José Gabriel Túpac Amaru

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José Gabriel Túpac Amaru

The Inca and Peruvian nobleman José Gabriel Túpac Amaru (1742-1781) was the leader of the largest Native American revolt in the Americas. He was a man of sufficient learning, had a passion for reform, and hated injustice.

Túpac Amaru was born in Tinta south of Cuzco. He was young when his father died, but two uncles became his guardians and gave him the best possible education. At the age of ten he went to Cuzco to study in the Jesuit College of San Francisco de Borja, built for Native American boys of noble birth. He read Latin readily and spoke Spanish correctly and Quechua with grace. He married Michaela Bastidas Puyuahua, a pure-blooded Spaniard from Abancay. From this marriage he had three sons— Hipólito, Mariano, and Fernando.

When Túpac Amaru's oldest brother, Clemente, died, he inherited the caciqueship of Tungasuca, Pampamarca, and other places. He governed the descendants of the Incan nation and collected tribute for the Spanish corregidor (governor). He respected the Inca system of government and old customs. He was a man of striking appearance, with a pleasant and amiable countenance and unassuming manners. Tall, robust, and very white for his lineage, he lived and dressed like a Spanish nobleman, but after the start of the Inca revolt he modified his costume to include some Indian styles.

Túpac Amaru was a wealthy man and owned a large cacao estate in the province of Caravaya. His income came chiefly from transporting merchandise and quicksilver. His enemies called him the "Muleteer Cacique." He traveled extensively and was in touch with the people and conditions in all parts of Peru. He informed the viceroy and other officials of the hardships suffered by the Indians under the mita system—forced labor in the mines, on plantations, and in workshops.

The greatest obstacle to reform was the corregidor Antonio de Arriaga of Tinta. His actions became so intolerable that Túpac Amaru had him seized and executed on Nov. 10, 1780. The Inca called upon the people to support him in his efforts to abolish abuses. They responded eagerly and the Inca revolt broke out. It spread rapidly throughout Peru, Bolivia, much of Argentina, and other parts of South America.

Túpac Amaru never tried to destroy Spanish institutions and was always loyal to the Crown and the Church. At first his revolt had considerable success. But after the Spaniards had time to organize their military forces, the superiority of their weapons defeated him.

Their vengeance was terrible. Túpac Amaru had to witness the execution of his wife, oldest son, an uncle, and some of his captains before his own death. When the revolt continued, the Spaniards exterminated the remainder of the Inca's family, except Fernando, who was imprisoned in Spain for the rest of his life. The revolt resulted in some minor reforms in Peru.

Further Reading

Very little has been written in English about Túpac Amaru. The only book is by Lillian Estelle Fisher, The Last Inca Revolt, 1780-1783 (1966). Philip Ainsworth Means, Fall of the Inca Empire and the Spanish Rule in Peru, 1530-1780 (1932), includes material on Túpac Amaru. □