Bastidas, Micaela (1745–1781)

views updated

Bastidas, Micaela (1745–1781)

Peruvian revolutionary leader of the great Inca revolt of 1780–1783. Born Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua, a pure-blooded Spaniard, in Pampamarca, Cuzco, Peru, in 1745; captured, found guilty of complicity in the rebellion, and executed, May 18, 1781; married José Gabriel Condorcanqui, Túpac Amarú II, in 1760; children: three sons, Hipólito, Fernando, Mariano.

In November 1780, a revolt of Peruvian Indians led by José Gabriel Condorcanqui, Túpac Amarú II, broke out against Spanish rule as the rebels fought for the removal of burdensome taxes that had reduced many of the local population to abject poverty; it is possible that the rebels were also fighting for independence from Spain. Condorcanqui was a financially well-off mestizo descended from both Inca nobles and Spanish conquistadors. Outraged by the cruel and exploitive treatment of his people, he discarded his attire of a Spanish noble and dressed himself in the traditional headdress, loincloth, and cape of his Inca ancestors. His 1780 revolt would quickly engulf the greater part of southern Peru and eventually spread to the Aymara provinces of Upper Peru.

Women played significant roles in the rebellion. Given important posts on virtually all levels of the uprising, they distinguished themselves on many occasions. Micaela Bastidas, the wife of Condorcanqui, is known as the most impressive of these women. Born of pure Spanish blood in 1745 in Pampamarca, Cuzco, she married Condorcanqui on May 25, 1760, when she was 15 and he 22 years of age. A prosperous merchant, he became increasingly bitter when it became clear that the indigenous population of Peru faced increasing impoverishment and humiliation due to the high level of taxation imposed upon them. Although of pure Spanish descent, Bastidas clearly shared her husband's beliefs.

The revolt began in early November 1780 with the arrest, trial, and execution of a hated local Spanish official. From the start of the uprising, Condorcanqui entrusted Bastidas with crucial political and military responsibilities. While he engaged in battle, she worked as commandant of the secretariat located in the rebel stronghold of San Felipe de Tungasuca. Working long hours to coordinate the rebellion, she answered numerous requests from villagers for safe conduct passes, food and supplies. Surviving documents reveal that local officials addressed her as Señora Gobernadora, a title of great authority. Her status as the wife of the rebel chieftain gave her a control which the solicitor general of Cuzco, Pablo de Figueroa, described as allowing her to command "with more authority and rigor than her husband."

From the start of the revolt, Bastidas recognized the necessity of winning the hearts and minds of the people. In order to retain areas under nominal rebel control, she warned local governors of the penalties for desertion and issued numerous directives forbidding banditry, thus making it clear that the rebellion could not be used to further degrade and exploit the Indians, but must instead mark the start of a new era of humane treatment of them. The remarkable absence of banditry in the first phase of the Túpac Amarú uprising is a reflection of her forceful presence in the affected areas. Bastidas understood the link between the political and military aspects of the revolt, in which it was crucial to retain the loyalties of both Indian and non-Indian communities.

By early 1781, the revolt was weakening, and soon Bastidas and her husband were prisoners of the Spanish colonial authorities. She and Tomasa Titu Condemayta , another woman who had played a leading role in the uprising, were accused of the capital crime of lesa majestad, or treason against the Crown. Both women were found guilty. "Because of the decorum of their sex," they were to be garroted, or strangled with an iron collar containing a screw, rather than hanged in public.

The execution took place in Cuzco's Plaza Mayor on May 18, 1781. Dressed in the habit of the Order of Mercy, Micaela Bastidas was forced to witness the hanging of her son Hipólito. Then she was bound hand and foot and dragged under the gallows to the garrote. She refused to allow her tongue to be cut out, and, since her neck was too small for the screw to take her life, the executioner placed a lasso around her neck and pulled it tight, striking her on the breast and stomach area until she expired. Tomasa was strangled in the same fashion.

After the deaths of the women, José Gabriel Condorcanqui had his tongue cut out and was executed in a horrifying fashion; failing to be torn apart by four horses, he was spared more suffering by decapitation. The heads and extremities of Micaela Bastidas and Tomasa, as well as those of the men of the Túpac Amarú family, were placed on pikes and displayed in the important public places of five major provinces of Peru as a warning to others contemplating rebellion. (Later, another woman leader of the rebellion, Cecilia Escalera Túpac Amarú , would be stripped naked to the waist, mounted on a burro, and driven through the streets while she was lashed 200 times; she would die in prison in April 1783.) Though the uprising failed, the rebellion led by Túpac Amarú and Micaela Bastidas marked the beginning of the end of Spanish colonial rule in Peru.


Alisky, Marvin. Historical Dictionary of Peru. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1979.

"Bastidas, Micaela," in Carlos Milla Batres, ed., Diccionario historico y biografico del Peru. Vol. 1. Lima: Editorial Milla Batres, S.A., 1986, p. 415.

Campbell, Leon G. "Women and the Great Rebellion in Peru, 1780–1783," in The Americas. Vol 42, no. 2. October 1985, pp. 163–196.

Fisher, Lillian Estelle. The Last Inca Revolt, 1780–1783. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1966.

Lewin, Boleslao. La Rebelión de Tupac Amaru y los origenes de la emancipación americana. Buenos Aires: Hachette, 1957.

Lynch, John. "The Origins of Spanish American Independence," in Leslie Bethell, ed. The Cambridge History of Latin America, vol. III: From Independence to c. 1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986, pp. 3–50.

John Haag , Associate Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia