Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe (c. 1535–c. 1615)

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Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe (c. 1535–c. 1615)

Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala (b. c. 1535; d. c. 1615), one of the most polemic and most admired native authors of the colonial period. Guaman Poma wrote Primer nueva corónica y bien gobierno (c. 1615), a long, illustrated history (1,188 pages with 398 pen-and-ink drawings) of ancient Andean times, Inca rule, and Spanish rule. The book was discovered in 1908 in the Royal Danish Library in Copenhagen and was first published in 1936. An abridged version, Letter to a King, translated by Christopher Dilke, appeared in 1978. Anthropologists consider the book a primary source of information on the pre-Columbian Andean world and on the first decades of Spanish colonization. Literary scholars, after ignoring the document for years, now regard it as a symbolic representation in which the author criticizes colonial rule while submitting a plan for "good government" to the Spanish king, Philip III, to whom the chronicle is addressed. Traditionally, historians have pointed out inaccuracies in Guaman Poma's work; however, recent research has explained how and why the author took advantage of information available from native and European sources to present an Andean version of history.

With the exception of what Guaman Poma says about himself in Primer nueva corónica, there is very little documentary evidence about his life. It is believed that he was born about 1535 in San Cristóbal de Suntunto (a small village in what is today the province of Ayacucho in Peru), lived for several years in Cuzco, and later moved (about 1562) to the city of Guamanga, now known as Ayacucho. According to Guaman Poma, his father was an ethnic lord of the Yarovilcas, a group conquered by the Incas and later incorporated into their empire; his mother was the daughter of the powerful Inca ruler Túpac Yupanqui. The historical evidence does not support Guaman Poma's claim to this distinguished lineage.

Educated in the Spanish language and culture, perhaps by missionaries, and well versed in Quechua, his native tongue, Guaman Poma became an interpreter in the campaigns against idol worship in the Andes (ca. 1568–1571). It is very probable that he also served as interpreter in the Third Council of Lima (1583–1584). In this regard, it has been speculated that it was through the library of the church inspector Cristóbal de Albornoz, as well as through books belonging to missionaries, that Guaman Poma became familiar with the writings of key religious, historical, and juridical authors and with engravings and illustrations of saints and biblical themes. These books and iconography, together with the Andean oral tradition and Guaman Poma's own experiences, became the sources of Primer nueva corónica.

Legal documents show that Guaman Poma served again as interpreter (1594) and, in addition, was the witness in a land claim presented by native Andeans (1595). He was later expelled from Guamanga (1600) and San Cristóbal de Suntunto (1611) for his defense of the native population and for claiming ancestral lands. Guaman Poma returned to Lima in 1601, to complain about the poor treatment that he and other Indians were receiving from colonial administrators, and in 1613, to present the manuscript of Primer nueva corónica to the viceroy. Even though he failed in this attempt, in a letter (Guamanga, 14 February 1615) to Philip III he states that his chronicle has been completed. After this date we lose all track of him.

Guaman Poma's encyclopedic work is the living and angry testimony of how a native Andean experienced and interpreted the cultural clash brought about by the Conquest and colonization. Primer nueva corónica exhibits the talents of an indigenous historian who took up the pen, thus bringing together European and Andean traditions, Spanish and Quechua, writing and painting, to praise the past, condemn colonial administrators, and demand a better society for his people.


John V. Murra, "Guaman Poma de Ayala: A Seventeenth-Century Indian's Account of Andean Civilization," in Natural History 70 (1961): 25-63.

Franklin Pease, "Prólogo," in Felipe Guaman Poma De Ayala, Nueva corónica y buen gobierno (1980).

Raquel Chang-Rodríguez, La apropiación del signo: Tres cronistas indígenas del Perú (1988).

Mercedes López Baralt, Icono y conquista: Guaman Poma de Ayala (1988).

Roger A. Zapata, Guaman Poma: Indigenismo y estética de la dependencia en la cultura peruana (1989).

Rolena Adorno et al., Guaman Poma de Ayala: The Colonial Art of an Andean Author (1992).

Additional Bibliography

Adorno, Rolena. Guáman Poma: Writing and Resistance in Colonial Peru. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2000.

González Vargas, Carlos A., Hugo Rosati, and Francisco Sánchez. Guaman Poma: Testigo del mundo andino. Santiago, Chile: LOM Ediciones, 2002.

Karttunen, Frances E. Between Worlds: Interpreters, Guides, and Survivors. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994.

                                Raquel Chang-RodrÍguez