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  • Death and Conversion in the Andes: Lima and Cuzco, 1532-1670
  • Nancy E. Van Deusen
Death and Conversion in the Andes: Lima and Cuzco, 1532-1670. By Gabriela Ramos. [History, Languages, and Cultures of the Spanish and Portuguese Worlds.] (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 356. $39.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-04028-4.)

Gabriela Ramos has produced a deeply researched study that argues that the Christianization of death was crucial to the conversion of indigenous Andean peoples and to the construction of a colonial order. Her work compares the urban settings of Lima, a Spanish-created site with a small indigenous (mainly migrant) population, and Cuzco, the former capital of the Inca Empire. In her examination of mortuary practices, notions of the body and the beyond, and the relationship between the dead and the living, she draws on archaeological and ethnohistorical findings, church council records, notarial [End Page 868] sources, and studies on early-modern European Catholicism. She concludes that by the mid-colonial period, former burial stone towers (chullpas), caves, and other sacred sites were no longer at the center of the religious and political life of these urban Andean people; in fact, their mortuary practices had transformed completely.

Chapter 1 considers the diversity of burial practices in the coast and highlands and the way that distinct ancestor veneration practices "contained and symbolized the past of these groups" (p. 20).The conquest (chapter 2) led to a collision of Spanish and Incan mortuary practices and brute force on the bodies of people now categorized as indios. This included the use of fire (also common in Castile for criminals) to mutilate mummified ancestors of the sinful indios and to erase their past. Ramos then provides a richly detailed analysis of several versions of the death of the Sapa Inca, Atahualpa, which, she argues, became a key metaphor for the conquest of the Andean polity, in life and in death. During the Civil War period, Spaniards gradually gained mastery over indigenous spaces through public executions, even when the victims were tyrannical Spaniards. In the "Conquest of Death"(chapter 3),Ramos shows how church and secular authorities grappled with how to explain Christian ideas about the body and the existence of an eternal soul, how to discourage Andeans from tending to the dead and making offerings, and how to emphasize the need to bury their dead in churches. Indoctrination through sermons proved successful in explaining the "good death" and concepts of purgatory and sin. In chapter 4 she explains why the creation of new institutional spaces—including hospitals (organized and administered differently in Lima and Cuzco), parishes, confraternities, and even funerary vaults in churches—reunited displaced families (and the departed) in one location and became the centers of ritual activities. Further elaboration on how confraternities in Lima and Cuzco enabled immigrants to forge new kinship bonds, connect themselves to specific devotions, and gain leadership roles would have further strengthened her argument. Ramos is strongest in her analysis of more than 500 indigenous wills that details the distinct funerary rites and processions in Cuzco and Lima, and how the complicated inheritance practices (especially among caciques) helped crystallize new social bonds and preserve memory (chapter 6). The appendices detail the comparative findings from wills on confraternity memberships, burial practices, heirs, and executors between 1571 and 1670.

If, as Ramos asserts, a complete transformation of the funerary beliefs occurred among the indigenous inhabitants of colonial Lima and Cuzco, her thesis remains to be tested in other Andean locations. But even in the urban contexts she examines, questions remain. Although she shows clearly how externalized manifestations of faith such as burial requests in wills (part of a larger prescribed Catholic narrative) or participation in confraternities dominated in these urban milieus, can we tease out the mutual sense-making (what made these rituals meaningful) that occurred among native peoples (many of [End Page 869] them migrants) and the priests administering to them? What was colonial Catholicism? Despite the overarching goal to create a unified Christendom, studies on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Castile and Peru reveal a plurality of local practices (including some "borrowed" from native Andeans) and a wide...


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