Túpac Amaru, Rebellion of

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Túpac Amaru, Rebellion of

In 1780, José Gabriel Condorcanqui (ca. 1742–1781), who claimed descent from Túpac Amaru (d. 1572), the last Inca to resist Spanish authority in the sixteenth century, took the name Túpac Amaru and led a rebellion against Spanish colonial rule, even though it was initiated in the name of the Spanish monarch and was not necessarily meant to sever all ties with Spain. This insurgency was the most serious challenge to colonial domination between the sixteenth-century wars of encounter and conquest and the early nineteenth-century wars of independence.

The rebellion was centered in the rural provinces of Canas y Canchis (Tinta) and Quispicanchis in Peru. In this region near the former Inca capital of Cuzco, the authority of traditional kurakas (ethnic leaders) remained strong, despite more than two centuries of Spanish rule. Túpac Amaru and much of his family, several of whom were also to play important leadership roles in the rebellion, lived in Canasy Canchis. Under the leadership of Túpac Amaru, who declared himself the Inca (ruler), the rebellion spread like wildfire over the southern Andean highlands from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca and beyond.

Other uprisings, such as that of Túpac Katari (Julián Apasa, d. 1781) near La Paz and the Katari brothers (d. 1781) closer to Potosí and Sucre, challenged colonial rule in what is now Bolivia—then the viceroyalty of Río de la Plata—at the same time. The Bolivian rebellions have been historically associated with the Túpac Amaru rebellion, even though the Katari insurgency began before the Cuzco movement.

Although often responding to similar demands and exploitation, the Katari and Túpac Katari rebellions had significant internal differences from the Cuzco-based movement. To secure his legitimacy, Túpac Amaru harkened back to the Inca and called for concerned and accountable hereditary ethnic leaders (kurakas) who governed their communities with a just hand. The movements led by Túpac Katari and the Katari brothers not only challenged colonial rule but also the rule of many kurakas, arguing that many of these ethnic leaders had sold out to the Spanish, or to their own self interests, and no longer represented the values and needs of their communities.


These upheavals erupted during a period of growing economic tension in the Andes, especially for indigenous society. Like other colonial powers in the eighteenth century, Spain was trying to streamline its colonial rule, make its rule more secure, and force the colonies to yield a higher return to the mother country.

In the Andes, one of the measures designed to enforce these policies was an effort to increase the efficiency of tribute collection. Spanish officials tried to eliminate the practice of hiding tributaries, while noncommunity members who had previously been effectively exempt from tribute were now more consistently forced to pay some tribute. Items of indigenous production, such as ají (chili peppers) and textiles produced in relatively small operations (chorillos), which had not been subject to taxation, were now included on the list of taxable items.

To enforce this new regime of taxation, customs houses were built in cities such as Arequipa, La Paz, and Cochabamba. In addition, the sales tax (alcabala) was increased twice in the 1770s. This caused great discontent among those involved in trade and led to rioting against the new taxes not only by indigenous peoples but also by criollos (people of Spanish descent born in the New World) and others who saw these taxes as a threat to their well-being. The disruption of commercial and trade networks caused by such reforms was further exacerbated by the annexation of much of what is now Bolivia from the viceroyalty of Peru into the newly created viceroyalty of Río de la Plata (Argentina) in 1776.

In the mid-eighteenth century the crown had also legalized, and set quotas for, the reparto, a system for the forced sale of goods primarily to indigenous people, but in reality to some nonindigenous people as well; this became an increasing cause of friction. The local Spanish authorities (corregidores), often in concert with urban merchants, pressed the indigenous population ever harder after the reparto was legalized. The quotas were commonly ignored as corregidores abused the reparto, sometimes "selling" double or even triple the amount of goods to which they were entitled by colonial law. This abuse was one of the factors that began to undermine the legitimacy of colonial rule as indigenous people began to balk at excessive economic coercion.

At first these protests took the form of an increasing number of village revolts directed at local officials, such as the Spanish district officers (corregidores), who were regarded as the chief cause of exploitation. In the period between 1750 and 1780, these tumults increased greatly in frequency, and a number of tax collectors and corregidores were even killed. This, however, did not lead to any direct changes in policy.

Another of the other great grievances of indigenous peoples in the southern Andes was the system of forced labor (mita) for the silver mines of Potosí. Created in the 1570s, the mita was imposed on indigenous peoples in certain provinces, caused severe hardship to those affected by it, and thus played a part in arousing indigenous anger against the authorities.


At the same time that colonial exactions pressed indigenous people ever harder, these same villagers began to experience serious concerns related to their diminishing resource base. The introduction of Old World diseases devastated the Andean world, as it did almost all of the Americas. The last great epidemic had swept the Andes from 1719 to 1720. After this long and terrible decline, however, indigenous people began a period of rapid population growth; they finally had developed sufficient immunities against Old World diseases to not be devastated by each new outbreak. Somewhat altered, but still intact as distinct indigenous peoples, they had managed to survive not only biologically but also culturally. This rapid growth threatened to leave them short of land, however, for the Spanish had sold off or appropriated lands considered to be in excess of community needs.

Thus, at the very same time that the colonial regime was pressuring indigenous peoples with new and enhanced economic demands, the per capita resource base for the communities was threatened. This not only put their ability to meet colonial exactions in doubt, but it also threatened their communal cultural survival. By 1780 a conjuncture of international colonial policies with local and regional changes created a situation in which the legitimacy of colonial rule was increasingly questioned, and large scale rebellion became possible.


It was in these circumstances that Túpac Amaru, a kuraka of noble heritage, sought recognition in colonial courts as the rightful heir to the Inca throne. The implications of his actions were enhanced by a growing respect for, and revival of, things Inca during this period. The "Incas" were allowed back into public festivals, such as parades, thus securing a public presence for a vision of indigenous history. This celebration of the past was also reflected in the practice among indigenous individuals and families of royal heritage of having their portraits painted as Incas. The literate indigenous elite also began to read the Royal Commentaries (1609) of Garcilaso de la Vega (1539–1616), the son of an Inca princess and a conquistador, who had glorified the period of Inca rule and the relatively equitable system of social control that had kept most people from suffering and misery.

At the same time, myths or legends surrounding Inkarrí, in which the Inca (and symbolically the empire) was regenerating from the buried head of the Inca, also grew and gained further strength. When this regeneration was complete, it was said, the Inca would come back to life, assume his proper role as leader, and reestablish the empire, just social order, and benevolent rule that had prevailed before the Spanish invasion.

Thus, during a period of growing exploitation, increasing population pressure, and abusive treatment, a consciousness of the Inca past that revered Inca justice and society was also emerging, so that, when the second Túpac Amaru claimed the Inca throne, many indigenous people were receptive to his leadership. When he executed the corregidor of Canasy Canchis, Antonio de Arriaga, on November 10, 1780, in the name of the Spanish king, while claiming his Inca heritage, thousands of indigenous people rallied to a cause that offered to end bad Spanish rule and to restore the Inca.

The rebellions of Túpac Amaru, Túpac Katari, and the Katari brothers shook the very foundations of colonial society. By most estimates, some one hundred thousand people were killed in the course of these uprisings. Túpac Amaru and his family were captured, tortured, executed, and dismembered in the central plaza of Cuzco, and their body parts were displayed throughout the region as a warning to others. Túpac Katari and the Kataris were also captured and executed. Together, however, they had provided the leadership to challenge colonial rule and give voice to the suffering and exploitation of Andean peoples under colonial rule.

With their cultural survival at stake, these rebels had risked, and often lost, their lives to put an end to continued exploitation and to replace it with a system of just rule that was culturally relevant to their existence. In the wake of the rebellion, the Spanish rulers granted some of the changes desired by the rebels, but Andean villagers also lost a degree of autonomy and the racial divide between indigenous peoples and others was enhanced. This divide left indigenous peoples marginalized in the early years following independence, but it may also have bought them the time to regroup and survive as indigenous communities in the centuries that followed.

see also Empire in the Americas, Spanish; Peru Under Spanish Rule; Potosí.


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