Death and Conversion in the Andes: Lima and Cuzco, 1532-1670

By van Deusen, Nancy F. | The Catholic Historical Review, October 2011 | Go to article overview

Death and Conversion in the Andes: Lima and Cuzco, 1532-1670


van Deusen, Nancy F., The Catholic Historical Review


Death and Conversion in the Andes: Lima and Cuzco, 1532-1670. By Gabriela Ramos. [History, Languages, and Cultures of the Spanish and Portuguese Worlds.] (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press. 2010. Pp. xii, 356. $39.00 paperback. ISBN 978-0-268-04028-4.)

Gabriela Ramos has produced a deeply researched study that argues that the Christianization of death was crucial to the conversion of indigenous Andean peoples and to the construction of a colonial order. Her work compares the urban settings of Lima, a Spanish-created site with a small indigenous (mainly migrant) population, and Cuzco, the former capital of the Inca Empire. In her examination of mortuary practices, notions of the body and the beyond, and the relationship between the dead and the living, she draws on archaeological and ethnohistorical findings, church council records, notarial sources, and studies on early-modern European Catholicism. She concludes that by the mid-colonial period, former burial stone towers (chullpas), caves, and other sacred sites were no longer at the center of the religious and political life of these urban Andean people; in fact, their mortuary practices had transformed completely.

Chapter 1 considers the diversity of burial practices in the coast and highlands and the way that distinct ancestor veneration practices "contained and symbolized the past of these groups" (p. 20). The conquest (chapter 2) led to a collision of Spanish and Incan mortuary practices and brute force on the bodies of people now categorized as indios. This included the use of fire (also common in Castile for criminals) to mutilate mummified ancestors of the sinful indios and to erase their past. Ramos then provides a richly detailed analysis of several versions of the death of the Sapa Inca, Atahualpa, which, she argues, became a key metaphor for the conquest of the Andean polity, in life and in death. During the Civil War period, Spaniards gradually gained mastery over indigenous spaces through public executions, even when the victims were tyrannical Spaniards. In the "Conquest of Death" (chapter 3), Ramos shows how church and secular authorities grappled with how to explain Christian ideas about the body and the existence of an eternal soul, how to discourage Andeans from tending to the dead and making offerings, and how to emphasize the need to bury their dead in churches. Indoctrination through sermons proved successful in explaining the "good death" and concepts of purgatory and sin. …

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