UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


Indigenous Rebellions

The Tupac Amaru and Tupac Katari rebellions were two massive highland peasant uprisings in the early 1780s that merged with more localized movements, threatened to overthrow the colonial regime, and resulting in immense numbers of dead.

If the material condition of the Indians was bad, it was not because there was any lack of effort to bring matters to the royal attention. León Pinelo's great work is one instance of this. Another is that of the Licentiate Falcón who was so bold as to say that: "It is clear that the penetration of the Spaniards into these realms [Peru] was illicit and that they had no right to conquer them, nor any cause whatever for bringing war against them."

The crown, as elsewhere in the Americas, worked to solidify the Andean colonial order in tandem with the church to which it was tied by royal patronage dating from the late fifteenth century. Having accompanied Francisco Pizarro and his force during the conquest, the Roman Catholic friars proceeded zealously to carry out their mission to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. In this endeavor, the church came to play an important role in the acculturation of the natives, drawing them into the cultural orbit of the Spanish settlers. It also waged a constant war to extirpate native religious beliefs. Such efforts met with only partial success, as the syncretic nature of Andean Roman Catholicism today attests. With time, however, the evangelical mission of the church gave way to its regular role of ministering to the growing Spanish and Creole population.

Theoretically the encomenderos were supposed to see to it that their Indians were taught the Christian religion. No less a personage than Pope Paul III. (Alessandro Farnese, pope 1534-1549) had concerned himself with the matter. Gregory XIII. (Ugo Buoncompagno, pope 1572-1585), Pius IV. (Giovanni Medici, pope 1559-1565), Pius V. (Michele Ghiseieri, pope 1566-1572) and Clement VIII. (Ippolito Aldoerandini, pope 1592-1605) all made regulations for the spiritual salvation of the Indians.

In spite of all this august solicitude, however, the spiritual lot of the Indians was far from happy. León Pinelo found himself obliged to say: "(The Indians) do not know the Christian Doctrine, even that part of it which is necessary, de necessitate medii, in order to save them. And according to the judgment of certain ecclesiastics and religious who have had to do with the doctrinating and spiritual instruction of them, that portion is the fourth part of the whole. And I hold it to be certain that the number of those who are ignorant of it is greater than that of them who are not ignorant of it. Idolatry has not been uprooted from their souls, and many of them are still stained with it, even as they were before the preaching of the Gospel entered into this kingdom. Innumerable [Indians] die without the holy sacrament of confirmation."

By the end of the 16th century, the church was beginning to acquire important financial assets, particularly bequests of land and other wealth, that would consolidate its position as the most important economic power during the colonial period. At the same time, it assumed the primary role of educator, welfare provider, and, through the institution of the Inquisition, guardian of orthodoxy throughout the viceroyalty. Together, the church-state partnership served to consolidate and solidify the crown authority in Peru that, despite awesome problems of distance, rough terrain, and slow communications, endured almost three centuries of continuous and relatively stable rule.

Concerning the state of the Indians and that of the legislation bearing upon them during the colonial period, it should be noted that, with the coming of the House of Bourbon to the throne of Spain in 1700 some slight improvement was effected. But the improvement, such as it was, lasted but a brief while, and in the latter part of the eighteenth century, conditions, especially those referring to the clergy, were as bad as ever.

Looking upon America merely as an immense territory the overlordship of which pertains to the king by divine and human law, considering it as a source of glory and pride for his crown, as an inexhaustible chest full of pecuniary resources and longed-for riches, of which the national treasury found itself in urgent need, the Spanish kings governed the Indies with the severity and energy of a power very jealous of its absolute authority, with the unbending intransigence of a man who believes that he fulfils a divine mission, with the pompous ceremonial with which the popular fancy is enthralled and human vanity satisfied, with the anxiety of a man who needs much money and can, with little effort, avail himself of a treasure.

An upsurge in native discontent and rebellion had actually begun to occur in the eighteenth century. To survive their brutal subjugation, the indigenous peoples had early on adopted a variety of strategies. Until recendy, the scholarly literature inaccurately portrayed them as passive. To endure, the native Americans did indeed have to adapt to Spanish domination. As often as not, however, they found ways of asserting their own interests.

After the conquest, the crown had assumed from the Incas patrimony over all native land, which it granted in usufruct to indigenous community families, in exchange for tribute payments and mita labor services. This system became the basis for a longlasting alliance between the colonial state and the native communities, bolstered over the years by the elaboration of a large body of protective legislation. Crown officials, such as the corregidores de indios, were charged with the responsibility of protecting natives from abuse at the hands of the colonists, particularly the alienation of their land to private landholders.

Nevertheless, the colonists and their native allies, the curacas, often in collusion with the corregidores and local priests, found ways of circumventing crown laws and gaining control of native American lands and labor. To counter such exploitation and to conserve their historical rights to the land, many native American leaders shrewdly resorted to the legal system. Litigation did not always suffice, of course, and Andean history is full of desperate native peasant rebellions.

The pace of these uprisings increased dramatically in the eighteenth century, with five in the 1740s, eleven in the 1750s, twenty in the 1760s, and twenty in the 1770s. Their underlying causes were largely economic. Land was becoming increasingly scarce in the communities because of illegal purchases by unscrupulous colonists at a time when the indigenous population was once again growing after the long, postconquest demographic decline. At the same time, the native peasantry felt the brunt of higher taxes levied by the crown, part of the general reform program initiated by Madrid in the second half of the eighteenth century. These increased tax burdens came at a time when the highland elite — corregidores, priests, curacas, and Hispanicized native landholders — was itself increasing the level of surplus extracted from the native American peasant economy.

According to historian Nils P. Jacobsen, this apparent tightening of the colonial "screw" during the eighteenth century led to the "over-exploitation" of the native peasantry and the ensuing decades of indigenous rebellions.

The culmination of this protest came in 1780 with the rvolt of Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui, a wealthy curaca and mestizo descendant of Inca ancestors who sympathized with the oppressed native peasantry. He was a man of education and some wealth, and, in accordance with the colonial custom, was the recognized chief of several Indian villages, subject to the viceroy.

After vainly seeking redress he headed a rebellion in November 1780. He seized and executed a notoriously abusive corregidor near Cusco. The Indians, who universally regarded him as their Inca, flocked in thousands to his standard. Condorcanqui raised a ragtag army of tens of thousands of natives, castas, and even a few dissident Creoles, assuming the name Tupac Amaru II after the last Inca, to whom he was related.

Drawing on a rising tide of Andean millenarianism and nativism, Tupac Amaru II raised the specter of some kind of return to a mythic Incan past among the indigenous masses at a time of increased economic hardship. At one time he had a force of 80,000, and held all the country between Cuzco and Lake Titicaea; even the Indians of New Granada and Paraguay were in secret sympathy with him, and a complete overthrow of Spanish power was threatened. In that time one-third of the whole population of Peru is said to have perished, and many flourishing towns and villages were pillaged and laid waste.

The Spanish cause at length regained its wonted ascendancy. His army was undisciplined and almost without arms, and after a gallant struggle he was defeated and captured by royalist forces in March 1781. When tortured to declare the names of his accomplices, he is reported to have answered, "Two only are my accomplices,—you who interrogate me, in continuing your robberies upon the people; and I, in endeavoring to prevent you."

Condorcanqui was brought to trial, and by sentence of the judge Areche he was torn to pieces by horses at Cuzco, after witnessing the torture and death of his wife and nearly all his relations, 15 May 1781. This was done in the main plaza in Cusco, the same city of Cuzco where he had so lately been crowned in triumph, as a warning to others.

The rebellion continued, however, and even expanded into the Altiplano around Lake Titicaca under the leadership of his brother, Diego Cristobal Tupac Amaru. His brother Diego held out for some time longer, and was pardoned in 1782 on condition of disbanding his forces, but was subsequently tortured and killed.

Ubalde, a creole of Africa, made the next attempt to overthrow the dominion of Spain over her colonies. He organized a plan, in conjunction with others of his countrymen, for the total extermination of every Spaniard from Peru by one simultaneous massacre So cruel an intention was happily frustrated by the treachery of an accomplice, and he too shared the usual fate of unsuccessful revolutionists, by expiring on the scaffold in 1805. He is said to have maintained his political opinions with constancy, and to have cried out during his last moments, that " the death of one or two individuals could not arrest the progress of a cause, whose final success had long been preparing by the corruption of the Government."

In the following years the authorities undertook to carry out some of the reforms that the two native leaders had advocated. In the effort to extirpate the whole Inca race, Tupac Amaru’s son, a child of ten years, was spared, but was sent a prisoner to Spain; his fate is unknown, though a person claiming to be him appeared in South America in 1828 and was given a pension.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 10-04-2016 20:52:15 ZULU