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Mit'a (Quechua pronunciation: [ˈmɪˌtʼa]) was mandatory public service in the society of the Inca Empire. Historians use the hispanicized term mita to differentiate the system as it was modified and intensified by the Spanish colonial government, creating the encomienda system.
Mit'a was effectively a form of tribute to the Inca government in the form of labor, i.e. a corvée. In the Incan Empire, public service was required in community-driven projects such as the building of their extensive road network. Military service was also mandatory.
All citizens who could perform labor were required to do so for a set number of days out of a year (the basic meaning of the word mit'a is a regular turn or a season). Due to the Inca Empire's wealth, a family would often only require sixty-five days to farm; the rest of the year was devoted entirely to the mit'a.
The Incas elaborated creatively on a preexisting system of not only the mit'a exchange of labor but also the exchange of the objects of religious veneration of the peoples whom they took into their empire. This exchange ensured proper compliance among conquered peoples. In this instance wak'as and paqarinas became significant centers of shared worship and a point of unification of their ethnically and linguistically diverse empire, bringing unity and citizenship to often geographically disparate peoples. This led eventually to a system of pilgrimages throughout all of these various shrines by the indigenous people of the empire prior to the introduction of Catholicism. Enormous construction of highways and structures were only possible in part by the use of the mit'a system by the Inca. In this system all the people worked for the government for a certain period of time. This labor was free for the Inca Rule. During the Inca period, men were required to work 65 days in the field to provide food for his family. When someone's turn came he joined the various works that used the mit'a system. A communal type of elemental provisions and needs was set up in order to care for the families of those who were absent in their Mita turn. In the mit'a people worked in building highways, the construction of homes for the emperor and nobility, monuments, bridges, fields belonging to priests and the emperor, and mines.
All males starting at the age of fifteen were required to participate in the mit'a to do public services. This remained mandatory until the age of fifty. However, the Inca rule was flexible on the amount of time one could share on the mit'a turn. Overseers were responsible to make sure that a person after fulfilling his duty in the mit'a still had enough time to care for his own land and family.
The construction of bridges and oroyas was the responsibility of the local ethnic groups, who divided the work according to the mita system, with the population divided into hanan and urin or ichuq (ichoc) and allawqa (allauca) (upper and lower, left and right). During viceregal times, the Andean method of distributing labor obligations among the ethnic groups was preserved, which permitted the continued maintenance of these public works. The war mit'a took men from their ayllus to serve in the state armies. All labor in the Andean world was performed as a rotational service, whether for maintaining the tampus, roads, bridges or for guarding the storehouses or other such tasks. The craftspeople enjoyed a special status in the Inca state. Although they worked for the state, they did not take part in the agricultural or war mit'a. The agrarian mit'a was distinct from the fishing mit'a, and these labor groups never intervened in each other’s occupations. In the señorio of Chincha, the fishermen numbered ten thousand, and went to sea in turns, the rest of the time enjoying themselves by dancing and drinking. The Spaniard criticized them as lazy drunkards because they did not go to sea daily and all at once. The mining mit'a was also fulfilled at the level of ayllus, of the local lord, and, in the last instance, of the state.
The significance of the term mit'a goes beyond that of the system for organizing labor. It contains a certain Andean philosophical concept of eternal repetition. The constellation of the Pleiades, called cabrillas ("little goats") by the Spaniards, were known as unquy (Quechua for "disease", hispanicized oncoy) during the rainy season mit'a, and as qullqa (Quechua for "storehouse") during the season of harvest and abundance. The seasons were divided into the dry mit'a and the rainy mit'a. The day mit'a succeeded the night mit'a in a repetition that reflected an ordering of time that the natives conceptualized as a cyclical organizational system of order and chaos.
Categorization of lands
During the Inca period people were mostly dependent on the cultivation of their land. All the fields of the Empire were divided into four categories: The Field of the Temple, the Emperor, Kurakas (Curacas), and People. Fields of the people were fields that belonged to the sick, widows, the elderly, wives of the soldiers and that of his own land.
At the beginning of the plowing time people started to work first at the fields of widows, of sick people and of wives of the soldiers under the direction of the village overseers. Then they worked on their own field. Next they worked on the Temples fields and Kuraka fields and finally they set to work on the Emperor's fields. While they worked on the Emperor's field they typically wore their best dress and men and women chanted songs in praise to the Inca.
When people were engaged in war, their fields were cultivated by people engaged in mit'a. This way, soldiers would go to war with their fields and family secured and protected. This led to enhanced loyalty and focus on the part of Incan soldiers.
Mit'a during Spanish rule
Under the Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, communities were required to provide one seventh of their male labor force at any given time for public works, mines and agriculture. The system became an intolerable burden on the Inca communities and abuses were common. Complaints and revolts occurred and new laws were passed by Philip III but they only had a limited effect. It should also be noted that the Inca and Spanish mitas served different purposes. The Inca mit'a provided public goods, such as maintenance of road networks and sophisticated irrigation and cropping systems that required inter-community coordination of labor. The majority of Inca subjects performed their mit'a obligations in or near their home communities, often in agriculture; service in mines was extremely rare. In contrast, the Spanish mit'a acted as a subsidy to private mining interests and the Spanish state, which used tax revenues from silver production largely to finance European wars.
Working in mines
During the Inca period people had to work four months in mines, then they returned home. During the Spanish regimes the number of months required to work in mines remained the same, but working conditions changed dramatically, which made it impossible for them to come back home. While they worked in the mines they had to spend money on buying food and paying taxes. Earnings were so low that they were always in debt. Now the rule was that a miner could not leave the mine until he paid his debts. If a man died then his children had to work in the mines to pay his debts, so eventually they were in a circle, and rarely came back home.
The Spanish conquistadors also utilized the same labor system to supply the workforce they needed for the silver mines, which was the basis of their economy in the colonial period. Under the leadership of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo, who was dispatched to Peru in 1569, the mit'a system greatly expanded as Toledo sought to increase silver outputs from the Potosí silver mine.
Toledo recognized that without a steady, reliable and inexpensive source of labor, mining would not be able to grow at the speed that the Spanish crown had requested. Under Toledo's leadership, the first mit'a recruits arrived in Potosi in 1573 from the regions directly surrounding the Potosi mine. At its peak recruitment for the Potosi mit'a extended to an area that was nearly 200,000 square miles (520,000 km2) and included much of southern Peru and present-day Bolivia.
The conquistadors used the concept of mit'a to suit their own needs. Mit'a is considered as the ancient and original version of mandatory state service. The mit'a system had severe impacts on the Indian population as it drained them of able-bodied workers at a time when their communities were experiencing demographic collapse due to epidemics of old-world diseases. It also resulted in Indians fleeing their communities to evade the mit'a. With fewer workers able to work the fields, farming production fell resulting in famine and malnutrition for many Indian communities in the region.
Mitma resettlement system
The mit'a labor draft is not to be confused with the related Inca policy of deliberate resettlements referred to by the Quechua word mitma (mitmaq meaning "outsider" or "newcomer"), or its hispanicized forms mitima or mitimaes (plural). This involved transplanting whole groups of people of Inca background as colonists into new lands inhabited by newly conquered peoples. The aim was to distribute loyal Inca subjects throughout their empire to limit the threat of localized rebellions.
The lasting effects of the mit'a
Mit'a districts historically achieved lower levels of education, and today they remain less integrated into road networks. Finally, data from the most recent agricultural census document that residents of mita districts are substantially more likely to be subsistence farmers. This is due to the fact that haciendas – rural estates with an attached labor force – were banned in mit'a districts to minimize the competition the state faced in accessing scarce mita labor. It was the hacienda elite who possessed the political connections required to secure public goods such as roads. These hacienda elites were the ones who were lobbying for roads to pass as many haciendas as possible and empirical evidence links roads to increased market participation and higher household income. The fact that farmers from mit'a districts do not have greater access to paved roads means that they are unable to transport crops to larger, regional markets. It is unlikely that these farmers simply do not wish to participate in the market. In the case of Peru, throughout the 1980s, Shining Path, as part of their Maoist ideology, attempted to turn farmers away from commercial farming; their efforts were largely unpopular and met with resistance. More recently, in 2004, residents of Ilave, a mit'a district, lynched their local mayor, in part for his inability to follow through with promises to pave the town's access road and build a local market. Overall, former mit'a districts suffer from lower economic performance, as demonstrated by generally lower household consumption and increased rates of stunted growth. Without haciendas to compete with the more exploitative Spanish system, mit'a districts were subjected to greater economic and health pressures from their labor. The repercussions of this disparity have persisted past the end of the mit'a system as mit'a districts were less integrated with the greater road network.
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