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Perspectives of Spanish Peru: Injustice, Corruption, and the Catholic Church

By Edited Apr 30, 2015 0 0

Perspectives of Spanish Peru: Injustice, Corruption, and the Catholic Church.

Observation and critique in early 17th-century Spanish Peru became a base for rebellion in the 1780s. Guaman Poma, José Gabriel Tupac Amaru, and Josephe de Mugaburu provided perspectives of life and customs in Spanish Peru with their distinct rhetorical styles.  Their writings both differ and resemble one, influenced by their personal and historical backgrounds, each providing a better understanding of colonial culture.  Guaman Poma, Tupac Amaru, and Mugaburu’s perspectives depended highly on their race and social circles; Guaman Poma and Tupac Amaru’s rhetoric generated a sense of urgency and demanded acknowledgement from their audiences while Josephe de Mugaburu’s rhetoric had less personal appeal in his account acting like a note taker of city life.  Also, despite their rhetorical style, all men emphasized the impact of the Catholic Church and the culture of corruption and injustice in Spanish Peru.  

Guaman Poma’s rhetoric in “The First New Chronicle and Good Government” evoked a sense of urgency with a paternal and observational tone as he criticized customs of officials in Spanish Peru.  Guaman Poma, a Quechua nobleman, wrote a sustained critique of Spanish Peru in early 17th-century.[1]  One aspect of colonial life he criticized was the corregidor position.  Guaman Poma described bad and good examples.  Bad corregidores “live as absolute rulers with little fear of justice of God”[2] and “do terrible harm and damage to the poor nobles and Indians of this kingdom.”[3]  On the other hand, good corregidores “who are honorable and Christian, and who fear God and His Majesty, earn their salary cleanly and are satisfied with it.”4   Guaman Poma made a clear distinction using the Catholic doctrine as a benchmark; the good are Christian and the bad are not.  This is analogous to his description of bad priests that were “bad tempered, despotic, proud, filled with disdain […] they forget that our Lord Jesus Christ made himself poor and humble.”[4]  This perspective was defined by his background and social circle.  Guaman Poma’s disciple, Don Cristóbal de León, was fond of defending the poor and a “corregidor arrested him, punished him, shamed him, and tried to have him banished in the galleys.”[5]  Hence, Guaman Poma had personal motivation to criticize corregidores.   

Guaman Poma’s literature provides interesting insight about colonial culture because he was an indigenous loyal and supportive to the Christian faith.  This expresses how in such little time (within decades of Spanish conquest) the Catholic Church had engrained itself into native culture such that natives like Guaman Poma became fully loyal to the faith.  Also, while Guaman Poma defended natives by pointing out injustices with his writing, his main purpose was to defend the honor of good governing and the Christian faith. 

José Gabriel Tupac Amaru was the cacique of the town Pampamarca who led a rebellion in Spanish Peru that culminated around 1780.  His rhetoric evoked a sense of urgency like that of Guaman Poma since he wanted people to join his cause during the rebellion.  Similar to Guaman Poma, Tupac Amaru was loyal to the Christian faith and critical of corregidores in Spanish Peru.  In his proclamation, Tupac Amaru stated, “Don José by the grace of God, Inca king of Peru […] Respect shall only be held for the priesthood.  We shall pay the tenth and first fruits, which are given to God.”[6]  He declared himself Inca king of Peru, but only by the grace of the Christian, not Inca deity.  Ironically, Tupac Amaru believed he was a true Inca while preferring to embrace the religion of the conquerors of the Inca kingdom.  Yet, “the church had all his veneration and respect”[7] during the rebellion.  This devotion to the Catholic faith resembles the power the Church had to root their presence in the New World.  Like Guaman Poma, Tupac Amaru was faithful to the Catholic doctrine and never wanted to change its presence. Tupac Amaru was also critical of corregidores, but unlike Guaman Poma, he was rebellious and wanted vengeance.  “That the time had come when they must shake off the heavy burden…The corregidores of the Kingdom would be punished in equal measure for all the taxes they had imposed…They would exterminate all Europeans.”8  Tupac Amaru wanted to get rid of all Spanish customs, except the Catholic Church.  Guaman Poma and Tupac Amaru criticized the Spanish heavily but embraced their religion with pride.  This suggests that the Catholic Church was neutral when it came to the Spanish image of injustice portrayed by the writings.  That is, apart from all the injustice caused by Spanish, the Church was separate from Spanish customs thus could be honorably accepted by the indigenous population. 

Though Guaman Poma and Tupac Amaru both criticized the Spanish, Guaman Poma adopted a paternal and observational stance, while Tupac Amaru took a more rebellious stance.  Both were against the social inflictions of the Spanish on indigenous life.  What was critical commentary for an observant noble native in 1600s was part of the reasons for rebellion by 1700s revealed by Tupac Amaru. Hence, the interplay between these two writers regarding corruption is vital to understanding colonial culture.

Josephe de Mugaburu wrote “Chronicle of Colonial Lima, 1640 – 1697” through the medium of a diary, acting more as a city secretary taking notes of city life.  Mugaburu was a Spaniard thus void from most injustices invoked on the “poor Indians.”  His writing presented clear examples of the inequality imposed on non-Spaniards in Lima.  “The Count of Santisteban issued an edict proclaiming that no Indian, mulatto, or Negro carry a sword, dagger, knife, or machete, under penalty of two years in the galleys.”[8]  Contrasted to “no Spaniard could carry a sword with a needlepoint,”[9] the penalty for men of the religious orders was one month in one of the forts of Callao, and for all others it was one month in prison.  The inequality lies in how Spaniards could carry more types of weapons and receive a less severe punishment than mixed race peoples.  The power and fear for people of the church is also highlighted in their lesser punishment decreed by the governance.  This inequality was deeply engrained in society as similar versions of this edict were proclaimed in 1653, 1661, 1663, and 1667 according to Mugaburu’s entries.  Similarly along the lines of injustice, “no mulatto woman, nor Negro woman, free or slave, wear woolen cloth, nor any cloth of silk, nor lace of gold, silver, black or white.”[10] This edict, with punishments, was proclaimed in 1665 and 1667.  This edict on banning what non-Spanish women could wear was proof on discrimination and inequality in Spanish Peru.  Mugaburu did not express any personal attachment or emotion to these occurrences, but rather only reported them as if it were his job.  He did not point out the inequality in the edicts; rather, it is only speculated that Mugaburu indeed agreed with the edicts proclaimed.    

Mugaburu’s entries help understand the culture of ineffective governance and social disobedience in Spanish Peru.  The ban on weapons was proclaimed four times in Mugaburu’s account.  The redundancy of this edict over short time implies that society was not following the rules - though the edicts were highly unjust in nature.  The ban on items that mulatto or black women could wear, also highly unequal, reveals how the socially elite Spanish did not want to allow the opportunity for other races to display wealth.  Even if the woman was free, she could not wear the banned items; thus it was a matter of race and skin color more than socioeconomic status that determined the script of the edict.  Both edicts proclaimed in Mugaburu’s account were proof of injustices in Spanish Peru.    

The rhetoric presented by Mugaburu differs, as he was not intending on generating a response or trying to evoke a sense of urgency from the general audience like Guaman Poma and Tupac Amaru.  Guaman Poma was not rebellious like Tupac Amaru; instead, he tried to generate a response and evoke a sense of urgency with his extensive critique of corregidores, among other social aspects of Spanish Peru.  Though, Josephe de Mugaburu knew about corruption and injustices he only reported them in his writing.  Unlike Guaman Poma and Tupac Amaru, Mugaburu was a Spaniard - automatically part of an elite class and void from many injustices experienced by Guaman Poma’s “poor Indians.”  Guaman Poma, of indigenous background, was personally affected by corregidores with the unjust incarceration of his disciple. Also, he was moved by the un-Christian governance and thus had a personal nuance in his rhetoric.  Similarly, Tupac Amaru echoed the literature of Guaman Poma with a rebellious and vengeful attitude.  Each of the writer’s race, social circle, and personal background fed their perspective of Spanish Peru while emphasizing the corruption and injustice of the government and the powerful impact of the Catholic Church.

[1] Guaman Poma, The First New Chronicle and Good Government, 167. 

[2] Guaman Poma, The First New Chronicle and Good Government, 167.

[3] Guaman Poma, The First New Chronicle and Good Government, 168.

[4] Guaman Poma, The First New Chronicle and Good Government, 208.

[5] Guaman Poma, The First New Chronicle and Good Government, 171.

[6] Tupac Amaru in An Anthology of Sources, 67.

[7] Tupac Amaru in An Anthology of Sources, 64.

[8] Josephe de Mugaburu in Chronicle of Colonial Lima, 82.

[9] Josephe de Mugaburu in Chronicle of Colonial Lima, 83.

[10] Josephe de Mugaburu in Chronicle of Colonial Lima, 88.



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