Colonial Society, 1550-1810
Colonial society relied on "purity of blood" as a basis for stratification. The elites at the top of the social pyramid were peninsulares, persons of Spanish descent born in Spain. Peninsulares held political power and social prestige in the society. Below them were the criollos, those of Spanish descent born in the colonies. This group had limited access to the higher circles of power and status. For generations the criollos accepted a position of inferiority to the peninsulares, but in the late eighteenth century their acquiescence was transformed into a resentment that ultimately led to their fight for independence. Next in importance and the most numerous were the mestizos, persons of mixed Spanish and Indian descent who were free but relegated to positions of low prestige. Most Indians gradually became absorbed linguistically or lost their identity through mixture with other peoples; by the late 1980s, Indians constituted only 1 percent of the Colombian population . Black African slaves and zambos, persons of mixed African and Indian descent, were at the bottom of the social scale and were important only as a source of labor.
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