Jeremy Mumford’s review of “Revolution in the Andes” and “The Tupac Amaru Rebellion”


Serulnikov, Sergio. Revolution in the Andes. The Age of Tupac Amaru. Translated by David Frye (North Carolina: Duke University Press, 2013).

Walker, Charles. The Tupac Amaru Rebellion (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2014).

The Tupac Amaru and Katarista rebellions were a cycle of indigenous uprisings between Cusco and Potosi in 1780–1782, which claimed over 100,000 lives, primarily indigenous, out of a population of 1.5 million, before being crushed by colonial authorities. They have received excellent local studies, but no modern synthetic treatment. The books under review both meet that description, but they are complementary rather than redundant. Sergio Serulnikov’s is a concise survey of the rebellions throughout the region, bringing clarity to a complex group of uprisings, each with its own contours and protagonists.

Chronologically organized, but too brief and wide-ranging to be called a narrative history, it showcases both the heterogeneity of the rebellions and their connections. (Its clarity owes much to the graceful rendering by David Frye, an experienced and versatile translator.) By contrast, Charles F. Walker’s book is a rich, unhurried narrative history and character study of Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui (Tupac Amaru) and Micaela Bastidas, who led the most famous of the rebellions, along with their family members who continued the fight after their deaths. Where Serulnikov pays somewhat more attention to the southern half of the story (known as the Katarista rebellions), Walker focuses on the northern half; where Walker’s book is steeped in the primary sources, Serulnikov’s synthesizes recent scholarship on the various individual rebellions.

In spite of his subtitle, The Age of Tupac Amaru, Serulnikov does not place Tupac Amaru at the story’s center. He begins with Toma´s Katari, who led a popular movement in Chayanta (northern Potosi) to allow Indian communities to choose their own caciques, insteadof corrupt outsiders appointed by the corregidor. (This movement was the main focus of Serulnikov’s 2003 book Subverting Colonial Authority: Challenges to Span-ish Rule in Eighteenth-Century Southern Andes, which underlies significant parts of Revolution in the Andes.) Katari successfully appealed to the viceroy in Buenos Aires for support, but met illegal repression by regional authorities on his return. Only then did Katari resort to force, rallying communities to expel the corregidor and outsider caciques and establish de facto indigenous rule in the province. Even then, Katari claimed that he wasnot challenging imperial authority, but vindicating it.His principal demand, until he was ambushed and killed
by a Spanish militia, was that colonial authorities follow the Spaniards’ own laws.

Serulnikov then moves north to Canas y Canchis (southern Cusco), where Tupac Amaru served as cacique to several Indian villages. His rebellion began in-dependently and almost simultaneously with Katari’s. Having failed in a legal petition to confirm his claims as direct descendant of the last Inca king, and to institute reforms for improving the lives of indigenous commoners, he and his wife Micaela Bastidas began their rebellion by executing their local corregidor for his abuses, alleging that they did so on royal instructions. Like Katari, Tupac Amaru and Bastidas claimed they were acting within the framework of the Spanish monarchy; unlike Katari, they asserted a further legitimacy as heirs to the Inca monarchy, calling themselves Inca and Coya.

Serulnikov continues through an overlapping series of uprisings throughout Upper Peru, which invoked the authority of both Tupac Amaru, as Inca king, and the Katari family. After the defeat and execution of Tupac Amaru and Bastidas, the story climaxes in two sieges of La Paz by indigenous armies from both south and north, whose defeat by Spanish soldiers and indigenous loyalists represented the end of the rebellions. What emerges from Serulnikov’s telescoped account is the diversity of the various uprisings. Every rebellion between Cusco and Potosi had its own circumstances, leaders, and trajectory.

Serulnikov’s objective is to uncover the political projects of indigenous communities and their leaders.Where scholars once portrayed the rebels either as precursors of Independence or as avatars of an Andean millenarianism, recent historians have described Andeans asserting agency within the colonial system. Tomas Katari defended the traditional balance of rule, whereby Indian communities enjoyed partial autonomy in exchange for tribute and corvée-like mita labor. Evenhis resort to violence was not a radical departure, but resembled the periodic, limited rebellions that had traditionally pushed back against the worst Spanish abuses, without challenging the colonial system itself: “the politics of violence and the politics of rights were part and parcel of the same political practice” (p. 27). Tupac Amaru and Bastidas shared in this tradition, buttheir acceptance of the colonial framework coexisted uneasily with their Inca claims, which implicitly challenged Spain’s rule. Gradually, however, the conflict in both north and south evolved into a caste war. The violence on both sides reached levels unknown in earlier rebellions; the tortures and horrific executions suffered by rebel leaders represented a new colonial politics of terror.

Serulnikov does an impressive job making the tangled story coherent, but his rapid pace does not leave enough space for synthesis. The various uprisings were heterogeneous in personnel and goals, while converging into a single movement; Revolution in the Andes: The Age of Tupac Amaru does not fully reconcile the rebel-lions’ unity and diversity. Serulnikov suggests that there was a basic difference between the Cusco region, where the rebellion drew in part on a widely shared resistance to the Bourbon Reforms across race and class, and Upper Peru, where a long, slow process of alienation be-tween caciques and Indian commoners had finally reached a breaking point. Given the book’s brevity (141 pages of text), a fuller treatment of the eighteenth-century background and a more substantial conclusion would have been welcome.

Walker, too, is interested in reconstructing the rebels’ political principles and goals, alongside more ex-tended narrative and biographical sketches. Like other scholars, he emphasizes Tupac Amaru’s and Bastidas’s goal of building a cross-caste and cross-class coalition,in which they attacked corrupt corregidores, the mita, reparto de bienes, and Peninsular officeholders, but not royal authority, caciques, creoles, or the church. In spite of this stance, as David T. Garrett and others have demonstrated, the Inca elite and most caciques fiercely opposed Tupac Amaru. To this list, Walker adds the Church, which some historians have portrayed as tacitly supporting of the rebellion. While some rural priests did support it, most did not, and its most important early opponent was Tupac Amaru’s one-time ally, Cusco bishop Juan Manuel Moscoso y Peralta. Walker illuminates an important, previously ignored phenomenon: the influence of loyalist priests in the rebel-held territories, whom Moscoso ordered to remain in their parishes, correctly guessing that Tupac Amaru’s and Bastidas’s ideological commitments would protect these priests from harm. The priests’ sermons against the rebellion damaged the very claim to Catholic piety,on the rebels’ part, that guaranteed the priests’ freedom to attack it.

In spite of tapping into widely shared opposition to the Bourbon Reforms, Tupac Amaru’s and Bastidas’s goal of a broad coalition was never feasible. Historians have exaggerated their early support among creoles; most creoles who supported the couple were already connected to them by kinship or long association, or acted from fear or coercion. In a rich reconstruction of the rebellion’s leadership circle and its gradual col-lapse, Walker clarifies the relationships between Indian and creole leaders as well as the central role of Bastidas,recognized at the time as the movement’s co-director and chief of logistics. As creole supporters fell away, it became clear that the movement’s only reliable support was from Peru’s indigenous majority. But many of those fighting against the rebellion were also indigenous;most of the caciques close to Cusco opposed the rebellion, and their subjects fought against it.

The richness of Walker’s narrative relies on a comprehensive reading of the primary sources, both archival and published. Multi volume publication projects have transcribed a remarkable number of documents,primarily from the northern half of the story. Walker notes that he sometimes read something in the archive before realizing that that very document was available in published form. He cites such documents in their archival location. However, while these examples seem to be relatively few, they do make the book slightly less helpful to readers (especially students) who will want to follow his end notes for their own research.

Both authors must account for the atrocities that characterized these rebellions, on both sides. Serulnikov sees deep cultural roots of wartime violence, at least on the indigenous side. When confronted with reports of rebels massacring captives, or eating the hearts of non-Indians, Serulnikov invokes an argument previously made by Jan Szeminski: indigenous Andeans saw non-Indians who behaved in sinful ways as “bestial,diabolical beings, as ‘nonhuman humans'” (p. 93), tying the war’s extreme violence to a distinctive Andean Christianity. Walker finds such ethno-historical arguments less persuasive. He sees atrocities on both sides as a natural consequence of war: “the spiraling of violence and the conversion of the enemy into a wretched‘other’ seen as deserving abuse and death” (pp. 144–145). He emphasizes the everyday experience of war,including the likely role of dysentery in forcing Tupac Amaru to lift the siege of Cusco (a decision historians have seen as a major strategic error). But Walker does see symbolic content in the gruesome executions carried out by Spaniards. Among the book’s most shocking pages is a map (p. 248) of the locations where rebel body parts were carried and publically exhibited. Given excellent monographic research on the period, and long-standing interest in indigenous resistance, the need for a synthetic account of the Tupamarista rebel-lions has been widely recognized. While it is not unusual for books on a previously neglected subject to appear nearly simultaneously, it is fortunate when they supplement rather than compete with each other. (Revolution in the Andes includes a gracious foreword by Walker.) Both books are well suited for college students and informed nonacademic readers. Both have excellent maps, though Revolution in the Andes would benefit from a timeline, which The Tupac Amaru Rebellion has, while the latter book would benefit from a family tree of the Tupac Amaru clan. It would be fea-sible, and worthwhile, for the publishers to make such teaching aids available as online supplements.

Perhaps the most widely shared rebel claim was that of restoring Inca kingship. The idea inspired indigenous people throughout the south-central Andes, even when they knew almost nothing about Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui, to take up arms in his name. A previous generation of historians essentially reduced the 1780–1782 rebellions to Inca revivalism, part of an allegedly age-old Andean millenarianism. Recent scholars have rejected this view as saddling Andeans with (in Serulnikov’s words) “an essentialistic atavism” (p. 10). Both Walker and Serulnikov give Inca revivalism sensitive treatment but downplay it in favor of other, more pragmatic rebel goals. The true significance of the restored Inca monarchy, for both leaders and followers, is one of the hardest things for a historian to reconstruct. What finally remains mysterious, in these fine accounts and perhaps in the sources themselves, is the very thing hat most seized the imagination of contemporaries and posterity: the return of the Inca and the Coya.

Jeremy Ravi Mumford is currently Visiting Assistant Professor of Latin American History at Brown University. His first book, Vertical Empire: the ‘General Resettlement of Indians’ in the Colonial Andes” was released in November 2012 by Duke University Press. His research focuses on the early colonial Andes and comparative indigenous histories in the New World.

His papers and reviews are available at

* The review appeared in: The American Historical Review, vol. 120, n. 2 (2015): 685-687.

Se espera que la versión en español de la reseña aparezca pronto.

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