Velasco, Juan de (1727–1792)
Velasco, Juan de (1727–1792)
The eighteenth-century Ecuadorian Jesuit expatriate Juan de Velasco was a historian, linguist, naturalist, and poet. Misinformation abounds regarding Velasco; for example, he did not die in Verona, Italy, in 1819 at the age of ninety-two but in Faenza, Italy, twenty-seven years earlier, on June 29, 1792, at the age of sixty-five.
Velasco is celebrated for his poetry, his contributions to history and philology, and for his protonationalism. He was born on January 6, 1727, to Creole parents in Riobamba in what was then the Audiencia of Quito. His father was Sergeant Major Juan de Velasco, after whom he was named, and his mother was María Pérez Petroche. Initially tutored at home, he continued his education with the Jesuits in his native city. Velasco entered the Jesuit novitiate, the Colegio Seminario de San Luis, in San Francisco de Quito, in 1743 and graduated from the Jesuit Universidad de San Gregorio Magno, also in Quito, with a doctorate in theology in 1753, the same year he was ordained a priest. The education he received was second to none in the Americas and nearly on par with that available in Europe inasmuch as the Jesuits in the Audiencia of Quito kept abreast with intellectual developments in the Old World for the most part and are known to have freely imparted these ideas to their students, notwithstanding the Index of Prohibited Books and the Inquisition. Velasco made his final vows in 1762. Subsequently Father Velasco was assigned to Cuenca, where he engaged in missionary work among remnants of the Cañari Indians and other ethnic groups, followed by teaching assignments in the Jesuit Colegios in Ibarra and Popayán, then part of the Audiencia and hence the Jesuit Province of Quito. In 1767 Velasco was exiled to Europe along with his fellow Jesuits upon the order's expulsion from Spain's New World dominions. (Velasco never taught in Peru proper and hence was not a member of the faculty of the Universidad de San Marcos in Lima as is sometimes maintained.)
Velasco's most important works were the first history of what is now Ecuador, the three-part Historia del Reino de Quito en la América Meridional, and his chronicle of the Jesuit missions in the Upper Amazon Basin, the Historia moderna del Reyno de Quito y crónica de la Provincia de la Compañía de Jesús del mismo reyno, both of which were composed while he was in exile in Faenza. Completed in 1789, Historia del Reino de Quito would not be published as drafted until 1960. The first nominally complete edition of this work (3 vols., Quito: Imprenta del Gobierno, 1841–1843) was adulterated. Its editor, Agustín Yeroví, not only altered Velasco's wording but expunged entire sections. Nonetheless, Yeroví's version and the reprints thereof should be consulted for their impact on Ecuadorian historiography and letters. The Historia moderna del Reyno de Quito y crónica de la Provincia de la Compañía de Jesús del mismo reyno had to wait even longer before beginning to be published (1941) and as of 2007 has yet to appear in its entirely. Fortunately for ecclesiastical historians, Velasco also devoted considerable space to the Jesuit missions in volume 3 of the Historia del Reino de Quito.
Although Velasco was very much a patriot and a proto-nationalist, his "History of the Kingdom of Quito" did not have much of an impact on the ideological underpinnings of the movements for independence in the Audiencia of Quito because it did not circulate in manuscript and did not begin to be published until 1837, initially in Paris and in parts. Part 1, the Historia natural, appeared in 1837, and part 2, the Historia antigua, with a different editor and a different publisher, was translated into French in 1840. Once the Historia del Reino de Quito was published in Quito (1841–1844) in all three parts (i.e., including the Historia moderna), however, it began to contribute to the formation of the Ecuadorian state and to mid- and late-nineteenth-century attempts to forge an Ecuadorian nation.
Velasco is less well known as a "natural historian," but his descriptions of the Kingdom of Quito and its inhabitants, provinces, and towns in the Historia moderna (part 3 of the Historia del Reino de Quito) together with his account of flora and fauna in the Historia natural (part 1) constitute one of the two most detailed historical geographic accounts of the eighteenth-century Audiencia of Quito. The other is that of his fellow Jesuit expatriate Mario Cicala, the two-volume Descripción histórico-topográfica de la Provincia de Quito de la Compañía de Quito (1771; Quito: Biblioteca Ecuatoriana "Aurelio Espinosa Pólit," 1994–2004).
Velasco was not an important poet but he played a major role in the conservation of the output of many of Ecuador's early poets. The five-volume manuscript in the Biblioteca Nacional del Ecuador (Quito) compiled by him, "Colección de poesías varias, hechas por un ocioso en la Ciudad de Faenza" (1790–1791), is a treasure trove of colonial period poets. Velasco was also a linguist of some importance. His two Vocabularios are among the earliest known of northern Quichua, as runa simi (language of the people) is known in Ecuador and southern Colombia. Unfortunately, only Velasco's so-called "Vocabulario B" appears to have survived and has been published. See the list of Primary Works below for acceptable editions of Velasco's oeuvre.
Historia moderna del Reyno de Quito y crónica de la Provincia de la Compañía de Jesús del mismo reyno. 1788. Tomo 1: Años 1550 a 1689. Quito, Ecuador: Imprenta de la Caja del Seguro, 1941.
Los poetas quiteños de "El ocioso en Faenza." [Historia, crítica, y selección de textos por] Alejandro Carrión, 2 vols. Quito, Ecuador: Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, 1957–1958.
Vocabulario de la lengua indica, introducción, Oswaldo Romero Arteta; versión paleográfica, notas y comentarios de Piedad Peñaherrera de Costales y Alfredo Costales Samaniego. Quito, Ecuador: Instituto Ecuatoriano de Antropología y Geografía; Biblioteca Ecuatoriana "Aurelio Espinosa Pólit," 1964. xxxv, 84 p. (Llacta; no. 20).
Historia del Reino de Quito en la América Meridional. Introducción de Juan Freile Granizo y Galo René Pérez, estudio introductorio de Piedad Costales y Alfredo Costales. Quito, Ecuador: Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana, 1977–1979.
Los jesuítas quiteños del extrañamiento. Introducción, selección y traducciones latinas e italianas por Aurelio Espinosa Pólit. Puebla, Mexico: J. M. Cajica Jr., 1960; Quito, Ecuador: Corporación de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1989.
Padre Juan de Velasco, S.I. Introducción por Julio Tobar Donoso, texto establecido por Aurelio Espinosa Pólit. Puebla, Mexico: J. M. Cajica Jr., 1960; Quito, Ecuador: Corporación de Estudios y Publicaciones, 1989.
Cuatro textos coloniales de quichua de la "Provincia de Quito." Quito, Ecuador: Proyecto de Educación Bilingüe Inter-cultural, 1999.
Estupiñán Viteri, Tamara. Tras las huellas de Rumiñahui. Quito, Ecuador: FONSAL, 2003.
Keeding, Ekkehart. Das Zeitalter der Aufklärung in der Provinz Quito. Cologne: Böhlau, 1983. Rev. Spanish version, Surge la nación: La ilustración en la Audiencia de Quito. Quito, Ecuador: Banco Central del Ecuador, 2005.
Larrea, Carlos Manuel. Tres historiadores: Velasco, González Suárez, Jijón y Caamaño. Quito, Ecuador: Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana "Benjamin Carrión," 1988.
Rodríguez Castelo, Hernán. Literatura en la Audiencia de Quito, siglo XVIII, 2 vols. Ambato and Quito, Ecuador: Casa de la Cultura Ecuatoriana "Benjamín Carrión," Núcleo de Tungurahua, 2002. See especially vol. 1, pp. 525-606, and vol. 2, pp. 1315-1341.
Roig, Arturo Andrés. El humanismo ecuatoriano de la segunda mitad del siglo XVIII. 2 vols. Quito, Ecuador: Banco Central del Ecuador: Corporación Editora Nacional, 1984. See especially vol. 1.
Willingham, Eileen. "Locating Utopia: Promise and Patria in Juan de Velasco's Historia del Reino de Quito." In El saber de los jesuitas, historia naturales y el Nuevo Mundo, ed. Luis Millones Figueroa and Domingo Ledezma, pp. 251-277. Frankfurt: Vulvert and Madrid: Iberoamericana, 2005.
Michael T. Hamerly
"Velasco, Juan de (1727–1792)." Encyclopedia of Latin American History and Culture. . Encyclopedia.com. (January 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/velasco-juan-de-1727-1792
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