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  • Surviving Conquest: From Huacas to Cofradías in 17th Century Cuzco
  • Martín Oliver Carrión

Over the past two decades, scholarship on Colonial Cuzco has mapped the emergence of a distinct Cuzco Postcolonial subjectivity by centering on the Inka elite, that for various reasons, left archival traces with specific and even musical elements. The respective work of Carolyn Dean (1999), Kathryn Burns (2002), David Garrett (2005), and Geoffrey Baker (2008), all reinforces John Howland Rowe’s original claim that an “Inka Renaissance” unfolded in the century following the Spanish conquest.1 This “Renaissance” took on many forms and was facilitated in part by the very institutions that sought to claim victory over the Inka socio-political and religious structures. One such institution was the cofradía or Confraternity which, although tied to the Catholic Church, became a vehicle by which ethnic and local boundaries could be erected and contributed to the continuation of Huaca worship in Cuzco.2 There is perhaps no greater depiction of the cultural function and importance of the cofradía during the [End Page 324] colonial period than the canvases known as the Corpus Christi Series (1674–1680), located today at the Museo del Arzobispo.3 Art historians have come to believe that these paintings were the product of multiple native hands, and that they were commissioned to illustrate Christianity’s triumph over the Inka Empire and religion. However, as Carolyn Dean’s work revealed the canvases can also be interpreted as the Inka appropriation of Catholicism’s most important religious observation: The Corpus Christi—Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. This appropriation was possible due to the central role that the native Inka elite played during this Christian celebration and others.4 The native elite were not simply spectators but were the painters, musicians, builders, choreographers, and performers of many of the religious festivities in the city of Cuzco post-conquest.

Using my own archival research and a multi-disciplinary array of studies on Cuzco, I aim to reveal how the Andean practice of Huaca worship might have thrived during the colonial period and into our present day. Furthermore, the Inka elite forged a parallel culture that both operated in synchronization with the Spanish colonial regime and at times in complete opposition. This parallel culture did not necessarily mean an open resistance to the colonization project of Spain, but like so many aspects of Andean culture, may have been understood by the native population in terms of a complimentary opposite.5 This essay will show that it was precisely the ability of the Andean peoples to deflect, absorb, and at times integrate the colonizing project of Spain that made possible the appearance of an Inka Renaissance and, in the words of David Garrett, the formation of a “Shadow Empire” that did not reach its end until the arrival of the Criollo-centered-Republics in the early 18th century (Garrett 16). These [End Page 325] Criollo-Republics would come to see the existence of a “noble Inka” as an oxymoron.6 The eradication of all that was “indio” become the porous foundation upon which the new centers of power were built in post-Independence Spanish America.

Cuzco Post-Conquest

To fully appreciate how cofradías were used by Inka elites as vehicles of power, autonomy, and a reconstitution of Inka practices pre-conquest, it is necessary to briefly explore the challenges faced (depopulation, religious persecution, and the erasure of pre-Inka identities) by these elites and their followers during the long period of conquest, resistance, and attempted incorporation into the Spanish imperial apparatus. Although 1532 marks the arrival of the Spanish to the Inka Empire, it is important to take into consideration that it is not until 1572 that armed resistance against the invaders finally ended with the fall of Vilcabamba (Rowe 155). Before this date, the Spanish faced the Inka government in exile under Manqo Inka (1512–1544) who used military and religious remedies to vanquish in vain the killers the Sapa Inka. Despite this heroic attempt, irreversible changes were already taking place throughout the former Inka Empire even before the arrival of the Spanish, specifically, these changes involved a catastrophic demographic decline...


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