The Experience of Rebellion

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I’m delighted to announce that my book is out. It’s available in the usual places: Amazon; barnes and noble; seminary co-op; and your local book store. A Kindle version will be available in April. Published by Harvard University Press, The Tupac Amaru Rebellion consists of twelve chapters as well as an introduction and conclusion. It also has a dozen maps (one of my pet-peeves–history books that don’t show where the events take place). I’ve included selection of images of Tupac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas, including his image on Peruvian currency (see below), posters, museum pieces, and a letter he wrote in jail with his own blood.

The following excerpt comes from the introduction. I point out how my book builds on and distinguishes itself from previous studies, in English and Spanish. I wanted to write a book that provided a complete view of the mass rebellion and its impact while raising new points. As the title suggests, I try to bring the reader into the battles themselves, the long, bloody conflict that led to 100,000 dead and still echoes in Peru and far beyond today.

The Experience of Rebellion

The Tupac Amaru rebellion is not an untold story. Generations of historians have written on it, ranging from epic tales from the nineteenth century to social scientific works of the late twentieth. This book builds from the torrent of studies in the last forty years, including two major, multi-volume document collections as well as works on specific topics such as prior uprisings in the 1770s, conflict in towns and cities far from the Tupac Amaru base in Cuzco, and the history of the textile mills. Two phenomena coincided around 1970 to prompt fascination with Tupac Amaru and boost the number of studies: the interest in rural revolts because of the Vietnam War and other anti-colonial struggles and, in Peru, the unique Velasco Alvarado “revolutionary military regime” (1968-1975), which cast José Gabriel Tupac Amaru as the forefather of its revolution and of Peruvian Independence from Spain. It was during those years that the 86-volume Colección Documental de la Independencia Peruana (1971-1976, originally projected to have 106 volumes) was released and Colección del Bicentenario de la revolución de Tupac Amaru undertaken (the seven tomes were published in 1980-82). These provided thousands of pages of transcribed and indexed documentation on the uprising. Nonetheless, despite this outpouring of studies, no accessible account of the Tupac Amaru Rebellion exists in English while those in Spanish are outdated and out of print.

tupac_amaru_currencyYet the book is not simply a retelling of a well-known story with some new citations and documents. It seeks to make several novel arguments regarding the uprising and to contribute to broader debates about violence and geography. The first contribution is seemingly mundane, a question of chronological scope or time frame, but important. Virtually every study focuses on the period from Arriaga’s execution in November 1780 to mid-1781, when the Spanish captured and executed important rebel leaders. This book argues that the executions are fascinating and ghastly events that, nonetheless, serve poorly as bookends or starting and stopping points for an analysis of the uprising. Many of the most intriguing and influential moments of the rebellion occurred after April 1781, when Tupac Amaru’s cousin Diego Cristóbal and others took over the leadership of the rebellion. The uprising became increasingly bloody, a caste war, as it shifted to the south in the area near Lake Titicaca. It was here that the full force of the rebels emerged as they swept through the altiplano and linked with insurgents in Upper Peru. Their control of South America in danger, the Spanish divided between soft- and hardliners, with the latter ultimately winning. They imposed draconian measures against indigenous people, events that marked the region for decades, until the wars of independence (1808-1825) and beyond. Only through an examination of the overlooked events of 1782 and 1783 can the legacy of the uprising be understood.

I also provide the first full portrait of Micaela Bastidas. Authors have always cast her as an important secondary player, in part because of the lack of sources to flesh out her character. I have found rich material on her and place her, as was the case then, in the limelight. Prior to the uprising, Bastidas was an active partner in Tupac Amaru’s work as a merchant-muleteer. She collected debts, hired field hands and muleskinners, planned the long journeys to northern Argentina, and represented José Gabriel in his frequent absences. As is common today in the Andes, the woman, Micaela, oversaw the family’s finances. All of these skills prepared her well for her role as a rebel leader, particularly to manage logistics. More than accompany or back her husband, she led the uprising alongside him.

The book also rethinks the role of the Catholic Church in the uprising. Most studies on this theme have focused on priests who supported the rebels. This reflects, I believe, the massive documentation generated by the trials against priests such as López de Sosa and Bejarano who stayed with Tupac Amaru, as well as the inclination of historians (particularly in the 1970s and 1980s) to search for rebel heroes, including men of the cloth. I argue that the Catholic Church, particularly Cuzco’s Bishop, Manuel Moscoso y Peralta, was fundamental in the repression of the rebellion. He excommunicated Tupac Amaru and demanded not only that parish priests remain in the areas controlled by the rebels but that they proselytize against the uprising. Tupac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas did not know what to do. Highly religious, the two rebel leaders could not conceive of a world without the Church and could not come up with an effective plan to silence these royalists. The stories of the priests who remained behind enemy lines will shake up studies of late colonial Spanish America and add to the rich storyline.

I attempt to cover the entire story of the uprising, from its onset to its legacy. I return to the events themselves, probing why people supported the Royalists or rebels, why some sought to remain neutral. I aim to give the reader a feel for the lived experience of the uprising. The idea is not only to extend the analysis chronologically but also to explore how people understood and participated in the uprising. The flurry of studies published in recent decades have overlooked the fascinating events of the rebellion in their totality. I want to immerse the reader in the terrifying guerilla campagins, the relentless propaganda war, the gruesome repression of the revolt, and the rebellion’s long aftermath, revealing the fear and indecision on both sides and the ever-narrowing room for neutrality and negotiation. I shed light on Tupac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas, while also addressing the role of common people who fought for or against the uprising or sought to remain on the sidelines. I hope to help answer the vital questions about this and other rebellions: Why did they fight? What did they seek? Why did they succeed so brilliantly at first but ultimately fail?


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  1. Pingback: Tupac Amaru in City Lights Books (San Francisco, 06/23) - Chuck Walker

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