Colonialtimes in Latin America is defined as a period in Latin American history fromthe years “1492-1810” (Minster).
This period in Latin American history is aninteresting one. It is an era marked by the “discovery” by Columbus and otherconquistadors. It was an era in which the land changed from being inhabited bynatives, to a bustling and more “civilized” place.
I use the word “discovery”when discussing the event of Europeans arriving here and claiming it for theirown. However, it was merely discovered by Europeans. It was actually alreadyhome to millions of people.
Those people, who were removed from their homes, werebasically forced into slavery, or “domestic service” as it was termed. Womenwere more forced into this than the men were. “Domesticservants have always been important to Latin American society and its economy”(Domestic Service). There were some whowillingly signed up to work in domestic service for pay. “Spanish andPortuguese law mandated that women be maintained in a position of tutelage,which implied that most employment options for women prior to the end of thenineteenth century were domestic in terms of where the work was executed, andthe type of labor demanded “(Domestic Service) This shows that some womenwilling signed up for this sort of work, since this was the only opportunityavailable to them for pay. “In sixteenth-century Latin America domesticservants were found not only in the houses of encomenderos but also in thehouses of merchants and artisans, with the former having as few as one”(Domestic Service). So, this was acommonplace occurrence.
Then,there were those who were forced into slavery against their will. Most womenwere kidnapped and forced into domestic service. They were sold or traded toSpanish explorers. “Hundreds of thousands of native women… many under the ageof fourteen were enslaved or placed into permanent bondage as naborias(life-long servants) removed from their homelands and shipped to sundry portsthroughout Latin America and Iberia” (van Deusen). Lifefor the women who worked as domestic servants was not always easy. Rape was acommon occurrence for these women.
“…sexual violation was an inherent aspect offemale enslavement, indeed a right exercised by masters…” (van Deusen). Themasters thought that since the domestic workers were their “property” theycould do with them as they wish. “Although indigenous slaves openly gave birthto and baptized children with their owners, they were still consideredproperty, without the basic rights to draw up legal documents, establishbequests for their children, or move freely from one place to another” (van Deusen).This shows that even though the women were mothers to their master’s children,they were still simply known as “property” as if they were just an object to bethrown around at their master’s will. There were even women who owned domesticservants, even these women forced their slaves into prostitution.
This isn’tsomething we can imagine women doing. Most of the time when people imaginefemale slave owners, they picture a master with a gentler nature. This wasn’talways the case. Then,there were those women who were treated with respect by their masters. Thosewomen who entered into a sexual relationship with their masters willingly andnot forcibly.
“…Consensual sexuality between masters and female slaves gave thelatter a form of agency in their short-and long-term dealings with masters” (vanDeusen). Their lives were easier than those forced into sexual relationships.These women were more than likely treated better and had better lives thanthose who were forced. Ofcourse, not all domestic servants were forced into a sexual relationship orengaged in a relationship other than a servant/master relationship. There werethose domestic servants who simply were just that, servants.
They did thehousekeeping, cooking and other household chores. The pay was meager, butenough to survive on. “…The lowest positions of cleaning house and serving “inwhatever they are told to do” done by castas, indigenous (many of themimmigrants from Chile) and slave women, with non-slaves earning a substantiallylesser amount of 12 pesos a year. The pay included housing, food, medicine,Christian doctrine and one cotton dress per year” (Francois)Somewomen, no matter how they were treated, did not let their conditions get thebest of them. Some made the best of their bad situation. “Some who lived farfrom their place of origin pick up the pieces when their Spanish master leftand became servants in other households” (van Deusen).
“In 1501, theSpanish crown official sanctioned marriages between Amerindians and Spaniards…”(Peterson-Kather). This now gave women an advantage. If they were given theopportunity to marry, they were put in positions they were unaccustomed to. Iftheir husbands owned property or were wealthy, then the domestic servants (nowwives) were to inherit money or property upon the husband’s demise. “Herinheritance enabled her to exercise economic power with her household and inthe community to a degree that was proportionate to the size of herinheritance” (Peterson-Kather). So,as you have seen, life was difficult for most of the women.
Most of these womenwere taken from their homes and lives that they were once so happy with. Thesewomen were forced into a life of servitude or basically used as a sex-slave.Their lives were drastically changed.
However, like I have also explained, someof these women went into domestic service willingly. They weren’t all forcedinto this life of service, some were paid for their services. Then, those womenwho had it best were once slaves that were able to marry their Spanish mastersand when their husband died, they were given amazing lives as mastersthemselves.
They inherited great fortunes or land. All in all, life was harderfor most women in Latin America, not unlike women in the United States. Womenhere also had to fight for their rights. d to fight for their rights.