Colonialism and Liberation in the Andes
Vasco Nuñez de Balboa led the first European
expedition to the Pacific coast of the Americas in 1513. He had been informed
by Panamanian isthmus natives of a rich kingdom where they drank and ate
from vessels of gold. Similar stories reached the Portuguese on the southeast
coast of South America. The first European to enter the Inca realm was
Portuguese Alejo Garcia. He entered from Paraguay in the company of five
Cairo Indians. Alejo was killed by Tupi Indians and his Cairo companions
returned to the coast with some gold and silver. In 1526 Sebastian Cabot,
following this information, attempted to reach Perú from the Argentine
coast. For a full century after the Inca conquest from the Pacific the
search for the fabled El Dorado was still pursued from the Atlantic.
was in 1531 that Spaniard Francisco Pizarro (a member of Nuñez
de Balboa's expedition) invaded the Quechua region. Pizarro and a small
army succeeded in subjugating the Incas in 1533. Forty years later the
last resistance by the Incas had been crushed. (Discussed in detail
in the Tupac Amaru page of this web ring.)
Recent demographic studies have the Indigenous American
population at between 70 to 100 million people at time of contact,
with estimates of some 50 to 70 million in South America. During a 100
year period, the populations of the Indigenous peoples declined from
a possible 100 million to around 12 million. In Mexico, the population
was reduced from perhaps 30 million to 3 million in just 50 years. Millions
of Indigenous peoples died working as slaves in the mines at Guanajuato
and Zacatecas in Mexico, and Potosí in Bolivia.
Eight million slaves died in the Potosí mine alone. By the end
of the 1500's, Potosí was one of the largest cities in the world
with 350,000 inhabitants. Perú was also an area of intensive
mining. From the time of the arrival of the first European colonizers
until 1650, 180-200 tons of American gold was added to the European
With the Spanish conquest Quechua society was drastically
altered. The Inca system of government required a mit'a tax--the donation
of labor to the state to produce crops and public works--and a tax of
a portion of production. The mit'a tax was used in part to build terraces
and irrigation systems, which further elevated production to the benefit
of the society. In contrast, the Spanish encomienda system of tribute
required the subjugated Indians to produce unfamiliar crops for the
Spanish, at the expense of their own food supply. The Spanish system,
unlike its Incan predecessor, did not provide for the welfare of the
laborer and his family during the term of forced labor.
Spanish also forcibly concentrated the people in villages and assumed
right of ownership of the best lands. The Roman Catholic Church made
additional demands on the native inhabitants. When Spanish rule ended
a large portion of the population had been reduced to chattel servitude
on large haciendas and estates. This condition of virtual slavery continued
until late in the present century.
Most regions under Spanish dominion were conquered.
There are few exceptions. One example is the Koogi region of Colombia,
today considered to be the last surviving remnant of pre-Hispanic civilization
in South America. In 1742, Juan Santos Atahualpa led a successful Indigenous
resistance effort to Spanish intrusion into the Campa and Amuesha territory
of the Peruvian Amazon Basin region. The Amuesha and Campa tribes fought
Spanish intrusion for more than a century. Their territories in Central
Perú remained unpenetrated by Europeans until the rubber boom
of this century, and part of the Campa territory, the Gran Pajonal,
remains off-limits to outsiders.
tax laws and the oppression of colonialism provoked protest and opposition.
In 1780 Indigenous resistance broke out in a major revolt in Bolivia.
Chayanta and Sikasika revolts occurred at the same time, the latter
led by Tupac Catari. In mid-1780, another revolt, to free Indian leader
Tomñs Catari, broke out in the province of Chayanta. On November
4, 1780 José Gabriel Condorcanki Tupac Amaru, great-grandson
of the last Inca, launched a well-organized rebellion in the Cuzco area.
Condorcanki, better known as Tupac Amaru II, arrested Spanish corregidor
Antonio Juan de Arriaga and ordered his execution the following week.
On November 16 Tupac Amaru II signed a Proclamation of Liberty,
the first anti-slavery edict in Perú. The manifesto declared
all slaves to be free.
Tupac Catari led the rebellion that laid siege to La
Paz in March of 1781, during which one fourth of the city's population
died. In April of 1781 Tupac Amaru II was betrayed and captured. On
May 18, after witnessing the execution of his wife and sons, he was
mutilated, drawn and quartered, and then beheaded in the plaza in Cuzco.
Other captured rebellion leaders were also executed. The leadership
of the uprising shifted to Azangaro, Puno, where Tupac's relatives Andres
and Diego Cristobal Tupac Amaru continued the struggle. They successfully
laid siege to Sorata in August and the rebellion spread as far south
as Argentina. By November they were forced to surrender to the Spanish
authorities. Diego Cristobal Tupac Amaru was tortured to death in the
Cuzco plaza in July of 1783.
The wave of rebellion had been defeated. The leaders,
perceived or real, were captured and executed. Many were drawn and quartered,
decapitated, or burned alive. Many living descendants of the Incas were
rounded up and exiled. Many of these eventually died in prison in
Spain. The atrocities of the victors strengthened opposition to Spanish
The first major revolt to overthrow Spanish authority
was in 1809 in Bolivia. In 1810 Colombia declared its independence,
followed by Venezuela the following year. Argentina declared independence
in 1816. In 1817 José de San Martín led troops across
the Andes to help liberate Chilé and Perú. Spanish forces
lost one colony after another. The Battle of Ayacucho, Perú, in
1824 effectively terminated Spain's domination in South America.
The end of colonialism did not represent an end to the
oppression of the native Andean peoples. Power shifted to descendants
of the Spaniards, the criollos, and to mixed-race descendants of the
Spaniards, the mestizos. Only in recent decades has land reform in Perú
and Bolivia effectively ended chattelism. Prejudices and class division
along racial/ethnic lines continues to this day in the modern Andean
nations. The native peoples remain the under-privileged class and insurrection
and rebellion are an ongoing aspect of life in Perú today.
Tupac Amaru was a symbol employed by the military junta
in Perú in conjunction with the land reform decree of 1969. The
Tupac Amaru revolutionary movement is one of several attempting to overthrow
the government in Perú today. Almost two centuries after liberation
from Spanish rule, the effects of conquest and colonialism remain apparent
in contemporary Andean society. Equality and its consort, peace, have
yet to be attained.
See Bibliography Page for sources.
Other Andes academic papers:
LIFE, TIMES, AND EXECUTION OF
THE LAST INCA
MONUMENTAL ARCHITECTURE OF THE PERUVIAN COAST
AND THE ORIGINS OF ANDEAN CIVILIZATION