Subverting Colonial Authority: Challenges to Spanish Rule in Eighteenth-Century Southern Andes

Subverting Colonial Authority: Challenges to Spanish Rule in Eighteenth-Century Southern Andes

by Sergio Serulnikov

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Subverting Colonial Authority: Challenges to Spanish Rule in Eighteenth-Century Southern Andes by Sergio Serulnikov

Latin American colonial history, looking at Spanish-indigenous relations.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822331469
Publisher: Duke University Press Books
Publication date: 09/23/2003
Series: Latin American History Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.13(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Sergio Serulnikov is Assistant Professor of History at Boston College.

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Subverting colonial authority

Challenges to Spanish rule in eighteenth-century Southern Andes
By Sergio Serulnikov

Duke University Press

ISBN: 0-8223-3146-2

Chapter One

Political Legitimacy in Mid- Eighteenth- Century Andean Villages

In mid-1747, a group of Indians of Chullpa, one of the six ethnic groups that comprised the Chayanta repartimiento, traveled to the city of La Plata to ask the audiencia of Charcas for the dismissal of their cacique, Dionisio Choque. While it was not the first overt confrontation between communities and native chiefs at the time, this conflict would have particular repercussions. As a member of a well-established family of Chullpa ethnic lords, Dionisio Choque had in the 1720s succeeded his father, Pedro Choque, who had been cacique since the late seventeenth century. In confronting Dionisio Choque, the Chullpas resorted to a judicial strategy that would thereafter become a cornerstone of peasant contention in northern Potosi, even in the midst of the great insurrection of 1780: they exhibited before the Charcas court a document with the names, place of residence, and minor ayllu membership of fifty-five tributaries that paid their taxes to the cacique but were not registered in official tax rolls. These "concealed" Indians would have increased the state revenues by 452 pesos per year. Equally important, this litigation by the Chullpas brought to the forefront the sharp disagreements within the colonialadministration in the Andes. Despite the opposition of the provincial corregidor, Agustin Perez de Vargas, the audiencia ministers, the highest authority in the region, backed indigenous claims by ordering not only Dionisio Choque's removal from office but also his detention in the court jail in La Plata.

The success of this protest set in motion widespread defiance of rural ruling groups. Following the example of the Chullpas, Indians of the Caracha community managed to have their cacique, Pedro Yavira, discharged in 1747 through a denunciation over fiscal fraud. Yavira identified himself as cacique propietario, which meant that his position had been recognized by the audiencia or the viceroy because of his noble lineage. One year later, after numerous collective petitions in Chayanta and La Plata, their neighbors in Puraca succeeded in replacing Marcos Tococari (who had held the post for eighteen years) with one of the protest leaders, an Indian named Sebastian Auca. By this time, fifteen native chiefs and hilacatas (tribute collectors) of the six ethnic groups that composed that the Chayanta repartimiento-Puraca, Chullpa, Laymi, Chayantaca, Caracha, and Sicoya-threatened to resign if Indian dissent were not suppressed. Protests were likewise made by four caciques of Macha and one of Pocoata. In March 1750, the Jukumanis (Aymaya repartimiento) blatantly overlooked their native chief by delivering the tribute payments to an Indian whom they themselves had elected. Discontent among the Chullpas and Puracas, on the other hand, continued after the removal of their respective caciques because corregidor Perez de Vargas had put a mestizo named Gregorio Jorge de Medina in the place of Dionisio Choque and demanded that the Puracas formally disavow their previous charges of tribute embezzlement in exchange for the appointment of Sebastian Auca. In mid-1750, after a new wave of protests, Perez de Vargas's successor, Pablo de Aoiz, was eventually forced to remove Gregorio Jorge de Medina and to carry out a population recount that demonstrated the concealment of taxpayers in both Chullpa and Puraca. Then, in 1751 and 1752, the native lord of Chayantaca, Pedro Espiritu Portugal, and of Pocoata, Blas Cori, were driven out of office. The latter, who had faced litigation since at least 1744, was, like Dionisio Choque of Chullpa in 1747, placed under arrest in La Plata's court jail. Summarizing the current state of avairs, one of the caciques who had managed to keep his post, chief of Sicoya Francisco Callisaya, urged the grandson of a former cacique "to take his place as governor, for his people were behaving in a very arrogant and quarrelsome manner with him."

In short, northern Potosi experienced during these years extended challenges to the community system of rule. Equally significant, as the beleaguered Andean chiefs enjoyed the firm support of the corregidores, parish priests, and most Spanish town-dwellers-and as the high court of Charcas became actively involved in these occurrences-rural disturbances exceeded the level of intraethnic disputes or mere local affairs and turned into conflicts over the institutions of village government. In fact, the breakdown of political subordination bred by community/cacique strife expanded to other important economic spheres. Between 1751 and 1753, some Indians denounced the forced distribution of goods carried out by the corregidor, as well as the abuses perpetrated in the collection of veintenas-the tax levied on wheat and livestock raised on Indian lands. In July 1748, a hacendado in the valley of Carasi, along with several Indian tenants, violently assaulted a diezmero (tithe collector) and some of the indigenous and Spanish officials escorting him. As indicated by a corregidor's lieutenant, this attack rapidly spread to other areas of Carasi (a district populated by Laymis, Puracas, Pocoatas, and Machas) where "more than fifty Indians rose against the diezmero ... [in view of the fact] that no exemplary measure was taken for the continence and subjection, calmness and peace, of the Province and the people who inhabit it." In a society where state power relied on scarce means of coercion, those in charge of conducting the daily business of government in the Andean countryside-a few Spaniards in an overwhelmingly indigenous world-knew all too well the potential impact of open political defiance.

"Popular views of authority and the law were forged in the crucible of conflict," John Brewer and John Styles (1983: 15) observe in their study on the interaction between society and government in eighteenth-century England. In this chapter I argue that the events of the late 1740s, the first crisis of domination in northern Potosi during the eighteenth century, prefigure in many regards the attitudes toward authority and the law dramatically played out during the mass Indian uprising three decades later. Although little violence occurred, these years witnessed collective demonstrations of force, overt and subtle expressions of insubordination, and tenacious indigenous judicial politics. In response to the perceived violation of community rights, the Andean peasants thus developed certain routines of contention, i.e., certain established modes of collective action in the public realm of colonial institutions and in the rural world emerged. More generally, the crisis of ethnic chieftainships is linked to the emergence of a principle of political legitimacy that underwrote, implicitly or explicitly, Indian rights to select the caciques according to their purported capacity to preserve the social and economic fabric of the Andean ayllu. This contractual principle of authority stood in open contradiction to the two dominant mechanisms of access to the post: hereditary rights and discretional appointment by provincial corregidores. Indian dissension, on the other hand, rendered visible the profound ideological discrepancies over the nature of colonial rule within the Spanish administration and the practical effects of those discrepancies. State officials were faced with the underlying dilemmas of colonialism in the Andes: the consequences of ruling by force given the limited coercive resources, as well as the consequences of tolerating institutionalized expressions of dissidence given the propensity of social unrest to spread out due to the free interaction between indigenous communities and their high levels of everyday autonomy and physical mobility. The way the Spanish government would tackle this dilemma was in large part to determine the evolution of social relationships in northern Potosi until the eruption of mass insurgency in 1780.


Because rural agitation during the 1740s was mostly focused on some of the six ethnic groups that made up the Chayanta repartimiento, a brief ethnohistorical overview is in order here. By the eighteenth century, Chayanta was the largest repartimiento of the province. In 1750, 25 percent of the indigenous population of the province were located there, and in the early 1770s its communities contributed 9,880 pesos per annum to the royal treasury, roughly 27 percent of the total tribute collection of the province (see table 3). It is crucial to note, however, that unlike Macha, Pocoata, and Sacaca, which retained their political identity throughout colonial times, the pre-Hispanic Chayanta kingdoms broke up into its eight constituting ethnic groups: Chullpa, Laymi-Puraca, Caracha, Chayantaca, and Sicoya (Chayanta repartimiento), Aymaya and Jukumani (Aymaya repartimiento), and Panacachi. By the eighteenth century, the Laymi and Puraca were two separate groups with their own caciques, although, as noted below, starting from the 1760s a Laymi cacique governed over the two communities. Certainly this process of fragmentation did not affect the maintenance of the traditional Andean pattern of ecological complementarity. The communities owned continuous puna lands where they cultivated several varieties of tubers, beans, wheat, and barley and grazed their livestock, as well as discontinuous territories in the valleys of Carasi, Micani, and San Pedro de Buena Vista (table 4). In these multiethnic lowland territories, Indians cultivated maize, wheat, fruits, and horticultural products.

The highland town of Chayanta, the provincial capital, was divided in two parishes, Laymi and Chayantaca. The Laymi parish was comprised of the groups Laymi, Puraca, and Chullpa, and the Chayantaca parish of the groups Chayantaca, Sicoya, and Caracha. As described in an eighteenth-century account, the population of the village of Espiritu Santo of Chayanta "is divided into two parishes housed in a single church of which the right side or the side of the gospel belongs to the Laymis and the left side or side of the epistle belongs to the Chayantacas, each parish has its own altars, wrought silver and ornaments, with the exception of the high altar which is commonly shared by both parishes." Although the original aim of the foundation of this village, a product of the general resettlement of the Indian population carried out under Viceroy Toledo, was never accomplished, it did become an important ritual center. The Indians from Chayanta dealt with the same Spanish civil authorities, curas doctrineros (parish priests), Spanish and mestizo vecinos (residents), and town-council officeholders. They also shared some of the most important collective celebrations related to Catholic festivals and the fiscal calendar (espeficially community gatherings for the payment of tributes). Traces of these ties exist still today: the present-day town of Chayanta holds ritual battles, or tinkus, where members of the different ethnic groups confront each other, and where the three ethnic groups of Laymi and Chayantaca get together to confront the other moiety (Harris 1996: 265).


By the mid-eighteenth century, as discussed in the introduction, the viceroyalty of Peru witnessed the beginning of a long cycle of social turmoil promoted, among other factors, by the expansion of the forced sale of goods, a growing fiscal burden (tribute and alcabala), declining prices, and land shortages associated with the general growth of the indigenous population. While northern Potosi participates in this historical trend, rural discontent surfaced, for the most part, through numerous confrontations between communities and caciques. The intensity and recurrence of these conflicts speaks to the crucial social features of this rural universe.

First and foremost is the pivotal role of the ethnic chiefs in the social reproduction of the Andean community. In northern Potosi, native lords continued to wield a large influence on the articulation of the ayllus with the outside world-the colonial state, local power groups, regional markets, and neighboring Indian communities-through a series of practices: the collection of tribute in tune with Andean cultural norms linking the amount of the tasa (head tax) to land allocations, marital status, and performance of labor and religious services; the election of mita workers, ritual sponsors, and church servants according to an integrated system of turns; the commercialization of peasant surpluses, prominently those produced in common lands (comunes); the lease of community fields and grain mills; the intervention in the corregidores' forced sale of goods; and the defense of ethnic territories in boundary conflicts. Native chiefs, moreover, allocated agrarian resources following manifold land tenure rights: highland plots distributed annually to the domestic units to produce specific crops (mantas), fields cultivated by the community for collective needs (comunes), and parcels assigned to peasant households according to a combination of demographic (size of the families), social (participation in festival sponsorships), and agrarian (land availability) factors. Symbolic action was also a fundamental attribute of authority. Historical records reveal that the caciques played a major role in rituals, Catholic festivals, and communal gatherings through institutionalized generosity. As a result of these entrenched arrangements, agrarian, fiscal, and market pressures on the ethnic economies tended to have a direct repercussion on community/cacique relationships. It should be noted here that this was not the case throughout the Andes. In the Quito region, for instance, the decay of native chieftainships starting in the late seventeenth century caused the government of the Andean community to be characterized, according to Karen Powers (1995: 151), by "its extreme departure from all Andean expectations of good leadership and its disavowal of the communities' interests." In Andagua, a province of Arequipa, the leaders of social networks coalesced around ancestor-mummy cults, and regional trade overtook most of the functions traditionally accomplished by the caciques, who then began to function, and to be perceived, as local colonial officials (Salomon 1987).

It is possible that a second system of authority within the Andean communities, the members of the indigenous cabildo (town council) and the church servants and ritual sponsors, set limits to the power of the northern Potosi caciques. Certainly, services in cabildo posts and confraternities carried great social prestige and became, along with other community obligations like tribute and mita, a means to secure access to community lands. Yet whatever the tensions between these two authority systems, there is little evidence that the alcaldes and other town-council officeholders assumed in northern Potosi the kind of political and economic roles they took, for instance, in southern Peru in the aftermath of the suppression of the Tupac Amaru rebellion. There, the caciques' loss of jurisdiction over tribute collection, peasant resistance, and new state policies gave rise to the gradual replacement of traditional Andean lords by alcaldes varayoks (Indian mayors). Whereas civil-religious town hierarchies, along with offices such as mita captain and tribute collector, served to legitimize claims to chieftainships, there is little evidence that northern Potosi Indians demanded or envisioned the elimination of caciques and their replacement for a system of residence-based rotating officeholders. In this area, the native lords at different levels of the community (ayllus, moieties, and/or ethnic groups) were essential for organizing the distribution of economic levies and resources among peasant households scattered through distant highland and valley town/ parish districts. As I discuss in chapter 3, it appears, moreover, that the caciques and hilacatas appointed the members of the cabildo and confraternities.

The continuing centrality of the caciques in the economic, political, and ritual life of the Andean communities was matched by a second fundamental factor: the demise of hereditary chieftainships. In eighteenth-century northern Potosi, most of the native lords did not belong to a noble lineage. As in the rest of the Andes, the corregidores' aggressive policy of appointing "interim caciques" in order to facilitate their forced distribution of goods drastically diminished the number of proprietary caciques. Actually, although several of the caciques deposed between 1747 and 1753 had been in office for many years, only the Caracha chief appears to have possessed the title en propiedad. But, more important still, those native chiefs who did belong to traditional families of Andean lords, far from embodying the ethnic autonomy and historical memory of the group, were the most assimilated to the structures of colonial power. Centuries of kin relations, commercial partnerships, and social interaction with Spanish rural dwellers and government officials turned most indigenous elite groups into private hacendados and culturally hispanicized mestizos. Not surprisingly, in the course of this period, hereditary lords like the Ayaviri Cuisara of Sacaca, Ayra Chinchi of Pocoata, or Florencio Lupa of Moscari would be among the main targets of peasant violence.

A crucial phenomenon emerged out of this process. The political discrediting of the native aristocracy expanded to the very principle on which its authority rested: the Indians no longer considered hereditary rights as a sufficient (or necessary) basis of community rule. In contrast to the "fever of titles and genealogies" experienced by the indigenous elite in other Andean regions in response to the multiplication of "interim caciques" (O'Phelan Godoy 1998: 19), protest leaders in northern Potosi did not cast the conflict in terms of their superior derechos de sangre (hereditary rights). By contrast, while in the short run the arbitrary appointment of caciques served the corregidores' commercial ventures, it could have contributed to removing from the institution the aristocratic undertones that the senores naturales (Andean lords) had preserved after the Spanish conquest. It was not the nobility claims but notions of representation that infused the challenges to native chiefs, both those designated by the corregidores and those with blood rights. To the criteria of social control underwriting the discretionary interference in community affairs by colonial magistrates, some resistance groups, with varied degrees of collective support, opposed their presumed consensus among their peers (the protesters were "acclaimed" by the community and the current caciques were "despotic") and their services to the crown (disclosure of tribute embezzlement). Native chieftainships, in short, continued to play a central role in the functioning of Andean society-all the more crucial as agrarian and fiscal pressures mounted-at the same time that chieftain ideological legitimacy was no longer subjected to somewhat rigid aristocratic principles. The control of ethnic government thus became a fundamental locus of conflict, the object of struggles between state disciplining policies and peasant representative criteria.

The disturbances of the mid-eighteenth century clearly reflected this dynamic. Sebastian Auca, head of the movement against Puraca cacique Marcos Tococari, never exhibited his hereditary rights; when explaining his rise to the chieftainship he simply stated that "it was at the request of the community." In justifying the removal of their cacique from tribute collection in March 1750, the Jukumani Indians alluded to the collective will of the community. Interestingly, Bernabe Choque, the only Indian of Chullpa involved in the disputes who is said to be associated with a traditional noble lineage, renounced exercising "the unquestionable right that I have to the post as the first-born son of the last cacique with blood rights" in favor of other leaders of the protest (he argued that he would not be able to occupy the government of Chullpa due to the "hatred and bad will" of the rest of the caciques toward him). Like lineage, personal wealth also did not figure as a defining premise of political legitimacy. Pledges of more efficiency in the collection of tribute were based less on the personal resources of the candidates-as was the case, for example, in Cochachamba where a lengthy litigation over chieftanships was taking place at the time-than on the exhibition of detailed lists of taxpayers that proved the inaccuracy of the official censuses. As the fifteen caciques and hilacatas of the six ethnic groups of the Chayanta repartimiento lamented in 1748, the final purpose of the uprising was that "nobody should rule them and correct their excesses, conducting by themselves the collection of tributes and refusing to pay them [to us] voluntarily unless they are rigorously pressured to do so."

To be sure, the appeal to consensual principles does not mean the actual existence of such consensus. The implicit principle that renders social action intelligible is that Indian commons had no obligation to obey ethnic authorities who did not represent them (regardless of their supposed noble lineage) but claims to community representation were not to be taken at face value. Even though rural disturbances, as shown below, emerged in a context of intensifying community/cacique tensions, and judicial litigation could not possibly be sustained without a measure of indigenous support, the demise of the old Andean lords did not necessarily translate into political legitimacy for their successors. From 1757 to 1762, considerably large groups of Indians requested the removal of Martin Ninavia (Chullpa), Sebastian Auca (Puraca), Melchor Fernandez de Espinoza (Chayantaca), and Antonio Vilca (Caracha)-all caciques who had been appointed in the midst of the crisis of the late 1740s. Collective mobilization, moreover, was rather limited and moved in the tenuous border of social protest and factionalism. The protests could serve as mechanisms of social climbing, too. For instance, one of the Chullpa leaders, a family named Policario, were in fact natives of Sorasora (a province of Oruro) who had settled in Chayanta in the 1720s. In August 1750, after the dismissal of Gregorio Jorge de Medina, Isidro Policario, a member of the family's first generation born in Chayanta, was appointed cacique lieutenant of Chullpa. Political strife had thus allowed the family to make the transition from forasteros to hilacatas in less than twenty years.

And yet by putting into question both hereditary rights and the corregidores' discretionary appointments the protests of the Puracas, Chullpas, Pocoatas, Jukumanis, and Carachas opened a space of contention over the concrete meaning of the Andean ayllus' corporate privilege to self-rule. They canalized, too, the increasing strains in several realms of peasant everyday life. In this sense, Indian grievances during the years 1747-1752, along with the complaints that members of the same ethnic groups continued to voice in the following years, underscore the intertwinement of the emerging principles of political legitimacy with the moral economy of the Andean ayllu. As one might expect, issues of land, mita, and tribute were at the center of indigenous complaints.


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Table of Contents

1Political Legitimacy in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Andean Villages19
2From a Multiethnic Community to a Multiethnic Chieftainship: Florencio Lupa, Cacique of Moscari54
3Customs and Rules: Bourbon Rationalizing Projects and Social Conflicts in the 1770s85
4Disputed Images of Colonialism: Spanish Rule and Indian Subversion, 1777-1780122
5The Dilemmas of Self-Rule157
6In the Land of Heretics186
Conclusion: Andean Political Imagination in Times of Insurgency215

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