Hierarchical Differences in Colonial Latin America

Junior (College 3rd year) ・History ・MLA ・6 Sources

Part 1: Hierarchical Differences in Colonial Latin America

Latin America refers to the regions encompassing the whole South America continent, Central America, Mexico and some islands in the Caribbean. All these regions share the same history, considering that they were all colonized by the Portuguese and the Spaniards between the 15th and 18th century. The colonization of these areas brought about a disruption in the social structure and composition of such areas. These events led to the creation of a caste system in colonial Latin America. The caste system was based on a hierarchical society, where the different hierarchies were based on race and social class. This hierarchical arrangement was similar in both Spanish and Portuguese colonized regions.

The hierarchical system in colonial Latin America also greatly depended on where one was born, or the “purity” of his blood. At the top of the hierarchy were the peninsulares. This group was made up of people who were white and born in Europe. They were considered to be of pure true European blood, and they enjoyed the most powers, economic benefits, rights and authority. The peninsulares could also be referred to as the Iberians, in reference of the Portuguese colonizer. They were more trusted by authorities back home to represent the interests of the crown.

The next class in the hierarchy was the creoles. They were elites in these societies and had a European ancestry, born by European parents but in Latin America. Although they enjoyed superiority over other social classes in the region, they were considered inferior to the European born peninsulares. They amassed a lot of wealth in the region, and they were the major land owners. However, since they were considered to be inferior to the peninsulares, they were never offered noble titles or leadership positions. Ironically, the Creoles were among the groups that staged revolts against the Spanish and Portuguese rule, for example, Bolivar’s struggle against Spanish rule in Latin America especially in Venezuela.

The next class in the hierarchy consisted of individuals with mixed ancestry. At the top of this class were the mestizos who were of a mixed European and American Indian descent. The mestizos were mostly brought up by their Spanish fathers and enjoyed some of the benefits associated with the creoles. The next group within this class was the mullatoes who were of a mixed European and African descent. This group also enjoyed some privileges such as rights to property and attaining an education through their Spanish fathers. The lowest group within the class was the Zambos who were of American Indian and African Descent. The group enjoyed no rights associated with the other mixed race groups.

The next class in the hierarchy was the American Indians. The group enjoyed some few rights and also had limited authority in the society. The group was also the indigenous inhabitants of these regions before the influx by the European during conquests and colonization. They suffered great loses with a majority of their population being wiped out during battle or through the introduction of new diseases in the region.

The lowest rank in the hierarchy was the Negros. These were people of African descent. The individuals in this rank could be divided into three groups. The first group was the majority and consisted of black slaves who were shipped in mass to work in the Spanish and Portuguese Colonies during the trans-Atlantic slave trade. These men and women had no rights or authorities whatsoever, and they offered free labor to the higher social classes. The next group was blacks that were held in exceptional position by the Europeans. They served as servants and personal dependents of their masters. Unlike the mass slaves, they enjoyed some little freedom and had considerable responsibilities. The last group was blacks that were allowed to carry arms and fight besides their European masters in different conquests. These were known as black conquistadors and they were mostly awarded freedom and rights to property after participating and coming back from such conquests (Restall, 175).

Part 2: People Expectation and Changes in an Independent Latin America

Different hierarchical groups had different expectations of how things would run in an independent Latin America. In understanding some of the expectation different people perceived would be achieved by gaining independence, one can look at the different countries that managed to be independent of the Spanish, Portuguese and the French. One such country is Haiti. While most blacks that made up the majority of the country had expected that independence would bring with it a lot of prosperity and advantages that they were being denied by the French colonialists. However, independence did not achieve the intended goals in the country. At the end of the revolution that brought them independence the country was economically destroyed with most of its sugar plantation closed down (West and William, 76). The former slaves had also anticipated that these plantations would be later divided and distributed among themselves upon attainment of independence. This expectation was however not met, since their first leader Toussaint, revived the plantations and they were forced to continue working on the plantation like they used to do during the slavery period, although they received some payments for their work (West and William, 76).

The Creoles were also involved in the agitation of independence from colonial powers. A good example of a Creole, who led a county to emancipate them from colonial rule, is Bolivar and his struggle in Venezuela. While Bolivar agitated for freedom against the Spanish with the help of slaves of African descents their expectations for a free Venezuela always collided. Bolivar motivation was a country where the creoles would have the power to rule, while the African slaves wanted emancipation and freedom from slavery and equal participation in society. However, Bolivar was unwilling to offer the blacks ultimate freedom in the first Venezuelan republic, and this was one of the reasons for the collapse of the republic since the blacks were later convinced to fight besides the Spanish royalists against Bolivia (Helg, 23). Although, he later freed all blacks from slavery, they were not accorded equal rights with the white creoles, for example they could not participate in political decisions as this was the preserve of white creoles who exerted their authority through a hereditary senate.

Based on these scenarios above, the expectations for fighting for independence could be divided into two classes. First, the people of color has the belief that gaining independence from the colonial powers would finally allow them to be free and share equal rights and opportunities with the white population in the society (West and William, 78). The white creoles on the other hand, wanted independence from the colonial powers so they could achieve political authority in society (Helg, 27). The creoles despite using the colored people in society, they were unwilling to let go of their property rights, which included slavery. Therefore while the black slaves and the creoles fought together to achieve independence, the creoles were only interested in safeguarding their interests only, despite the fact that it was the blacks who suffered most loss in such revolutions.

Based on these scenarios, one can also outline the changes that were observed in South America upon attainment of independence. Firstly, there was a huge disruption in the economies of countries. Plantations and mines that were huge sources of economic benefits and these were neglected and abandoned during the revolutions leading to the attainment of independence. This meant that the countries began their run as independent countries under very poor economic conditions which may explain the current financial situation in such countries.

Secondly, the achievement of independence led to the abolishment and end of slavery. However, attainment of independence did not bring about the equality that lower groups in the society hierarchical structure had anticipated. The societies still continued to be divided across racial lines, where the creoles held political authority, land and vast wealth and the colored people remained poor and indebted to the white people. Therefore, systems such as strong centralized governments elected by the people, and social justices for all regardless of race, were not achieved despite the regions attaining independence from the white supremacists. In conclusion, the creoles were the biggest benefiters of attainment of independence in South America, while the other lower caste groups were only manipulated into offering the necessary numbers to stage the revolution (Davis, 270).

Works Cited

Davis, Harold Eugene. Latin American social thought: the history of its development since independence, with selected readings. University Press of Washington, DC, 1961.

Helg, Aline. "Simón Bolívar's Republic: a Bulwark against the "tyranny" of the Majority."

Revista De Sociologia E Política. 20.42 (2012): 21-37. Print.

Restall, Matthew. "Black Conquistadors: Armed Africans in Early Spanish America." The Americas. 57.2 (2000): 171-205. Print.

West, Michael O, and William G. Martin. "Haiti, I'm Sorry: The Haitian Revolution and the Forging of the Black International." From Toussaint to Tupac the Black International

Since the Age of Revolution. (2009): 72-104. Print.

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