The Repartimiento (Spanish pronunciation: [repartiˈmjento]) (Spanish, "distribution, partition, or division") was a colonial forced labor system imposed upon the indigenous population of Spanish America and the Philippines. In concept it was similar to other tribute-labor systems, such as the mita of the Inca Empire or the corvée of Ancien Régime France: the natives were forced to do low-paid or unpaid labor for a certain number of weeks or months each year on Spanish-owned farms, mines, workshops (obrajes), and public projects. With the New Laws of 1542, the repartimiento was instated to substitute the encomienda system that had come to be seen as abusive and promoting unethical behavior. The repartimiento was not slavery, in that the worker is not owned outright—being free in various respects other than in the dispensation of his or her labor—and the work was intermittent. It however, created slavery-like conditions in certain areas, most notoriously in silver mines of 16th century Peru. In the first decades of the colonization of the Caribbean the word was used for the institution that became the encomienda, which can cause confusion. It was a way for people to pay tribute by doing laborious jobs for the mother country.
The repartimiento, for the most part, replaced the encomienda throughout the Viceroyalty of New Spain by the beginning of the 17th century. In Peru encomiendas lasted longer, and the Quechua word mita frequently was used for repartimiento. There were instances when both systems (repartimiento and encomienda) coexisted.
In practice, a conquistador, or later a Spanish settler or official, would be given and supervised a number of indigenous workers, who would labor in farms or mines, or in the case of the Philippines might also be assigned to the ship yards constructing the Manila galleons. The one in charge of doing the reparto ("distribution") of workers was the Alcalde Mayor (local magistrate) of the city. Native communities that were close to Spanish populations were required to provide a percentage of their people (2-4%) to work in agriculture, construction of houses, streets, etc. The diminution of the number of natives in the Americas due to European diseases (smallpox, influenza, measles and typhus) to which the native populations had no resistance, as well as to desertion from the work fields, led to the substitution of the encomienda system and the creation of privately owned farms and haciendas. Many native people escaped the encomienda and repartimiento by leaving their communities. Some looked for wage labor; others signed contracts (asientos) for six months to a year, during which time the worker was required to be paid a salary (something the Spanish Crown did not enforce or support), and provided living quarters as well as religious services. There were many cases in which both wage and repartimiento laborers worked side-by-side on farms, mines, obrajes or haciendas.
- Cole, Jeffery A. (1985). The Potosí Mita, 1573-1700: Compulsory Indian Labor in the Andes. Stanford: Stanford University Press. ISBN 0-8047-1256-5