MORELIA – ITS COLONIAL HISTORY
This blog post is dedicated to the Indigenous population of Mexico. One cannot admire the city without reminding oneself of all the lives destroyed during its rise to fame.
The Mexican city of Morelia in the state of Michoacan is an old city, established in the 1500s after the Spanish conquest of Mexico by Charles I during the Spanish colonization of the Americas from 1519-1521. As we all know, both North and South America were not empty lands for grabs. The myth that the Europeans “discovered” America, is old, FAKE NEWS and should by now have disappeared from all history books.
The Spanish conquered a huge area that included territories in North America as far north as what is now British Columbia in Canada, the territory that is now American, (Oregon, Washington, parts of Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, Wyoming, Kansas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Florida) and the current Mexican territory (including Chiapas, still mired in an battle for independence), all the way into South America (currently the nations of Guatemala, Belize, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua). The Spanish also conquered the Philippines, Guam, and a number of other island nations, including Formosa what is now Taiwan.
In 1521 after the fall of Tenochtitlan—the great Mexican city built on the water—now called Mexico City, the main event of the Spanish conquest did not properly end until later, as its territory continued to grow to the north. Cortez tricked Moctezuma into “collaborating” with the Spanish. The Viceroyalty was officially created on 8 March 1535, the first of four such viceroyalties in the Americas. The Vice-Royalty of New Spain (Virreinato de la Nueva España) existed from 1521-1821, three hundred years under Spanish reign. The first Vice-roy was Antonio de Mendoza y Pacheco, and the capital of the viceroyalty was established on the ancient Mexico-Tenochtitlan. Morelia only became its capital after Patzcuaro obtained that title for a number of years. The competitors for the title squared off, and Morelia with De Mendoza won. The game of Playing Politics is as old as the world.
Human settlements in the Guayangreo Valley in which Morelia is located have been dated back as far as the 7th century. Artifacts found here have shown Teotihuacan culture influence on even earlier cultures in this area. In the 12th century, the Purepecha arrived in the valley. They dominated it politically for the rest of the pre-Hispanic period but did not build any major settlements here. Between the 12th and the 15th century, Matlatzincas moved into the area with permission of the Purépechas, who were based around nearby Pátzcuaro Lake. The main Matlatzinca settlement was where Júarez Plaza in the city is today.
The Spanish pushed into the Guayangareo Valley between 1525 and 1526, headed by Gonzalo Gómez. In the 1530s, the area was evangelized by Roman Catholic priests of the Franciscan order, such as Juan de San Miguel and Antonio de Lisboa.
Viceroy Antonio de Mendoza and a number of encomenderos, who were granted the special status in 1541, first named it Nueva Ciudad de Mechuacan (New City of Michoacán). Our guide explained that the king sent 62 of his noblemen with their families to Morelia and rewarded each of them with a piece of the land with the right to use the Indigenous people that lived there, who were then considered free labor for anything that the encomenderos wanted them to do.
The last Spanish king reigning over Mexico was Ferdinand VII and he lost the territory in the Mexican War of Independence in 1821. In 1521 the population of Mexico was 20 million people. After the Spanish were done with Mexico, this number had shrunk in 1821 to estimates of between 5 and 6.5 million.
“The native people of Mexico experienced a series of outbreaks of disease in the wake of European conquest, including a catastrophic epidemic that began in 1545 which killed an estimated 5 million to 15 million people, or up to 80% of the native population of Mexico, followed by a second epidemic from 1576 to 1578 killing an additional 2 to 2.5 million people, or about 50% of the remaining native population. Recent research suggests that these infections appear to have been aggravated by the extreme climatic conditions of the time and by the poor living conditions and harsh treatment of the native peoples under the encomienda system of New Spain.
Encomienda was a Spanish labor system. It rewarded conquerors with the labor of particular groups of subject people. It was first established in Spain following the Christian conquest of Muslim territories. It was applied on a much larger scale during the Spanish colonization of the Americas. Conquered peoples were considered vassals of the Spanish king. The Crown awarded an encomienda as a grant to a particular individual. In the conquest era of the sixteenth century, the grants were considered to be a monopoly on the labor of particular groups of Indigenous, held in perpetuity by the grant holder, called the encomendero, and his descendants.
This was pretty much what Hitler and the Nazis did in the Second World War: all forced labor came from the captured and deported Jews in camps that were contracted to the production companies, and from the residents of occupied territories, carted off to labor camps, or laborers were just picked up from the street and sent to the ammunition and equipment factories.
Two of Moctezuma’s daughters and her younger sister were granted extensive encomiendas in perpetuity by Hernan Cortes. Doña Leonor Moctezuma married in succession two Spaniards and left the encomiendas to her daughter by her second husband. Vassal Inca rulers (who collaborated with the Spanish) appointed after the conquest also sought and were granted encomiendas.
In 1574, the Viceroy of Peru investigated the encomiendas. He concluded there were 32,000 Spanish families in (all of ) the New World, 4,000 of whom had encomiendas. They oversaw 1,500,000 natives paying tribute, and 5 million “civilized” natives.
The phrase “sin Indios no hay Indias” (without Indians, there are no Indies – i.e. America), popular in Spanish America especially in the 16th century, emphasizes the economic importance and appeal of this indentured labor. It was ranked higher than allocations of precious metals or other natural resources. Land awardees customarily complained about how “worthless” territory was without a population of encomendados.
If you have seen the movie “Roma” of Alfonso Cuaron, you know that the habit of indenturing the Indigenous population is still very much ingrained in the upper classes in Mexico, and until today, the Indigenous populations are clearly still at the bottom of Mexican society.
Until the new population rebelled against the exploitation and the strict societal laws based on racism. Most were now of mixed heritage, born from Spanish nobleman from Spain (the highest in status), the Spanish first-generation born in Mexico, those who mixed with the Indigenous (Mestizo), or with the black slaves that were working the mines and the plantations, (Mulatto). Under the leadership of Padre Hidalgo, stationed as a priest in Dolores but who had studied in Morelia at the College (where he had met a poor, but brilliant Mulatto man, Morelos, called for a rebellion: the Grito. Padre Hidalgo (whose image or statue you see everywhere in every Mexican state and town), joined by Jose Morelos started up his call for resistance in Dolores, and on their trek through San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato to the capital.
They were caught and executed as traitors to the country.
Miguel Hidalgo declared slavery unworthy of the new nation and called for its abolishment, see below.
In 1847 the North Americans attacked the country. Morelia was the origin of the battalion that fought under Governor Ocampo.
Hidalgo and Morelos leading the rebellion. Below their feet you see the Indios carrying the heavy building blocks for the magnificent buildings that now line the city streets. Is it fair to get UNESCO status without mentioning and memorizing the lives it took to build it?
How the tribal structures remained, but the Indigenous were converted to Christianity.
From Wikipedia: The Spanish Crown granted a Spanish person a specified number of natives from a specific community but did not dictate which individuals in the community would have to provide their labor. Indigenous leaders were charged with mobilizing the assessed tribute and labor. In turn, encomenderos were to ensure that the encomienda natives were given instruction in the Christian faith and Spanish language, and protect them from warring tribes or pirates; they had to suppress a rebellion against Spaniards and maintain infrastructure. In return, the natives would provide tributes in the form of metals, maize (corn), wheat, pork, or other agricultural products.
In many cases, natives were forced to do hard labor and subjected to extreme punishment and death if they resisted. However, Queen Isabella of Castile forbade Indian slavery and deemed the indigenous to be “free vassals of the crown”. Various versions of the Leyes de Indias or Laws of the Indies (compare: in Canada the still-existing Indian Act) from 1512 onwards attempted to regulate the interactions between the settlers and natives. Both the Indigenous and the Spaniards appealed to the appellate court, Royal Audience for relief under the encomienda system.
Encomiendas had often been characterized by the geographical displacement of the enslaved and breakup of communities and family units, but in Mexico, the encomienda ruled the free vassals of the crown through existing community hierarchies, and the natives were allowed to keep in touch with their families and homes. This seems insignificant, but compared to Canada, where the children were forcefully removed from their parents at a young age to “kill the Indian in the child” to be educated in religious boarding schools.
The story goes that Morelos’ mother was highly pregnant and traveled from church to monastery to nunnery, but nowhere did she find mercy and a roof over her head. She was an Indigenous woman. She finally arrived at the building that is now called The House of Morelos’ Birth, where she delivered the baby, and after that, was turned into the streets again.
There are now over 200 building of historical value in Morelia, built around that time, for which the city was designated a UNESCO Worl Heritage site in 1991. The cathedral, completed in 1744, is an outstanding example of Spanish Baroque architecture and holds a remarkable 4,600-pipe organ, the focus of an annual organ festival. The colonial governor’s palace is also an imposing structure, as is a 3-mile (5-km) aqueduct, carried on arches, and was built in 1785.
I will show more of Morelia in subsequent posts. Stay tuned. I’d love to hear your comments and please, rate this post at the top; thank you.