Otavalo - History and Cultural Relations

The Caranqui and Cayambi lived in small, socially stratified city-states. They united to resist the Inca invasions of Ecuador in the second half of the fifteenth century but were finally defeated around A . D . 1495. Sarance (modern Otavalo) and Caranqui became Inca administrative centers. Before the Incas had a deep hold on the region, the Spanish, under Sebastián de Benalcázar, conquered Ecuador in 1534. By 1535 land in the Otavalo region was being given to Spanish settlers. Because Ecuador lacked the mineral resources of Peru and Bolivia, the Spanish put the indigenous population to work in Crown-owned and private textile factories under highly abusive conditions. By the mid-1550s a conquistador had been given a large encomienda (population grant), which included Otavalo. He set up an obraje (weaving factory) in Otavalo that employed up to 500 males at its height, but it reverted to the Spanish Crown in 1581. Other obrajes were also established in the region. The encomienda system evolved into large, privately owned landholdings (haciendas), and in the eighteenth century Indians were conscripted to work in hacienda textile factories through the mita, a system of forced labor. Ultimately, many Indians became permanently attached to the haciendas under a system of debt servitude ( wasipungu ), which included weaving for the hacienda in obrajes as well as agricultural work. Textile production in Ecuador was the mainstay of the colonial economy, with exports to what are now Bolivia, Peru, and Colombia. In 1964 debt servitude was outlawed, and some land reform was realized under the Law of Agrarian Reform and Colonization. The contemporary prosperity of the Otavalo through their involvement in the manufacture and marketing of textiles has resulted in more respectful and equitable treatment of them by Whites.

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