Peruvians - Arthur H. Noll

The Peruvians under Spanish Rule

Viceroy Government.—In 1558 Manco Capac Yupanqui died in his mountain fastness, and was succeeded in his shadowy office by his son, Sayri Tupac, who continued with the remnant of his tribe in the mountains. The Viceroy induced him finally to come to Lima to swear allegiance to the Spanish government, and accept a pension and estates in the Yucay valley. As he signed the documents by which this arrangement was made, he lifted up the golden fringe of the table cover before him and said: "All this cloth and its fringe were once mine; and now they give me a thread of it for my sustenance and that of all my house." He sank into a deep melancholy and died within two years.

The "good Viceroy" was in office for five years, and it was several years before the King of Spain found a successor to his liking. He was Don Francisco de Toledo, and he arrived in Peru in 1569. His first task was to destroy the surviving remnant of the Incarial office. The Spaniards had not previously interfered with the celebration by the Indians of their annual festivals with the ancient solemnities; and the Viceroy went to Cuzco to be present at one of these festal celebrations, determined that it should be the last. Titu Cusi Yupanqui, the brother of Sayri Tupac, was bearing the tile of Inca in Vilcabamba. He sent to the new Viceroy to beg that ministers of religion might be sent to him. A friar was sent and almost immediately Titu Cusi sickened and died. The superstitious Indians held the friar responsible for Titu Cusi's death, rose up against him and killed him. Tupac Amaru, a boy, was proclaimed Inca in succession to Titu Cusi.

A Famous Execution.—A pretext was found in these events by the Viceroy for the arrest of Tupac Amaru and others, who were brought to Cuzco, tried for murder and sentenced to death. Tupac Amaru was wholly innocent of the crime laid at his door, and his conduct at his execution gave to that scene the semblance of the martyrdom of a saint. He was instructed in religion by two monks for several days, and was then taken to the scaffold erected in the great square at Cuzco, to be beheaded. Dense crowds of people covered the open spaces in the city and the hills above the town, and these attested their grief and horror in such manner as to affect even the hard-hearted Spanish soldiers and cause them to hesitate. The boy himself was perfectly calm. He raised his right arm, and, in the profound silence which followed this gesture, he spoke a few simple words of resignation. The scene was so heartrending as to make it impossible for the Spaniards to act the cruel part assigned to them.

Led by the Bishop of Cuzco and the heads of the monasteries, a deputation rushed to the Viceroy, threw themselves upon their knees before him, and begged that the youth might be sent to Spain to be judged by the King. The hard-hearted Viceroy sent the chief alguacil to carry out the sentence, and it was executed while the great bell of the cathedral was tolled and the popular protest was expressed in deafening shouts of horror and grief. By the Viceroy's orders the head of the youth was stuck upon a pike beside his scaffold. Looking out of his window in the moonlight that night, a Spanish soldier saw thousands of Indians prostrate before the livid head, and the Viceroy directed that it be taken down and placed with the body, which was interred in a chapel of the cathedral, after solemn funeral rites performed by the Bishop and his ecclesiastical staff. But there was no spirit left in the Indians for rebellion and no center around which they could rally. The celebration of Indian rites was forbidden and every effort was made to remove whatever might serve to remind the Indians of their former state.

Peruvians Reduced to Vassalage.—The Peruvians were now scattered throughout the land to the number of eight millions. They had been reduced to vassalage and crowded to the wall by the Spaniards from the time of Pizarro's earliest occupation. The system of slavery pursued in Peru was that known as encomiendas, whereby the Indians were assigned by the crown to certain Spaniards, theoretically to be given religious instruction, but virtually to be done with as the Spaniards pleased, so that encomienda  was a euphemism for the most outrageous form of slavery, as cruel and destructive as any that had ever been known. The system was founded upon the assumption that the King of Spain had an absolute proprietary right over the natives of the countries which were his by conquest, and could make assignments of their services to his Christian subjects, according to the rank and wealth of the latter. The assignment of Indians in encomienda  was called a repartimiento. The person upon whom the encomienda  was bestowed was called an encomiendero. The repartimiento  belonged to the estate of the encomiendero  and was sold with it or descended to the heirs thereof.

It was the purpose of the so-called "New Laws" to mitigate the evils resulting from this system. They entirely abolished in distinct terms the "personal services of the Indians," and forbade the selling of encomiendas  or their descent by inheritance. Blasco Nunez de Vaca was unable to enforce the "New Laws," and was defeated and slain in the war precipitated by his efforts on their behalf. Pedro de la Gasca promised to recommend their repeal and had authority to suspend them and never dared to enforce them. When a peremptory order came from Spain that enforced Indian labor must cease, he kept the order secret until he could resign the government and leave the country, and let his successor bear the brunt of promulgating the order. The "good Viceroy," Mendoza, as we have seen, did much to alleviate the lot of the Indians, and checked some of the more outrageous forms of oppression practiced upon them.

Don Francisco de Toledo put forth what is known as the "Libro de Tasas," or Book of Rules, which was the basis of the Spanish colonial system for the following two centuries. Though supposed to be founded in part on the unwritten law of the Incariate, the laws embraced in this system were far from favorable to the Indians. The office of corregidor (district magistrate) was created and his rule was made substantially absolute so far as the Indians were concerned; though in the effort made to keep up part of the supposed political organization of the Incariate, the Indian village chiefs administered justice and exercised some power.

But tribute or poll tax was exacted from every male Indian between the ages of eighteen and fifty. One-seventh of the Indians were required to work for their masters, and might be sent to the nearer towns to be engaged by anyone who required their services. Those in the neighborhood of the mines were compelled to furnish the labor necessary to work them, and, when the lot fell upon any Indian thus to work in the mines, he might never hope to return to the free life he had formerly enjoyed. All this was within the provision of the "Libro de Tasas." In the practical application of the laws they were made far more oppressive. Kidnapping was reduced to a system. Hundreds of the Peruvians were hunted down and carried off to work on farms, in factories, or in mines. Often all the male adults of a village were dragged off to the mines, leaving only women and children to till the fields.

Some of the decrees of the Spanish government for the amelioration of the condition of these Indians imply the extent of the oppression to which they were subjected. Such, for example, was the decree of 1584, intended to secure for those employed in mines "regular hours of repose, and some time to breathe the fresh air on the surface of the earth." The Indians died in droves under the cruel treatment they received. In a century the number working in the Potosi mines was reduced from eleven thousand to sixteen hundred. In non-mining districts the Indians were reduced to one-tenth the original number, while among the warm valleys of the coast region they practically died out and their place was taken by negro slaves.

Conquered, enslaved and crushed beneath the heel of the most despotic form of government ever devised, the Peruvians lived under Spanish rule for two centuries and a half, and joined with the Creoles in the struggle for independence from Spain and in the establishment of a republic. In the meantime they had given to Europe potatoes, cassava, ipecacuanha and quinine.

It was an important event in the history of Peru that the sovereign virtues of the Peruvian bark became known in the Seventeenth Century, and the manner of the discovery deserves mention. The wife of one of the viceroys, the Countess of Chinchon, had a stubborn attack of malarial fever and the physicians of Lima were unable to cure her. A Jesuit missionary had sent to the rector of the Jesuit College in Lima some fragments of a bark which had been given to him, the missionary, by an Indian. The vice-queen was dosed with this after the manner of the Indians, the fever was quickly broken and she was restored to health: Linnaeus, the botanist, called the genus to which the tree belongs, after the Viceroy, chinchona.

The New "Inca" of 1781.—One other event in the history of the Peruvians is worthy of mention. The Peruvians refused to believe that the last of their Incas had perished in the person of Tupac Amaru. For more than two centuries they cherished the tradition common to many peoples, (witness the German belief respecting Frederick Barbarossa), that he had only retired to another kingdom beyond the mountains, from which he would return in his own good time to sweep the oppressors of his race from the land.

In 1781 the slumbering hope found expression in an insurrection headed by Condorcanqui, who, though a mestizo, was descended in some manner from the family of Huayna Capac. He boldly proclaimed himself the long-lost Tupac Amaru, "the child of the Sun and Inca of Peru." With mad enthusiasm the Indians hailed him as their destined deliverer, and he was able to advance at the head of a considerable army to the walls of Cuzco, where he declared that it was his purpose to blot out the memory of the white men and re-establish the Incariate in the City of the Sun. After a bloody struggle, lasting for two years, the Spaniards regained the mastery, and consigned the insurgent leader and all his family to an ignominous and barbarous death. As Condorcanqui passed along the streets of Cuzco to the place of his execution, the Indians prostrated themselves in the dust at sight of him, thus testifying their veneration for the last representative of those whom they had been taught for many generations to believe were indeed the Children of the Sun.