Paola Revilla Orías
© Paola Revilla Orías

Dr. Paola Revilla Orías

University of Bonn
Bonn Center for Dependency and Slavery Studies
Heussallee 18–24
D-53113 Bonn

Academic Profile

Paola Revilla is Ph.D. in History from the University of Chili and the EHESS in París. She is a member of the Bolivian History Society, the Latin American Work and Workers Network (RedLatt) and the Colonial and Modern Worlds Laboratory (Pontifical Catholic University of Chile), as well as the President of the Association of Bolivian Studies (AEB). She is interested in social and labor history studies. Her reflection is nourished by recent academic work departing from social and labor history approaches, as well as from legal history and from the history of ideas. She is particulary interested in the study of asymmetric dependency relationships and in the of the synchronous and diachronic uses of grammars of dependency to refer to one or another labor reality. Her research gives particular emphasis to the analysis of the experience of captive population in colonial cities, more specifically of African and Chiriguano Indians from the Low Lands of Charcas, current Plurinational State of Bolivia. She’s currently a professor at the Bolivian Catholic University of “San Pablo” (UCB-SP), and a a teaching researcher at the Institut of Historical Research of the Major University of San Andrés (UMSA) in La Paz, Bolivia.

Research Project

Yanacona: A Crucible of Complexity
Free / Unfree Labor Relations in Charcas (XVth-XIXth centuries)

The yanaconazgo is a labour institution whose origins go back to the Inca period in South America (XIVth century). The authorities of the Spanish Crown took it over and institutionalized it in the XVth century, giving it new characteristics in the colonial setting. It would remain in place until at least the change of the political regime of the early XIXth century that led to the constitution of independent states of a liberal nature. Despite its survival in the history of the jurisdiction of the Real Audiencia de Charcas, few historians have devoted themselves to reflecting on yanaconazgo between the XVIth and XVIIIth centuries. Except for a few names, historiography has tended to make a generalized use of the term yanaconazgo and the subject to which it designates: yanacona, echoing exclusively what was stated in the regulations and in some single cases founded in the documentation. While some historians until the second half of the XXth century described this labour regime comparing it to legal slavery in its most oppressive traits, others of more recent decades disagreed, underlining the autonomy of economic development in which they found some workers under this adscription, fruit of the degree of specialization they enjoyed in certain tasks (Barnadas, 1973, Bakewell, 1992, Escobari, 1992 and 2005, Oliveto and Gil Montero, 2015). The complexity of this labor regime deserves more studies from different approaches and contexts, in order to better understand what is far from being a unitary institution, and that it would be more appropriate to refer to a variety of situations of servitude both in pre-Hispanic and colonial times.

On the one hand, it is pertinent to leave the tendency to historicize colonial society by separating its population according to the personal condition in: slaves or free, without considering much more complex forms of servitude that the subjects participated in. On the other hand, the historiography of yanaconazgo lack a solid reflection on the subtle changes of meaning that the concept suffered, the transformations of its practical reality and the subjects it designated in the different scenarios it was used throughout the centuries. With the present reserach I seek to fill some gaps regarding these aspects. I propose an interpretive view that, by historicizing the yanaconazgo and analyzing the keys of the grammar of dependency that it generated, can bring out the intrinsic complexity of the worlds of work and workers in Charcas. Within a conceptual and normative level, I propose to analyze the vocabulary and meanings given by the authorities to the yanaconazgo to justify it and differentiate it from another labor systems, from the transition to the colonial period until the emergence of the Republic.

At the same time, I will approach the labor relations endured by the Yanaconas. I am interested in exploring how one category of legal adscription could lead in syncronicity to dissimilar labor situations. An important gesture is to ask about the interactions and relations of the yanaconazgo as an institution and as a practical reality before other coercive labor systems, specifically that of legal slavery that touched Afro-descendants and Indigenous people of the Lowlands, as well as other forms of contemporary servitude. No less important is to question to what extent people fiscally assigned to the yanaconazgo by a specific political will, were conditioned or their future was determined by this adscription. Studying the incentives of the actions as well as the mechanisms carried out by people to try to ascribe or demarcate from the imposed condition will lead to verify the intrinsic plurality of the Yanacona subject.

Selected Publications

  • Padre, no es nuestra voluntad seguir tolerando sus abusos: Pronunciamiento afro-indígena para liberar al esclavo Clemente Chavarría (Charcas, siglo XVIII). In: Vicent Sanz Rozalén, Michael Zeuske y Santiago de Luxán (eds.): Resistencia, delito y dominación en le mundo esclavo. Microhistorias de la esclavitud atlántica (siglos XVII-XIX). Granada 2019, pp. 129‐144.
  • No tengo derecho a dejarme anclar”: Libertos en la representación social de su libertad (La Plata, Charcas 1540-1630). In: Fernández, María Elisa y Víctor Brangier (eds.): Historia Cultural hoy. 13 entradas desde América Latina. Rosario 2018, pp. 249–270.
  • Manuel de la Cruz dice ser casi negro y no indio: Estrategias de negociación identitaria de la población afrodescendiente ante la justicia charqueña (siglos XVII-XVIII) . In: María Verónica Secreto, Flávio dos Santos Gomes (eds.): Territórios ao Sul: escravidao, escritas e fronteiras coloniais e pós-coloniais na América. Río de Janeiro 2017, pp. 95–114.
  • Yo hijo mío, haré cuanto pueda por vos…. De esclavos que deciden no estar a la merced de sus amos (Charcas, siglo XVIII). In: Historia y Cultura. Revista de la Sociedad Boliviana de Historia, no. 38-39 (2015), pp. 85–103.
  • ¡Morir antes que esclavos vivir!: República libertaria y esclavitud en Bolivia decimonónica. In: Nicholas Robins, Rosario Barahona (eds.): Mitos Expuestos: falsas leyendas de Bolivia. Cochabamba 2014, pp. 219–245.
  • De coronaciones y otras memorias: Afrobolivianos y Estado Plurinacional. T’inkazos. In: Revista Boliviana de Ciencias Sociales, vol. 17, no. 36 (2014), pp. 121–131.
  • Chiriguano, ni tan propio ni tan ajeno: Dinámicas de negociación identitaria entre Charcas y el pie de monte surandino (siglos XVI-XVIII). In: Surandino Monográfico. Revista del Programa de Historia de América Latina. Facultad de Filosofía y Letras, vol. 3, no. 2 (2013), pp. 34–47.
  • Mi esclava, la negra María, está inquieta desde que escuchó al indio Francisco tocar el harpa: Gestos, miradas y afectos ignorados de Charcas colonial (1632-1822). In: Historias de mujeres. Mujeres, Familias, Historias. Anales del encuentro "Mujeres, familias, historias", MUSEF-Sucre. Santa Cruz 2011, pp. 19–34.
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