Review of The Tupac Amaru Rebellion, by Timothy Anna


The Tupac Amaru Rebellion was the largest indigenous uprising ever to occur in colonial Spanish America, and Charles F. Walker provides here the first accessible full account in English. He extends the dates of coverage from 1780–1781 to include up through 1783, tracing the latter phases of rebellion after Tupac Amaru himself had been executed. This allows discussion not only of the uprisings around Cuzco but also in the southern regions around Lake Titicaca and La Paz in Upper Peru (Bolivia) and the closely related rebellions led by Tomás and Tupac Katari in that area. Walker argues that as the rebellions went on, both rebels and the royalist resistance became increasingly violent as restraints eased or disappeared. While initially Tupac Amaru sought a multi-ethnic following, as time passed the uprising became increasingly indigenous, targeting creoles and mestizos. Walker repeats the estimated death toll of 100,000 (out of a total population of 1.8 million in the viceroyalty of Peru), making this the second most bloody plebeian revolution in the Americas (after Haiti).

Walker makes a number of significant contributions to our understanding of this fateful rebellion and its aftermath. He emphasises that Tupac Amaru’s wife, Micaela Bastidas, effectively shared leadership of the movement with her husband – she ran the home base, supply, and recruiting, while he led the rebels in the field. The extent to which the extended families of the couple participated is also emphasised, and the Spanish reprisals against them after the end of the uprising, leading to the extirpation of both families. Walker explores the multitude of divisions and tactical disagreements among the Spanish loyalists, especially the division between soft liners (Viceroy Agustín de Jáuregui and Bishop of Cuzco Manuel Moscoso) and hard liners (Visitor General José Antonio de Areche and prosecutor Benito Mata Linares), resulting in the eventual victory of the latter.

Given particular prominence are the ways in which the Catholic Church in Peru, particularly in the diocese of Cuzco under Bishop Moscoso, took a lead in the fight against the rebellion, including excommunicating the rebel leaders while ordering parish priests in the highlands to remain at their posts during the ebb and flow of the struggle. Although Moscoso, and a number of other creole elites, were prosecuted in the decade following the rebellion for being insufficiently supportive of the royalist cause, Walker makes it clear that the bishop took extraordinary measures to oppose the revolt.

The variety and depth of the sources Walker uses are noteworthy. Indicating a vast understanding of the region and its people, he takes the reader through public and private letters and communications of Tupac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas, and many of the other principals. Unlike other studies of the colonial Andes, the story is not told from Lima or Seville, rather, the focus remains wholly in the Andes and among its people. On every issue Walker’s interpretations are judicious and sensible. He does not see the Tupac Amaru rebellion as a precursor of the struggle for independence 40 years later, but shows its enormous consequences. As causes of the rebellion, Walker emphasises the extensive, and new, exactions, taxes, and trammels that the Bourbon reforms had recently applied to the indigenous highlanders. While Tupac Amaru never issued a comprehensive platform, the demands he restated throughout the rebellion were the abolition of the sales tax, the reparto, the mita and other labour exactions, while he called for the maintenance of the head tax and promised tough laws for criminal conduct. The role of traditional Andean social and organisational structures is lucidly explained.

The most salient argument of this book is the extent to which the repression of the Tupac Amaru rebellion widened the fault lines separating lowland and highland Peru, and indigenous from creole Peruvians. Following suppression of the rebellion Spanish hard liners determined to eradicate Andean culture in all its aspects, including music, costume, and even the Quechua language. They did not succeed in this, but they did eliminate the traditional inherited office of kurakas. In reneging on the amnesties and guarantees of personal security for leaders of the rebellion and the Tupac Amaru family in early 1783 and proceeding to the farcical trials and executions of many remaining members of the family, the Spanish hard liners exhibited both their bad faith and their intense and rather unreasonable fear of the legacy of the Inca. These actions ruptured the historic pact that had existed between the Indians and the Spanish colonial state since 1570. Although Walker concludes that the Tupac Amaru rebellion both delayed and hastened Peruvian independence, it clearly left a legacy of cultural and regional division that troubles Peru even today.
Bulletin of Latin American Research, vol. 35, n 4 (2016): 520-1.

Leave a Reply