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The Ghost of Seventeenth-Century Potosí: An Autopsy

  • Kris Lane (a1)


In his 1611 Treasury of the Castilian or Spanish Language, Sebastián de Covarrubias began his definition of the word duende as follows: “It is one of the spirits of those who fell with Lucifer, of which some fell to the depths, others remained in the airy region, and some [landed] upon the surface of the Earth, as it is commonly held. These tend to be found inside houses and among mountains and in caves, frightening with their occasional apparitions, taking on fantastic shapes.” Over a century later, the 1732 Diccionario de autoridades was more concise; a duende was simply “a species of hobgoblin or demon that, as the name suggests, ordinarily infests houses.” Had Enlightenment reduced one of Lucifer's minions to a household sprite?



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A preliminary version of this essay was presented as a paper at the American Historical Association meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 6, 2013. I thank commentator Jane Mangan and audience members for insights and suggestions for improvement. Thanks also to ghostbusters R. E. Lane, Tim Johnson, Jeremy Mumford, Lisa Voigt, Shefa Siegal, Rebecca Scott, Sherwin Bryant, Marta Vicente, and Luis Corteguera. I also thank the reviewers for The Americas for their comments.



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1. de Covarrubias, Sebastián, Tesoro de la lengua castellana o española (Madrid: Luis Sánchez, 1611), 329v: “Es algun espiritu de los que cayeron con Lucifer, de los quales unos baxaron al profundo, otros quedaron en la region del ayre y algunos en la superficie de la tierra, segun comunmente se tiene. Estos suelen dentro de las casas y en las montañas y en las cuevas espantar con algunas aparencias, tomando cuerpos fantasticos.” The translation in the text of the article is mine.

2. Diccionario de autoridades (Madrid: Real Academia Española, 1726–1739), tomo 3 (1732): “un especie de trasgo u demonio que por infestar ordinariamente las casas se llama asi.” The suggested etymology of the term is “dueño de casa,” shortened to “duen de casa,” then “duende.” Rebecca Scott has suggested the Arabic djinn as a possible source.

3. de Orsúa, Bartolomé Arzáns y Vela, , Tales of Potosí. Padden, R. C., ed., López-Morillas, Frances, trans. (Providence: Brown University Press, 1975), 5657. Jeremy Mumford has noted that Padden's casual use of the term “spook” brings to mind the central character of Roth's, Philip The Human Stain (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2000). For new takes on Arzáns, see Voigt, Lisa, Spectacular Wealth: The Festivals of Colonial South American Mining Towns (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2016); and Merrim, Stephanie, The Spectacular City, Mexico, and Colonial Literary Culture (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2010).

4. Jane Mangan has helped to correct this, and she describes the lives and work of several women of African birth or descent in Trading Roles: Gender, Ethnicity, and the Urban Economy in Colonial Potosí (Durham: Duke University Press, 2005), esp. 144145. See also Appendix 1 in Bakewell's, Peter Miners of the Red Mountain: Indian Labor in Potosí, 1545–1650 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984), 191193. Bakewell expands on the findings of Wolff, Inge, in “Negersklaverei und Negerhandel in Hochperu, 1545–1640,” Jarbuch für Geshcichte von Staat, Wirtschaft un Gesellschaft Lateinamerikas 1 (1964): 157186.

5. Bakewell, Silver and Entrepreneurship in Seventeenth-Century Potosí: The Life and Times of Antonio López de Quiroga (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1988), 12.

6. Lane, Kris, “From Corrupt to Criminal: Reflections on the Great Potosí Mint Fraud of 1649,” in Corruption in the Iberian Empires: Greed, Custom, and Colonial Networks, Rosenmüller, Christoph, ed. (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2017), 3362.

7. The papers are in the Archivo General de Indias [hereafter AGI] Escribanía de Cámara 865C.

8. Pedro de Brizuela (not yet a “don”) appears in Potosí’s notary books, for example, 1637 slave sale, Archivo Histórico de Potosí-Casa Nacional de Moneda [hereafter AHP-CNM], Escrituras Notariales [hereafter EN] 96, fol. 30; 1640 slave sale, EN 106, fol. 3124; and 1641 slave sale, EN 107, fol. 1431. Brizuela's luck with slaves seems to have been bad. A witness testifying in the great Potosí mint fraud investigation (AGI Escribanía 871C, fol. 1110v) claimed that on the day of Corpus Christi in 1647 “un mulato esclavo” belonging to Brizuela but rented to the mint attempted to escape, and when stopped by the porter grabbed his knife and cut his own throat, nearly killing himself and leaving him unable to speak. Brizuela appears with the title “don” in one of Inspector-General Nestares Marín's mercury account books in 1655, owing 4,262 pesos, so it may be no wonder that in the case discussed here he wanted a 1,000-peso indemnity for his slave El Duende. AGI Escribanía 1818A.

9. A slave in the Potosí mint named Nicolás de Contreras, age 22, testified in September 1647, defending the character of some of the culprits in the great debasement scam (AGI Escribanía 871C, fol. 705). Perhaps this helped him win freedom.

10. The sale record for María de Tapia “criolla mulata” (no age given) is in AHP-CNM, EN 112, fol. 649. María was sold by Gaspar Tamayo for 450 pesos. Her surname was from a previous master, doña María de Tapia. Her master, Pedro de Arenas Marrón, appears frequently in Potosí’s notary books in the 1640s, for example in AHP-CNM EN 105, fol. 351 (1641); EN 106, fol. 3281 (1640); and EN 108, fol. 1494v (1642). In 1648, he paid 200 pesos to rent a house next to the Augustinian monastery. EN 113, fol .1730. He is listed as alférez real of Buenos Aires in EN 112, fol. 440 (1649), and mentioned again in the same year (EN 114, fol. 1137v) when he rented a house for four years from the Mercedarian Juan de Herrera, brother-in-law of the famous counterfeiter Francisco Gómez de la Rocha. The title of alférez real de Buenos Aires went to him by auction in 1638, was confirmed in 1645 when he paid for it in full, and was reconfirmed in person in 1655, but Arenas soon returned to Potosí. Juan José Biedma, dir. Acuerdos del extinguido Cabildo de Buenos Aires, vol. 9 (Buenos Aires: Talleres Gráficos de la Penitenciaria Nacional, 1911), 360; and vol. 10, 385. In other records, Arenas appears to have been working as a coiner (monedero) in the Potosí royal mint in 1649. See Nestares Marín's list of 119 mint fraud “culpados,” AGI Charcas 113. Arenas had long been involved in the slave trade from Buenos Aires, and he appears in the notary books of Córdoba (Argentina) in 1640, Archivo Histórico Provincial de Córdoba [hereafter AHPC], Protocolos, vol. 51, fol. 63. Arenas appears again in the Potosí notary records in February 1654, sending 6,000 pesos (“nueva moneda de columnas”) to Cuzco for locally made cloth. EN 116, fol. 94v. In 1658, Arenas sold an enslaved African woman recently arrived from Buenos Aires named Felipa Matamba (EN 117, fol. 483v), and soon after he sold another African captive brought from Buenos Aires named Antonio de los Ríos, EN 117, fol. 486v.

11. Mangan, Trading Roles, 169, describes how a formal indigenous neighborhood developed in Tiopampa in the years just before this incident.

12. An earlier sale record for El Duende appears in Potosí’s notary books (EN 113, fol. 1850). On October 5, 1648, Fernando de Encalada sold 25-year-old Juan “criollo que por mal nombre llaman El Duende.” Despite being a fugitive “que al presente anda huido ya mas de ocho meses” El Duende sold for 500 pesos. He had been purchased previously from Juan de Liruela in the name of another.

13. Contreras, Jaime El Santo Oficio de la Inquisicion de Galicia (Poder, sociedad y cultura) (Madrid: Akal Editor, 1982), 204206 (reference courtesy of Peter Bakewell), describes Nestares Marín as one of a new breed of “secular inquisitor,” or academic overachiever whose priestly role was secondary.

14. David Dressing cited several such instances in “Social Tensions in Early Seventeenth-Century Potosí” (PhD diss.: Tulane University, 2007). See the call to kill enemies as “Jewish dogs” (6) and a blanket insult: “Dogs, Jews, cuckolds, white moors” (231).

15. Carangas was a mining camp far to the west of Potosí, near the modern Bolivia-Chile border, but there was also a Potosí neighborhood named for the church of San Lorenzo de los Carangas, near the main market.

16. “paz publica y exemplo de otras personas y especialmente de los negros de que ay mucho numero en esta villa y muy atrevidos y facinerosos y que en quadrillas y con espaldas y otras armas andan de noche por las calles cometiendo graves delitos saliendo juntas y causando otros convenientes que se deven atajar,” AGI Escribanía de Cámara 865C.

17. “jueses contra Juan Peres: es notorio se an fulminado en esta villa muchas causas por delitos graves y astroses con que le a tenido y tiene escandalizado y por otras causas que le mueven en justicia y conservacion de la paz publica mandava y mando que al dho Juan Peres le se a dado y de con efecto garrote de palo y cordeles en las verjas de la carcel de esta villa en la forma ordinaria hasta que naturalmente muera, y sera puesto colgado en los corredores del cabildo,” AGI Escribanía de Cámara 865C.

18. Hanke comments briefly on Arzáns's rare depictions of his father here. Hanke, Lewis, Bartolomé Arzáns de Orsúa y Vela's History of Potosí (Providence: Brown University Press, 1965), 16.

19. Orsúa, Bartolomé Arzáns y Vela, , Historia de la Villa Imperial de Potosí. 3 vols., Hanke, Lewis and Mendoza, Gunnar, eds. (Providence: Brown University Press, 1965), 2:149. My translation.

20. Freile, Juan Rodríguez, Conquista y descubrimiento del Nuevo Reino de Granada (1636) (Madrid: Dastin Historia, 2000). Most misadventures of Rodríguez Freile were in fact not uncanny, and could be traced to female beauty (“O hermosura!”).

21. “cuando de improviso vio un bulto de hombre que con sus armas le acometia, pero sin temor ninguno tambien le acometio pareciendole que le embebia toda la espada, mas desapareciendo aquel bulto cayo [mi padre] al suelo, comenzo a echar mucha sangre por las narices y volviendo al cabo de gran rato en si se fue a su casa, y con esto dejo de ejecutar cierta accion que iba, que segun era de mal emprendida fuera para toda su casa de mucho descredito, pues injustamente (por solo un mal informe) iba contra bien eclesiastico. Sobre esto le dio un gran accidente, permitiendolo asi Dios para que se sosegase y reconosiese la verdad, como lo hizo.”

22. On the Basque-Vicuña conflict and overnight executions similar to El Duende's, see Dressing, “Social Tensions,” chapt. 6. For many instances of extrajudicial killings in the hinterland mining camps, see Nicanor Domínguez, “Rebels of Laicacota: Spaniards, Indians, and Andean Mestizos in Southern Peru during the Mid-Colonial Crisis of 1650–1680” (PhD diss.: University of Illinois, 2006), 136–141.

23. We know Velarde de Santillana was corrupt because he fled to Chile when implicated in the mint fraud. His uncle was the Potosí corregidor replaced by Pimentel, the man who had El Duende garroted.

24. “no dexan salir a los negros que estan trabajando en las hornazas que tienen en dha casa de moneda los domingos y fiestas de guarda los cuales dhos negros alborotan la villa con pendencias que vienen con otros negros y negras con quien tratan de lo cual resulta grande escandalo y alboroto.” AHP CRM 1160.

25. AHP CRM 1274, 1651 tumult inquest.

26. Antonio de Fuentelapeña, El ente dilucidado: discurso único que muestra que ay en naturaleza animales yracionales invisibles y quales sean (Madrid: Emprenta Real, 1676), 143–145.

27. Fuentelapeña, El ente dilucidado, 412. For a fuller study, see Sotelo, Anel Hernández, “Sobre la especulación duendina. Los argumentos de Antonio de Fuentelapeña en El ente dilucidado (1676),” Fronteras de la Historia (Bogotá) 17:1 (2012): 4874.

28. Chronicle of Colonial Lima: The Diary of Josephe and Francisco Mugaburu, 1640–1697, Miller, Robert Ryal, ed. and trans. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1975), 26.

29. There is much more scholarship on these instances of colonial “racial profiling” for Mexico than for greater Peru. An exception is the amazing work of Michelle McKinley, who uses criminal and ecclesiastical court cases from Lima. McKinley, , Fractional Freedoms: Slavery, Intimacy, and Legal Mobilization in Colonial Lima, 1600–1700 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2016). See also Martín, José Ramón Jouve, Esclavos de la ciudad letrada. Esclavitud, escritura y colonialismo en Lima (1650-1700) (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2005); Newson, Linda A. and Minchin, Susie, From Capture to Sale: The Portuguese Slave Trade to Spanish South America in the Early Seventeenth Century (Leiden: Brill, 2007); and Bowser, Frederick P., The African Slave in Colonial Peru, 1524-1650 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974), esp. 127, 240. For arms decrees in New Spain, see Schwaller, Robert, “‘For Honor and Defence’: Race and the Right to Bear Arms in Early Colonial Mexico,” Colonial Latin American Review 21:2 (July 2012): 239266. Scapegoating of Afro-Mexicans in times of crisis was also frequent in early seventeenth-century Mexico, especially in Mexico City. See for example Ballone, Angela, The 1624 Tumult of Mexico in Perspective (c. 1620–1650): Authority and Conflict Resolution in the Iberian Atlantic (Leiden: Brill, 2017), 239. See also Martínez, María Elena, “The Black Blood of New Spain: Limpieza de Sangre, Racial Violence, and Gendered Power in Early Colonial Mexico,” William & Mary Quarterly, 3rd ser., 61:3 (July 2004): 479520: Frank “Trey” Proctor III, Rebelión esclava y libertad en el México colonial,” in De la libertad a la abolición: Africanos y afrodescendientes en Iberoamérica, de la Serna, Juan Manuel, ed. (Mexico City: INAH, 2010), 111159; Bennett, Herman, Africans in Colonial Mexico: Absolutism, Christianity, and Afro-Creole Consciousness (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2003); and Davidson, David M., “Negro Slave Control and Resistance in Colonial Mexico, 1519–1650,” Hispanic American Historical Review 46:3 (August 1966): 235253. Little attention has been given to Afro-Bolivians in colonial times since the pioneering work of Crespo, Alberto, Esclavos negros en Bolivia (La Paz: Academia Nacional de Ciencias de Bolivia, 1977). An exception is Brockington, Lolita Gutiérrez, Blacks, Indians, and Spaniards in the Eastern Andes: Reclaiming the Forgotten in Colonial Mizque, 1550–1782 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006). See also Andrea Barrero Camacho, “Libertad de papel. Cartas y procesos judiciales de manumisión de esclavos en la ciudad de La Plata (Siglo XVII)” (MA thesis: Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar (Quito), 2017.

30. Archivo Nacional de Bolivia, CPLA 24, fols. 161v-164.

A preliminary version of this essay was presented as a paper at the American Historical Association meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana, on January 6, 2013. I thank commentator Jane Mangan and audience members for insights and suggestions for improvement. Thanks also to ghostbusters R. E. Lane, Tim Johnson, Jeremy Mumford, Lisa Voigt, Shefa Siegal, Rebecca Scott, Sherwin Bryant, Marta Vicente, and Luis Corteguera. I also thank the reviewers for The Americas for their comments.

The Ghost of Seventeenth-Century Potosí: An Autopsy

  • Kris Lane (a1)


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