Virtues of the Indian

An Electronic Edition · Juan de Palafox y Mendoza (1600-1659)

Original Source: Virtudes del Indio, por Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, Obispo de la Puebla de los Ángeles (Madrid: Impresa de Tomás Minuesa de los Ríos, 1893 [Puebla, 1650]), capítulos V, VII, IX, XII, XIV, & XVI. University of Virginia, Small Special Collections Library. Partial digitization on Googlebooks.

Full Colophon Information

Translated by Abby Kamensky, Mae Flato, Molly Hepner, Kayla Pomeranz, & Karla Núñez (University of Virginia)


Chapter V

How worthy are the Indians of Royal protection, for the profits they have produced for the Crown of Spain

Though the Indians are the vassals who cost the Crown the least, they are not those who have least enriched and augmented its wealth. One cannot doubt that even when considered together, the riches of many of Your Majesty’s other kingdoms and those of Crowns around the world, are not equal to nor comparable to the minimum amount of profits which in so brief a time New Spain has yielded through the mines of Potosí, Zacatecas, Parral, Pachuca, Guanajuato,[1] and through tributes, duties, tithes, and diverse types of rents[2] to the Crown, and this is without considering the treasures produced by Peru.[3]

Some would even like to undermine this excellent merit and service[4] to the Crown of Your Majesty by saying that due to the Indies, Spain has become depopulated and filled with superfluous things. To this point one can easily respond that one Kingdom [New Spain] does not cost the other [Spain] much when it asks for citizens and receives the third or fourth children [of a family] to populate the colonies, and when the Kingdom submits itself and allows itself to be governed by them. In this way the residents are enriched and the settler Kingdom is made powerful by many and frequent remittances to Spain, not only paid as rent to Your Majesty, but also from your Spanish subjects in the Indies, to other relatives, friends, and confidants they left behind in their motherland.

Although it is very laudable and of great merit that many Kingdoms, such as the Low Countries and others of this quality, have not brought any considerable return to the Crown, but, on the contrary, have taxed us greatly in men, riches, and blood, and so many wars, meanwhile the Kingdoms of the Indies, without costing any bloodshed, nor silver, nor gold, have instead offered all of the wealth the land hides within its bowels and veins.[5]

And it is very certain, that if Spain did not have to spend these treasures on so many wars in Europe, it would abound in riches, which nevertheless are the ruin of customs and even Kingdoms if they are abused. But, so long as they are used with moderation and prudence, they are the sinew of war, the security of peace, and the respect and reputation of the Kingdoms and Crowns. And furthermore, these riches maintain the authority of the Royal Dignity, pay soldiers, foment commerce, employ vassals, maintain the prisons, and defend the Church, and no one condemns these riches, only the abuse and poor use of them, because they are nothing more than an indifferent instrument of our salvation or perdition: our perdition if we spend them on vices and our salvation if we put them to honest, holy, and Christian use.

And so, the Indies, its Provinces and Kingdoms, merit the mercy[6] that Your Majesty is obliged to grant them for not having cost the Crown much, and for having enriched the Crown with such copious treasures, never before seen in the world and which the Indies alone can give and the Ministers alone can obtain.[7] And it is without doubt, that in the continuous wars of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V[8] and the Most Serene Philip II and III,[9] his Son and Grandson, and in the frequent and past wars that Y[our] M[ajesty] has had to defend the Church and the Faith and your most dignified Crown and House, the Indies have been of significant importance and succor. The value of the Indies can be easily known by those treasures that have been arriving from the year 1523 until now, and also from those that have gone missing when by some accident they have not arrived, which has caused most harmful effects.


Chapter VII

Concerning three other vices that the Indians have as a manner of custom: sensuality, gluttony, and sloth

Regarding the three other vices in which the Indians cannot be called as innocent, one cannot deny that they are much more temperate than those in many other nations, but I do not wish to make these comparisons as it is unnecessary; instead, it is my aim to discuss the merits of the Indian, a subject so remote from Your Majesty but so deserving of increas’d favor of your piety, so that you may continue and honor these favors with the efficacious implementation of your Royal Decrees and Laws, without noting their nations of origin, for all countries possess people of both good and reprov’d inclinations.

Because the first thing is that they are very moderate in their sensuality when they do not concern themselves with[10] Pulque,[11] Tepache,[12] Vingui,[13] and the other strong drinks which they are accustomed to consuming. And although they have some great weaknesses, and the vice of sensuality does not make that of intoxication less serious, it would be wrong of us, thinking comparatively, to condemn those miserable Indians that sin and impair their senses when men who are very able, brisk, and civil sin with all their five idle senses, as well.

And thus, in the vulnerable Indians, this first vice of sensuality is suppressed by the former of gluttony, in that which all of the Indians are forsaken to fall into whenever they eat, because they are so temperate; and as much as they drink it is certain that they could reform their ways easily, if all of the shepherds of their souls and the corregidores,[14] put special care into reforming them, as some do; because there is no greater force than taking poison from the hand of a child and placing another thing in it.

And regarding the extent of laziness, which is very typical of them, for being so idle and bent on their nature, one must not worry himself with exhorting them to diligence and corporal work. Because of this vice they are surrounded by spiritual doctors, worldly priests, and corregidores that cure them with great frequency, busying them with diverse husbandry, spinning, knitting, and every type of art and utility. Although the Indians are not naturally diligent, the fruit of these labors is that they are made to work such that this vice is fully rooted out of them.

And from here one can deduce an evident manifestation of the virtue of the Indians, while from seven cardinal vices that they bring to the lost world, one still finds that they are naturally and commonly spoken, very moderate and reserved, and it is rare for them to fall into the cardinal five vices of greed, pride, rage, ambition or envy. And with respect to laziness, they have enough teachers to make them diligent such that they may all become recovered, for their sensuality may only be reduced once they have become overwhelmed with greed, and they do not practice this vice in eating, but rather in drinking certain preparations[15] of roots and of herbs that cause intoxicating effects,[16] with which they become freed from the other six cardinal vices, from which our fragile nature continues to suffer. And of the one that remains, those who commit it are only disadvantaged in the other half of this vice, which is the drinking, for they are exempt of all others due to their frugality in eating. It seems that one can say, that of seven vices, they primarily fall into one half of one vice, whereas all seven of the others afflict us.

Compare, then, these Indians with the other nations of the world, in whom ire is so powerful that families and nations strike up disagreements and break into factions that become four-and-six-hundred year-long civil wars, as is seen with the Guelphs and Ghibellines[17] and the Niarros and Cadells.[18] And in other nations gluttony is so powerful that men can hardly leave their feasts; and in others sensuality is so dissolute that they can hardly forgive the most reserved and sacred. And in others there is ambition that has spawned innumerable wars; and in others envy and pride so terrible that they have wanted to seize all of the surrounding nations through force and destroy through these two vices the Houses and Kingdoms of the most Catholic men. In others gossip, blasphemy, and swearing are so frequent that one hardly hears other words from a great number of people. And it will be seen that with respect to the many vices that trouble the nations of the world, the Indians come to be the virtuous and innocent ones, the ones who, through their virtue, are worthy of Your Majesty’s Royal protection.


Chapter IX

The patience of the Indian

Among the most rare and admirable virtues of the Indian is that of patience, for two principal reasons: The first, because the Indians fall upon enormous duties and poverty. The second, because [their patience] is of utmost profundity and intensity, such that never would one hear a single sigh, nor groan, nor complaint from one of them.

They fall upon enormous duties, such that when their communal living is so poor and miserable internally, the excess burden that they suffer is very clear from an exterior perspective. Because with rest, fatigue is tolerable; but to bear upon that fatigue another fatigue, upon one duty another duty, upon one whipping another whipping, it is to suffer to the highest degree.

In this discourse, in which I speak of their virtues, I do not refer you to what they suffer, Your Majesty, in order to mix their virtues and alien vices, because it would not be appropriate to trouble my discourse with the vices that with such little reason trouble them. My intent is solely to favor the Indians, if I may, without touching upon those vices that hurt and afflict them.

Truthfully I can assure Your Majesty that the only example of such suffering [outside of Mexico] which might be comparable to that of the Indians is the case of saintly martyrs and confessors, and those who suffer trials and tribulations for God. Although it does not seem to me that the two can even be compared, for I have desired to imitate them, and I watch and consider them as a reflection of the most unconquerable patience.

Considering how many and how great are their abuses, it is astonishing that they so rarely display neither anger nor fury to take revenge or satisfaction, nor are they even moved enough to complain to their superiors, except for when they are influenced or incited by the Spanish, clerics, priests, or others of such stature so different than their lowly states. For it is only in these cases when they are already so hurt by what they suffer, be it for the zeal of reason, or for the service of Your Majesty and the preservation of the Indians, or for their own utility and passions, that they are persuaded to complain.

Because it is so ordinary to suffer, stay quiet, let it pass, and flee one’s land for another when it becomes too much to endure, following the advice of the Lord when he said: When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.[19]

They do not search for arms to take vengeance, nor do they cry out, nor do they agonize, nor do they become angry, nor do they become agitated, but rather they complete, with patience and resignation, all of their labor.

If the Father Superior comes to them and commands them to spin thread, they spin thread; if he commands them to weave, they weave; if he commands them to take four or six arrobas[20] of cargo and carry them for seventy leagues, they carry them. If they are given a letter and six tortillas, and sometimes just the letter without provisions, and told to carry it one hundred leagues, they carry it; they do not make requests for their labor, nor would they ever dare to do so; if it is given to them, they take it; if it is not given to them, they remain silent.

If a black man who bears a load tells an Indian to take that load, the Indian carries it himself, and if for this he is further punished, hit, and afflicted, the Indian takes the load and the hits, and he endures them with patience. Ultimately, they are, in my sentiments (at least in what I have discussed), and in their own hearts, the most humble and poor individuals subject to all the world. They are patient, suffering, peaceful, tranquil and worthy of utmost love and compassion.


Chapter XII

The frugality of the Indian with respect to food

The ordinary sustenance of the Indian (being that they rarely employ that of the extraordinary) is prepared in this way: they start with a bit of corn ground into tortillas, then in a pan they toss a small amount of water and chili peppers, then they put it in a dish[21] made of clay or wood, and they dip the tortilla into the water and chili peppers. With this food they sustain themselves.

When they eat they do so with utmost modesty and silence, in an orderly fashion, with plenty of space. For when there are twenty of them at the table, never will two of them place their hands on their plates at the same time, and every one of them dips their crust very courteously, and with an admirable temperance they slowly proceed with their meal.

If at any time they eat anything in addition to chili peppers and tortillas, it consists of very natural things, often grilled like meats, with some seasonings from the earth; and they do this for the purpose of having a festival for a superior, be it secular or religious, like a corregidor or a priest, not for the purpose of indulging themselves.

On other distinct occasions, I have seen them eat with enormous space, silence, and modesty; on such occasions it is clear that the patience with which they tolerate everything else, they are accustomed to having also with food, and they do not allow themselves to be seized by hunger nor the urge to satisfy it.

And with this frugality of food, the result is that they are great sufferers of labor; because for an Indian, to walk the entire day, it is sufficient to have six tortillas with the water that they find on their way, which makes the price and waste of their food less than three Castilian quartos[22]; thus effectively less than twelve wasted maravedís[23] of expense charges, and they may walk ten or twelve leagues in a day.


Chapter XIV

The discretion and elegance of the Indian

Anyone who reads this passage, sir, and does not recognize the nature of these unfortunate Indians, would make it seem like their patience, tolerance, obedience, poverty, and other heroic virtues come from a great dejection of spirit, or of ineptitude to understand, while the opposite remains true.

They do not lack understanding, but rather are always very aware, and not just for the practical but also for the speculative, moral, and theological. I have seen the lively natures of the Indians and they are good students. A priest by the name of D. Fernando,[24] an Indian, son and grandson of chiefs, proves what I say. For he has lived with great eminence and is known publicly in Mexico, and still [he] lives today.

They are very aware of when to reason and they talk very elegantly. And it is true, sir, that as I travelled around New Spain, conducting visits, I arrived at some places where the Indians welcomed me with conversations that were not only well arranged, but very elegant, persuasive, lively and with proper reasoning, which left me astonished.

In a place called Zacatlan,[25] an Indian governor spoke with so much reasoning, so eloquent, and with such tight comparison, explaining how they ponder the joy they felt that their father and shepherd would visit and console them of that feeling they had from their sufferings in the roughness of their journey, by saying, that as the sun shines upon the land, it would also shine upon their souls. He is not tired of doing good deeds, not even their prelate grew tired of taking care and helping them, and the flowers and the fields would rejoice with the arrival of their father and shepherd and almost everyone commonly talked with such elegance.

This is one of many languages I have known and heard while travelling through Europe. Although the Greek and Latin have reverential and courteous sounds, which signify submission when used, and equality when not used, the Indians show the same courtesy and reverence when they speak in their language. For example to say Tadre[26] they say Tatl and to say it with reverence they say Tatzin. For Priest they say Teopixque, and with reverence they say Teopixcazin and with luck all these words manifest the courtesy and respect with which they talk.

When they need to talk to their superiors for whichever reason, that being to complain or to thank them, they say it in a very compliant and lively manner, without adding unnecessary reasoning. They are very quick with their responses, are so bright and with great maturity, that on many occasions they bring to truth the nations that reside with them, and they do so with great celerity.

They built a bell that weighed 15, 000 pounds[27] in the Los Angeles[28] cathedral. At first the bell had a clumsy sound and the prebendary[29] became upset because he had been named the coordinator of this work. An Indian who was working with him stated, “Do not be upset father, because when you were born, you did not know how to speak, and you learned how to speak well by using your voice. This bell has just been born, and as it moves its tongue various times, with use it will learn to speak clearly.” That is how, breaking in the metal through the exercise of its tongue, it came out with an excellent voice.

On another occasion there was an Indian who was bullfighting, something about which they are very enthusiastic. A Spanish man had let him borrow a certain measure of corn which the Indian had secured with protection from a surety. Seeing the creansor very frequently on the horns of the bull, he made his creansor move as if he had pity for his danger and the Indian knowing very well where his surety was, he told him, “What do you want? Why do you follow me? Let me play. Have I not given you a surety’s worth?”

I have heard them speak multiple times and never have I heard them say nonsense or talk with confusion or with foolishness or with carelessness, but always equally following the conversation and always being humble, looking at their superiors with admiration, whether it is the clergymen, or a secular authority. In the last ten years an Indian has never talked to me with trouble, or has made mistakes, or been short with me, things that happen very often within all nations when speaking with respectable people. Along with reverence, they maintain awareness and attention to what they are speaking about, acting and responding as if they were well practiced in serious businesses.


Chapter XVI

The dexterity of the Indian, especially in the mechanical arts

And in regards to the practices of the mechanical arts they are very skilled, for the professions of painters, gilders, carpenters, builders and those of masonry and architecture, they are not only good tradesmen but also good trade masters.

They have an incredible ability to learn trades, because in seeing someone paint, in very short time they learn to paint; in seeing carving, they carve quickly, and with incredible quickness they learn four or six professions and exercise them according to the occasion and their skills.

An Indian who was working on the Cathedral was called a Jack of all trades,[30] because he completed all tasks with such skill.

The understanding and ease with which they comprehend anything, notwithstanding the difficulty, is particularly unusual, and I do not doubt that this provides them an advantage over other nations, and for they produce things that others do not produce nor know how to do with such concision and subtlety.

An Indian from the Tarascan[31] nation, who are very adroit and create images with quills,[32] came to Mexico in order to learn how to assemble organs, and went to the craftsman and told him to teach him and he would pay him in exchange; the Spaniard wanted documentation of their agreement, and because of a series of incidents he did not forge an agreement for six days, during which time the Indian learned whilst he was in the Spaniard’s house. In this time the trade master put together an organ which had flutes, and by solely seeing them the Indian placed, arranged, played them and completed everything necessary for the interior artifice of this instrument. When the tradesman came to complete the documentation, the Indian said that he did not need the Spaniard anymore, for he now knew how to assemble organs, and he returned to his land and made an organ with wooden flutes, which produced excellent sound and has been one of the rarest to ever exist in that province. He then put together other magnificent ones made out of different metals, and was prominent in his profession.

In Atrisco, one of the municipalities of the Bishopric of the Town of los Angeles,[33] a Spaniard and an Indian came to learn organ song music with the chapel maestro of the chapel of that parish, and after more than two months the Spaniard could not sing the music on one sheet, nor understand it, and in less than five days the Indian sang it dexterously.

Among them there are very skilled musicians, although they do not have good voices, and they play the harp, chirimias,[34] cornet, dulcian, and sackbut instruments very well and have music books in their chapels, and maestros in all of the parishes, something only commonly found in Europe in cathedrals or universities.

The deftness with which they cut stones and the delicacy with which they shine them can evoke admiration, as will be known by Your Majesty with the ones I have sent you, and they are truly precious stones and of excellent color and virtue, of which the Indians have great knowledge, and of other things of nature, like plants, roots, and herbs, with which they create remedies for a diverse range of illnesses with singular skill.

So as not to waste, since they are so poor, they make use of the same stones to form knives and lancets for blood letting, and they make them with notable ease, brevity, nimbleness, and they use them with the same expediency as we do with our most delicate and well-wrought ones of steel.


Works Cited

Aiton, Arthur Scott. “Real Hacienda in New Spain under the First Viceroy.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 6.4 (1926): 232-245.

Brading, D. A.; Cross, Harry E. “Colonial Silver Mining: Mexico and Peru.” The Hispanic American Historical Review 52.4 (1972): 545-579.

Brown, Kendall W. A History of Mining In Latin America: From the Colonial Era to the Present. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012.

Cañeque, Alejandro “Palafox and the Virtuous Indian.” Virtues of the Indian =: Virtudes Del Indio. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009, pp. 77-97.

Cervantes, M. D. (1949). The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha, trans. Samuel Putnam. New York: The Modem Library.

Diccionario de la lengua castellana. Real Academia Española, 1734. Web. 13 December 2015.

Diccionario de la lengua castellana. Real Academia Española, 1817. Web. 13 December 2015.

Diccionario de la lengua española. Real Academia Española, 2015. Web. 13 December 2015.

Fonseca, Fabian de, d. 1813. Historia General De Real Hacienda. Mexico: Impr. por V.G. Torres, 1845.

Machiavelli, N. History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy (London: M. Walter Dunne, 1901). Book I, Ch. IV Guelphs and Ghibellines

Marichal, Carlos. Bankruptcy of Empire : Mexican Silver and the Wars Between Spain, Britain, and France, 1760-1810. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

McNett, Charles. “The Chirimia: A Latin American Shawm.” The Galphin Society Journal 13 (1960): 44-51. Web. 14 December 2015

New International Version. Bible Gateway. Web. 23 November 2015.

Oxford Dictionaries. Oxford University Press, 2015. Web. 13 December 2015.

OED Online. Oxford University Press, 2015. Web. 13 December 2015.

Palafox y Mendoza, Juan de. Virtudes Del Indio. Madrid: Impr. de T. Minuesa, 1893.

Palafox, y M. J, and Nancy H. Fee. Virtues of the Indian =: Virtudes Del Indio. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009. Print.

Pierce, Gretchen Kristine, and Toxqui, Áurea, eds. Alcohol in Latin America : A Social and Cultural History. Tucson, AZ, USA: University of Arizona Press, 2014. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 23 November 2015.

Puebla, Mexico Records. The University of Arizona Special Collection. Web. 13 December. 2015.

Smith, Donald E. 1878-. The Viceroy of New Spain. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1913: pp.116-117, and pp.164-175.

Viqueira Albán, Juan Pedro, Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, and Sergio Rivera Ayala. Propriety and Permissiveness In Bourbon, Mexico. English ed. Wilmington, Del.: SR Books, 1999.

Weckmann, Luis. The Medieval Heritage of Mexico. New York: Fordham University Press, 1992.



[1] The richest silver mines discovered in the mid-1500s lay within the western Sierra Madres mountain range of Mexico and in the Andes of South America. Mexico proved incredibly rich in silver: around the capital were first discovered the districts of Sultepec (discovered 1530), Zumpango (1530), Tlalpujahua (1534), Taxco (1534), and Pachuca (1552); to the north were the great sites of Zacatecas (1546), Guanajuato (ca. 1550), Sombrerete (1558), San Luis Potosí (1592), Parral (1631). The most famous silver-mining district of colonial times was Potosí (1545) in the mountains of modern Bolivia. The Spaniards related new mining discoveries to Potosí; in Mexico the district of San Luis Potosí was named for the Andean site. During the final third of the 17th century, silver production in Mexico surpassed Andean mine production; the mines around Zacatecas accounted for forty percent. Although New Spain had no equivalent to Potosí in its territory, several conditions favored long-term supremacy. See Kendall W. Brown, A History of Mining In Latin America: From the Colonial Era to the Present (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2012), pp. 17, 32).

[2] By law, all deposits of mineral and precious metals discovered in the colonies belonged to the Spanish Crown; the Crown charged the customary tax of a fifth of all mineral production called the “quinto real.” In addition to the quinto and wealth produced by the mines, the Spanish monarch received an income from his real hacienda through tributes paid as recognition of allegiance by the Indian population, “alcabalas” a type of customs duty or sales tax levied on goods, and “tercios de oficios,” which can be defined as a “tithe” (payment of one tenth of one’s goods, earnings, land, etc.) or type of tax “on all offices.” See “tithe, verb.” OED Online, (Oxford University Press, 2015), 1a). Alejandro Cañeque suggests it was related to the “media annata,” or “a sort of tax on all royal offices, whereby royal officials were supposed to pay half of their first year’s salary and a third of all other emoluments of a public office or favor.” See Nancy H. Fee’s translation of Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, Virtues of the Indian/Virtudes del Indio (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009), p. 189fn51. “Tercios de oficios” may also refer to “tercias reales,” defined as “two ninths of all the ecclesiastical tithes deducted for the King.” See “tercias reales f. pl.” Diccionario de la lengua castellana (Madrid: Real Academia Española), 1a. The Crown collected a regular “ecclesiastical tribute” or “diezmo” to build churches and finance worship, transferring “two-ninths” to the royal treasury itself. Together with the tributes and sales tax the ecclesiastical tithe was part of the Crown’s regular income. On these practices, see Luis Weckmann, The Medieval Heritage of Mexico (New York: Fordham University Press, 1992), p. 315. Historians have long shown that income from the mines remained the most lucrative source of revenue drawn annually by the Spanish kings from their American properties. See for instance Arthur Scott Aiton, “Real Hacienda in New Spain under the First Viceroy,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 6.4 (November 1, 1926), p. 236.

[3] The Spanish monarchs conceived of the colonies and revenue production as part of the “real hacienda,” meaning “royal estate” or “royal treasury.” The expression “real hacienda” applied to the special government department created to protect royal financial interests in the colonies and supervise the promotion, collection, and expenditure of the monarchy’s revenue from all sources. “Oficiales Reales,” royal treasury officials, were appointed in New Spain in 1522 to conduct annual, strict audits; the officials replaced the appointees of Cortés, previously responsible for collecting the quinto and tributes (Aiton, “Real Hacienda in New Spain under the First Viceroy,” pp. 233-236). Royal law required the American miner to immediately present the piña—the porous, sponge-like silver collected after the amalgam has been heated—to the nearest treasury office and pay taxes on it. Officials evaluated the piña to determine its fineness, charging a fee of 1.5 percent in addition to the customary quinto; however, to encourage increased output the collection of tax often varied. (Brown, A History of Mining In Latin America, pp. 23, 232). For more information on the silver mining economy in colonial Mexico and the repartimiento, see D. A Brading and Harry E. Cross, “Colonial Silver Mining: Mexico and Peru,” The Hispanic American Historical Review 52.4 (1972), pp. 545-579.

[4] Compared to the Andes or to Brazil, colonial Mexican mining was less dependent on forced labor. In the 17th century, wage labor predominated in Mexico, although not to the exclusion of more coercive forms; mine owners used slavery, impressment, and debt peonage to supplement wage earners. The Spaniards initially forced indigenous peoples to work in the mines either by enslaving them, through the encomienda (a grant of Indian tribute to a Spaniard, the encomendero, who usually collected the obligations in labor) or by instituting repartimiento labor. Repartimiento,“distribution,” is the term used for the rotating labor draft forced on villages in New Spain, similar to the Andean mita. This system was implemented at the sites of Sultepec and Taxco in the more densely populated areas of New Spain, but proved less efficient in the less populated north and sites of Zacatecas and Guanajuato. The majority of laborers worked voluntarily, attracted by the wages and the custom that allowed them to take a share of the ore (pepena or partido) for their own profit. Colonial taxation pressured all wage laborers into the mines (Brown, A History of Mining In Latin America, pp. 4, 31, 51, 64, 232). We should note that the repartimiento was a highly controversial feature of colonial society; advocates for state intervention to recruit labor rationalized that to let Indians remain idle would hamper economic development and weaken the Crown (Brown, A History of Mining In Latin America, p. 50). Palafox expressed his belief that without Indian labor it would be impossible to maintain the Spanish Empire in the New World. In “De la Pobreza del indio,” he observed, “sin que haya cosa alguna desde lo alto, hasta lo bajo, en que no sean los Indios las manos, y los pies de aquellas dilatadas Provincias, y si se acabassen los Indios, se acabarian del todo las Indias porque ellos son los que las conservan a ellas…” This phrase is translated by Nancy Fee as: “There is nothing significant or insignificant in which the Indians do not participate, as they are the hands and feet of these vast Provinces. If the Indians were to perish, so would the eternity of the Indies as it is the Indians who maintain them” (137-143). For the original Spanish, see Juan de Palafox de Mendoza, “De la Pobreza del indio,” Virtudes del Indio (Madrid: Impr. de T. Minuesa, 1893), Capítulo VIII). For a broader discussion of Palafox’s views on colonial labor, see Alejandro Cañeque’s introduction to Fee’s translation, “Palafox and the Virtuous Indian,” pp. 94-96, available through Googlebooks.

[5] This section refers to the events of the Eighty Years’ War. Also known as La Guerra de Flandes, (1568–1648), this conflict marked the revolt of the Seventeen Provinces in the Netherlands against the rule of King Philip II of Spain.

[6] “Merced,” defined here as “mercy,” also refers to the “favor,” or “privilege” of “protection, incomes, titles, and dignities” that the Crown grants to vassals (“merced f.” Diccionario de la lengua castellana [Real Academia Española], 1b). In his writings, Palafox communicated that the main duty of the Crown was the propagation of Catholicism. In contrast to the King’s other subjects, Palafox presented the Indians’ Christian faith and loyalty to the Crown as unfailing. For this reason he argued that the King was obligated to protect and reward his Indian subjects for the salvation of the Spanish Empire. See Juan de Palafox de Mendoza, “de lo que merecen los indios el amparo real de V.M. por el fervor grande con que se egercitan en la religion christiana” (capítulo II). For a more comprehensive summary of Palafox’s representation of indigenous spiritualities, see Cañeque, “Palafox and the Virtuous Indian,” pp. 77-81, Googlebooks.

[7] Palafox’s description of “such copious treasures” which only the “Ministers can obtain” may allude to Columbus’ earlier proclamation of discovering a “treasure of souls” in the New World. Consider his remarks on 12 November, 1492, when he began to take indigenous women rather than men, and to link programs of language learning, spiritual conversion, and mineral exploitation: “Así que deben Vuestras Altezas determinarse a los hazer cristianos, que creo que si comiençan, en poco tiempo acabará de los aver convertido a nuestra sancta fe multidumbre de pueblos, y cobrando grandes señoríos y riquezas, y todos sus pueblos de la España. Porque sin duda es en estas tierras grandíssima suma de oro, que no sin causa dizen estos indios que yo traigo que ha estas islas lugares adonde cavan el oro y lo traen al pescueço, a las orejas y a los braços e a las piernas, y son manillas muy gruessas, y también ha piedras y ha perlas preciosas y infinita especería,” about which he went on to cite Pliny. Cristóbal Colón, Los cuatro viajes: Testamento, ed. Consuela Varela (Madrid: Alianza Editorial, 2011 [Madrid, 1493-1503]), p. 91. Other colonial writers, including Pero Vaz de Caminha and Manuel Gaytán de Torres, used similar expressions of “tesoros de almas.” See for instance Vaz de Caminha, A carta de Pero Vaz De Caminha: Carta a El Rei D. Manuel, Dominus (1500), ed. Leonardo Arroyo (São Paolo: Melhoramentos e o Instituto Nacional do Livro, Ministério da Educação e Cultura, 1976), esp. p. 63 and Gaytán de Torres, Relación y vista de oios (Havana: 1621), esp. 9-9v and 22v.

[8] Charles V was born February 24, 1500, in Ghent, Flanders and he died September 21, 1558, in San Jerónimo de Yuste, Spain. He ruled the Spanish Empire from 1516-1556 and the Holy Roman Empire from 1519-1556.

[9] Philip II was born May 21, 1527 in Valladolid, Spain and he died September 13, 1598 in El Escorial, Spain. He was King of England and Ireland from 1556-1558, King of Spain from 1556-1598, and King of Portugal from 1581-1598. Philip III was born April 14, 1578 in Madrid, and died March 31, 1621 in Madrid. He was King of Spain and Portugal from 1598-1621.

[10] Palafox notes in his original version that indigenous people are both “concerned with” and “overcome by” these beverages, making it clear that the consumption of these beverages is not a casual affair, but rather a point of intoxication.

[11] According to Gretchen Kristine Pierce and Áurea Toxqui, pulque was an alcoholic beverage that originated in the Aztec (Mexica) regions of Latin America, where indigenous people created it by fermenting the sap of the maguey plant. See Alcohol in Latin America: A Social and Cultural History (University of Arizona Press, Tuscon, 2014), p. 22. Of all of the alcoholic beverages in New Spain, pulque was by far the most popular, and some historians believe that its over-consumption led to the breakdown of the social order in eighteenth century New Spain. On this point, see the English-language edition of Juan Pedro Viqueira Albán, Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, and Sergio Rivera Ayal, Propriety and Permissiveness in Bourbon Mexico (Wilmington, Del.: SR Books, 1999, p.129). While Spaniards attempted to regulate pulque consumption in the early colonial era, these efforts largely ended once the crown obtained the right to tax the beverage. Income from pulque sales became so great that all future attempts to ban the substance based on moral grounds were discouraged. Instead, the state appropriated many of New Spain’s pulquerias and created a monopoly to regulate the business of pulque (Viqueira Albán, Propriety and Permissiveness in Bourbon Mexico, pp. 131-136). For a more detailed history of pulque’s role in New Spain, see Juan Pedro Viqueira Albán, Sonya Lipsett-Rivera, and Sergio Rivera Ayal, Propriety and Permissiveness in Bourbon Mexico, pp. 129-163.

[12] A more palatable version of pulque, often made by women by adding sugar, pineapple, and another type of liquor called aguardiente (firewater) to a white pulque base. See Gretchen Kristine Pierce and Áurea Toxqui, Alcohol in Latin America : A Social and Cultural History, p. 108.

[13] According to Fabian de Fonseca and Carlos de Urrutia’s Historia general de Real Hacienda (Mexico: V.G. Torres, 1845), vingui is grouped in a category of prohibited alcoholic drinks that includes tepache, guarapo, yellow pulque, and pulque that was mixed with roots, herbs or other ingredients. Writing in the mid-nineteenth century, Fonseca and Urrutia claim that these drinks required immediate extirpation from New Spain, and, as proof, they cite the beverages’ supposedly deleterious effects including drunkenness and harm caused to health and good habits (345). Notably, the authors do not include pure white pulque, which was tolerated in New Spain. Its consumption was left unrestricted and unregulated (Viqueira Albán, Propriety and Permissiveness in Bourbon Mexico, p. 142). Viqueira Albán goes on to explain that no similar ban on white pulque took place until 1854, when the Mexican government required that pulquerías only exist in areas outside of the city center. This relocation of pulque production and consumption meant that the state could not exercise strict control over the beverage, and that pulquerías became increasingly important meeting places for the people who resided in these areas, most of whom were considerably poorer than residents of the city center (Viqueira Albán, Propriety and Permissiveness in Bourbon Mexico, pp. 162-163).

[14] Until 1786, the Viceroyalty of New Spain was divided into a number of provinces that were governed collectively by the Viceroy, while each province was governed individually by corregidores. During this time, the corregidor maintained many responsibilities, but his main role was to be what Donald E. Smith called in his classic Viceroyalty of New Spain (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1913) a “kind of Indian commissioner with a large responsibility for the welfare of these wards of the Spanish nation” (116). In order to reform and regulate the Viceroyalty, the Spanish Crown instated the Decree of the Intendants in 1786, which sought to limit colonial corruption by changing the roles of the viceroy, corregidores, and subordinate governing positions. Once changes were in place from this new order, the corregidor became, as Smith writes, “the chief official of the city and so presents some analogy to a modern mayor, but he was more of a judge and less of an executive than the mayor of an American city” (164). For other studies of New Spanish corregidores, see Benjamín González Alonso, El corregidor castellano: 1348-1808 (Madrid: Instituto de Estudios Administrativos, 1970) and C.H. Haring, The Spanish Empire in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1947), esp. pp. 128-134.

[15] “A specially prepared or made up substance, as a medicine, cosmetic, foodstuff, etc.” See “preparation, n.”, OED Online, (Oxford University Press, 2015), 8a.

[16] Palafox refers to the hallucinogenic effects of these roots and herbs. For more information on hallucinogenic practices in Mexico, see Ryan Kashanipour and Jon McGee, “Northern Lacandon Maya medicinal plant use in the communities of Lacanja Chan Sayab and Nahá Chiapas, Mexico,” Journal of Ecological Anthropology 8.1 (2004): 47-66.

[17] Two Italian political factions that split during the 12th and 13th centuries, creating internal conflicts in Italy until the 15th century. See Niccoló Machiavelli, History of Florence and of the Affairs of Italy (London: M. Walter Dunne, 1901), Book I, Ch. IV, “Guelphs and Ghibellines.”

[18] Two great Catalan families during the time of Miguel Cervantes, between whom was a deadly feud. See The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote de la Mancha (New York: The Modern Library, New York, 1949), Part II, Ch. LX, p. 270.

[19] Matthew 10:23 (New International Version)

[20] An “arroba” is a unit of measurement for both weight and volume, equivalent to 24-36 lbs or 12-16 liters. The exact value varied — and continues to vary — depending on the region of Spain or Spanish America in which it was used. See the entries for “arroba” in the OED (Oxford University Press, 2015, definition 1) and “arroba, f.”, Diccionario de la lengua española (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 2015), definition 4. Available from Nuevo Tesoro Lexicográfico:

[21] In Spanish “hortera,” a simple dish, deep plate, or bowl associated during the colonial era with poor households. See “hortera s. f.”, Diccionario de la lengua castellana (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 1734, 181), available on the Nuevo Tesoro Lexicográfico:

[22] A “cuarto” is an antiquated Spanish coin made of copper, roughly the value four “maravedís,” although the exact value appeared to fluctuate. See “cuarto s. m.”, Diccionario de la lengua castellana (Madrid: Real Academia Española) 1817, 283, available on the Nuevo Tesoro Lexicográfico:

[23] A “maravedí” is another colonial-era Spanish coin made of gold, copper, or silver. The value of this coin fluctuated with the value of precious metals from the Americas, and with the type of material used to make the coin. Because of these currency fluctuations, we are unable to estimate the value of Palafox’s proposals here. See “maravedí, m.” Diccionario de la lengua española, (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 2015], definition 1, and “maravedí, s. m.” Diccionario de la lengua castellana (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 1734), 494, available on the Nuevo Tesoro Lexicográfico:

[24] About Don Fernando little is known. See Nancy Fee, Virtues of the Indian/Virtudes del Indio, p. 153fn92.

[25] 19°55′55″N 97°57′36″W

[26] The word “Tadre” is believed to be a typo for “Padre.” The error might be orthographic, phonetic, or a morphophonetic combination. See Nancy Fee, Virtues of the Indian/Virtudes del Indio, p. 153.

[27] Described as “quintales.” 1 quintal = 100 pounds. See “quintal, m.”, Diccionario de la lengua española, (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 2015), definition 1.

[28] Puebla de Los Ángeles. For more information and digital editions of primary sources related to Puebla, see “Puebla, Mexico Records,” The University of Arizona Special Collection. Available at

[29] Senior member of clergy. See “prebendary, n.”, OED Online (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), A1.

[30] In the Spanish, “siete oficios,” referring to the seven primary trades and providing an artisanal corollary to the seven capital sins referenced elsewhere in this text.

[31] A society residing in the Lake Pátzcuara area in the western Mexican state of Michoacán, which exists to this day. See “Tarascan, n. and adj.”, OED Online, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), A. For studies of pre-contact Tarascan communities, see Helen Perlstein Pollard, Taríacuri’s Legacy: The Prehispanic Tarascan State (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1993) and Miguel Pastrana, Teotihuacanos, Toltecas y Tarascos: Los indígenas de Mesoamérica I (México, D.F.: Nostra Ediciones, 2013). For studies of colonial-era communities, see Cynthia L. Stone, In Places of Gods and Kings: Authorship and Identity in the Relación de Michoacán (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2004) and James Krippner-Martínez, Rereading the Conquest: Power, Politics, and the History of Early Colonial Michoacán, Mexico, 1521-1565 (University Park, Pa.: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001).

[32] See for more information on the creation and inscription of Mayan texts, see Dennis Tedlock, 2000 Years of Mayan Literature (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010].

[33] 19.0429° N, 98.1984° W

[34] A chirimia is a woodwind instrument of the “shawm” family. It was used in Central and South America in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For more information see Charles McNett, “The Chirimia: A Latin American Shawm,” The Galphin Society Journal 13 (1960): 44-51.

Full Colophon Information

Genre: Prose
Subjects: Native Americans
Period: 1650-1700
Location: New Spain, Spanish America
Format: essay
Translated by Abby Kamensky, Mae Flato, Molly Hepner, Kayla Pomeranz, & Karla Núñez (University of Virginia)