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

By Nicholas A. Robins | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10

Andean Antinomies: Ambivalences and Contradictions in the Rebellion

Running beneath the current of millennialism and genocide in the rebellion was an undertow of contradiction, which ultimately led to the demise of the eschatological enterprise. The role of antinomy, or an apparent contradiction of equally valid principles or conclusions, highlights the fact that there is no single “answer” to the uprising any more than there is any monolithic “Indian.” Only by exploring and appreciating the diversity and contradictions of the movement will we be able to gain a clear understanding of it. While many rebels were clearly inspired by nativistic and eschatological hopes, others fought as conscripts on both sides. Although it does not surface in the documents, there were probably also numerous individuals who were mere observers owing to age or infirmity. Thus, if the rebellion in Upper Peru was fundamentally characterized by millennialism and genocide, it also contained many reluctant prophets.

Among the rebels, one quite effective method of swelling their ranks was to present their acts as the implementation of Spanish royal orders. Thus, by joining the rebellion the rebels were not rebels at all, but rather loyalists defending the realm from corrupt administrators such as corregidors, priests, and others who exploited the Indians. Tomás Catari employed and benefited from just such an approach. Upon returning to Macha from Buenos Aires in April 1779, he claimed to have been confirmed as curaca by royal decree, and also to have received orders reducing Indian tribute. While the Indians generally believed that he had gone to Spain and received these orders from the king himself, it is not clear if Catari himself made such assertions. 1

Whatever the case, soon rebels outside of Macha embellished these

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