Rebels of Laicacota: Spaniards, Indians, and Andean mestizos in southern Peru during the mid-colonial crisis of 1650--1680

Nicanor J. Dominguez
Dept. of History, University of Indiana at Urbana-Champain
August, 2006


The present dissertation studies the conflictive development, construction, and re-definition of ethnicity in mid-colonial Peru. Its focus is on the problem of cultural and ethnic identity formation among Spaniards, Indians, and mestizos (mixed-bloods) in the colonial Andes, and the links and divisions among these groups present in specific intra-elite conflicts and cross-strata alliances. These issues are addressed through the analysis of the seminal violent events and the broader context of the 1665-68 alleged rebellion by the Salcedo brothers (Spanish miners), and their mestizo militia in the Laicacota miningdistrict of Southern Peru. A conflict between mining entrepreneurs of different Iberian origins, it was initially a Basque-Andalusian rivalry for the control of what was for a decade the richest mine in Peru. During the conflict, each faction relied on the support of local criollos (American-born Spaniards with roots in different Iberian regions), and of mestizos, whose rising numbers are explained here as an Indian strategy of 'de-corporatization.' These rising numbers, as is argued in this dissertation, were due to Indian laborers who, through their experience in cities and mining centers, became culturally hispanicized in a process of shifting identities. Considered to be culturally mestizo, as they became alienated from their original rural communities by an unstable process of non-biological mestizaje , they caused alarm among the authorities because of the disruptive consequences of this process for the colonial system, which rested precisely on the availability of coercible indigenous laborers living in agricultural communities. The Laicacota events transformed an intra-elite conflict into a South Andean crisis of governance, based in part on the mobilization of an unruly force of lower-class 'mestizos.' Its defeat allowed the maintenance of the colonial system in the Andes until the Bourbon Reforms of the second half of the eighteenth century. In a comparative view, this dissertation illuminates similar social and ethnic problems occurring in mid-colonial Mexico. Moreover, it helps to envision some of the largely ignored trans-Atlantic linkages of the Spanish Empire, through the connections between regional groups of rival Spaniards both in the Andes and Iberia.