- The Tupac Amaru Rebellion by Charles F. Walker
Charles F. Walker’s book is a vivid narrative history of the Tupac Amaru Rebellion (1780–82), which profoundly shook, but did not ultimately topple, the foundations of Spanish rule in the Andes. In its ability to make sense of an extremely complex, multifaceted movement without losing the thread of the larger story, The Tupac Amaru Rebellion can be compared with Laurent Dubois’s narrative history of the Haitian Revolution, Avengers of the New World (2004). Like Dubois, Walker skillfully analyzes the perspectives and motivations—as well as the shortcomings—of the movement’s principal leaders, while also considering what led indigenous people to join en masse.
Although common Indians rarely were treated as individuals in the colonial documents, Walker shows how their ideas about justice and violence underlay many of their actions in war. As he explores throughout the book, these ideas were often at odds with those of the original leaders and masterminds of the rebellion. The movement began as a fragile coalition of lower- and middle-sector groups that resented the impositions of the late eighteenth-century Spanish state and the corrupt tactics of its representatives. As the movement evolved into (or forged alliances with) various subrebellions, violence engulfed not just the core area of Peru in the vicinity of the old Inca capital of Cuzco, but also spread south into what is now Bolivia. On the colonial margins, it took on different, more extreme characteristics that evoked fears of a caste war of Indians against non-Indians. These developments would have dismayed José Gabriel Condorcanqui, or Tupac Amaru, and his wife, Micaela Bastidas, had they lived long enough to witness the full course of the movement that they started. (Both were captured, tortured, and executed by Spanish royalist forces in 1781, several months after their failed siege of Cuzco.) Also similar to Dubois’s approach is Walker’s nuanced treatment of [End Page 539] Spanish officialdom. Like their French counterparts in Saint-Domingue, Spanish colonial authorities were divided between the hard-liners who favored the extermination of the rebels and the imposition of extreme forms of cultural repression in the Andes, and more moderate officials who advocated negotiation with the rebels and measures to reform some of the worst abuses of colonial power in the region.
Although Walker’s study is first and foremost a work of synthesis, he clearly has done some original archival research on the rebellion. In his analysis of both rebels and royalists, he draws from an impressive range of primary sources, including both readily available published documents as well as little-known archival evidence that he collected in Peru and Spain. The text is peppered with choice quotes from rebel correspondence, giving the reader glimpses of the rhetoric and, intriguingly, the emotional states of the leaders. We feel the frustration of Tomasa Condemaita, an important female leader, when she lamented to Micaela Bastidas that “I am so unfortunate [desfavorecida] for being a woman,” as some within the rebel camp disputed her abilities on the basis of her gender (102). We hear Diego Cristóbal, the cousin of Tupac Amaru who assumed leadership of the revolt in 1781, telling the Spanish bishop that he felt “desperate,” his heart “like a shipwreck,” as he tried to make up his mind about whether to trust the Spanish amnesty offer (211).
In his effort to “explore how people understood and participated in the rebellion” (9), Walker is careful not to make assumptions about indigenous unity and consensus. Official documents tended to portray every Indian as a rebel or an anti-Spanish sympathizer, but Walker frequently reminds his readers that Andean society was divided along ethnic, religious, class, and linguistic lines. In the siege of Cuzco, for example, most local Indians did not join the side of the rebels, thus depriving Tupac Amaru’s forces of crucial reinforcements. Walker reveals that Indians faced strong pressure from Spanish and indigenous authorities not to join, and many probably felt ambivalent about the rebellion and its leadership. Other tensions...