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The Age of Indigenous-Mestizo Rebellions in 18th-Century Peru  

Scarlett O'Phelan Godoy

In the majority of social movements in 18th-century Peru, the social composition was mixed—made up essentially of Indians and mestizos—the latter often playing a relevant part as leaders or part of the leadership of the uprisings. As it happens, Juan Santos Atahualpa and José Gabriel Túpac Amaru, who headed important insurrections during this period, were both mestizos ethnically and culturally. Although there was insurgency on the coast, it can be seen where social protests were concentrated and intensified was above all in the highlands, the Andes, and mostly in the area known as Lower and Upper Perú, that is, the southern Peruvian Andes and what became the republic of Bolivia. However, the uprising of Juan Santos put the Amazonian territory of colonial Peru on the map, which until then had had a marginal presence. It should be pointed out that not all 18th-century social movements were the same, nor did they have the same reach. Some were short-lived, attacked a specific authority, were easy to control, covered a limited space, and lacked defined leadership; in other words, they were social revolts. Rebellions were movements of greater magnitude, involving several towns or even provinces; mixed leadership, with political statements, placards, a duration of several days or weeks; and well-orchestrated repression. But if they had something in common, it was that neither the revolts nor the rebellions were “spontaneous.” In both cases, the rebels already had resentment against a specific authority or a certain abusive situation that led them to conduct themselves in a violent way in the context of social unrest. This was not about unexpected reactions but about predictable ones, on the part of the insurgents, as well as on the part of the colonial authorities. Opposing focal points had been created, which, eventually, could spread out. The Great Rebellion of Túpac Amaru II was an unprecedented mass movement that broke out in Cuzco in November 1780 and was preceded by a series of lesser revolts both immediate, that is, joint revolts, and those that arose previously over a longer period. This cumulative factor might explain the intensity and resonance that the insurrection achieved from 1780 to 1781. The “general uprising”—as it was called by colonial authorities—was, therefore, the culmination of a series of social movements of lesser reach that showed that the colonial populace was not passive when its interests and expectations were threatened. Quite the contrary; it was able to react, to respond. The Great Rebellion geographically encompassed two-thirds of the Viceroyalty of Peru, including Upper Peru, and lasted almost a year, preventing during that time the regular operation of the production centers of the Andean south and making revenue received by the Royal Treasury sporadic. Clearly, the criteria for a rebellion were emerging. However, it is interesting to note that the 18th-century uprisings, in the case of Peru, came together or coincided in three moments, three rebel conjunctures, where they formed nodes of social unrest. It can be noted that the first conjuncture was determined by the government of Viceroy Castelfuerte and the general visit that resulted. The second conjuncture is defined by the legalization of the forced distribution of goods by the corregidor—reparto or repartimiento—and the opposing relations that this measure provoked in the communities and other local authorities. The third conjuncture is forged in the context of the Bourbon fiscal reforms that brought Visitador Areche to Peru and unleashed social protests in different areas of the viceroyalty which culminated in the outbreak of the Great Rebellion.