Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima

By Genberg, Birgitta | Ibero-americana, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima


Genberg, Birgitta, Ibero-americana


Bianca Premo, Children of the Father King: Youth, Authority, and Legal Minority in Colonial Lima. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 2005.

Children and the conception of childhood have emerged as the subject of an abundance of studies during the last decades. Especially child labor in the so called developing countries occupies a central position in the works by both scholars and writers from different NGOs. The unacceptable conditions under which millions of children are living today are usually related to poverty and lack of resources. To eradicate poverty is therefore seen as the main endeavour for both international and domestic development bodies.

In Peru, where a high rate of the population live in misery, successive governments have made some attempts to improve life for the minors such as introducing public schooling and health care. The legislation also protects the children in some respects even though there is still a huge rift between legislation and reality.

In Latin America, the colonial era often provides the starting point for analysing different social phenomena. The colonial society has been charaterized as heterogeneous partly due to the mixed composition of the population. In one sense the division was simple. The two main categories were Spaniards and Indians. However, time saw the emergence of a plethora of different social strata or castes in which were also found an increasing number of slaves of Afro-American descent. The caste society had its own social values, sanctioned in law during the entire colonial period. According to a prevailing opinion these values were strictly stratified and characterized by the opposition between conquerers and conquered, between rulers and ruled. It was subsequently inevitable that social stratification and social status were closely linked to ethnic differences. People were classified according to their colour with the Spaniards at the top of the social ladder and the Indians and the Black slaves at the bottom. But even the highest stratum was divided. The Spaniards born in Spain, los peninsnlares, were regarded superior to the American born Spaniards, los criollos, since the former were believed to have a stronger link to Spain. The middle strata - los limenos - consisted of soldiers, artisans and Indians of noble descent. Few limenos were, however, full legal subjects and most people in the capital were non-Europeans. The number of castes increased every year and the African slaves gradually outnumbered people in the other strata.

Several considerations determined social legislation. Some were results of pure prejudices among the Spaniards. Laws emerged from the social reality that differed considerably from the conditions in Spain. A great problem for the law-makers was the native inhabitants who apparently needed protection from the conquerers in order to survive their harsh exploation. A protective legisation was promulgated aiming at separating the two antagonists. The Indians had several rights but also various obligations to the Spaniards, such as offering free labor and paying tribute to their masters. The resistance among the castes was seldom related to discrimination and poverty.

How children spent their daily lives in Latin America's past is an underresearched subject. The reason for this is probably not a lack of intrerest, but rather the diffuculty to get access to adequate documentation. To be sure, children have not been completely neglected by historians but most studies deal with modern society and the relations between nationstate and familiy. Bianca Premos book Children of the Father King is therefore a pioneering study of how children lived and how childhood was conceived in Lima, the center of colonial South America, from 1650 to 1820. The study is divided in two parts: the first hundred years partly under the Hapsburg monarchies and the last decades with the Bourbons' social reform policies, which Premo labels the new politics of the child. …

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