Genocide and Millennialism in Upper Peru: The Great Rebellion of 1780-1782

By Nicholas A. Robins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5

The Futility of Litigious Resistance: The Cataris and the Rebellion in Chayanta and Yamparaez Provinces

In both Peru and Upper Peru the rebellion erupted only after legal avenues had failed to substantively address Indian complaints against the excesses of local corregidors and curacas. Soon after Túpac Amaru had returned from Lima in his unsuccessful attempt to reduce the reparto demands upon the Indians in his region, Tomás Catari walked to the viceregal seat of Buenos Aires in a similarly inefficacious but unrelated effort to reduce these same burdens upon his people. 1

Tomás Catari’s struggle with the colonial legal system was truly epic. The fact that he was illiterate and spoke only Aymara certainly did not simplify matters. 2 In 1778 he began the legal battle that would ultimately lead to his death two years later. In that year he and two companions, Isidro Acho and Melchor Espinosa, journeyed to Potosi to report to treasury officials that the Mestizo curaca of Macha, Blas Bernal, was not only unjustifiably seizing Catari’s lands but, more important to the crown, undercounting the number of tributaries. The result was that the treasury was defrauded of 487 pesos per year. As a result, in March 1778, the officials ordered Corregidor Nicolás Ursainqui to name Tomás Catari and his companions as tribute collectors for the jurisdiction and to suspend Bernal from his post while investigating the matter. Before returning to Macha, Catari went to La Plata to have these orders confirmed by the audiencia there. 3

In the next month, however, Ursainqui was replaced as corregidor by the Catalan Joaquín Alós. Seeking to consolidate his authority, he not only ignored the treasury official’s and audiencia orders by allowing Bernal to remain at his post, but soon jailed Catari as a troublemaker.

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