In 1569, the Spanish empire undertook something new in
the history of European colonialism: forcing an entire con-
quered society to change its way of life overnight. The vice-
roy, don Francisco de Toledo, ordered the native people of
the central Andes to abandon their homes and move to new
towns founded after a Spanish model. The word for this pro-
cess was reducción, from the Spanish verb reducir, meaning to
reduce, subdue, persuade, or reorder. The viceroy’s officials
fanned out through the provinces with instructions to con-
solidate small settlements into larger ones, to lay out streets
and house lots, and to force more than a million peasant
farmers to relocate. The new towns, or reducciones, were to
have a uniform, quadrilateral street grid surrounding a cen-
tral plaza and church, governed by indigenous men holding
Spanish municipal offices and titles. When they were done,
the inspectors were to make their work permanent by de-
stroying the old villages. This was the Reducción General de
Indios the General Resettlement of Indians.
It was not the first campaign of reducción. Spanish friars
had already experimented with reorganizing Indian commu-
nities in the Caribbean and Mesoamerica. But in scope and
organization, the Andean campaign surpassed all previous
efforts and most later ones. Its ambition anticipated state
projects of the twentieth century, from Tanzanian model vil-
lages to Soviet collectivization. With gridded streets, stan-
dardized institutions imposed from above, and vast popula-
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