The Jesuit and the Incas: The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, S.J

By Ramírez, Susan Elizabeth | The Catholic Historical Review, July 2005 | Go to article overview

The Jesuit and the Incas: The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, S.J


Ramírez, Susan Elizabeth, The Catholic Historical Review


Latin American The Jesuit and the Incas: The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, S.J. By Sabine Hyland. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 2003. Pp. xvi, 269. $30.00 clothbound; $18.95 paperback.)

Hyland's thought-provoking biography of Father Bias Valera, S.J., is the heart of a story of intrigue and mystery that touches on the authenticity of such ubiquitous bases of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Andean history as the Nueva cronica y buen gobierno and the accuracy of the traditionally-accepted kinglist presented by Juan de Betanzos and other chroniclers. As such it is a "mustread" by all serious scholars of native Andean history. The story, told in ten chapters, is inserted within a context of the debates over the legitimacy of the Iberian rule of America and over the character of Inca rule and civilization and Andean religion. After a straightforward introduction, she reconstructs Valera's early life in Chachapoyas and Trujillo (Chap. 2); his career as a Jesuit missionary in Huarochiri (early 1570's), Santiago del Cercado (outside of Lima) (1573), Cuzco (1576), Potosi (1576), and JuIi (1577) (Chap. 3); and his writings (Chap. 4). The next three chapters summarize Valera's view of native history and particularly the list of over ninety pre-Inca rulers, a dynasty that Fernando de Montesinos also discusses; Valera's theories about the Quechua language and writing systems; and Valera's understanding of Inca religion. After a chapter on the events that incarcerated this mestizo Jesuit (1583-1594), Hyland assesses the "Naples Documents" and their implication for the story.

Her best chapters reconstruct his intellectual biography by tracing the people who influenced him, including native noblemen who recited their traditions before him as a school boy; Fray Melchior Hernandez, the author of Anotaciones on Inca religious history; José de Acosta, who shared his pro-native leanings but contested many of his ideas on native religion; Father Onofre Esteban, a native Chachapoyan sympathetic to natives; Bishop Luis Lopez de Soliz, an outspoken critic of the encomenderos for their abuses of the natives; Francisco Falcon, whose work Apologia pro Indis is now lost; the members of the Nombre de Jesus confraternity in Cuzco; and the learned native men (.quipucamayos) of Quito, Cajamarca, Huamachuco, Pachacamac, Tarama, Sacsahuana, Chincha, Cuntisuyu, and Collasuyu (p. 93). The knowledge he gleaned from these sources resulted in four works: an account of the conversion of the natives; a history, written in Latin that, in part, became an important source for Garcilaso de la Vega's writing; a vocabulary that later informed Giovanni Anello Oliva; and a description of Andean customs, probably written in 1594 while he recuperated from an illness in Quito on his way to Spain. In this body of work he expressed opinions, such as that the Inca godViracocha was Christ (p. 193); that Quechua was as expressive as Latin; that Inca rule was legitimate and moral; and that the Spanish conquest was unjust. …

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