Tupac Amaru Research Paper

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Although the massive rebellion he led in 1780 against Spanish colonial authority was ultimately suppressed, the Peruvian revolutionary Tupac Amaru, a descendant of the ruler in power during the conquest of the Inca capital at Cuzco in 1533, has become an iconic figure in the struggle for indigenous rights in Peru.

In 1780 Tupac Amaru (Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui), an indigenous ethnic lord or kuraka in the region near Cuzco in the Peruvian highlands, led the largest and most serious rebellion in South America against Spanish colonial authority in the period between the sixteenth-century wars of encounter and conquest and the early nineteenth-century movements toward independence. Centered in a rural region near the old Inca capital of Cuzco, especially in the provinces of Canas y Canchis (Tinta) and Quispicanchis, where Tupac Amaru and much of his family lived, this rebellion quickly engulfed the southern highland region of the Viceroyalty of Peru from Cuzco to Lake Titicaca and beyond. Other uprisings in what is now Bolivia (at that time the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata) have become associated historically with the Tupac Amaru rebellion even though at least one of them began before the Cuzco movement. In the region between Sucre and Potosi, several members of the Katari family led local villagers in a movement that challenged the colonial order at both the village and governmental level. To the north, near La Paz, Julian Apasa, who looked to the leaders of the other two rebellions to form his nom de guerre—Tupac Katari—fought on his own and with the forces of the Tupac Amaru rebellion to break Spanish control in that region.

Tupac Amaru’s father died when he was young, and his uncles and the local priest raised him. He also studied at the Jesuit school for indigenous nobility in Cuzco. He ran a business of transporting goods throughout the southern Andes and he also had interests in mines. He got along well with most priests and with the bishop of Cuzco. His relationship with local Spanish officials was much more stormy, but it too varied from individual to individual. Tupac Amaru—actually Tupac Amaru II—was descended from Manco Inca, the Inca ruler who rose in rebellion against the Spaniards shortly after their taking of Cuzco in the 1530s and who established a neo-Inca state in Vilcabamba. Also among his ancestors was Tupac Amaru I, Manco’s son and the last leader of the Vilcabamba resistance.

Tupac Amaru II pressed the Spanish courts to be recognized as heir to the Inca throne. Two factors worked to feed belief in the return of the Inca to power: the works of Garcilaso de la Vega glorified the rule of the Inca, and the myth of Inkarri spread. According to the Inkarri myth, the body of the Inca ruler was regenerating from his buried head (the first Tupac Amaru had been beheaded by the Spanish after surrendering), and when the process was complete he would reemerge to reestablish the more just rule and social order that had existed before the arrival of the Europeans.

Colonial Oppression

At the time Tupac Amaru was voicing his claims, Andean indigenous society was suffering from the changes the Spanish crown was making in the colonial structure. In the eighteenth century, Spain, like other European powers, tightened its control over its colonial possessions. In the Spanish realm this meant, among other changes, making a determined effort to restructure the colonies so they would be more lucrative for the mother country. In the Andes there was an effort to increase the efficiency in collecting tribute and sales taxes were not only increased but also imposed on some items produced by indigenous people that had previously been exempt. In addition, some items that previously had not been taxed became subject to increasing taxation and customs houses were established to ensure collection of these duties. This disrupted trading and exchange in the southern highlands, as did the creation of the Viceroyalty of Rio de la Plata, which took over control of much of the region that later rebelled.

At the same time, local Spanish authorities known as corregidors pressed the indigenous population ever harder after the informal forced sale of goods was legalized. Corregidors often abused their colonial right to force the sale of goods by doubling or even tripling the established quotas. This practice aroused the ire of many indigenous people, some of whom began to balk at such excessive economic coercion.

Parallel to these changes, the indigenous population was finally starting to grow after the terrible decline caused largely by the epidemics of Old World diseases that devastated the New World well into the eighteenth century in the Andes. Thus, just as the colonial government was increasing its demands, the indigenous peoples were seeing their per capita resource base shrink as villages once again were teeming with people. This conjunction of international, regional, and local circumstances increased tensions and created a climate in which a rebellion might gain hold.

Rebellion and Aftermath

The combination of messianic hopes, deep discontent over the current political situation, and the presence of a leader created a conjuncture in which rebellion erupted. Spreading like wildfire over the southern highlands of Peru and Bolivia, the rebellions of the early 1780s shook colonial society to its foundations and led to some 100,000 deaths. Tupac Amaru was captured when the rebellion was just a few months old and he and much of his family were executed in a most brutal manner in the plaza of Cuzco while other family members were exiled. Despite the suppression of the rebellions they led, however, Tupac Amaru, Tupac Katari, and the Katari family had all given direction and voice to many of the exploited peoples of the Andes, who under increasing pressure risked everything to end their exploitation and establish a more just rule under a system that would be culturally meaningful to them. In the short run the rebellion put a fear into the dominant society that increased the distance between the races in Peru. Over the longer haul the image of Tupac Amaru as a harbinger or symbol of social justice has emerged. The left-leaning military government of Velasco used his image and rhetoric from the rebellion to promote social change in the late 1960s, the dream of Inkarri lives on, and the Tupac Amaru revolutionary movement of recent times obviously chose him as their symbol because of what he means in the minds of many ordinary Peruvians today.


  1. O’Phelan Godoy, S. (1985). Rebellions and revolts in eighteenth century Peru and Upper Peru. Cologne, Germany: Bohlau Verlag Koln Wien.
  2. Stavig, W. (1999). The world of Tupac Amaru. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.
  3. Stern, S. J. (Ed.). (1987). Resistance, rebellion, and consciousness in the Andean peasant world, eighteenth to twentieth centuries. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
  4. Serulnikov, S. (2003). Subverting colonial authority. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
  5. Thompson, S. (2002). We alone will rule: Native Andean politics in the age of insurgency. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.

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