Long after grisly end, Túpac Amaru still fascinates in Peru


MEXICO CITY — Roads and schools in Peru carry the name of Túpac Amaru. A framed depiction of him — stern gaze, flowing hair, wide-brimmed hat — hangs in the government palace in Lima. He inspired a comic book superhero, Tupaqman. A historical drama series to be released this year explores his life.

The muleteer and trader who claimed descent from Inca royals, led an Andean revolt against Spanish colonial rule and was gruesomely executed on May 18, 1781, has been appropriated as a symbol by guerrillas and governments.

His namesake, American rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur, added to his international aura.

This year, the bicentennial of Peru’s 1821 independence from Spain, Túpac Amaru and wife Micaela Bastidas are increasingly celebrated as having laid the groundwork for that struggle. They are an Indigenous counter and complement to Simón Bolívar, José de San Martín and other independence leaders of European descent who arrived in Peru from other parts of the continent.

The couple’s rebellion is an ‘’antecedent of independence,’’ said Juan Manuel Burga Díaz, historian and director of the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion, a culture ministry site overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Peru’s capital.

An art exhibit at the site, “Túpac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas: Memory, symbols and mysteries” – was closing to visitors on Tuesday, the 240th anniversary of their executions in Cuzco, the old seat of the Inca empire. It remains accessible online.

Executioners cut out Bastidas’ tongue and strangled her in front of her husband in the main plaza. They tried in vain to dismember Túpac Amaru by tying him to four horses that pulled in different directions. They beheaded him. Body parts were displayed in other towns as a warning.

‘’Now they are part of the history, not just of the (Spanish) viceroyalty, but of the republic’’ of Peru, Burga Díaz said. “And that’s a difference between us historians who work with documents, and memory. The memory of people who think Túpac Amaru rose up for the independence of the country.’’

Tania Pariona Tarqui, a Quechua activist and former congresswoman, said there has been a ‘’historical rescue,’’ still incomplete, of Indigenous figures such as Bastidas, a key rebel strategist and logistician.

‘’In my experience, I can say that in school we’re always taught the history of others who came to achieve this historic achievement of ‘independence,’’’ said Pariona Tarqui, noting that delays in the granting of land titles to Indigenous groups have made them vulnerable to mining and other developers.

‘’And there’s an invisibility of Indigenous figures; among them the most invisible could be women,’’ she said.

There is no surviving image of Bastidas from her lifetime. Some 20th century depictions showed her as white, reflecting what critics say was an attempt by elites to assimilate her. Her father may have been of African descent and more recent artistic interpretations fit her Andean origins.

Peru’s Indigenous and mixed race citizens constitute a majority of the population, though lighter-skinned elites have traditionally led the nation. Pariona Tarqui said Pedro Castillo, a rural teacher who is one of two candidates in a presidential vote on June 6, pledged to help Amazon communities lacking land titles, but she cautioned that so far no government has been effective on the issue.

In April, another presidential candidate, Verónika Mendoza, paid homage at a monument to Túpac Amaru in Cuzco. She was accompanied by shamans. Days later, Mendoza was eliminated in a first round of voting.

A drama series, ‘’The Other Liberators,’’ is scheduled to start airing on Peru’s Latina Televisión on July 28, the independence anniversary. It is about several historical figures, including Túpac Amaru and Pumacahua, an Indigenous leader and royalist who helped to defeat the rebel, but later rose up against the Spanish.

Túpac Amaru was elevated as a national symbol during the 1968-75 ’’revolutionary government″ of Peruvian Gen. Juan Velasco Alvarado. The rebel Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement operated in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s, the same time as the larger Shining Path insurgency. A guerrilla group in Uruguay, the Tupamaros, found the same inspiration.

Túpac Amaru was born in 1738 as José Gabriel Condorcanqui and took the name of an Inca royal who was executed in 1572.

“He is really hard to place because he had a very ambivalent platform. It was before the French Revolution, before the Haitian Revolution. So people ask me, what exactly did he want?” said Charles Walker, a professor of Latin American history at University of California, Davis, and author of “ The Tupac Amaru Rebellion.’’

Walker said Túpac Amaru wanted to get rid of colonial administrators and crushing taxes, but expressed loyalty to the Spanish king and the Catholic church, an instrument of Spanish rule. The rebel was ‘’pretty hierarchical’’ and didn’t espouse the kind of egalitarianism associated with later revolutionary movements, according to Walker.

In the second stage of the rebellion, after the death of Túpac Amaru and Bastidas, insurgents developed a more radical agenda and tactics. Atrocities by both sides mounted.

A work by artist Daniela Ortiz at the Place of Memory focuses on Fernando, the young son of Túpac Amaru and Bastidas who was imprisoned and died in Spain. Ortiz said Indigenous identity, the pillar of the couple’s platform, was not a priority for later liberators.

‘’The independence project that Túpac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas had is very different from the independence project that finally happened in 1821,” Ortiz said.

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