The Tupac Amaru Rebellion: Charles Walker

Charles Walker left few stones unturned in The Tupac Amaru Rebellion, an impressive analysis of Spain’s largest colonial rebellion. This essay briefly examines two original arguments and two secondary claims made by Walker that help shape our understanding of an uprising that ultimately reached levels of total violence rarely seen in human history.

Walker’s “seemingly mundane” claim that the uprising extended beyond the execution of José Gabriel Condorcanqui and his wife Micaela Bastidas in 1781 is perhaps his most important contribution to the historiography of this period (Walker 2014: 7). The author convincingly supports his argument with military accounts of the southern campaigns, rebel correspondence, and government documents, showing that a hot war continued at least until Diego Tupac Amaru was executed in 1783 (Walker 2014: 196). That Spanish officials apparently felt the need to put another rebel’s quartered limbs on display as a warning reinforces this claim.

The second original argument, that Bastidas was a “full-blown partner” in the rebellion, makes an important contribution to both the historiography of the rebellion, as well as a broader debate about the role of women in Andean history (Walker 2014: 55). By providing the first “full portrait” of Bastidas, establishing her critical role in charge of logistics, Walker shows that “Micaela’s prominence in the uprising was not a shocking reversal of gender roles in the Andes” (Walker 2014: 22). Indeed, based on evidence presented, it is clear that Bastidas was an important leader. However, the reader is left with questions about her role, and that of other women, as combatants in the violence.

Walker also adds powerful documentation to support a reinterpretation of the Catholic Church’s role in the rebellion, building on arguments made by historian Lewin Boleslao (1952) that overall priests did not support the Indians and actually played a key role in suppressing the revolt. By using Church and court records, including investigations into whether priests such as Cuzco Bishop Juan Manuel Moscoso supported the movement, Walker complicates our understanding of the clergy’s role in the uprising. Furthermore, his reflections on the religious attitudes of rebels and the impact that excommunication had on them as a “virtually insurmountable obstacle” provide some of the most interesting psychological insights of the book (Walker 2014: 66).

The monograph also raises intriguing questions about how far we can project the rebellion onto the transatlantic world of revolution and if we can discern Enlightenment ideas in the rebellion. However, his discussion of José Gabriel’s time in Lima and exposure to revolutionary ideas of the 1770s raises more questions than it answers. Is Walker looking for ripples of Amaru in Haiti or for Enlightenment thought in José Gabriel? The ties between Amaru and the eventual independence movement remain tenuous.

Charles F. Walker, The Tupac Amaru Rebellion (Cambridge, Massachussetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2014).

By N. H. Gill
Chapel Hill, 2017

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s