The Encomienda System and the Indigenous People of Trinidad
During the Spanish colonial period, most of our Indigenous Peoples were organized into either Encomiendas or Missions. These were the two main institutions of Spanish control.
The Encomienda was a grant of Indians given to early Spanish explorers as a reward and as a measure of continued control over conquered areas. It was deemed a good enclosure for civilizing the non-Christians and showing them the way of the cross. The Encomienda was, in fact, a cheap and ready means of obtaining forced free labor for Spanish estates. Encomiendas ranged in size from entire villages to small numbers of Indians.
When the Spaniards took possession of the island our First Peoples were captured to work the cocoa fields along the Northern Range and the tobacco gardens in the encomiendas in the Siparia-Erin area. Most of the clearing of the land in the now East-West Corridor and the uplands of Naparima and Oropuche was done by Amerindian labour.
Of the many encomiendas known to have been granted in the Spanish colonial era, only four survived: Aricagua, Tacarigua, Arauca and the Agregado of Cuara. These were Nepuyo villages linked by an Amerindian path now called the East-West Corridor in northern Trinidad.
Encomiendas were abolished in 1716 and later replaced by missionaries at Santa Rosa de Arima.