The Americas 61.2 (2004) 321-322
[Access article in PDF]
Until recently the historiography on the Túpac Catari rebellion lagged well behind that of its better-know northern counterpart. Now, at a stroke, we have three fine studies—by Nicholas Robins, Serge Serulnikov, and Sinclair Thomson—which take the discussion on to a higher plane. This review concerns the first-named only, but it is worth mentioning that all three works, in the vein of Boleslao Lewin's classic study, evince a tendency to treat both movements as one Great Rebellion whose titular head was José Gabriel Túpac Amaru. There is much merit in this encompassing approach, for all the insurgencies' many dissimilarities and often tenuous connections (notably before mid-1781) suggest that this 'unified field' thesis is a hypothesis that awaits detailed demonstration.
This caveat aside, it is apparent from Robins' study that to yoke analytically the two rebellions sharpens our understanding of each. A further conceptual hurdle for readers is the interpretation of this unified movement within the context of genocide theories. The notion of genocide has been used in relation to the indigenous peoples of North America; here, the novelty is of genocidal practice and discourse from below, subaltern vengeance directed often against creoles as well as chapetones—the empire bites back. The violence per se of the rebellion merits more attention than it has hitherto received, but its analysis here is not entirely convincing. Túpac Amaru still emerges as the good leader whose call for moderation fell on deaf ears. While noting the unrestrained excesses of rebel outriders, an alternative view would see at least some of the massacres of creoles and mestizos as consonant with the rebel chief's own proclamations and express orders. Robins deploys plenty of evidence to support his genocide thesis—massacres accompanied by genocidal discourse undoubtedly occurred, especially in Upper Peru—but not everyone accepts prevailing definitions of genocide, much less their applicability to eighteenth-century rebellion. There comes a point at which comparative history turns anachronistic. It is to be hoped that this emphasis on genocide will not occlude the merits of this important study.
The second pillar of this book is millennialism and messianism. This has been a central theme of Andean history in the past decade and its overall treatment is well done. Here, though, one detects the usual problem that mars most of the historiography, namely that the concept becomes reified and sometimes circular. Much recent research has turned on discussion of a supposed utopía andina, a cataclysmal pachacuti, and an Inkarrí waiting in the wings, but there is little direct evidence of these in the extant documentation. Túpac Amaru's proclamations called for social justice and freedom from exploitation but very little that might be interpreted as millennial promises, for all that secular and utopian aspirations are not mutually exclusive. Why can't peasants revolt just for purely secular or material reasons: against taxes, against abuse, for revenge, or land, or just booty? Economic rationalist and 'moral economy' approaches can explain a great deal. How many really followed a utopian star? Did [End Page 321] they really want a return to Tahuantinsuyu? Why does bloody revenge need a millenarian dimension? Did they see Túpac Amaru as the messianic Inkarrí of the anthropologists or just as an Inca noble made putative king? It is not enough to assert the pervasiveness of millennialism. That it was present is beyond doubt, but the extent to which it was an engine of the insurgency remains unclear. Moreover, the evidence for millennialism is much stronger for Upper Peru than for the northern movement. Nevertheless, scholars and students will greatly profit from the author's discussion on this theme, the related "semiotics of rebellion," and what he calls its "antinomies," this last a shorthand to frame the abundant contradictions in the evidence.
Some of these...