The encomienda system was a trusteeship labor system employed by the Spanish crown during the Spanish colonization of the Americas and the Philippines in order to consolidate their conquests. Conquistadors were granted trusteeship over the indigenous people they conquered, in an expansion of familiar medieval feudal institutions, notably the commendation ceremony, which had been established in New Castile during the Reconquista.
The encomiendo system differed from the developed form of feudalism in that it did not entail any direct land tenure by the encomendero; Indian lands were to remain in their possession, a right that was formally protected by the Crown of Castile because at the beginning of the Conquest most of the rights of administration in the new lands went to the Castilian Queen.
These were laws that the Crown attempted to impose in all of the Spanish colonies in the Americas and in the Philippines.
The maximum size of an encomienda was three hundred Indians, though it rarely reached near to that number.
The encomenderos had the authorization to tax the people under their care and to summon them for labor, but they were not given juridical authority. In return, the encomenderos were expected to maintain order through an established military and to provide teachings in Catholicism. The little respect that the Europeans had for the Amerindians, however, helped corrupt the system rather quickly.
So, what was supposed to assist in the evangelization of the Natives and in the creation of a stable society became a blatant tool of oppression.
The Crown established the encomienda system in Hispaniola in May 1493. And while it reserved the right of revoking an encomienda from the hands of an unjust encomendero, it rarely did. In the papal bull Inter caetera (1493, the Borgia Pope Alexander VI had granted the western newly found lands to the Castilian Crown, on the condition that it evangelize these new lands. “…
By this he allocated everything discovered by Columbus to the Crown of Castile, on the condition that the monarchs set about propagating the Christian faith there, and provided the lands concerned…Because the ultimate title of the Amerindian’s land lay with the Castilian Crown, the system in the New World differed in that it did not entail any direct land tenure by the encomendero. Amerindian lands were to remain in their possession, a right that was formally protected by the Crown of Castile’s initial title. . These were laws that the Crown attempted to impose in all of the Spanish colonies in the Americas and in the Philippines.