Establishment of the Encomiendas

The enslaved Indians built the houses of the new settlers and worked the lands for their sustenance, many were taken to work the rivers and gold mines, but the definite establishment of an exploitation system had not yet arrived; the colonists of the Hispaniola, saw their riches become a reality when they received the royal cédula or official document of December 20, 1503, in which the Queen authorized Ovando's requests stating the following:

"Whereas, the King my Lord and I agree...that the Indian inhabitants of the island of Hispaniola are free and not subject to forced service...and whereas we are now told that because of the excessive liberty enjoyed by the said Indians they avoid contact and community with the Spanish to such an extent that they will not even work for wages, but wander about idle and cannot be had by the Christians to convert to our Holy Catholic Faith; and in order that the Christians may not lack people to work their holdings for their maintenance and extract the gold that exists on the whereas we desire that the said Indians be converted to our Holy Catholic Faith and taught its doctrines; and whereas this can better be done by having the Indians live in community with the Christians of the island and go among them and associate with them, by which means they will help each other...[Because of the above], I have will compel and force the said Indians to associate with the Christians of the island and work their buildings, and to gather and mine the gold and other metals, and to till the fields and produce food for the Christian inhabitants...and you are to pay on the day he works the wages and maintenance you think he should have...and you are to order each cacique to take charge of a certain number of the said Indians, so that on feast days and other such days as you think proper, they may be gathered together to hear and be taught in the things of the Faith...This the Indians shall perform as free people, which they are and not slaves. And see to it they are well treated, those who become Christians better than the others, and do not consent or allow that any person do them harm or oppress them."11

The distributions until now, if they well exposed the Indians to hard labor hours, still allowed them to maintain a certain equilibrium within their social order, practicing their customs and having remaining the hours necessary to cultivate their own conucos (farms). During the official encomienda, instead, they set labor periods of 5 months each, between which they could rest and cultivate the land providing food for the Christians, as well as the incapacitated that could not do the heavy labor, such as women, children and the elderly.  But, in practice, the work period was extended for two more months, called "delays", which made it impossible to rest of cultivate the land. Furthermore, the payment they received was not enough to buy a comb, much less purchase food of which there were always shortages.

But, the worse part was the absence of legal rules in place to demand that the encomenderos provided their encomended natives with better basic human conditions. The impunity, as well as the justifiable ambition of fast richness and a good dose of ignorance, forged the first and definite genocide of the American conquest.

The natives were distributed without any distinction, "all, small and big, children and old, men and pregnant women or who had recently birthed, nobles and servant, principles and plebes were forced into servitude."12 and forced to work in the mines and rivers with only two tortes of casabe for nourishment. They were also transported to remote regions from their birth area, which immediately destroyed their habitat; there would be no more areito, nor cohoba, siestas in hammocks, the indigenous people began to live a hell of washing pans, sand, rocks, hunger, kicks, and violations and incredible corporal punishment, that, along with the various viral epidemics assured their extinction.

The amount of natives per encomienda was established in the fallowing fashion: "you, Juan, are being encomended such and such cacique, 50 or 100 natives and a cacique so that you can be served by them to the discretion of your Catholic Faith."13

Of Course their instruction and conversion to Christianity also resulted impossible in practice, which greatly annoyed the religious, who trying to remedy this problem complained continuously that the Indians natives died "without the fount of spiritual regeneration, not having received the holy baptism as was expected."14 Being that they were acquired for free, when they began to die of hunger, diseases or to commit suicide in great numbers, they were rapidly replaced by an equal quantity from further regions.

It wasn't just the natives that the gold fever began to affect, but the earth itself, whose ecological conditions were violated from the start, digging and clearing and changing the course of rivers everywhere that the precious metal could be extracted. If the work was being realized in the mines, certain Indians would be placed there to shovel the earth, “e aquello llamaban escopetar (que es lo mismo que cavar), e de la tierra cavada hinchen bateas de tierra; e otros indios toman aquellas bateas que trujeron en otras mayores,...e los acarreadores vuelven más por tierra, en tanto los laboradores lavan aquella que primero se les trujo...”15

The gold deposited in streams, was obtained by a worse method: “sacan el agua de su curso, e después que esta seco, en medio de la madre por donde primero iba el agua, así como lo han jamurado (que en lengua o estilo de los mineros plásticos quiere decir agotar) hallan oro entre las piedras y hoqueades y resquicios de las peñas y en aquello que estaba en la canal de la madre o principal curso del agua por donde primero iba el río o arroyo...”16 After 5 centuries of iractional exploitation of the natural resources of the island of Santo Domingo, there are still considerable hydrographic sources, we can imagine the extraordinary abundance of water in streams and rivers that were dried during the mining economy.