The name might ring a bell. If you follow Latin American politics, you will have heard of the Tupamaros in Uruguay and the Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru in Peru. They were named after him. If you know your history of the Conquest, you’ll recall Tupac Amaru I, who resisted the Spanish from Vilcabamba and was executed in Cusco in 1572. They were related. If you have been alive in the last twenty-five years, you have heard of Tupac (Amaru) Shakur. Yes, the rapper was named after Tupac Amaru.
The execution of Tupac Amaru I in 1572. Guaman Poma in Danish National Library
Tupac Amaru led the largest uprising in colonial Spanish American history, from its beginnings near the Inca capital of Cusco in November 1780 until his execution on May 18, 1781. In fact, the rebellion continued into early 1783, well after his death and that of his influential wife, Micaela Bastidas. It stretched through the core Andean area of today’s Peru and Bolivia, from Cusco to Potosí, petrifying authorities and the Spanish throughout the continent and in Madrid. José Gabriel Condorcanqui was an indigenous authority, a kuraka, a title that the Spanish conquerors retooled from the Inca Empire. Condorcanqui added the name Tupac Amaru to highlight his bloodlines and ties to the Inca nobility. Condorcanqui made his living as merchant or muleteer, work that took him throughout colonial Peru, where he heard stories, saw injustices, and made friends and potential allies. He spoke Quechua (the language of the Incas, today the mostly widely spoken indigenous language in the Americas) and Spanish, and was comfortable in the home of Cusco’s upper classes as well as the huts of the region’s masses, the indigenous peasantry. He had mules, much land, and many debts; he was neither poor nor rich.
Modern depiction of Tupac Amaru II
Tupac Amaru and his wife Micaela had spoken out about injustices against indigenous people, rising taxes, and controls placed on the Church. In the 1770s, he had petitioned in the courts of Lima to defend himself and his people. Frustrated by their repeated failures, in November 1780, he and Micaela abducted an important regional authority, Antonio Arriaga, and, after assembling thousands of Indians, mestizos, creoles, and Spaniards, hanged him. The rebels spread to the south, ransacking textile mills and haciendas and declaring an end to Spanish oppression. They also stressed a return to the Incas. The rebels nearly took the city of Cusco in the first days of 1781. In the end, the rebellion encompassed an area larger than that of the American Revolution. Up to 100,000 died in the brutal fighting and its reverberations shaped Peru for decades if not centuries.
My new book features Tupac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas, untangling many mysteries about them and their uprising. Key questions include the role of the Catholic Church, the lure of the Incan past, and the continuation of the uprising after the leaders’ execution. This story and these mysteries help explain the enduring fascination with Tupac Amaru since his death over 230 years ago.