The Rise of Colonialism and Catholicism | Galapagos Unbound

Rise of Spanish Colonialism 

After Rumiñahui’s execution, the indigenous Ecuadorians led no considerable uprisings against the Spanish. As such, the colonial era began relatively smoothly. Francisco Pizarro founded the city of Lima as Peru’s capital, and it became the center of the region’s political administration. Pizarro also named his brother, Gonzalo, the governor of Quito in 1540 while Ecuador remained a province under Spain, or gobernación, until 1563.

At that point, the Spanish empire created an administrative unit called the Audiencia de Quito, or the Royal Audience of Quito, which held military, political, and religious jurisdiction over Ecuador and parts of Peru, Columbia, and Brazil. Initially, this political division allowed the government some autonomy from the Viceroyalty of Peru as it centered more power with the president of the Audiencia. The political division was influenced by Spanish authority, however, and the viceroyalty was transferred to the Viceroyalty of Columbia, or the Viceroyalty of Nueva Grenada, in 1739.

The colonial era in Ecuador was relatively peaceful, although it could be argued that the indigenous Ecuadorians were subjugated in a relatively peaceful manner. The Spanish played a critical role in the history of Ecuador; they developed the economy as they cultivated exports such as cattle and bananas and introduced Catholicism as they built churches and monasteries atop the ruins of desecrated indigenous sites. That being said, the indigenous Ecuadorian’s fared much worse under the rule of the Spaniards than they did under that of the Incas.


Introduction of Foreign Contagions and Forced Labor Systems

The indigenous peoples of South America had already been ravaged by the violence of conquest that went hand in hand with the conquistador’s advancement through the lands as well as the introduction of foreign disease. The exotic contagions continued to decimate the populations throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

The Spanish also instituted foreign laws and forced labor systems called the encomienda and the mita. The word ‘ecomienda’ is related to the Spanish word encomendar, which means “to entrust.” It was created as a system of governance over the large tracts of new land and the peoples cohabitating on it. Theoretically, the system entrusted prominent Spaniards with native communities, assuming that as the natives provided labor and tribute, the Spanish lords provided protection, education, and religious indoctrination in turn. Of course, the encomienda became a thinly veiled system of slavery that was particularly abusive in Ecuador and Peru’s early colonial years, when the natives were forced to work in mercury mines and travel long distances to deliver the quotas of tribute. Similarly, the mita required natives to spend a year working toward “Spain’s interests” in another form of forced labor that essentially indebted the natives to Spaniards.


The New Laws and Return to Rebellion 

There were some Spanish attempts to cease this abuse. Spain’s Emperor Charles V and Peru’s viceroy Blasco Núñez Vela instituted the New Laws to protect the indigenous peoples and abolish the encomienda system after the death of individual encomenderos. The New Laws were met with great resistance by the conquistadors and encomenderos, and they gathered together in rebellion.

The revolt was led by Gonzalo Pizarro. Pizarro and his followers executed Blasco Núñez Vela and took over Quito and Lima. The rebellion was successful in that it forced the emperor to to repeal the New Laws, but Pizarro himself was ultimately captured by soldiers of the crown and executed as a traitor. Many indigenous people were liberated in the tumult of the conquistador wars, but the reinstitution of the New Laws allowed forced labor to continue in Ecuador for many years. These institutions were furthered as people with land tenures turned to the importation of Africans to help reinforce their labor losses. Afro-Ecuadorians remain a vital part of Ecuador’s history and culture to this day.