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Monday, August 25, 2014

The Tupac Amaru Rebellion by Charles F. Walker

Depiction of Tupac Amaru II from Peruvian currency

Book Review
The Tupac Amaru Rebellion
by Charles F. Walker
Oxford University Press
Published April 8th, 2014

  Tupac Amaru is known to most people today via his namesake, murdered rapper and counter-culture icon Tupac Shakur.  A fewer number of people know him as the namesake of the Shining Path splinter group/Marxist guerrilla's from the Peruvian troubles of the late 20th century.  The original Tupac Amaru was the last leader of the Inca Empire, murdered by the Spanish in the 16th century.
The area involved in the Tupac Amaru II rebellion of 1780-1781.

  The Tupac Amaru Rebellion involved none of these- but rather was instigated by José Gabriel Túpac Amaru, a mixed-race merchant from the area south of Cuzco.  Jose Gabriel claimed to be the last descendant of the first Tupac Amaru- a claim which was vigorously contested by a rival.  Jose Gabriel went so far as to litigate the matter, spending a year before the rebellion in Lima.  He lost his lawsuit, and retreated to his home province, where he and his wife,  Micaela Bastidas Puyucahua, plotted their remarkable rebellion against the Spanish.

  One of Walker's major themes is elevating the role that Bastidas played in organizing and implementing the revolution.  Another is continuing the story of the Tupac Amaru Rebellion beyond his execution in 1781 and including related rebellions in modern-day Bolivia and around Lake Titcaca.  Thus, the complete story of the Tupac Amaru Rebellion neither begins nor ends with Jose Gabriel Tupac Amaru II, but rather extends beyond him both in the start (with his wife as an important co conspirator) and end.

  Walker is a careful scholar, and he gives ample attention both to the varied Spanish response to the initial rebellion and the complexities in the attitude of Amaru II towards the Spanish Church and state.  A surprising theme that emerges is how very Catholic Amaru and his wife were- they refrained from harming priests, and continued to represent themselves as good Catholics.  Walker also does a good job of describing the complexity of 18th century Colonial culture, with fragmentations along both racial and class lines.

  The picture which emerges is contrary to his present-day status as a counter cultural, revolutionary figure.  Yes, he led an important rebellion against Spanish rule, but he was also a deeply conservative figure who represented himself as acting on behalf of the King (a common position of rebels in pre-democratic societies.)

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