The Spanish Crown intended to wrest control of the indigenous population, now considered subjects of the Crown, from the hands of the orders, which became a politically influential and wealthy class, with the departure of both encomienda system and the enslavement of native groups.

The division it was not slavery, inasmuch as the worker is not absolute property – being free in many respects, except in the dismissal of his work – and the work was intermittent. However, he created slavery-like conditions in certain areas, most famously in 16th-century silver mines Peru under the project working system known as mita, influenced in part by a similar traction work system that the Inca used, also called mit’a. In New Spain, the collapse of indigenous populations due to conquest and disease led to a shift in encomienda system for indian villagesWhile the encomienda the system no longer made economic sense, as there were not enough Amerindians. They needed to consolidate manpower, which they did in a process known as reductions. The encomienda system was replaced by “two parallel but separate ‘republics'”. The republic of spanish “included Spaniards, who lived in Spanish cities and obeyed Spanish law”, and the republic of indians “natives included, who resided in native communities, where native law and native authorities (so long as they did not contradict Spanish norms) prevailed.” It was in this second domain that the indian villages resided. Amerindians who belonged lived in the indian villages they had ownership of their lands, but, considered subjects of the Spanish Crown, they had to pay tribute.

how it worked

In practice, one order, or Spanish colonist or official, would be given supervisory control over various indigenous workers, who would work on farms or mines. This would come from Hispanic miners or farmers making a weekly application for work to the district magistrate or a special judge in charge of division work. The adult men of the community whose turn it was to leave were gathered by the sharing juices (the Amerindian governors of indian villages) and handed over to the Spanish official who would move them to a different area to do any necessary work. Legally, these systems could not interfere with the very survival of Amerindians, with only 7-10% of the adult male population allowed to be assigned at any one time. These Indians received wages for their work, which they could then use to pay tribute to the Crown.

The native men, who work about 3 to 4 weeks a year, can also be hired by the local government in public works such as harvesting, mines and infrastructure. Mining, specifically, was a concern of the Crown and the Peruvian viceroy. Enacted by Don Francis of Toledo, these mining drafts were brought to indigenous workers through this draft work system to do hard work. While there were attempts to guard against overwork, the abuses of power and high quotas set by mine owners continued, leading to both depopulation and the system of indigenous men buying themselves out of the labor call by paying their own wages. curacas or employers.

decline of distribution System in New Spain

The decrease in the number of indigenous people in the Americas due to European diseases (smallpox, the flu, measles and typhus) which the native populations did not resist, as well as the abandonment of the work camps, led to the replacement of encomienda system and the creation of privately owned farms and farms in New Spain. In order to get away from these system of compulsory work of encomienda and breakdown, The Amerindians left their indian villages. This was a dangerous undertaking as it left them landless and without a community. If an Amerindian left his pueblothey would look salaried work; others signed contracts (asientos) for six months to a year, during which time the worker was obliged to receive a wage and provide housing and religious services. In northern New Spain this was a frequent occurrence. This area was not heavily populated and therefore it was more difficult for the Spaniards to enforce reductions, which means they couldn’t create indian villages to pull division work of. Northern New Spain had more silver mines, and because division work was unreliable, wage labor was the dominant form of work used in New Spain. While not ideal, the Spanish Crown allowed this, as silver was their priority for trade with China after the Ming Dynasty made silver the sole currency for internal taxation and foreign trade.

capitalist development

The divisionfor the most part replaced the encomienda along the Viceroyalty of New Spain at the beginning of the 17th century. At the PeruThe mita work system prevailed because the Inca Empire had already established a centralized tax system, as well as a common identity, and already had experience with a rotational labor system of the Incas. mit’a. The decline of shift work in New Spain paved the way for one of the world’s first capitalist societies as Amerindian workers left their indian villages they were landless and instead sold their labor power to buy food and housing. Peru did not experience the same development because the Indians remained longer on the land, having access to their own means of production.

See too



  • Cole, Jeffery A. (1985). The Potosí Mita, 1573-1700: Mandatory indigenous work in the Andes. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1256-5

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