The Rebellion of Tupac Amaru II: From Personal Interests to a Continental Anti-Colonial Movement

Map of the "America" of the South in 1771 with red borders, with the union of Quito (Ecuador) -Lima (Peru) -Charcas (Bolivia), with the union of Paraguay-La Plata, with Chile with a tip, with a Patagonia separated, with a small Brazil, and with Amazonia with a west coast that will be lost in 1772.| 1877 | Daniel Py | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

His body was hanging, surrounded by the crowd of Indios and Spaniards. The Spaniards did not fully understand what they were seeing, but they feared for their lives. No one imagined that this would be the start of an entire revolution marking the beginning of the end to the Spanish presence in that country—the first attempt of independence.1

Portrait of Tupac Amaru II
Portrait of Tupac Amaru II | Artist Unknown | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

On November 4, 1780 in Peru, Jose Gabriel Condorcanqui Noguera, who went by the name of Tupac Amaru to highlight his excellent Inca lineage, was having lunch next to the corregidor, Antonio de Arriaga in Yanaoca. Tupac Amaru was the kuraka or cacique of the towns of Yanaoca, Pampamarca and Tungasuca, which are located southeast of Cusco, the ancient Inca capital. He was the ethnic authority in charge of collecting the tax or tribute and of maintaining order in the places to which he was designated. With an impressive education and being bilingual, Condorcanqui moved easily between the Hispanic and indigenous worlds. In fact, that was his role as a kuraka.2

On the other hand, Arriaga was a corregidor, a royal official who collected taxes, organized the ominous recruitment of labor for the huge Potosí mines, and oversaw matters in the region. He was a nobleman, born in Spain, and his relatives were members of the Council of the Indies in Madrid and merchants.3

Arriaga and Tupac Amaru knew each other well. However, they had certain disputes over the way in which the corregidor collected labor for the Potosí mines. After lunch and a brief moment of sleep, Tupac Amaru invited Arriaga to spend the night at his home. Arriaga replied that he should return to Tinta—the largest town in the area and also where his home was—and made his way through the steep hills. It was the tax money that encouraged him to return to his hometown.4

Tupac Amaru and a few young men accompanied the corregidor for a short ride and then pretended to head back to Tungasuca. However, instead of returning, they went ahead to a place hidden in a hill and surprised Arriaga and his people by jumping into the road. Arriaga escaped and hid behind a nearby stone sanctuary; however, Amaru ended up capturing him. Once captured, Tupac Amaru forced Arriaga to send letters requesting money and weapons to the treasurers in Tinta. The next morning, Arriaga was driven to the gallows and was killed in front of the multitude of indigenous and Spanish, hung by his neck to the point of suffocation. However, Amaru falsely announced that those were the wishes of the King of Spain, since initially Tupac Amaru said that his intention was not to go against the king but against the “bad government” of the corregidores. No one would know that this revolution would be radicalized to such an extent that it became an independence movement.5

Micaela Bastidas, wife of Tupac Amaru, as well as family members of both, had a major participation in the movement in terms of recruitment, supply, and to some extent, in decision making. With the support of other curacas, mestizos, and some Creoles, the rebellion spread, reaching troops of tens of thousands of combatants. This is how Tupac Amaru began to venture into different villages in search of warriors; his power was so great that the Indians followed him without question, while mestizos and Creoles in many cases were forced to do that. They were a bloodthirsty army that seemed to have no rival. To get more followers, Tupac Amaru began offering the abolition of both the cast and the alcabala (the most important royal tax), customs, and the Potosí mita (the mandatory public service once used by the Incas and adopted by the Spaniards).6

The rebellion developed especially violently, and instead of taking prisoners, any person who spoke Spanish or dressed in the European way was immediately executed. Thus, the systematic execution of the “puka kunka” (literally, red necks) turned the rebellion into a real bloodbath in which the murder of between eighty and one hundred thousand people occurred.7

View in the Plaza del Cabildo, Cuzco [Peru] | 1877 | Ephraim George Squier | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
The convocation of Tupac Amaru II sought to integrate indigenous, Creole, mestizo, and black freedmen into an anti-colonial front, but could not prevent the spread of the movement from turning the action into a racial struggle against Spaniards and Creoles. In general, in the Viceroyalty, the Creoles did not show any antagonisms with the Spaniards through their actions, for they demonstrated opposition to the Bourbon reforms, but remained faithful to the crown in all other respects.8

Many people think that the genesis of this movement was the fervor for independence. But the truth is that Tupac Amaru initiated this movement because of his own interests. Indeed, during 1780, Peru experienced high levels of oppression by the Spanish feudal lords and the collection of taxes became increasingly unfair; so Tupac Amaru decided to bring reform proposals to the governors in Lima; however, they were minimized and rejected. This is how this movement, in a first instance anti-feudal, began. During this time, Tupac Amaru fought in different towns and cities and new leaders of the revolution also appeared.9

Yet, as the rebellion spread outside the Peruvian province of Tinta, it declined in strength, since in provinces such as Calca, Lares, Cotabamba, and Abancay, there was significant resistance to Tupac Amaru and his movement. One of the causes of such resistance was ethnicity, for Tupac Amaru was considered a parvenu and impostor for being mestizo, which is why he had not obtained the decisive support of the twelve royal ayllus (or panacas) of Cusco. The ayllu is essentially a territorial unit belonging to a community generally with family ties, common and aimed at surviving individually and collectively. In short, it could be said that it was the unity of society.10

Another complication faced by the Tupamarist rebellion was that it caused the resurgence of ancient ethnic rivalries, thus dividing the caciques into loyalists and rebels, which also contributed to the disintegration and defeat of the movement. Likewise, many chiefs found themselves in need of defending the notorious privileges and properties they had achieved with the Spaniards, all that meant wealth, prestige, and power. This is how Tupac Amaru gradually lost power against the real army and against the natives and Creoles themselves. But he never imagined that this fervor of revolution would be repressed so quickly.11

Cusco, Peru
City of Cusco | Ziverius Håkan Svensson, Xauxa Jorge Láscar and
Martin St-Amant | 20 January 2019 | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Tupac Amaru continued advancing with his rebellion, heading to Cusco, which was considered the capital of the Inca lineage. In the province of Quispicanchis, the rebels decided to divide their forces, and instead of attacking Cusco directly, one part of the army returned to Tinta to gather reinforcements, while the other, led by Tupac Amaru, headed south to extend the offensive to the area of ​​the Titicaca lake. The political power of Tupac Amaru had reached such levels within society that, in Cusco, upon hearing the alleged coming of the Tupamarist army, the war council began preparations for the offensive. Patrols were organized and militia companies formed. Local authorities, fearing that Jose Gabriel expected to recruit members, set their eyes especially on the company formed by the noble Indians. It was prohibited, likewise, to leave the city.12

Tupac Amaru, sure already of his influence on the majority of the Indian population, with an army of around 40,000 men, made his way towards Cusco. Being aware of the arrival of more Spanish troops, and using his geographic knowledge of the mountains, he guided his army between imposing summits. The priority was to take the Inca fortress of Sacsayhuamán, which was threateningly looming over northern Cusco. Incredibly, despite their number, Tupac Amaru was able to lead the insurgents with agility and silence, so much that by the time they reached the surroundings of Cusco, they surprised the population with shouts, songs, shots, and fireworks.13

The taking of Cusco, however, did not go as foreseen. Tupac Amaru had planned to recruit a lot of people (which is why his entrance was so loaded with excitement), however, due to a lack of communication with the Indians of the city and the unexpectedness of the arrival, this was not possible. For this reason, he decided to wait for the arrival of more troops, so they settled temporarily around the city of Cusco. People could see in the distance how the troops were forming up there. But what Tupac Amaru did not know was how quickly the Spanish army began to mobilize.14

Tupac Amaru, however, decided not to take Cusco even though he possessed a truly overwhelming military force. Many historians still debate the reasons why he did not attack the Imperial city. Meanwhile, as time went by, supplies began to wane, and Tupac Amaru lacked food and money while Cusco was well provisioned with soldiers, supplies, and formidable defensive positions. Tupac Amaru lost confidence and believed that it would be impossible to attack Cusco and that his people had forsaken him, seeing that they had no salary with which to survive.15

Tupac Amaru, in the midst of his anxiety, paused for a moment to observe his army. The conditions in the camp were terrible and dysentery began to spread among them. Hundreds of thousands of rebels, including soldiers, women in charge of the camp, and other relatives who accompanied them, rested, slept, and ate in extreme conditions of overcrowding. There was nothing left, and Tupac Amaru knew it. He could see it in front of him, the impending defeat, fear, and pain. The faith of the rebels declined, as they saw their companions die or suffer from terrible pain. The bad news began to spread. Tupac Amaru undertook the withdrawal. Vain and superb, Amaru swore with resentment to return to conquer Cusco—he would not give up his main goal.16

The course of the battle seemed to change in 1781. Tupac Amaru left the camp in order to take Cusco once and for all, and to the joy of the Spanish army in this city, reinforcements sent from Lima arrived. After three months of attacks and territorial expansion of the rebels, the Spaniards took the offensive. Tupac Amaru, upon learning of the deployment of organized and well-armed Spanish troops, undertook his escape. The Spaniards suffered greatly while chasing Tupac Amaru in their own land. The terrain neutralized several of its advantages: its horses and heavy armament did not move well. After months of persecution and reward offerings for his head, in early April, Tupac Amaru was finally captured. He was hiding in Langui, a very small town where there was what remained of the rebel resistance; he was about to escape to another area, but one of his followers urged him to stay and rest. Tupac Amaru realized too late that this was a ruse. The inhabitants of that area, including the women and the priest, did everything to hold Tupac Amaru until a Spanish militia finally arrived in town. It was the end. Only weeks after having almost defeated the Spaniards in the snowy heights, Tupac Amaru now wore shackles.17

Tupac Amaru II is being executed by the viceroy | After 1781 | Artist Unknown | Courtesy of Wikipedia

After being captured on April 6, 1781, he was taken to Cusco chained and mounted on a mule. He entered the city a week later “with serene countenance,” while the bells of the Cathedral rang celebrating his capture. Imprisoned in the chapel of St. Ignatius of the convent of the Society of Jesus, he was successively interrogated and tortured almost to the point of death. This was done with the objective of obtaining information about his rebellion companions in Cusco and other cities, and his armies that still conserved large territories. However, such tortures were useless since he gave no confession. Rather, he tried to send written messages with his own blood, but these were intercepted. In the dawn of April 29, because of the rigors of the torment, his right arm became fractured. One day during the confinement when the visitor José Antonio de Areche, an interrogator and executor sent by King Carlos III of Spain, suddenly entered the dungeon to demand, in exchange for promises, the names of the accomplices of the rebellion, Tupac Amaru II replied: “Only you and I are guilty, you for oppressing my people, and I for trying to free them from such tyranny. We both deserve death.”18

On May 18, 1781, in a public ceremony in the Plaza de Armas of Cusco, the execution of Tupac Amaru II, his family, and his followers was fulfilled. The prisoners were taken from their dungeons, tucked into bags (a type of sack) and dragged by horses all at once, one after the other, until they reached the square. Already at the foot of the scaffold, Tupac Amaru II was forced, as the sentence pointed out, to witness the torture and murder of his allies and friends, his uncle, his two oldest children, and finally, his wife, in that order. Then, as they did with several of his lieutenants, his uncle, and his eldest son, they cut his tongue.19

Then they tried to dismember him alive, tying each of his limbs to horses so that they would pull them and tear them away. Noticing that this was ineffective, the executioners chose to decapitate him and then tear him apart. His head was placed on a spear, exhibited in Cusco and Tinta, his arms in Tungasuca and Carabaya, and his legs in Livitaca (current province of Chumbivilcas) and in Santa Rosa (current province of Melgar, Puno). They also ripped apart the bodies of his family and followers, and sent them to other towns and cities.20

The preaching of Tupac Amaru spread further south of Cusco into the region near Lake Titicaca in upper Peru, which then belonged to the viceroyalty of Buenos Aires. There was another uprising in December 1780, led by Tupac Katari, with the help of a cousin of Tupac Amaru called Diego Cristóbal Tupac Amaru. This rebellion benefited from the incorporation of the remaining forces that had survived the capture of Tupac Amaru. Katari besieged La Paz for six months in 1781 with his poorly organized forces that reached 40,000. However, 15,000 to 20,000 people died, and Katari was captured and executed in November 1781. On the other hand, Diego Cristóbal Tupac Amaru (cousin of Tupac Amaru II) continued with the rebellion until March 15, 1783, when he was captured and sentenced to capital punishment. With this, the indigenous anti-colonial uprising came to an end.21

  1. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 21.
  2. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 19.
  3. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 19.
  4. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 20.
  5. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 20.
  6. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 20-21.
  7. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 22.
  8. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 23-24.
  9. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 58.
  10. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 108.
  11. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 120-122.
  12. Peter F. Klarén, Nación y Sociedad en la Historia del Perú (Lima, Peru: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2014).156-158.
  13. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 129.
  14. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 130.
  15. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 140.
  16. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 142.
  17. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 146.
  18. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 180.
  19. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 181.
  20. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 181.
  21. Charles Walker, La rebelión de Tupac Amaru (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 2015), 277-290.

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19 Responses

  1. This was a very great article to read. I did not know much about this topic beforehand. The details about the violent execution of Tupac’s Amaru II was very shocking and it saddened me a little. I think the reason for him to die in one of the worst ways was very heart breaking and I believe that it was because no one wanted to work together as a group. Most people have different beliefs and they will fight for what they believe in.

  2. This was a very great article to read. I did not know much about this topic beforehand. The details about the violent execution of Tupac’s Amaru II was very shocking and it saddened me a little. I think the reason for him to die in one of the worst ways was very heart breaking and I believe that it was because lack of unity. Most people have different beliefs and they will fight for what they believe in.

  3. Prior to this article, I had very limited knowledge of Tupac Amaru. It is always hard to read about all the violent acts that happen in our history but this article did a great job of balancing the gruesome details with much-needed information. The story itself is captivating but the way the author structured it, made the story much more interesting.

  4. This article was an interesting read because of the fact that I had never heard or even learned about The Rebellion of Tupac. This article was very detailed and informative which helped the flow and made the article more intriguing to read. It was sad to read how awful and horrible the execution of Tupac Amaru II was. Overall I really enjoyed this article and learning about something I had never heard about before.

  5. This was a really interesting and informative article! When I started the article, I did no’t think that Tupac Amaru was going to die because, like some of our fellow students, I had not heard of the events that your article was about, but I was glad to read about them. You did a really good job with this article!

  6. This article was very informative and interesting. I have never heard of Tupac Amaru or his rebellious acts against the spaniards. It was interesting to hear how this whole issue played out in the end.

  7. Such an interesting and informative article!! I have never heard Tupac Amaru, or any element of this story or to this detail. So very captivating, you really pulled in your audience. I have never heard of this story in Peru, so it was so cool to learn about something from history I had not known. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. Great job!!

  8. Before I read this article I did not having any prior knowledge of it. I had never heard of a lot of the terms within the article but as it went on the story came together. It is so interesting how he was able to recruit such a large army and he was still unable to achieve his goals. It was fascinating to see how dynamic of a role his wife played in the activities.

  9. Before reading this article, I had no prior knowledge on this topic and it was very interesting to me. I was very shocked to read about the gruesome and violent details of Tupac Amaru II’s execution. He died in one of the most horrible ways possible and it was all due to a lack of unity. Although this is true, the people were very courageous and fought for what they believed in.

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