In a pioneering study of childhood in colonial Spanish America, Bianca Premo examines the lives of youths in the homes, schools, and institutions of the capital city of Lima, Peru. Situating these young lives within the framework of law and intellectual history from 1650 to 1820, Premo brings to light the colonial politics of childhood and challenges readers to view patriarchy as a system of power based on age, caste, and social class as much as gender.Although Spanish laws endowed elite men with an authority over children that mirrored and reinforced the monarch's legitimacy as a colonial "Father King," Premo finds that, in practice, Lima's young often grew up in the care of adultssuch as women and slaveswho were subject to the patriarchal authority of others. During the Bourbon Reforms, city inhabitants of all castes and classes began to practice a "new politics of the child," challenging men and masters by employing Enlightenment principles of childhood. Thus the social transformations and political dislocations of the late eighteenth century occurred not only in elite circles and royal palaces, Premo concludes, but also in the humble households of a colonial city.
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About the Author
Bianca Premo is associate professor of history at Florida International University.
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Children of the Father KingYouth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima
By Bianca Premo
The University of North Carolina PressCopyright © 2005 University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.
IntroductionWriting a History of Father Kings and Colonial Minors
On any given weekday afternoon, children fill the streets of Lima's historic downtown district. Many trot toward a midday meal with their families, their rumpled school uniforms emblazoned with the name of a Peruvian patriot or Inca ruler. Some pass sullied rags over the windshields of cars held hostage in endless traffic, requesting some coins in return for the dubious favor. Others run errands, plastic sandals clapping on the cement as they sprint in and out from dark, yawning doorways. They sell candies from boxes strung around their necks, or they beg in front of restaurants or churches. Fewer still, although a greater source of public anxiety, become pirañitas (little piranhas), robbing pedestrians and living in gangs.
The streets of the modern-day capital of Peru seem a long way from historians' descriptions of the city in centuries past, and they seem particularly distant from portraits of Lima when it was a capital in Spain's colonial American empire. In most of these historical accounts, children are almost completely absent. Although today a popular subject for anthropologists, sociologists, and journalists, children and youths seem to have emerged from behind the great walls of the city's mansions or from institutions such as convents, schools, and foundling homes at some unspecified point in the nineteenth or twentieth century, expelled from within by the force of poverty, the "breakdown" of the family, and the rise of capitalist forms of economic dependency. While the visibility of children in our times certainly has much to do with these historical phenomena, in fact children and youths have always been a vital feature of the city's profile. Even during the era of Spanish rule of the Americas, when the imposing institutions of the crown and the Catholic Church encircled and enclosed the city's colonial inhabitants, children overflowed into Lima's streets. Then, as now, children occupied a central position in the political imagination of the city's residents.
This book is a history of childhood, as it was both lived and imagined, in colonial Lima. It enters the social world children and youths inhabited, and it situates that world in the political universe of Spanish rule. Asking how children lived in colonial Lima necessarily entails asking how colonial limeños, or the residents of Peru's capital city, understood childhood. Children were considered legal minors and were represented by elders before crown and church authorities. As a result, documentation capturing their words or penned in their own hands is exceptional. Rather than view children's relative silence in the historical record as a methodological obstruction, I have taken up their legal status and the status of those who raised them as subjects of analysis. At the core of this history of colonial childhood in Lima, then, is a legal history of the changing relationships between children and colonial adults-parents, masters, judges, and officials.
The ideal relationship between adults and children in Lima enacted and refracted the broader political relationship between king and colony. Adult authority over children-and, in particular, the right of the father over his children-was conceptually related to the authority of the Spanish monarch over his colonial subjects. One of the most salient and commonly understood political philosophies of Spanish rule of the Americas cast the king in the role of father to a wide array of colonial "children," including adults. But there existed a disjuncture between the ideal functioning of patriarchal authority codified in Spanish law and actual child rearing practices in the city. This disjuncture lay like a fault line deep within colonial Lima until the late eighteenth century. It was then that Enlightenment philosophies of childhood, coupled with the trajectory of reforms implemented by the Spanish Bourbon monarchy, shifted the terrain of political authority, both domestic and imperial, in the city.
Since the 1960 publication of Philippe Ariès's vastly influential Centuries of Childhood, the number of historical studies of European and U.S. children, and of definitions of childhood and youth, has grown exponentially. Yet the history of childhood remains in a nascent state for many regions and historical periods. For colonial Spanish America it is still so spare that Ann Twinam could comment relatively recently, "Historians know little about the childhood years of colonial Latin Americans."
To be sure, historians have not completely overlooked children in Latin America's past. In the last decade, scholars investigating issues such as custody, early education, welfare, and child labor have begun to ask how the histories of Latin American children fit into, or depart from, a field staked out principally by historians of Western Europe and the United States. If, from such an early vantage point, this new and quite diverse body of scholarship can be said to share any overarching thematic concern, it would have to be the interaction between nation-state and family, for most of these studies gravitate toward Latin America's modern history.
In histories of the colonial period, children occasionally can be spotted, almost as if they were darting in and out of the field of vision of historians whose sights are trained on other subjects, such as the nature of the colonial family or the history of inheritance among propertied elites. Scholars have become particularly interested in illegitimacy in Latin America's past, and this, perhaps more than any other subject of research, has yielded what most approximates a "history of childhood" for colonial Spanish America. Beginning in the 1980s, scores of studies probed the cultural meanings and mores associated with extraconjugal sexual relations and, in turn, natal status. These works link Latin America's historically high rates of illegitimacy and child abandonment to colonial codes of honor, demonstrating how the public shame associated with procreating outside church-sanctioned unions prompted many parents to abandon their illegitimate progeny.
The scholarship on illegitimacy points toward several salient themes in the history of Spanish colonial childhood. It highlights the social implications of the circulation of children through the homes of adults who were not their parents. It reveals the critical role that caste, social class, and gendered norms of sexual behavior took in turning out, generation after generation, a reliable population of abandoned colonial children, and it traces the lives of these children through foundling homes. As this book progresses, a narrative about Lima's own foundling home unfolds within it, and at various junctures issues surrounding illegitimacy and illegitimate children are considered. But the story of colonial Spanish American childhood, it will become obvious, implicates a plethora of historical phenomena-some related to legitimacy status, others not. The historiography of illegitimacy and abandonment, rich as it is, still leaves unexamined certain basic social historical questions about how colonial children lived, learned, and loved as they grew into adults.
As social history, this book in part takes a methodological approach "which embraces the officially powerless as well as the powerful and [stresses] a presentation of the past and of change in terms of shifts in patterns of behavior and outlook." The type of historical records that are the mainstay of social historians, such as institutional reports, censuses, and notary contracts, shed light on common interactions between adults and children in the colonial capital city. These records permit us to reconstruct something of the stories of ordinary colonial lives: to tour the sites where children were raised; to map out children's interactions with parents and other elders with whom they formed intimate, familial bonds; to explore the nature of their education at home and their training in workshops; to diagram the social structure of the schools they attended. Thus, this book attempts to offer at least a baseline social history of children and youths in Lima during the period 1650-1820.
Social history has been described, albeit not without objection, as "history with the politics left out," and one might imagine that children, the most protected and historically "inarticulate" of social groups, had little to do with a master narrative of traditional political history or with the deeds of kings and popes. Yet child rearing in colonial Lima was an inherently political process regardless of how politics is defined. As the abundance of historical works on childhood in Europe and the United States has shown, the study of children and childhood can unite disparate methodological approaches to prove, from multiple disciplinary angles, that "children in the past were central to the reproduction of class and the transmission of culture, important elements in the maintenance of political stability, and a significant source of labor for their families and communities."
Childhood and adolescence were critical stages in the lives of limeños because during these first years of life, the customs and ideologies of the larger political and social order were imparted to future generations. The concept of "social reproduction" is particularly useful for understanding the transmission of colonial culture and political ideologies to the young. In conventional feminist definitions, social reproduction primarily refers to a modern, industrial system in which women's labor and role in sexual reproduction were unremunerated and politically devalued by relegation to the "domestic sphere." Used here, the concept is expanded to include preindustrial child rearing practices involving multiple members of society, from mothers to wet nurses, from priests to the masters of slave children. Each of these adult actors had a hand in raising Lima's youths. Each, in her or his own way, had an interest in passing on social norms that merged into what we might call "colonial culture," and each often transmitted a perspective on the proper ordering of society that reinforced, directly or indirectly, Spanish rule of the Americas. Practices that, for example, instilled Spanish culture in Lima's children or imbued in youths the social mores of Catholicism rendered child rearing intrinsically political.
Yet the participation of adults in the political process of child rearing and the private control they exerted over children in the home did not necessarily translate into public, legal authority in colonial society. Color, social class, and gender hierarchies contoured the social topography of colonial Lima, powerfully conditioning the experiences of both youth and adulthood. These hierarchies had everything to do with the broader political and economic environment of Spanish colonial rule. As one example, we might consider how the officials of Lima's foundling home carefully inspected the skin color, the phenotypic features, and even the type of fabric used to swaddle infants who had been abandoned at its doors. These details, which priests dutifully recorded in baptismal records, designated the natal, color, and class statuses of these children. By assigning caste in the cradle, priests shaped the children's futures: whether they would be considered free or slave; whether boys would be school-educated or trained as artisans; whether girls could receive dowries that would facilitate their marriages to "Spaniards" and the reproduction of a colonial elite.
The quotidian practices and rites of passage associated with youth, such as birth, training, and education, as well as marriage or placement in a monastic institution, tell us a great deal about colonial Spanish American society. But the central characters in this history of childhood-namely, children, elders, and representatives of the church and the royal state-interact most dynamically at moments where adult authority was in dispute or children were in trouble. Much of what we know about the past in Spanish America, and much of what we can know about colonial childhood, was recorded in the ink flowing from quills in the hands of notaries, court scribes, and lawyers. This is because the creation and maintenance of Spanish hegemony in the New World was, in many respects, a legal endeavor. Legalism permeated Spanish colonialism, from the litany of declarations conquistadors read as they claimed dominion over the native populations, to the community-level suits brought by Indians who streamed into the courts in the immediate wake of conquest, to divorce proceedings aired in the tribunals of the Catholic Church throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
Simply put, colonial Spanish Americans were notoriously litigious. While most never left behind letters, diaries, or autobiographical narratives, they frequently used the ecclesiastical and secular courts to settle all manner of disputes. As a result-especially for those seeking to write histories of subjects such as laywomen, slaves, or indigenous peoples-the "historical record" can sometimes appear to be synonymous with criminal cases and civil litigation.
In exploiting the rich historical materials associated with the law, however, I attempt to do more than simply follow the documents into the city's courts. Even while the legal system figured as a key arena for enforcing and negotiating royal and adult authority, it certainly did not encompass the whole of the lives of children and adults in colonial Spanish America. What is more, how colonials used the court system, particularly in matters concerning their children, changed over time. As a legal history, then, this book in part represents an exercise in pressing legal records into telling us what childhood and adult authority, as expressed in the courts, meant for the way childhood and adulthood were experienced in the homes, institutions, and streets of the colonial city.
Methodologically, this means contextualizing written laws and legal practices concerning children in three ways. First, I step back from the sources to reflect on what the presence of so much litigation indicates about colonial Lima as a place to grow up or raise children. I argue that the legalistic nature of Spanish colonialism directly influenced how limeños conceived of age and power. It meant that the very definition of childhood as a biological stage or state of life was, in many ways, predicated on legal grounds-a point to which the ubiquity of the category of "minor" (menor) to refer to children and youths in the historical record attests. While at first glance the assertion that children were considered legal minors appears tautological, it is in fact a historical phenomenon that warrants explanation and description.
Juridical categories both reflected and shaped the social identities of adults as well as children in colonial Lima. Indeed, for most colonial inhabitants, "minority of age" lasted twenty-five years, and Indians were considered perpetual legal minors. This is because "minority" was an ascribed legal identity and was tightly bound up with other categories that had little to do with actual biological age, such as "miserables," "orphans," and the "unprotected." Age thus combined with other social markers to form a complex of statuses and identities for colonial adults and children alike.
In such a context, the ambit of autonomy the law provided to many royal subjects was highly circumscribed. With some exceptions, Spanish laws required married women, slaves, Indians, and minors of age-in short, just about everyone in colonial society-to be represented by powerful adult men in legal matters. Furthermore, the inhabitants of colonial Spanish America claimed relatively low rates of literacy, and official procedure stipulated that scribes and notaries turn litigants' experiences and words into formal statements for judges to read.
These factors heighten the methodological challenge for the historian of childhood and adult authority. Spanish colonial legal case dossiers contain long sections written by lawyers and court scribes who were not only versed in the law but also highly attuned to tectonic historical shifts in politics, ideology, and culture. Their arguments provide evidence about official understandings of childhood, domestic authority, and the power of the Spanish king. But they do not necessarily reveal shifts in how ordinary people reared children and thought about childhood and adult authority.
Excerpted from Children of the Father King by Bianca Premo Copyright © 2005 by University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Introduction. Writing a History of Father Kings and Colonial Minors
Chapter 1. A Short History of Minority in Colonial Lima
Chapter 2. Between the Written and the Real: Child Rearing and Adult Authority, 1650-1750
Chapter 3. Whether Son or Stranger: Institutions for Child Rearing
Chapter 4. Minor Offenses: Youth and Crime in the Eighteenth Century
Chapter 5. The Colonial Child Reborn: Reform and Enlightenment in the Late Colonial Period
Chapter 6. The New Politics of the Child in the Late Colonial Courts
Chapter 7. The New Politics of the Slave Child in the Late Colonial Courts
Conclusion. Strange Ties and Interior Fears
Map of Lima, 1685
Virgen de la Leche
America Nursing Spanish Noble Boys
2.1 Total Free Population by Age and Caste, Lima, 1700
2.2 Percentage of Free Nonwhite Children in Households with Español Adults, Lima, 1700
2.3 Apprenticeships by Caste, Lima, 1645-1800
2.4 Guardianship Contracts by Type, Lima, 1640-1750
4.1 Criminal Arrests by Age, Cabildo, 1714-1813
4.2 Cabildo Cases by Crime Type, 1714-1813
6.1 Average Number of Civil Cases per Year, Lima, 1650-1821
A.1 Projected Totals of Apprenticeships
A.2 Projected Totals of Guardianships
2.1 Custodians Present at Apprenticeship Signing, Lima, 1645-1800
4.1 Cabildo Arrests by Caste and Gender, 1714-1813
What People are Saying About This
[Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima] is a comprehensively researched and successful treatment of an important subject that should be of interest to a wide audience.American Historical Review
Premo's rich and engaging study makes an important advance in our understanding of colonial rule by placing children at the heart of colonialism.Americas
A welcome addition to the study of childhood, gender, and the state in Latin America. . . . Fascinating and persuasive. . . . Helps admirably to advance the scholarship about gender and politics of the colonial state.Itinerario
Premo has written a well-documented, engrossing, and engagingly written book. . . . An invaluable source for anyone studying the subject of 'Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Latin America'. . . . Premo has broken ground for the study of the histories of youth in the Spanish colonial period.Colonial Latin American Historical Review
[An] engaging and important study. . . . An original interpretation of colonialism and its social and political dynamics.Hispanic American Historical Review
Bianca Premo evokes the time and place so well that you can imagine walking down the streets of Lima. This book is exciting to read, an extremely effective tour de force. Premo brings together several strands of analysis under the rubric of Peruvian children: an examination of law, social practice, the Bourbon reforms, slavery, and notions of public good. She argues quite forcefully that children were part of the Bourbon project of the eighteenth century.Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, Carleton University
Shows that child-rearing practices and child-adult relations in Lima were intimately connected to colonial policy. Her numerous and insightful comparisons with other early modern societies and colonial situations will be of great interest to scholars of other periods and regionsJournal of Interdisciplinary History
Premo's superb study of childhood in colonial Lima exemplifies the best of modern historical scholarship. . . . It is not just its content that recommends Children of the Father King to the general reader; it is also a beautifully composed and evocative narrative.Journal of Children and Poverty
An impressive and pioneering book. Skillfully analyzing a rich array of sources, Premo brings to life the streets, courts, schools, and households of colonial Lima. Her nuanced arguments not only illuminate the lives of children, but also challenge simplistic notions about patriarchy, show how Spanish law was modified in a colonial setting, and reveal the impact of the Enlightenment on everyday lives. This elegantly written work is destined to become a classic.Silvia Marina Arrom, Brandeis University
A new, challenging view of youth, legal authority, and childhood in colonial Lima. . . . This is a complex and richly documented story. . . . An important book, well written, clearly argued, and persuasive.Journal of Social History