Estancia is a term describing private landholdings. In some areas, they were large rural complexes with similarities to what in the United States is called a ranch. They are large farms which are spread over extensive areas, often 10,000 ha. Estancias in the southern South American grasslands, the pampas, have historically been estates used to raise livestock (cattle or sheep).
In the early Caribbean territories and Mexico, holders of encomiendas acquired land in the area where they had access to Indian labor. They needed on-site Hispanic supervisors or labor bosses called estancieros. In Mexico, multiple estancias owned by the same individual could be termed a hacienda. The term estancia is used in various ways in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, southern Chile and southern Brazil. The equivalent in other Spanish American countries would be hacienda.
During the first centuries of Spanish colonial rule, the Spanish introduced cattle into the colonies for livestock. In the peripheral areas of northern Mexico and the southern part of South America, these animals roamed free; settlers conducted periodic raids to catch and slaughter them. In the 19th century stationary ranching ventures started to form in the pampas, with permanent buildings and marked livestock that clearly defined ownership. They were called estancias, the term indicating the stationary, permanent character.
The estancia's ranch worker on horseback in Argentina, the gaucho, has similar status in national folklore and identity to the cowboy of North America. Since the late 20th century, agriculture has intensified as an industry; landowners have often shifted from livestock to crop farming in the pampas of Argentina and Uruguay, due to the region's high soil fertility.
A small number of estancias in Argentina and Uruguay, as well as in Paraguay or Chile, particularly those with historic architecture, have been converted into guest ranches called paradores.
Several cities and villages, mainly but not exclusively in Latin America, developed from such estancias and are named accordingly, for example:
- Estância in Sergipe state, Brazil
- Estancia El Brete, Salta Province, Argentina
- Estancia, Iloilo in the province of Iloilo, Philippines.
California mission estancias
Many California missions in North America had separate farms and ranchos associated with them. These were known as California mission estancias, which were different than the California ranchos, based on land grants to individuals.
- James Lockhart and Stuart Schwartz, Early Latin America: A History of Colonial Spanish America and Brazil, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983, pp. 69-71.138
- "Mission Trail Today - Mission Asistencias and Estancias". U.S. Mission Trail. Retrieved 2015-06-17.
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