This second edition of Peru's Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest includes Stern's 1992 reflections on the ten years of historical interpretation that have passed since the book's original publication--setting his analysis of Huamanga in a larger perspective. "This book is a monument to both scholarship and comprehension, comparable in its treatment of the indigenous peoples after the conquest only to that of Charles Gibson for the Aztecs, and perhaps the best volume read by this reviewer in several years."--Frederick P. Bowser, American Historical Review "Peru's Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest is clearly indispensable reading for Andeanists and highly recommended to ethnohistorians generally. In technical respects it is a job done right, and conceptually it stands out as a handsome example of anthropology and history woven into one tight fabric of inquiry."--Frank Salomon, Ethnohistory
Before the Inca conquest, the peoples of Huamanga regulated their relations with each other and the outside world through their kinship groups, or ayllas. Led by their local chiefs (kabakas), the economic and social relations between members of the same and different ayllas were based on the idea of reciprocal relationships, with each exchange or service being equally met in kind. This custom of equity continued to be utilized after the Incas assumed control of the area, their only alteration being the appropriation of labor for state service. This arrangement faltered with the Spanish conquest in 1532; Spanish officials replaced the Incas in the power arrangement but sought to utilize greater native labor resources for mining and encomendero operations. Native unwillingness to support the needs of the state manifested themselves through labor resistance and the Taki Onquy movement. Though the Spanish under Viceroy Francisco de Toledo sought to ensure adequate labor resources through the mita system, native resistance through desertion and legal challenges ensured that within decades the system was near unworkable. Native adaptation to Spanish norms resulted in greater dependence upon Hispanic institutions and wage labor. The traditional Huamanga aylla system of reciprocal relationships was nearly destroyed by the transformation of the Spanish from a peripheral position in the local economy to one of dominance.
Stern's analysis of the indigenous peoples of Peru portrays the birth of a new colonial society. This was a new kind of society, one created by conquest. The conquest of Peru by Spanish conquistadors "transformed vigorous native peoples of the Andean sierra into an inferior caste of 'Indians' subordinated to Spanish colonizers and Europe's creation of a world market" (xvii). The native peoples were not passive actors; Stern relates how they "met the challenge of European conquest….with…consequences for themselves, their colonizers, and the society that was created" (xix).
Along with reinforcing this argument of Peru meeting the challenge of Spanish conquest, Stern also sought to fulfill three purposes: to "document and to understand the struggles and achievements of Andean peoples in the face of their colonization; to demonstrate how their actions conditioned the evolution of colonial society and limited the options of the European ruling class; and to use the colonial experience in Huamanga as a case study which can address key issues in the history of class societies" (xix).
Stern succeeds in accomplishing his objectives. He clearly portrays how the peoples of Huamanga met the challenges imposed by Spanish conquest, and their attempts to preserve as much as their traditional lifestyle as possible. They employed all the means at their disposal to resist Hispanic impositions and regulations in labor requirements, tribute and religious demands. Though they were acting from a position of weakness vis a vis the Spanish, they did not blindly acquiesce to Spanish demands; the fact that the Spanish succeeded in imposing their will upon the Indians of Peru does not mean that their was no resistance. Using an imposing variety of primary and archival sources, Stern demonstrates that the peoples of Peru utilized every possible avenue to resist or alleviate Hispanic demands, even through their adaptive use of the Spanish legal system to avoid the worst or most onerous Hispanic demands. The resulting dependence of the native peoples upon the new economic and legal system—including the increasing importance of wage labor—is also clearly outlined and demonstrated through use of the relevant archival documents. Stern also makes judicious use of the relevant secondary literature to draw broader connections between his own and others' scholarship. The relevance and strength of his research is apparent in the continuing importance of his work, in Latin American history, a full two and a half decades after its initial publication.
The strengths of Peru's Indian Peoples are almost too numerous to enumerate. Its arguments are clearly defended with clearly organized information. The book's organization is coherent and logical. Though Stern clearly sympathizes with the people of Huamanga, this does not mar the objectivity and balance of his study. The only weakness (if it can be called that) is that the book assumes some basic knowledge of Latin American and Peruvian history, though it can be said that any scholarly monograph does the same. Use of some jargon and Spanish terms can also be somewhat confusing for the novice reader, though Stern does try to aid the reader with a strong glossary of the relevant Spanish terms. In the larger context, Stern attempts to draw some connection to the greater Spanish conquest and the broader subject of relations between the Old and New Worlds. Peru's Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest is a worthy addition to Latin American history, and the larger literature of historical study. It is a wonderful example of how a comprehensive monograph can be informative without being boring.