Reseña de The Tupac Amaru Rebellion & Revolution in the Andes, por Marcela Echeverri

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Revolution in the Andes:The Age of Tupac Amaru. By Sergio Serulnikov. Durham: Duke University Press, 2013. Pp. xvi, 159. Illustrations. Maps. $79.95 cloth; $22.95 paper.

The Tupac Amaru Rebellion. By Charles F. Walker. Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. 347. Illustrations. Maps. $29.95 cloth.

The Tupac Amaru rebellion was one of the most significant events in the history of the Spanish empire. It was the first symptom, and a massive one, of an emerging crisis of Spanish rule in the Americas at the end of the eighteenth century. The rebellion began in 1780 in Chayanta, a rural village in northern Potos´ı, and during the following three years expanded northward, encompassing the region around Lake Titicaca, between the cities of Cuzco and La Paz. Its regional evolution reveals a vital web of political relationships among the Aymara and Quechua indigenous people. It also speaks of the significance for Spanish rule of native political expectations and practices in the Andes at the end of the eighteenth century. The two books under review here, recent works by Sergio Serulnikov and Charles Walker, are impressive evidence that the historiography on this rebellion has expanded in new directions in recent decades.

Along with Sinclair Thomson’s We Alone Will Rule, a study of the final phase of the insurrection around the city of La Paz, Serulnikov’s Subverting Colonial Authority and Walker’s Smoldering Ashes are two important works published in the 1990s which reconstruct the political dimension of the rebellion, putting indigenous peoples’ political practices at the center of the analysis. Taken together, these three books produce a fascinating picture of the transformations that took place during the rebellion’s chronological progression and over its geographic extension. In other words, they describe the rebellion as a broader regional phenomenon. Yet, while it is clear that there were intricate connections between the various phases of the rebellion and the areas in which it took place, we find in each of the three books interpretations that point to intrinsic differences among the different stages of the insurrection.

In Walker’s Smoldering Ashes, we see why T´upac Amaru upheld a monarchist stance and how a major trait of the rebellion in Cuzco was the search for horizontal, multiethnic alliances between creoles and indigenous people. In Subverting Colonial Authority, Serulnikov links the rebellion in Chayanta with the Indians’ long-standing engagement with Bourbon reformism through their struggles in the legal arena. In We Alone Will Rule, Thomson treats what is known to be the most radical part of the rebellion, exposing the erosion of the cacicazgo and its consequences for the crisis of colonial rule. Thomson also focuses on the twin pillars of violence and democratization to uncover a deeply anticolonial movement among Aymara people in and around La Paz.

In Revolution in the Andes, Serulnikov has created a narrative that puts the three regions and moments of the rebellion together. The book is a translation of Revoluci´on en los Andes, published in Argentina in 2012. In the 2013 Duke translation, Charles Walker provides a foreword praising Serulnikov’s capacity to compare the different phases of the rebellion and the areas which it took place. It is worth quoting Serulnikov further on these connections: “The La Paz uprising [which assumed unmistakably anticolonial overtones], in great measure due to its timing and geographical location, could be simultaneously nurtured by the egalitarian drive of the indigenous movement in Charcas and the neo-Inca aspirations of the Andean people of Cusco [sic]” (p. 119).

Both Serulnikov and Walker return to this topic, using their mastery of the historiography to explain to a wide readership the story of the Great Rebellion. Their books offer excellent material for teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels; they can be used as sophisticated and up-to-date introductions to the history of the Rebellion.Togethertheystandasillustrationsofthedevelopmentofthedynamicdebate at the heart of the field of ethnohistory in Latin America and the historiography of late colonial political culture and the Age of Revolutions in the Andes. Through carefully crafted narratives, the books also succeed in explaining the complex internal dynamics of the rebellion, along with its different phases and the evolving challenges it held for both insurgents and royalists. They also study the effects that the native insurgency had on relations among indigenous peoples and between the Indian communities and the Church, and, of course, on the resulting transformations in colonial rule vis-`a-vis Andean peoples.

Indeed, the books also work very well together because their differences complement each other. Their narrative styles are very different. Revolution in the Andes is composed of short chapters that succinctly explore and explain the evolution of the crisis in the government of the indigenous communities that began in Chayanta in 1780, weaving into the narrative the strategic moments and turning points in the movement. Serulnikov is very explicitly historiographic: in chapters two and three he introduces and illustrates his own approach to the study of the rebellion and the current state of the field more broadly.

Grounded in political history, subaltern studies, microhistory, and postcolonial history (p. 15), recent interpretations of the revolt give particular importance to the political culture that underpinned the mobilization. This has entailed turning away from earlier works that emphasized socioeconomic tensions as the motor for the indigenous uprisings against the Bourbon reforms. Serulnikov says that the earlier materialist approach “tell[s] us little about how the insurgents imagined the new order of things or why they acted the ways they did” (p. 11). This is not a call, he cautions, to seek “systems of cultural beliefs,” which “can only provide context for experience, not experience itself” (pp. 11–12). What the new historiography has done, instead, is to look at indigenous people as political actors.

In a narrative style that balances detail with the epic character of the insurrection, Walker’s The Tupac Amaru Rebellion is also a synthetic work but much more extensive, grounded in the author’s revisiting of both primary sources and secondary sources. Aside from producing a clear, elegantly written account of the rebellion, Walker expands on three themes: the role of Micaela Bastidas, T´upac Amaru’s wife; the strategic role of the Church in the management and overthrow of the revolt; and the ways in which violenceshapedtherebellion.Walkeralsoframestherebellionwithin theAtlanticworld; that is to say, he explains the impact of larger imperial dynamics on the local tensions in Andean Peru.

The analytical importance of Walker’s three fascinating themes goes beyond the particular case of T´upac Amaru. Indeed, scholars interested in popular rebellions not only in Latin America but beyond will be impressed with the care with which Walker reconstructs the contradictions and open-endedness of the military process at the heart of the rebellion. The complexity of this rebellion reminds us that it is very hard to establish clear lines or simple associations between tropes or ideologies on one hand and social classes or ethnic groups on the other. For example, indigenous people themselves were divided during the rebellion, with some of them fighting for the counterinsurgency. Regarding the role of religion and the Catholic Church in the process, Walker makes it very clear that because T´upac Amaru and his followers were Catholic, it was difficult for them to be too radical when it came to breaking away from the Church.

These books share the goal of putting Andean history at the core of the debate about political transformation in the eighteenth century, the period most commonly known as the Age of Revolution. I would add that by calling the indigenous mobilization a revolution, Serulnikov is boldly asserting that the events he relates have a greater significance than earlier interpretations had granted them. In that regard, Serulnikov is pushing the boundaries of a long-standing divide that separates the Andean rebellion from contemporary anticolonial and revolutionary movements. This work is a fine analysis with great potential for contributing to the Age of Revolution paradigm and the types of assumptions that underlie it.

These two works come at a strategic moment. Latin American independence processes are under evaluation by historians who pose the important question of eighteenth-century precedents to independence and expose the deep layers of political conflict in the Andean region. Only by being aware of and understanding the connections between imperial power, community politics, religion, and memory—essential elements which Serulnikov and Walker link in their books by means of sophisticated analyses—can we make progress in rethinking the negotiation of rule and the emergence of democratic politics and participation in Latin America.

La reseña fue publicada en The Americas 73.2 (2016): 257-60.


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