Cochabamba, 1550-1900: Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia / Edition 2

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Winner of the 1990 Best Book Award from the New England Council on Latin American Studies

This study of Bolivia uses Cochabamba as a laboratory to examine the long-term transformation of native Andean society into a vibrant Quechua-Spanish-mestizo region of haciendas and smallholdings, towns and villages, peasant markets and migratory networks caught in the web of Spanish imperial politics and economics. Combining economic, social, and ethnohistory, Brooke Larson shows how the contradictions of class and colonialism eventually gave rise to new peasant, artisan, and laboring groups that challenged the evolving structures of colonial domination. Originally published in 1988, this expanded edition includes a new final chapter that explores the book’s implications for understanding the formation of a distinctive peasant political culture in the Cochabamba valleys over the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“In light of the important reflections on the book by Roseberry and the author herself, and the quality and relevance of Cochabamba, 1550–1990, the decision to reissue it is clearly a good one.” - Colonial Latin American Historical Review

“This book makes it clear that the history of these valleys is unique, with its large forastero, cholo, and mestizo populations, who worked for the haciendas, supplied grain to the silver miners, and evolved into a commercially vibrant, bilingual people with a rich ethnic heritage.” - Agriculture and Human Values

“[A] magnificent work in social history. In terms of its historical scope, rich detail, and theoretical sophistication, [Larson’s] work represents a model for social historians.” - Erwin P. Grieshaber, The Americas

“[Cochabamba] stands as an impressive and theoretically engaging study in historical anthropology and the political economy of colonialism.” - Mark T. Berger, Latin American Research Review

“In light of the important reflections on the book by Roseberry and the author herself, and the quality and relevance of Cochabamba, 1550–1990, the decision to reissue it is clearly a good one.” - Colonial Latin American Historical Review

"Larson’s work is a major study in the Latin American field . . . magnificent and original. . . . ‘Must’ reading for all agrarian and social historians of Latin America."—Steve J. Stern, University of Wisconsin

"[T]he work of a master historian, finding, analyzing, and interpreting archival sources with both discipline and insight."—William Roseberry, from the Foreword

Mark T. Berger
“[Cochabamba] stands as an impressive and theoretically engaging study in historical anthropology and the political economy of colonialism.”
Erwin P. Grieshaber
“[A] magnificent work in social history. In terms of its historical scope, rich detail, and theoretical sophistication, [Larson’s] work represents a model for social historians.”
Colonial Latin American Historical Review
“In light of the important reflections on the book by Roseberry and the author herself, and the quality and relevance of Cochabamba, 1550–1990, the decision to reissue it is clearly a good one.”
Agriculture and Human Values
“This book makes it clear that the history of these valleys is unique, with its large forastero, cholo, and mestizo populations, who worked for the haciendas, supplied grain to the silver miners, and evolved into a commercially vibrant, bilingual people with a rich ethnic heritage.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822320616
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books
  • Publication date: 3/18/1998
  • Edition description: Expanded
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 422
  • Lexile: 1640L (what's this?)

Meet the Author

Brooke Larson is Professor of History and Director of Latin American Center, State University of New York, Stony Brook. She is the coeditor of Ethnicity, Markets, and Migration in the Andes, also published by Duke University Press.

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Read an Excerpt

Cochabamba, 1550-1900

Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia

By Brooke Larson

Duke University Press

Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7985-0


Along the Inca Frontier

The traveler in the sixteenth century who set off southward from the shores of Lake Titicaca on a journey through Alto Perú (today Bolivia) left behind him one of the world's most arresting lacustrine landscapes. Pausing a moment in the hot morning sun to contemplate the landscape, a European traveler must have been struck by the lake's vast expanse and deep blue waters set off by the golden reeds that rose from the shallow waters near the shore. He saw great herds of alpaca and llama grazing on yellow-green pastures, and peasants planting quinoa and potatoes on hillsides sloping gently down to the lake. Across the inland sea to the northeast rose glaciered peaks that formed part of the endless eastern cordillera flanking the lake and the altiplano. Those mountains formed a topographic barrier between the dense human settlements around the lake and the vast, tropical frontier stretching eastward across the upper Amazonic basin. In the afternoons, the peaks vanished in white clouds that welled up from the tropical jungle beyond the cordillera, as if beckoning people of the high, arid plains to venture across the mountains into the steamy lowlands. From the altiplano, at 12,000 feet above sea level, the foreigner could feel the effects of the dry, "thin" air that seemed to lend an extraordinary luminosity to the landscape. The sun's warmth was deceptive, for the temperature would plummet to near freezing on most clear nights. The Aymara peoples who inhabited the high plains harnessed the extreme diurnal temperature contrast to make "freeze-dried" potatoes (chuño), a major source of their stored energy, and to preserve other staples. But for the European, the altiplano was bleak and inhospitable country.

Continuing southward, the sojourner encountered the bitter wind that scoured the high plains during the winter months, portent of a harsher climate. The southern reaches of the altiplano, near the towns of Oruro, Poopó, and Potosí, were considerably more arid and cold than the lake region or points north. Farther south, in the desolate territory of the Lipez, it was said that during the winter months the cold split stones and shrank the facial muscles of the dead, leaving ghostly smiles on their frozen, withered faces. It was strange landscape, where shallow lakes were really salt marshes and where it was impossible to judge distance across the high plains to the next tambo or town. The luminous air seemed to play dangerous games with European perceptions of space.

The Southern Landscapes

Continental mountain chains border the altiplano on its western and eastern sides, so that in reality it is a series of high intermontane basins that formed a corridor of highland movement and settlement along a north-south axis between Cuzco and southern Alto Perú (see figure 2). To the west, the Cordillera Occidental juts sharply upward from the altiplano, its peaks reaching heights of 15,500 feet. A few rivers originate in this volcanic belt and flow westward toward the sea; the vertiginous western slopes drop off into the Atacama desert region bordering the sea. Mountain passages are few and treacherous, but the descent into the desert is the only outlet to the sea and the world beyond.

Crossing the eastern mountain chain, the Cordillera Oriental, the sixteenth-century traveler encountered a rugged, corrugated landscape that seemed more vertical than horizontal. Three or four days on muleback would bring the traveler through mountain passes near the snow line (at 15,000 feet) and across slopes and high pastures, where llamas grazed on ichu grasses, to cultivated fields where peasants planted tubers, barley, and perhaps some European wheat, at altitudes ranging from about 11,400 to 13,800 feet. The puna lands were cold, but every so often the sojourner would come across a warm, sheltered valley that had a microclimate allowing peasants to cultivate less hardy crops than the tubers. This mountain range was wider than the western cordillera, and its tortured landscape sometimes seemed impenetrable, but actually these mountains were less hostile. Volcanic lakes fed streams that plunged into the cordillera and carved out rugged gorges and crevices. In the dry winter months, mountain streambeds became passageways into the warmer lowlands. There, the weary traveler at last began to feel at home: the kichwa region, ranging from 6,500 to 11,000 feet, was a temperate zone where European crops flourished alongside native ones. European colonists compared the valleys favorably to their own homelands in Spain.

In this longitudinal slice of the eastern cordillera, three broad in-termontane basins created important agricultural regions in the kichwa ecological tier. Of the three valleys—Cochabamba, Chuquisaca, and Tarija—the northernmost, Cochabamba, was the largest and probably the most fertile. It consisted in turn of three contiguous, connected valleys, each with its own ecological characteristics (see figure 1). The central valley, called the Valle Bajo or Lower Valley, was blessed with moist, alluvial soil deposited by a mountain river (known today as the Rocha River) that ran the length of the valley and spilled into the next, smaller valley, called Sacaba. In the richest lands, especially in the western reaches of the Valle Bajo, where the basin began to twist southward through the cordillera, peasants planted maize continuously on irrigated lands. There was no need to let the lands lie fallow where the alluvial soil was so deep and water readily available. A passage through a small mountain chain at the eastern end of the Valle Bajo led to the larger, higher, and more arid valley of Cliza. During winter months, its dry, dusty fields had none of the charms of the moister lands in the Valle Bajo or the Sacaba Valley, but its fields provided good pastures for European stock and pockets of moist soil that might be planted with maize and potatoes.

Though they opened on to each other, these central valleys of Cochabamba (as we shall refer to them) were fairly contained geographically. The cordillera rose sharply on all sides of the three valleys, isolating them from the altiplano and from other large settlements or valley regions. To the north and east, the rugged land jutted upward toward the sky, barricading the valleys from the tropical frontier on the other side of the eastern escarpment. South of the Cliza Valley, the landscape erupted in dry, jagged mountains that cut off the valley region from the southern intermontane basins and the large settlements of Chuquisaca and Tarija. The central valleys of Cochabamba were not cul-de-sacs; it was possible to travel eastward across the valleys and then, turning south, to follow winding mountain trails to the southern towns. But like most settlements in the warm kichwa tier along the eastern escarpment, the towns and villages of Cochabamba were off the beaten track—situated far from the altiplano and perched on the eastern edges of the colonial frontier, where the land dropped off precipitously into the untamed tropical expanse. The most heavily traveled routes followed the Arque and Tapacarí rivers in the western territory of the Cochabamba region through the cordillera to the altiplano.

The bleak puna and sharp, broken landscape of the cordillera that vexed and tortured Europeans provided an extraordinary variety of ecological niches which Andean peoples harnessed in precolonial times. The Aymara tribes, which inhabited the southern Andes long before the arrival of even the Incas, adopted pastoral and agricultural strategies that took advantage of the variations in climate and flora in the distinct ecological zones, often widely dispersed in space.

The Aymara people implanted their core settlements in the bleak lands of the altiplano and puna. Highland settlements could take advantage of the tough grasses to graze their cameloid animals, chiefly llamas and alpacas. With careful planning and frequent rotation, tuber crops and quinoa also thrived in higher altitudes, where rainfall provided the only water. And the cold, dry climate proved ideal for preserving for ten or twelve months the vital foods that could supplement the consumption of chuño, which highlanders sometimes stored for years on end. However harsh and forbidding the puna might seem to Europeans, it was the heartland of the domesticated cameloids and tubers that provided the staples of life for most Andean peoples. Furthermore, the puna tier was a strategic location for Andean communities. It usually formed a "middle ground" between the upper alpine pastures, too cold for even the hardiest crops to be sown, and the lower valleys and slopes in the kichwa zone. More important, puna settlements could be fortified more easily than villages nestled in remote valleys at lower altitudes. But the puna not only nourished its inhabitants; it also formed the battlegrounds where rival Aymara kingdoms or clans engaged in ceremonial and real warfare. Small wonder that the Aymara word for highlands, urco, also connoted "virility associated with violence." In contrast, the warm, fertile lowlands were associated with feminine qualities, and valley settlements were considered to be subordinate to the core ethnic group of the puna.

Life and agriculture at altitudes of 12,000 feet above sea level were fraught with uncertainty. Communities on the shores of Titicaca had the benefit of that large, deep body of water, which tempered the cold, dry climate of the altiplano. But most Aymaras lived with the expectation that frost, drought, or hailstorms would cut deeply into the harvest about three out of every five years. It was not enough that abundant rain fell near harvest time if mild drought struck in the crucial months of September, October, and November, when highland peasants planted precious potato seed in the thin topsoil of the puna. And no season was free of the threat of frost; it could strike at any moment, sometimes claiming an entire harvest as winter approached. Even under optimal climatic conditions, cultivators had to manage puna resources carefully, allowing their fields to rest—sometimes as long as twenty years—between crops. Highland peasants rotated potato, another tuber called oca, and the barley-like quinoa among multiple, dispersed plots of ground where the angle of the slope, patterns of light and shade, altitude, and soil condition combined in different ways to produce varied ecological conditions within the puna zone. In that way, cultivators didn't upset the delicate ecological balance, and they hedged their bets against natural calamity in any one locality.

Strict ecological constraints and the risks involved in puna agriculture impelled the highland communities to reach out to distant lands in the east. The moist lands in the kichwa zone meant that highland people could complement their everyday diet of potatoes,chuño, and oca with such exotic products as maize, chili peppers (ají), and squashes. Without large-scale public works to terrace hillsides and build irrigation systems, valley agriculture remained small-scale, dispersed, and secondary to highland subsistence agriculture. But scattered parcels of irrigated land in the river valleys of Cochabamba might yield maize crops large enough to allow some to be stored in communal silos against future emergencies—when, for example, drought in the temporal lands of the puna diminished the community's potato harvest. More than simply insurance, maize had symbolic value as a ceremonial crop, to be consumed (often in the form of chicha, or beer) at holiday festivities, work parties, or life-cycle rituals. It was a food of the gods as well as of the peasant family. Thus, rich maize fields in the eastern valleys provided precious resources to highland communities with which to appease the local deities and to guard against the frequent harvest failures.

Like most of the Andean peoples that inhabited the highlands south of the Cajamarca region, Aymara communities assured themselves of a stable source of subsistence through their control of multiple ecological tiers. At the local level of the ayllu, an extended kin group, this "vertical control of the ecology" might simply take the form of crop diversification across different microclimates located at great distance from one another. Even today in many parts of Bolivia, Aymara kin groups collectively control high pastures where cameloids and sheep are reared as well as crop land scattered throughout the puna and in the tucks and folds of the warm valleys, several days' journey away. Murra's pathbreaking ethnohistorical study of the Chupaychu and Lupaqa kingdoms in the sixteenth century revealed extensive networks of "vertical control" that interlaced multiple settlements along the eastern and western Cordilleras and nuclear political and kin groups in the highlands. These ethnic kingdoms created "peripheral islands" of kinsmen in fertile pockets in the eastern kichwa regions, on oases along the Pacific coast, and on the edges of the tropical frontier. The inhabitants of these satellite communities, who were called mitimaes, cultivated coca, maize, aji, and cotton; they gathered guano along the seacoast to be used as fertilizer in the highlands; and they sent tropical fruit up from the Yungas, the eastern mountains of the tropical zone. The same settlement pattern obtained for the Aymara kingdoms located far to the south of Lake Titicaca, though their vertical orientation was perhaps more eastward toward the kichwa lowlands. This "archipelago" pattern of territoriality, so different from European nucleated settlements and contiguous territorial control, required kinsmen to trek many days through diverse landscape and "foreign" territory to their outlying colonies. Once they left behind their fortified core settlement in the highlands, they moved from ethnic island to island, navigating their way through neutral or enemy territory. A bird's-eye view of the eastern cordillera and intermontane basins would reveal a mosaic of multiple (often competing) hamlets, sealed off from their neighbors but bound tightly through kin ties and ideology to their distant ethnic "headquarters" in the highlands. Thus were Andean polities able to harness the ecological diversity of the vertical landscape and ensure their social reproduction, even in the face of high-risk puna agriculture, without embarking upon the indigenous development of a market system for the exchange of specialized or surplus products.

Yet, as Murra conceptualized it, "vertical control of the ecology" cannot be reduced simply to a model of ecological adaptation. "Vertically" was also an "ideal" that shaped the social relations of production and exchange within Andean society and formed an integral part of an ideology and world view. In principle and in practice, vertical control implied the existence of a communal tradition and ideology that bound people together in a web of mutual rights and responsibilities. Through reciprocity and communal labor, people coordinated their efforts to minimize and pool subsistence risks and ensure the social reproduction of their community or kindred. In its purest form, the principle of reciprocity involved the exchange of equivalencies, mediated by kinship and ritual kinship relations. As anthropologists have long argued, however, reciprocal relations may take a variety of forms, some symmetrical and some not, so that the term refers only vaguely to a relationship defined by a process of advances and restitutions over time.

What was crucial in the precolonial Andean context, however, was that kinship provided a language and an ideology defining and legitimating patterns of give and take, at both the ayllu and the state level, which gave a certain cohesion and unity to kin groups scattered widely across space. In Andean societies, kin groups were bounded units composed of an extended network of households. Households were joined together to form larger, nested groups such as the ayllu, the lineage, and the community, tribe, or ethnic lordship (señorío). The ayllu, the cell of Andean society, was theoretically an endogamous lineage that traced its origins to a common ancestor. Ayllus were nested in extended lineages which, in turn, claimed descent from a mythical ancestor-god. These "confederated lineages" formed a half-dozen or so polities embracing thousands of households and extensive "vertical archipelagos." Before and after Incaic penetration, the Colla and Lupaqa kingdoms of the lake district, the Pacajes peoples south of the lake, and, to the far south, the Charcas, Caracaras, Chuyes, and Chichas all identified themselves as cultural groups distinguished by their Aymara dialects, styles of dress, music, weaving, and local rituals and deities (see figure 3).


Excerpted from Cochabamba, 1550-1900 by Brooke Larson. Copyright © 1998 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
List of Tables
Preface to the Duke Edition
Introduction 3
1 Along the Inca Frontier 13
2 The Emergence of a Market Economy 51
3 Declining State Power and the Struggle over Labor 92
4 Andean Village Society 133
5 Haciendas and the Rival Peasant Economy 171
6 The Landowning Class: Hard Times and Windfall Profits 210
7 The Spirit and Limits of Enterprise 242
8 The Ebb Tide of Colonial Rule 270
9 Colonial Legacies and Class Formation 295
10 Cochabamba: (Re)constructing a History 322
Appendix 391
Glossary 401
Archival Material 407
Index 413
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