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Beginning in the late 1770s, local community struggles against corregidors and the ca-ciques in league with them came to a head in the region of northern Potosí. The man who emerged to lead them was Tomás Katari, a commoner from the town of Macha. In 1778, Katari set out by foot on a remarkable journey of over a thousand miles to the new viceregal capital of Buenos Aires in order to obtain royal justice. The trip took several months, but he returned with orders from the viceroy for an investigation into the conduct of the local authorities and protection for Katari. Local authorities refused to comply, however, and the conflict escalated to full-scale insurrection in August 1780. Katari acquired great prestige throughout the countryside and his movement put on the defensive the Spanish forces based in La Plata (today Sucre), the seat of the royal court for the entire district of Charcas. Katari was finally captured and Corregidor Juan Antonio Acuña sought to transfer him in chains to La Plata. Pursued by Katari’s followers, Acuña disposed of him, along with his scribe and collaborator, Isidro Serrano, by tossing him off a cliff near the community of Quilaquila in early January 1781. Community members then attacked and killed Acuña in retribution. After Tomás Katari’s death, leadership passed to his brothers Dámaso and Nicolás, and the movement grew increasingly radical before losing momentum in March 1781.

The following passage comes from the unpublished play “The Sandals of Time,” written by César Brie and first performed by his theater company, Teatro de los Andes, in 1995. In the play, the Indian protagonist, Hilaco, travels to the land of the dead to find his friend Jacinto, who died one year earlier. In their wanderings, they encounter memorable and forgotten figures from the past, and in the scene that follows Hilaco is possessed by the spirit of Tomás Katari. Carried away, Hilaco accompanies Katari in his struggles, and the implacable ancestor speaks through him. Katari’s ghost evokes the living memory of colonial abuses and the ongoing journey in search of justice.

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