- Smoldering Ashes: Cuzco and the Creation of Republican Peru, 1780–1840
In recent years Duke University Press has published or republished a series of historical studies of Latin America under the rubric of “Latin America Otherwise.” A number of the books in the series deal with the Andean region of South America (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador), and the book reviewed here is one of the latest in the series. Many of the volumes draw inspiration from the so-called [End Page 479] subaltern approach, which generally focuses on history from the bottom up. Unfortunately, in trying to document the historical experiences of peoples who in the past were ignored from the older historiographic tradition that viewed events from the top down, some authors in this genre ignore the larger political and economic context or substitute what they call theory for real evidence. The book reviewed here attempts to view the history of the Cuzco region between 1780 and 1840, but does so by providing the larger context.
Walker explores the panorama of change in Peru from the outbreak of the Tupac Amaru rebellion through the death of caudillo Agustin Gamarra in 1841 during a failed invasion of Bolivia. The author skillfully intertwines the process of state formation and caudillismo with the role played by the indigenous population in that process. The author begins with a detailed discussion of the origins of the great rebellion of the early 1780s, and addresses broad historiographic issues of how scholars in the past have interpreted the uprising. Next Walker explores relations between the indigenous population and the Bourbon state following the uprising, and posits a hardening of divisions between indigenous and non-indigenous populations. Walker examined more than a thousand legal cases that give considerable substance to his generalizations. Walker’s analysis of the court cases is reminiscent of William Taylor’s research on colonial Mexico. Indigenous peoples used the courts to complain about individuals in positions of authority, while at the same time Spanish officials held certain stereotypical views of the natives that in some instances blunted the effect of Spanish justice.
Walker then outlines the process of independence in Peru, the Pumacahua revolt (1814), the triumph of the independence movement, and the politics of caudillismo as seen in the career of Cuzco native Agustin Gamarra. Walker’s treatment of Gamarra is the striongest part of the book. The author defines the structure of the caudillo regime in Cuzco as operating within and not outside of formal government institutions. Moreover, Walker describes the discourse of political debate between Gamarra and his detractors in the press, pamphlets, and public displays. Walker concludes that Gamarra ultimately was successful because the caudillo presented his ideas in terms that the people of Cuzco could understand. His liberal opponents, on the other hand, constructed a political discourse couched in terms of abstract ideas that did not resonate with the people of Cuzco. An agenda that emphasized restoring Cuzco to its past position of importance had more appeal than invoking abstract ideas of freedom and preservation of the constitution. Walker also links Gamarra’s caudillismo to the indigenous population, and finds that Gamarra had little to offer indigenous peoples. The weak state of the economy and lack of demand for land meant that there was little pressure to divest the indigenous communities of their land base. Additionally, the continued collection of tribute under a new name meant that the state could not support liquidation of community lands.
Walker has written a detailed and important book that illustrates a critical period in Peruvian history, and his discussions of the Tupac Amaru rebellion and caudillismo are very strong. However, there are also weak points in the book. Walker’s discussion of the link between the indigenous population and the caudillo system created by Gamarra is superficial at best. The failure of indigenous auxiliary soldiers to support Gamarra at a critical battle during a civil war in [End Page 480] 1835 does not adequately define the...