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  • The Lima Indian Letrados:Remaking the República de Indios in the Bourbon Andes
  • Alcira Dueñas (bio)

In building its early modern empire across the Atlantic, Spain deployed an army of legal bureaucrats who were rooted in the Iberian culture of letters and inherited Roman law. To rule their possessions in the New World, the Habsburgs attempted a wholesale incorporation of indigenous peoples into a Hispanicized legal culture. They redistributed the native population, introduced new forms of communication, and implemented their notions of justice and social order to counter the authority of kurakas (ethnic lords) in the Andes. Over time, the establishment of Spanish legal and political institutions encouraged new supra-ayllu (community) loyalties among Andeans, while in the newly created reducciones or Indian towns, native literate officials became the immediate brokers between the colonial state and the República de Indios, a colonial reordering of indigenous worlds.1 Working closely with one another, indigenous escribanos, alcaldes ordinarios, procuradores de cabildo (legal advocates of the Indians’ council), along with interpreters and fiscales de iglesia (overseers of Indian conversion), performed their jobs in local office in both expected and unanticipated ways. They interwove alphabetic literacy with their experience as servants of the state and the church, creating alternative legal practices and interpretations.

This essay argues that literate native officials from the Lima area joined efforts during the eighteenth century to refashion the republic of the Indians at times of social upheaval. As social tensions rose under the increasing pressure of repartos (forced distribution of goods to Amerindians) and the loss of communal lands, native escribanos, alcaldes, and interpreters undertook a [End Page 55] common political project, redefining in the process and practice the functions ascribed to their positions in the 1575 Ordenanzas of Viceroy Francisco de Toledo. These native officeholders endeavored to use the institutional structure of the cabildo, their literacy skills, legal knowledge, and political networking to effect enforcement of laws as a way to overcome the negligence of the colonial system of justice toward Indians. I illuminate these practices through the work of three of these native letrados: the interpreter general don Nicolás Tupac Guamanrinchi Inga, in 1731 in Lima, and the indigenous cabildo officials don Alberto Chosop, alderman (regidor), and don Santiago Ruiz Tupac Amaru Inga, notary (escribano), in Lima in 1735.2 Both the financial exigencies of the Habsburgs and the long-established commoditization of public office affected, negatively, the enforcement of justice for indigenous peoples in the Andes. Along with an important number of high-ranking state offices, the post of procurador de naturales had been offered for sale since the seventeenth century.3 As I will discuss, indigenous officials from El Cercado cabildo persuasively argued that the privatization of these positions promoted entrenched networks of collusion among factions of the colonial elites, endangering the delicate balance between the king’s discourse of protection for Indians and the impact of the financial policies intended to sustain his empire.4

In the midst of such circumstances, the 1731 writings and legal activities of don Nicolás Tupac Guamanrinchi redefined the functions of the native interpreter, enabling him to become a de facto procurador de naturales. He worked in association with don Vicente Morachimo, a native noble from the Lambayeque valleys who was previously appointed by Viceroy Marqués de Santo Buono as a procurador de naturales, operating mostly in Madrid.5 For his part, the alderman don Alberto Chosop led a campaign from inside the indigenous town council of El Cercado to replicate and extend there the tenure of Morachimo as a native procurador. Along with the Indian cabildo’s notary, don Santiago Ruiz Tupac Amaru Inga, and eventually with other members of [End Page 56] the cabildo who signed their petitions, Chosop and Ruiz advocated in Madrid to secure the positions of procuradores and protectores de naturales for literate indigenous subjects, with the intention of supplanting the Spanish officials, usually lawyers, who had been appointed to this position since the sixteenth century.6 Obtaining the 1735 royal decree that sanctioned the petitions of the Indian cabildo officials, however, proved easier for Chosop and Ruiz Tupac Amaru than obtaining the necessary recognition and official appointment...


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pp. 55-75
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