Let’s Dive Into The Mita System!

Let’s Dive Into The Mita System!

Welcome to Colonial Lima!

Lima was founded in 1535 between the valleys of Pachacamac and Rimac. It was also known as “a City of los Reyes.”[1]

Let’s explore the mita system.

Mita Labor

The mita system was a system established by the Inca Empire in order to construct buildings or create roads throughout the empire. It was later transformed into a coercive labor system when the Spanish conquered the Inca Empire. The Spanish used this system to get free labor from the indigenous people as a form of tribute. The indigenous people would provide agricultural labor or work in textile mills, but the most common form of labor was working the mines. They would have to work in the mines every seven years or so, but as time went on it became more frequent due to the dangerous conditions of the mines. This also contributed to the declining population of indigenous people. As a result, many natives moved away in order to avoid the mita system. The Spanish transformed a system that was meant to help the empire flourish into one of greed. The Spanish didn’t care what happened to the natives or the dangerous environment they were working in, all they cared about was making a profit.

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Silver Coin

The mita system was in effect from 1573 to 1812 while it was part of an economic system set up by the Spaniards. The mita draft required about 200 indigenous communities to send one-seventh of their male population to the mines. The workers were sent to the mines in Huancavelica or Potosi. This system was set up because it was believed that it “would end slavery, keep everyone fed, get silver mined, and discourage abuse”[2], but it produced the opposite. It was an abusive system that the Spanish believed would work because it had worked before they conquered the empire. The difference between the systems during Inca rule and Spanish rule was that it was compassionate and the Spanish turned it tyrannical once the empire was conquered. For the work that was put in by the mitayos (mita workers) in the mines, they received “one half of the wages of the ordinary day-labourer in the fields.”[3] Not only did they barely get paid anything, but they also had to pay their own travel expenses[4], despite the fact that their labor was mandatory. This reinforces the idea that the Spanish took a system that was meant to better cities into an oppressive system where profit meant everything. A few indigenous communities were able to avoid the labor draft because they were able to pay off their mita obligation with silver.[5] Many natives migrated to other parts in order to avoid their labor tribute, but about “80 per cent of the tributary Indians in Peru were eventually subject to one or more forms of forced labor.”[6]

The mita lasted until the end of the Colonial period when it was abolished along with “every species of compulsory labour to which the Indians had been subjected.”[7] Mita didn’t end because Spanish law believed it to be immoral, but rather it ended due to factors in Peru that brought its demise.[8]

– Maria Crespo 

Click here to return to Cities of Empire

Tribute Payment


[1] (Vega 1688, 537)

[2] (Wiedner 1960, 364)

[3] (Miller 1829, 4)

[4] (Rowe 1957, 174)

[5] (Dell 2010, 1867)

[6] (Wiedner 1960, 379)

[7] (Miller 1829, 370)

[8] (Wiedner 1960, 382)

 

 

 

 

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  5. […] Luckily for the Spanish, the conquered Inca empire already utilized a form of labor system, the Mit’a, that allowed the Spanish conquistadors to exploit for its own use in the mines. Unfortunately for […]