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Death and Conversion in the Andes

Lima and Cuzco, 1532-1670

Gabriela Ramos

Publication Year: 2010

When the Spanish invaded the Inca empire in 1532, the cult of the ancestors was an essential feature of pre-Columbian religion throughout the Andes. The dead influenced politics, protected the living, symbolized the past, and legitimized claims over the land their descendants occupied, while the living honored the presence of the dead in numerous aspects of daily life. A central purpose of the Spanish missionary endeavor was to suppress the Andean cult of the ancestors and force the indigenous people to adopt their Catholic, legal, and cultural views concerning death. In her book, Gabriela Ramos reveals the extent to which Christianizing death was essential for the conversion of the indigenous population to Catholicism. Ramos argues that understanding the relation between death and conversion in the Andes involves not only considering the obvious attempts to destroy the cult of the dead, but also investigating a range of policies and strategies whose application demanded continuous negotiation between Spaniards and Andeans. Drawing from historical, archaeological, and anthropological research and a wealth of original archival materials, especially the last wills and testaments of indigenous Andeans, Ramos looks at the Christianization of death as it affected the lives of inhabitants of two principal cities of the Peruvian viceroyalty: Lima, the new capital founded on the Pacific coast by the Spanish, and Cuzco, the old capital of the Incas in the Andean highlands. Her study of the wills in particular demonstrates the strategies that Andeans devised to submit to Spanish law and Christian doctrine, preserve bonds of kinship, and cement their place in colonial society.

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press


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p. viii


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pp. ix-xi

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pp. 1-7

This book studies how the conversion of the Andean populations to Catholicism was achieved from a particular perspective: changes in attitudes toward death. Specifically, it investigates how and why the to their peers or what arrangements they make for the remains of choice in their conversion to Christianity. Through different routes...

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1. Death in Pre-Hispanic Peru

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pp. 9-33

Beliefs and practices concerning death were of fundamental importance in the lives of the ancient inhabitants of the Andes. Investigating these beliefs and practices is key to understanding the Andeans’ vision of the world and the sociopolitical organization of their societies. This chapter aims to sketch out some of the characteristics of experience of death in the Andes at the moment of the Spanish conquest and to explore its diversity...

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2. Death during the Conquest

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pp. 34-60

The years between the Spaniards’ arrival in the Andes in 1532 and the execution of the last rebel Inca in 1572 were dominated by war and violence. The wars of conquest were followed by civil wars between the Spaniards, caused by disputes over the sharing of the booty and control of the former Inca empire, the Tahuantinsuyo, and by the rebellions of the conquistadors against...

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3. The Conquest of Death

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pp. 61-88

Inducing the native populations to adopt Christian beliefs and customs concerning death was a crucial part of the Spanish missionary project in the Andes. This ambitious goal involved becoming familiar with Andean ideas and practices, reducing them to a concise and intelligible whole, and using what the Spaniards believed they had learned to create procedures...

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4. Spaces and Institutions for the Missionary Project

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pp. 89-113

Enacting policies to implement the missionary project required defining the spaces, institutions, and methods of reaching the native Andeans. Following age-old European and Spanish precedents, colonial and ecclesiastical authorities exhorted the Indians to live “politically” in the belief that cities provided the ideal space in which human beings could be governed adequately and live in order and harmony.1 Hence, the Spanish colonial project was...

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5. Wills, Graves, and Funeral Rites

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pp. 114-159

The final sacraments, although essential, were not sufficient preparation for death and its aftermath. The will, a document that brought together the two fundamental aspects of life—the spiritual and the material—was also a requirement for leaving this world secure in the knowledge that one’s soul was on the right path, and that one’s relationship with God and one’s fellow man was well tended. For this reason, writing a will took on a...

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6. Ancestors, Successors, and Memory

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pp. 160-213

On Palm Sunday in 1606, an elderly woman called Luisa Quina wrote her last will before a notary and an Indian interpreter in the town of Santa Cruz de Lati, east of the city of Lima. Luisa recounted that she had had five children and that the eldest, Constanza, had been married to Don Rodrigo, one of the village...

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pp. 214-222

This book has sought to show how the Christianization of death was crucial in the conversion of the Andean peoples. Compared to similar processes in other parts of the world, the transformation of practices and ideas regarding death in the Andes came about in a surprisingly brief period and on a very large scale. This monumental change brought about after the Spanish...

Appendix A

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pp. 223-238

Appendix B

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pp. 239-247


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pp. 248-304


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pp. 305-337


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pp. 338-356

E-ISBN-13: 9780268091729
E-ISBN-10: 0268091722
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268040284
Print-ISBN-10: 0268040281

Page Count: 368
Illustrations: Tables/maps removed; no rights.
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 694144517
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Death and Conversion in the Andes

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Ancestor worship -- Andes Region.
  • Indians of South America -- Peru -- Cuzco -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Death -- Religious aspects -- Christianity.
  • Indians of South America -- Peru -- Lima -- Rites and ceremonies.
  • Indians of South America -- Peru -- Cuzco -- Religion.
  • Andes Region -- Religious life and customs.
  • Spain -- Colonies -- America -- America -- Administration -- History.
  • Indians of South America -- Peru -- Lima -- Religion.
  • Conversion -- Christianity.
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