- Sin and Confession in Colonial Peru: Spanish-Quechua Penitential Texts, 1560–1650 by Regina Harrison
In this book, Regina Harrison sets out to study the implementation of the sacrament of confession during the first 100 years of Spanish presence in Peru. Given the linguistic and cultural barriers separating Europeans from Andeans, how the main tenets of Catholicism were transmitted to the indigenous people of the Andes is a crucial question that this study intends to address. The author also asks if the teaching of the Christian doctrine involved the erasure of Andean religion and worldview, or if indigenous Andean religious concepts persisted, and emerged either voluntarily or involuntarily during confession.
Harrison has used a range of works such as confessionals, catechisms, books of sermons, and Quechua dictionaries to analyze how missionaries transformed the meaning of Quechua words to facilitate the transmission of the Christian doctrine and moral principles to both their Andean pupils and fellow missionaries. In the introduction, the author asserts that she will examine “the lived experience of the Quechua language in its colonial context and contemporary usage” (p. 18) and that in her study “the particularities of the Andean context are drawn from the ecclesiastic literature, mainly from the confession manuals, and compared to the practices and models developed within European circumstances” (p. 3).
The book consists of an introduction, six chapters, and a conclusion. The first chapter discusses the concepts of confession and restitution, focusing on the ideas that fray Bartolomé de las Casas voiced about how Spaniards, if they aspired to be saved, were compelled to compensate the indigenous people of the Americas for the abuses, losses, and thefts committed against them. In chapter 2, the author explores the itinerary of the concept of confession from its Christian beginnings, to the practice some Spanish observers identified in the Andes and interpreted as analogous to the Christian ritual, to its actual implementation as a sacrament in the colonial Andes. The problem of translation, the writing of Quechua dictionaries by Spanish missionaries, and the exploration of the wide semantic field of the concept of sin are examined in chapter 3. Out of the Ten Commandments, Harrison has chosen the first (idolatry), sixth (sexuality), and seventh (theft), which she studies in chapters 4, 5, and 6 respectively. [End Page 397]
Harrison’s work raises important questions about the spread of Christian ideas in the Andes and about how such ideas interacted with Andean behaviors and values. Readers are presented with careful examinations of a few terms but are often left wondering how representative are the examples used. Within the historical literature on the subject of this book, establishing a dialogue with the work of Jean Delumeau, L’Aveu et le Pardon (Paris, 1992), and that of Osvaldo Pardo, The Origins of Mexican Catholicism (Ann Arbor, 2004), would have helped putting the issues studied by this book within a wider perspective. The book seems guided by the assumption that the experience of all indigenous men and women tended to be uniform and that to an extent, their lives had little to do with those of others. Comparisons with other works on sexuality in the colonial Andes dealing with people of other ethnic and social backgrounds, like the already classical study by María Emma Mannarelli, Private Passions and Public Sins (Albuquerque, 2007), could have yielded productive conclusions. Sin and Confession deals with a subject both intriguing and difficult to investigate, and should stimulate future studies on the crucial process of conversion to Christianity in the Andes.