At the beginning of June 1780, a large group of Indians from the town of Macha in the south Andean province of Chayanta, northern Potosí, traveled to the colonial administrative center of La Plata, seat of the high court of Charcas, to denounce their Spanish and ethnic local authorities. Collective pilgrimages to Spanish tribunals were common among the Andean and Mexican peasantries. Native communities had long since gained the reputation of being litigious for flooding colonial courts with complaints that involved abuses in village government. The circumstances surrounding the journey of these Aymara Indians of Macha, nevertheless, were rather extraordinary.

Over the three previous years, the Macha communities had carried out an exceptionally tenacious legal struggle. Juridical battles included several appeals to the royal treasury of Potosí, the Real Audiencia of Charcas, and one astonishing journey to Buenos Aires, 1,600 miles away, where the Indians brought their case before the highest authority in the land, the viceroy of the Río de la Plata. Local power groups responded by repeatedly attacking the indigenous communities and several times imprisoning their leader, an illiterate, non-Spanish-speaking Indian named Tomás Katari. For example, between September 1779 and April 1780, eight months before the collective presentation in La Plata, Katari remained imprisoned in the town of Potosí. Only an armed attack enabled the Indians to liberate their leader as he was being conducted to Chayanta to be formally tried by the corregidor (Spanish provincial magistrate). That this experience did not deter the Aymara peasants from continuing their legal protest is certainly remarkable; still more intriguing are the explicit motives of their quest. Warned by the parish priest of Macha that the audiencia would immediately order his arrest, Katari replied that

he was not afraid of being arrested again because he was innocent and wanted to declare his truth and his justice; and for that reason, he was going to place himself at the gates of the audiencia daily, so that all might see him and know of his presence.1

On June 10, 1780, the Aymara leader was quietly led from the gates of the audiencia to the court prison.

Reflecting on the obstacles the apparent “irrationality” of sixteenth-century popular religious revolts in France pose to historical analysis, Natalie Zemon Davis has commented, “To bear the sword in the name of a millenarian dream might make some sense, but why get so excited about the Eucharist or saints’ relics? It is hard to decipher the social meaning of such an event.”2 The Aymara movement led by Tomás Katari, which began as a routine legal protest and became the most profound challenge to colonial rule in the southern Andes since the Spanish conquest, presents a spectacle perhaps no less enigmatic. Centered in an overwhelmingly indigenous region between the mining center of Potosí and the city of La Plata, the Chayanta rebellion constituted one of the three main foci of rebel activity during the general Andean insurrection of the early 1780s. Unlike the overt anticolonial rebellions led by Túpac Amaru and Túpac Katari in Cuzco and La Paz, however, the Chayanta upheaval was a gradual process of social unrest that evolved within the bounds of the existing system of justice and government. Throughout the conflict, continuous processes of judicial appeal to the higher Spanish courts, as well as the self-conscious adoption of European rituals of justice and the fulfillment of tribute and mita quotas, did not seem to preclude, but rather to legitimate, massive armed attacks on the networks of colonial power in Upper Peru.3

It is this pattern of insurrectional violence and juridical strategies that seems to defy our understanding of the political nature of the great Andean rebellions at the end of the eighteenth century. It also challenges conventional wisdom about the ideological function of the Spanish system of justice in the reproduction of colonialism.

The purpose of this essay is to trace the ideological foundations of Aymara politics. At a more general level, it tries to discern what social meaning was comprised in such public performances as Katari’s voluntary surrender to assert what he called “his truth and his justice,” and how this form of political awareness could become the language of mass insurrection. The first section deals with the political framework of peasant collective actions by focusing on the jurisdictional disputes within the imperial bureaucracy during the late Bourbon era. It analyzes how competitive notions of colonial legitimacy among Peruvian regional officials and viceregal magistrates imbued with the ideology of the Bourbon Enlightenment invested the Aymara movement with opposing patterns of significance. The second part seeks to situate indigenous demands in the context of northern Potosí peasant society and to show how the Indians’ consistent pursuit of limited, “reformist” objectives undermined the political and ideological basis of Spanish authority.

The aftermath of this process, the upheaval that took place in the town of Pocoata at the end of August 1780, is addressed in the third section. It traces the final transfiguration of traditional rituals of colonial rule into acts of political subversion. While narrowly conceived as a study of the Aymara movement between 1777 and August 1780, the historical relevance of this case may permit some discussion of broader analytical issues in the fields of state hegemony and Andean politics and identity.

For the last 15 years, the historical literature has tended to view Spanish justice as a powerful instrument of European hegemony over the native peoples. By the late sixteenth century, the Spanish crown had built a centralized model of exploitation of the Indian communities in the core areas of the New World. Through a vast network of officials, the state began to monopolize the collection of peasant taxes (tribute) and the rotating assignment of the Indian labor force to private enterprises (mita). The division of the colonial society into two isolated sectors—the República de Indios and the República de Españoles — gave this system its juridical framework. Native communities’ lands were placed under legal protection, and the continuity of their ethnic authorities was assured. Moreover, special agents (protectores de indios) were established at all levels of the colonial administration to guarantee swift and inexpensive Indian access to the state system of justice.

Some of the finest historical studies have revealed the extent to which indigenous peoples took advantage of their juridical prerogatives to protect their material resources, political autonomy, and principles of social organization.4 Although legal strategies constituted powerful means of resistance, however, they also contributed in the long term to a mentality of subordination to the established order. According to Steve J. Stern,

to the extent that reliance on a juridical system becomes a dominant strategy of protection for an oppressed class or social group, it may undermine the possibility of organizing a more ambitious assault aimed at toppling the exploitative structure itself. When this happens, a functioning system of justice contributes to the hegemony of a ruling class.5

Certainly, judicial politics did not prevent indigenous communities from resorting to violence to resolve their conflicts with local elites. The numerous village riots that mushroomed in the eighteenth-century Mexican and Andean rural world demonstrate the Indians’ ability to resort to force to defend their perceived interests. The purpose of these local revolts, however, was not to challenge the system of colonial domination itself but to protest particularly abusive authorities, new taxes, and outside encroachment on the political autonomy of the community. As it did with the Indians’ legal claims, the colonial state tended to adopt a cautious approach to these rebellions, a calculated mix of repression and negotiation that would allow Indians and local elites alike to resume their daily routines.6 Although the final result varied from case to case, the state did manage to create in this way a certain sense of justice. As Friedrich Katz, synthesizing the hegemonic role played by the colonial state in New Spain, summarizes it, “Most rebellions were directed at local officials, and the Indians mostly remained firmly convinced that the crown, if it only knew, would redress their wrongs.”7

The great Indian insurrections came to reflect, like an inverted mirror, the hegemonic role of this “juridico-discursive representation of power,” as Serge Gruzinski has called it.8 Unlike legal protests, peasant insurrections rejected institutionalized mechanisms for resolving social conflict. Mass violence was outside the law, and its very emergence was bound up with the failure (and abandonment) of legal strategies. Jürgen Golte has divided resistance against the forced distribution of goods, for example, into two stages: first, a period in which the Andean communities sought to denounce their corregidores and kurakas (ethnic authorities) before superior courts; second, a phase marked by the use of force, which eventually led to the great uprisings of 1780-81.9 Insurgent violence, in turn, pursued objectives antagonistic to colonial domination. Unlike the limited goals behind local village riots (objectives often absorbed by the colonial regime), peasant insurrections adopted, by definition, the form of “conspiracies with explicit revolutionary goals,” racial wars intended to exterminate or expel the European government and population.10

In the Andean world, the rise of insurrectional movements has been associated with the propagation of millenarian and messianic messages. The insurrectional violence seems to have been inspired by an autonomous system of cultural beliefs that enabled native peoples to link expectations for political change with an idealized pre-Hispanic past.11 In brief, the great Indian uprisings of the 1780s, among which the Chayanta rebellion looms large, are considered to be the manifestation of social identities constructed outside the boundaries of colonial discourse, and their political nature is sharply distinguished from the routine forms of negotiation and conflict between indigenous communities and dominant groups.

The analysis of the Aymara movement presented here proposes an alternative perspective on the political foundations of Indian insurgency. This essay will argue that mass violence was informed not by symbolic motifs generated from outside colonial ideology, but by an appropriation and redefinition of the principles that legitimized European domination over the Andean peoples. At least while Tomás Katari led the movement, the Chayanta communities did not formulate their expectations of social change in the language of millennial utopias but rather in terms of the very same colonial juridical discourse. It was by reference to this ideological framework that Aymara politics and identity were constructed. Certainly, Spanish law was not an objective referential system against which participants in the conflict evaluated their and their enemies’ actions. The nucleus of the political struggle lay precisely in antagonistic definitions of the set of rights and obligations that should regulate the relations between indigenous communities and the colonial bureaucracy.

To be sure, the analysis of law and legal discourse is one of the critical means for understanding the languages of authority and consensus that cemented colonial society.12 Chayanta records, however, suggest that Spanish justice could become, under certain circumstances, a theater not only of resistance but also of counterhegemony. By the late eighteenth century, under the pressure of imperial reforms and Indian protests, the judicial system seems to have turned into a prominent arena of ideological battles over fundamental political features of Spanish colonialism in the Andes. Key among them was the increasingly apparent antagonism between the inner workings of the regional patrimonial system, on the one hand, and the juridical theory of the two republics and the Toledan model of rationalized state exactions, on the other. This article intends to show how, in the very process of disclosing this contradiction and enforcing their perceived (and legally acknowledged) rights, the Aymara communities could constitute themselves as political actors, contest the local elites’ claim to rule, and eventually subvert the forms of identity and cultural hierarchy that authorized colonial domination.

Official Narratives of Collective Violence

The collective mobilization of the Aymara communities of northern Potosí evolved, in the course of three and one-half years, from a legal protest into a large-scale insurrection, unique in this region in terms of intensity, geographical reach, and political radicalization. To frame the analysis, three major stages in this process may be distinguished. Between mid-1777 and August 1780, the social struggle was circumscribed mostly to the ten ayllus that made up the Macha community. Indian resistance to local authorities had become routine in the southern Andes by this time.13 Nevertheless, the relentless mobilization of Macha peasants to remove the complete structure of native chieftainship and to obtain the appointment of Tomás Katari as the main kuraka led to a growing political confrontation with the regional network of colonial power, particularly the corregidor Joaquín Alós, the judges of the Audiencia of Charcas, and some parish priests. This period saw individual and collective appeals before the Potosí, Charcas, and Buenos Aires courts; a long sequence of armed clashes with local Spanish and Indian authorities; and finally a massive uprising in the town of Pocoata on August 26, 1780, all of which allowed peasant communities to expel illegitimate kurakas, to force the corregidor to leave Chayanta, and to compel the Real Audiencia to release Tomás Katari from prison.

The second phase of the conflict began in early September 1780, when Katari returned to Chayanta as the officially appointed kuraka of Macha. Thereafter, the Aymara communities gained almost complete control over the province, and Katari became the sole acknowledged authority. Andean peasants accused new corregidores of supporting Alós and thus prevented them from taking real control of the province. Indians from all over Chayanta and the nearby provinces of Porco and Paria started pilgrimages to Macha, seeking advice on how to redress their grievances concerning corregidores, parish priests, and kurakas.

Mass violence extended from Macha to many other peasant communities in the area. Uprisings occurred in Moscari, San Pedro de Buena Vista, Sacaca, and the town of Chayanta.14 By the end of 1780, despite Katari’s consistent efforts to reconstitute relations between the Andean ayllus and the Spanish authorities, it was increasingly apparent that the conflict had reached the point of no return.15 The seizure and murder of Katari in January 1781, combined with the expansion of the insurrection led by Túpac Amaru in Cuzco, brought the confrontation to its last and most violent stage. Led by Tomás Katari’s brothers, Dámaso and Nicolás, thousands of Aymara peasants assaulted several towns in Chayanta, killed those who had participated in Katari’s execution, and, in February 1781, set up a massive, albeit brief, siege of the city of La Plata. These impressive insurgent activities ended with the military defeat of the Aymara army and the execution of its leaders in March and April 1781.

The political struggle that took place in Chayanta between 1777 and 1781 did not originate in a straightforward opposition between native peoples and their European rulers. Aymara resistance against longstanding modes of exploitation in the Andean world became inextricably entwined with a larger, ongoing conflict in the colonial bureaucracy over the government of the Indian communities. What made these two processes of contention collide was the ambitious programs of reform the Bourbon administration had been pushing forward since the 1750s. Facing the economic decline of its American empire and mounting international tensions, the Spanish crown implemented a series of policies intended to maximize the revenues extracted from its overseas possessions and to regain control over the workings of the colonial state. Along with changes in trade, mining production, and military organization, the Bourbon reforms promoted a general tax increase and a rationalization or “modernization” of the administrative structure inherited from the Hapsburg period. This “revolution in government,” whatever success it may have achieved, involved an attempt to curtail bureaucratic autonomy and collusion between officials and merchants by uprooting local oligarchies and creoles from government, creating a salaried bureaucracy, and revitalizing a regime of administrative promotion.16

The historical literature has usually regarded the program of reforms as a major cause of Indian unrest because of the growing fiscal burden imposed on Indians and all other segments of colonial society.17 Yet in the regional setting of northern Potosí during the historical conjuncture of the 1770s, the other aspect of Bourbon policies, the transformation of the traditional patrimonial system into an absolutist bureaucracy, had very different political implications.

Let us first summarize the ideological and jurisdictional disputes that unfolded in Upper Peru as a result of this contentious process of political reorganization. It should be noted, to begin with, that two central actors in the Aymara rebellion — the corregidor and the audiencia—were in turn prime targets in what John Lynch has aptly described as a transition from “colonial consensus,” a system of bureaucratic compromise, to “imperial control.”18 In the Andes, a fundamental locus of debate and reform was the relationship between those colonial agencies of government and the forced distribution of goods, or repartimiento de mercancías, carried out in the Indian villages. The repartimiento system, particularly after the crown’s failure legally to control the quota and the prices of the commodities distributed by the corregidores, had became a major means of peasant exploitation. It fostered a vast network of interests that linked powerful commercial groups in Lima to local magistrates throughout the rural world. While this commercial monopoly was supposed to stimulate internal markets by coercively commodifying the economy of the Indian community, it had fiscal, political, and social effects of prime concern for the imperial project. The repartimiento system diminished the royal treasury’s ability to collect tributes from the indigenous communities, invested local magistrates with discretionary economic and political powers, and blocked the highest court in the land, the viceregal tribunal of Peru, as a channel of Indian legal protest.19

To break the collusion between Lima elites and local magistrates, the crown decided in 1764 to restrict the viceroy of Peru’s jurisdiction in Andean social conflicts by permitting the Audiencia of Charcas to rule on Indian complaints against corregidores and the repartimiento.20 Although explicitly grounded in the assumption that the empowerment of the audiencia would contain abuses in local government, this decision seems to have encouraged new types of judicial corruption. It promoted the establishment of informal networks involving audiencia judges and provincial corregidores, whereby legal support was exchanged for a share in the profits from the repartimiento. The informality and the changing or ephemeral bases of these alliances made the relationship between corregidores and the regional court unstable and precarious. As a whole, however, the high court’s ability to redress indigenous grievances was consistently weakened.21

The transfer of Upper Peru to the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata in 1776 jeopardized the already delicate balance of power between viceregal, regional, and provincial officials. The new viceregal court, one of the cornerstones of the new politics of centralization, was staffed mostly with enlightened, Spanish-born bureaucrats committed to asserting the crown’s fiscal and political interests over those of dominant regional oligarchies.22 Unlike their counterparts in Lima, moreover, the Buenos Aires functionaries were linked to local commercial groups with no substantial investment in the repartimiento system. These two factors combined to foster a new pole of power with a distinctive, and broader, political perspective on Andean affairs. It is not surprising that shortly after the outbreak of the Indian rebellions of the 1780s, the viceregal court was instrumental in implementing the abolition of repartimientos, the elimination of corregidores, and the establishment of the French system of intendencies, all major Bourbon initiatives.

The collective mobilization initiated by the Chayanta communities both exacerbated and took shape from this struggle between the corregidores, the judges of the high court of Charcas, and the bureaucracy of the viceregal court of Buenos Aires. Like many other Andean communities during this period, the Chayanta Indians first complained that their kurakas were temporary (caciques interinos); that is, appointed directly by the corregidores without consideration of their hereditary rights or their consensus of approval in the communities. The main kurakas from Macha, moreover (especially the cacique principal, Bias Doria Bernal), were mestizos, a situation that openly violated colonial ordinances.23 The Indians revealed that through the traditional practice of “double empadronamiento,” the kurakas stole more than one-fourth of the tributes paid by the communities to the royal treasury. According to the Macha peasants, the corregidor Joaquín Alós supported the illegitimate kurakas because of their active involvement in the forced distribution of goods.

In 1777 and 1778, the Aymara peasants obtained various decrees issued by the audiencia and the officials of the royal treasury of Potosí summoning the local magistrate to suspend native chiefs and to appoint Tomás Katari as tax collector. Despite the formal recognition of the Indian claims, however, the corregidor refused to implement the royal decrees and repeatedly imprisoned the Aymara leader. Charcas and Potosí magistrates, on the other hand, ratified their previous resolutions but took no steps to enforce them.

When Katari arrived in Buenos Aires at the beginning of 1779, his testimony, about both corregidor-kuraka complicity in diverting tribute payments and the audiencia’s inefficiency in forcing Alós to dismiss the mestizo kurakas, struck a sensitive chord among the bureaucrats. The repartimiento was perceived as a prominent source of fiscal and administrative corruption among Upper Peruvian officials and also as the likely trigger of a general Indian insurrection.24 Therefore, Viceroy Juan Jose de Vértiz ordered the audiencia to designate a commissioned judge (juez comisionado) to verify Katari’s allegations. Because the Aymara leader did not bring the records of the legal proceedings to Buenos Aires (the corregidor had confiscated them), the judge would have to corroborate whether Aiós had effectively ignored decrees emanating from the superior courts. In that case, Katari would be authorized to collect tributes, and edicts would be issued for the appointment of legitimate native authorities. More important, the audiencia was asked to notify Alós of “the prohibition that thereafter would be imposed on him from acting against, or bringing to trial, the commissioned judge, the supplicant [Tomás Katari], or any other having an interest, role, or knowledge in this case.”25

The journey to the viceregal court and the favorable verdict did not bring the immediate redress of peasant grievances that Katari might have expected. By not resorting to any direct mechanism of coercion and law enforcement, Spanish justice routinely left the resolution of conflicts to local balances of power, and particularly to the claimants’ ability to sustain over time a collective mobilization capable of wrenching new verdicts or enforcing legal decisions through violence.26 But viceregal intervention did have a fundamental, albeit unwitting, efFect: by pushing the audiencia and the corregidor to close ranks to defend their shared jurisdiction over the Indian villages, it helped render visible and public the contradiction between the concrete modes of exercise of power and the ideological premises of colonial domination. After Katari returned from Buenos Aires in March 1779, the audiencia consistently repudiated the viceregal order to appoint a commissioned judge. The Charcas court ignored its own previous decisions in favor of the Macha communities’ demands, professing that it no longer held the legal documents in the case. In response to numerous Indian appeals, the court recommended that the peasants return to Chayanta “with the assurance that the corregidor would address their grievances without inflicting on them any harm.”27

In June 1779, when Katari asked the corregidor to return the proceedings of the case and to dismiss the mestizo kurakas, Alós had him arrested again. A few weeks later, intending to prove the misappropriation of taxes, Katari attempted to deliver the tributes from the Macha ayllus to the cajas reales (royal treasury) of Potosí. At the corregidor’s request, however, the governor of Potosí, Jorge Escobedo, imprisoned the Indian leader as soon as he arrived at the mining center. As noted, in April 1780 Katari was taken to Chayanta to be tried by Alós. It must be recalled that the primary objective of the viceroy’s resolution had been “to prohibit the corregidor to rule on a matter in which I should assume he had personal interests, as he did have.”28

The audiencia magistrates’ decision to arrest Katari once more when he traveled to La Plata in June 1780 represented the final outcome of the process of collusion between different agencies of regional government. It also triggered an explosion of mass violence. Within a span of three months, native authorities were forced to resign; Joaquín Aiós was compelled to leave Chayanta, after a bloody battle in which dozens of Indians and approximately 30 Spaniards died; and the audiencia was obliged to liberate the Aymara leader and to grant him the title of kuraka. What had begun as a limited local conflict suddenly became a critical test of the balance of power between regional officials, viceregal bureaucrats, and Andean peasants.

After being expelled from the province, Alós resided in the house of the president of the audiencia and participated in court sessions. Between September and December 1780, despite the volatile political situation in Chayanta, the Charcas court appointed new provincial officials; but because of their clear association with the former corregidor, the indigenous communities did not allow them to take office.

As the Indian movement began to gain almost complete control over the province and to expand even beyond the limits of northern Potosí, Viceroy Vértiz decided to remove the Audiencia of Charcas from the case against the communities of Chayanta. In October 1780, Vértiz appointed the governor of Mojos, Ignacio Flores, as military chief of Charcas, ordering him to report immediately to La Plata. Flores formally became the only judge with jurisdiction over any matters related to the Chayanta conflict. In addition, Vértiz ordered the audiencia to suspend the death Peñalty until the actual situation in the province was clarified.29 “In an affair as gravely important as the Chayanta rebellion,” the viceroy wrote to the prominent Bourbon reformer, Minister of the Indies José de Gálvez, “we must avoid the intervention of that court.”30 In disregard of Vértiz’ orders and Flores’ jurisdiction over Chayanta affairs, however, Katari was ambushed and seized by order of the audiencia in December 1780. En route to La Plata, he was finally put to death.

Now regional power groups’ stance toward both Indian protest and Bourbon absolutism determined the type of narrative strategies that could render Indian initiatives politically intelligible. This “prose of counterinsurgency” consisted in portraying the Aymara movement as an anticolonial rebellion and locating its roots in the “ominous consequences” of Vértiz’ instructions.31 The case of Chayanta thus appeared as a paradigm of the political turmoil that would follow if the new viceregal court were allowed to rule on Andean social conflicts. This symbolic strategy competed with alternative accounts of the causes, intents, and significance of Indian mobilization. While this essay will explore later the forms of peasant political consciousness originating from this process, let us concentrate first on the representations of power that shaped the narratives of Upper Peruvian officials and Bourbon functionaries. For it was in this disputed field of political discourse that key concepts like legality and violence, authority and insurgency took on concrete historical meaning.

The corregidor of Chayanta and the judges of the royal audiencia depicted the indigenous movement through three mutually related images. First, the regional elites described collective actions as illegal forms of protest. At the end of June 1780, four kurakas from Macha submitted their resignations to Joaquín Alós because

Not even the powerful arm of royal justice that your majesty administers has been able to contain the sedition and arrogant uprising of this criminal [Tomás Katari] who believes himself to be beyond the reach of the law because of the support he receives from the Indian communities . . . that zealously protect him from royal justice.32

Alós, for his part, wrote to the audiencia, “The control that Katari exercises over the Indians leaves them so completely enthralled that they no longer obey the law and submit even less to their Caciques.”33 According to regional power groups, peasant violence originated in the misunderstanding and manipulation of imaginary royal orders. The audiencia attorney Juan de Pino Manrique stated,

Katari thought nothing less than to carry out [the viceroy’s order]. He reduced everything to seductions, disturbances, and riots, seeking not to employ moderate methods, at least methods that would ease the shock of his exorbitant ends, but rather the most irregular extremes.34

Despite its seemingly conventional use, the notion of lawbreaking (and law enforcement) evoked in these paragraphs took on peculiar and distinctive connotations in regional authorities’ discourse. Thus, for example, in a key fragment of the large corpus produced by the Upper Peruvian officials, Alós traced the Macha mobilization to

the example of a similar rebellion that took place in Pocoata during my predecessor’s administration. It continued until their leaders, Caipa and Ancona, managed to get themselves appointed as governors; an office they still hold because the royal officials of Potosí and your majesty [the audiencia] confirmed them in their positions, instead of having them appropriately punished for their crimes.35

Although this passage depicts the Pocoata kurakas simultaneously as “rebels” and appointees of the high colonial courts, this is not taken as a contradiction. Pedro Caipa and Esteban Ancona had actually obtained their titles as kurakas because they had proved the embezzlement of tribute payments perpetuated by the previous native authorities.36 Likewise, Pino Manrique presented Katari’s journey to Potosí in September 1779 to deliver the tributes directly to the royal treasury not as an attempt to prove fiscal fraud but as “a sign of disobedience to the corregidor,” a display of Katari’s “ambition and seditious nature, whose consequences have been so harmful... [as to] threaten [the peace] of this area, to increase tribute debts, and to offer a bad example for other provinces.”37

The manipulation of legal testimonies and evidence was, of course, an entrenched practice in the colonial bureaucracy.38 Aymara judicial strategies, however, were intended to force regional officials explicitly to assert their representation of colonial authority as discretionary and limitless power. In this account of the events, illegal action designated not an attack on colonial institutions but any kind of challenge to the power of local Spanish magistrates. It was the act of defiance itself, regardless of its juridical legitimacy, that defined an action as subversive.

The second image of the peasant movement articulated by regional power groups refers to the goals behind the Indian mobilization. Just as the initiatives of the Aymara communities were attributed to their ignorance of judicial procedures and their manipulation and misunderstanding of legal orders, a similar argument was put forward to explain the objectives of the social unrest. The corregidor in effect portrayed the indigenous movement as a protest against tribute and mita (forced mining labor). At first, Alós explained that Katari had spread the news that he had received an order from the viceroy to reduce tribute rates by half. As violence mounted, the charge became even more serious: according to Spanish regional authorities, the communities believed that their leader had been empowered to remove completely the state economic exactions. Although the Aymara peasants repeatedly showed their willingness to fulfill their economic obligations, Upper Peruvian magistrates continued to depict the protest as anti-tribute rebellion.

The pervasiveness of this argument is connected to the central place that tribute and mita occupied in the colonial imagination. Besides their economic importance for state revenues and silver production, both institutions were prominent symbols of the status of native peoples as vassals of the crown. By articulating this account of the conflict, local elites constructed the political nature of the movement as the rupture of that link between the indigenous communities and the king and as the reversal, or the antithesis, of what the Indians explicitly said. From this viewpoint, the peasants aimed not to curb abuses in government (including the divestment of tribute payments to repartimiento debts) but “to be released from the entire contribution of tributes and mita service.”39

The third image characterized the Aymara movement as an anticolonial conspiracy, one mounted to oust European civilization from the Andean world. As the corregidor stated, the fundamental drive of the indigenous movement was “to live without any subjection whatsoever, as is their natural propensity.”40 “This rabble,” wrote one of the parish priests from San Marcos de Miraflores, “has become excessively insolent, and respects neither the King nor the Church.”41 Through this narrative, regional power groups conjured a profound stereotype in what Partha Chatterjee has called the rule of colonial difference, “a modern regime of power destined never to fulfill its normalizing mission because the premise of its power was the preservation of the alienness of the ruling group.”42 The manipulation and misunderstanding of royal decrees and the attempt to eliminate economic dues to the state came to reactualize the image of Andean peasants as an essentially lawless and savage people, a constant social menace requiring a continuous effort of colonization. By depicting the Aymara communities in terms of entrenched colonial stereotypes, regional magistrates sought to link the peasant mobilization to widespread fears of a general Andean insurrection. In this respect, the audiencia asserted that the Macha ayllus set alliances with other communities “to eliminate the yoke of obedience [and] to occupy these territories, purging them of Spaniards.”43 The peasants’ quest, the corregidor summarized,

was to spread to the neighboring provinces the most detestable unrest that [this realm] has known since the era of the conquest. And demanding exemption from the observation of human and divine laws, they have stubbornly refused to acknowledge the resolutions of royal justice or to show obedience to our Monarch.44

The description of peasant actions as an anticolonial conspiracy thus posed the fundamental opposition between Andean peoples and judicial mechanisms of social mediation. In so doing, regional authorities vindicated notions of control and disciplinary power over the ideals of rule of law and bureaucratic rationality on which Bourbon enlightened discourse was predicated.

Viewed through the prose of the viceregal ministers of Buenos Aires, the conflict in northern Potosí conveyed a completely different structure of meaning. When he received the copy of the legal proceedings that preceded Katari’s journey to Buenos Aires, the protector general de indios, Juan Gregorio Samudio, explained that those records demonstrated the corregidor’s initial dismissal of instructions issued by superior regional courts. For Samudio, this policy obstructed the Indians’ right to recuse abusive authorities, violated the higher jurisdiction of appellate tribunals, and harmed royal treasury revenues by allowing fiscal embezzlement to continue. Consequently, he suggested that Katari, who at that time was imprisoned by the audiencia, be freed immediately and be appointed to the position to which he had originally been assigned.45

The crown attorney, Jorge Pacheco, for his part, proposed that a letter be sent to the audiencia to determine whether the court actually did appoint a commissioned judge, as the viceroy had ordered the year before. Given that Katari’s testimony in Buenos Aires “had not contained false information as the corregidor assumes,” nor was it “sinister and deceitful” as the audiencia attorney affirmed, the judge should have named Katari tax collector and investigated the corregidor’s behavior. Pacheco requested that if indeed Katari had been arrested after his return from Buenos Aires, Joaquín Alós be punished for “this new act of violence and transgression [and] suspended from the exercise of his functions.”46

With respect to regional officials’ claims that the Macha communities sought a decrease in tributes, the viceroy, alluding to fictitious royal edicts, said,

It is clear that the corregidor’s reports attributing the origin of the disturbance to Katari’s distortion of my orders do not deserve credit because the corregidor does not prove it and the documents show otherwise . . . nor is the reason the audiencia alleged for arresting Katari—that he would seek a reduction of tributes—consistent with Katari’s proceeding in Potosí to increase them; thus, we should suspect that they try to disguise their own wrongdoing with the imputation of abuses to such a defenseless person.47

The measures the viceroy took show that in his judgment, the Aymara communities had basically attempted to enforce his resolution. According to the highest authority in the land, then, Katari should be appointed kuraka, Alós dismissed from his post, and the audiencia’s jurisdiction over the conflict revoked. The cause of mass violence, as attorney Pacheco put it,

was the series of steps taken by the corregidor, commissioned officials, and others to obstruct the implementation of the viceroys order; and the [corregidor’s] writings, which convinced the Royal Audiencia of the abuse that Katari had made of the decree; [the audiencia] did not protect him, disobeying the orders that Your Excellency [the viceroy] had issued to that end. ... If the superior decree had been promptly obeyed, nothing would have happened.48

According to this account of the conflict, it was not the Andean communities but the Upper Peruvian magistrates who had transgressed and manipulated law and legal procedures. Certainly, viceregal authorities perceived the menace of Indian mobilization and the space for political contention their intervention had helped to open up. Still, if Vértiz’ policies had brought “ominous consequences,” as the audiencia attorney Manrique stated, it was not because the Indians had misunderstood his orders, but because they had been induced to carry out the process of law enforcement by themselves. The threatening point the conflict had reached, Vértiz concluded, was the result of “the apathy and insensitivity shown toward affairs so significant that they should have been remedied and precluded through the exact administration of justice.”49

The highly contradictory, politically charged patterns of interpretation that ensnared Aymara collective actions allow us to reformulate the underlying analytical dichotomy in most studies of Indian resistance: the opposition between collective violence and legality, between judicial strategies and armed insurrections.50 To define peasant mobilization as illegal or extralegal draws an artificial distinction that belies both the actors’ perception and the rules of political struggle in colonial society. As interpreted by the viceregal magistrates, the notion of legitimacy that inspired indigenous practices did not originate from a misinterpretation of alleged royal orders or from abstract definitions of the king’s will. Instead, the political framework of Aymara initiatives was the execution of official decrees and the pursuit of a judicial process. Certainly, what generally distinguishes mass violence from state coercion is not necessarily the ends pursued, but that the coercion is exercised in the name of a politically constituted authority. In this sense, one of the common features of eighteenth-century popular revolts in France and England was “the frequent borrowing ... of the authorities’ normal forms of action; the borrowing often amounted to the crowd’s almost literally taking the law into its own hands.”51

Nevertheless, given the ongoing political clash between Bourbon imperial politics and patrimonial bureaucrats, as well as the wide gap between formal jurisdiction and actual power of coercion, the imposed distinction between state and mass violence tends to obscure rather than to illuminate the politics of domination and resistance in the Andean world. On the one hand, the customary set of colonial legal procedures made the private use of force not an anomaly but a structural component of the operation of Spanish justice. On the other hand, the political and ideological cleavages within the imperial government made the legitimate, official use of force an issue subject to multiple and contradictory interpretations. Judicial politics was a politics of violence as much as a politics of rights.

The political struggle between Aymara ayllus and regional and viceregal bureaucrats was organized not around the oppositional forces of popular violence and law but around the contradictory definitions of who was formally acting as the authorized agent of the juridical system. For all its mobilizing power, whether or not the Chayanta movement constituted an insurrection—an attack against Spanish rule—was not a shared premise of the conflict; but it was a critical point of contention in the ideological struggle. These different representations of legitimacy and violence gave rise to an ethnic movement that, without rejecting Spanish institutions in the name of revolutionary programs, would gradually subvert the political culture of colonial administration, and eventually the very notion of racial superiority on which European hegemony rested.

The Politics of Insurrection

The overriding logic running through Indian legal documents is, at first glance, paradoxical. By denouncing the misappropriation of tributes, the Macha ayllus committed themselves to increasing the amount of money delivered to the royal treasury. Likewise, the revelation of the double census unmasked one of the traditional means of peasant resistance. It is well known that the hiding of Indians from the official population records constituted a longstanding peasant strategy to diminish state economic demands, especially tribute and mita. Certainly, we must consider whether judicial appeals were calculated strategies of acquiescence — tactical devices meant to meet the expectations of colonial authorities, to whom legal claims were addressed.52

As we have seen, Upper Peruvian officials stated that regardless of the Indians’ pledges, they refused to meet their fiscal obligations, manipulated the meaning of legal procedures, and eventually mounted a conspiracy to bring down colonial government. The historical literature also has treated the Chayanta rebellion as basically a protest against state levies. Whereas at first the Indians’ goals were restricted to replacing the mestizo kurakas and curtailing the forced distribution of goods, the movement supposedly evolved into a protest against tributes and the Potosí mita.53 It is this assault on the structural foundations of the colonial regime that seemingly accounts for the notable support the Chayanta rebellion enjoyed among Indian communities of the southern Andes. From this perspective, the significance of peasant judicial politics was to disguise, not to disclose, the real purpose of collective mobilization.

This essay argues that mass violence and judicial strategies were inextricably entwined and cannot be understood in isolation. To dissociate them confuses the logic of peasant politics with the logic of its colonial representation. Indian legal writing was highly consistent with peasant collective actions in the Andean villages —an arena in which gestures of submission toward Spanish local authorities were steadily vanishing.54 It was the articulation, not the disengagement, of mass violence and juridical strategies that made Indian mobilization a radically subversive movement.

To understand the material and symbolic rationality behind indigenous judicial claims, we must place the denunciation of fiscal fraud in the context of the internal dynamics of the indigenous society of Chayanta. Modern ethnohistorical studies of the northern Potosí region have underscored how the ayllu (extended kin group) has shown an unmatched resilience and adaptivity in the Andean region. With its ethnic roots in the pre-Hispanic Charka and Karakara confederation, the Macha peasant society was organized in segments, extending from minor ayllus and moieties to larger ethnic units.55 Throughout the colonial period and well into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, this segmental organization was cemented by complex webs of reciprocity, communal labor, and ritual.

Like most Andean peoples, northern Potosí peasants practiced a land tenure system that included the use of noncontiguous puna and valley lands. Unlike some Indian communities, however, where the forced resettlement (reductión) carried out by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo in the 1570s tended to disrupt that model of “vertical archipelagos” or “double residence,” the Aymara ayllus of Chayanta were allowed to preserve their direct access to agricultural products from different ecological levels within the boundaries of the Spanish administrative unit. Although rooted in traditional principles of social organization, the Andean ideals of reciprocity and self-sufficiency could therefore develop in the context of a growing mercantile economy. By the end of the eighteenth century, Chayanta, along with Cochabamba, had become the main supplier of grain to the market of Potosí. But while large landed estates dominated the Cochabamba valleys, Chayanta’s agricultural production rested heavily on the Indian communities.56

The concrete forms of articulation of highland communities with the structures of political and mercantile colonialism depended to a great extent on the control of native chieftainships. After the consolidation of the Toledan model of rationalized state exactions, Andean kurakas officially assumed the function of fiscal agents, legally responsible for the collection of tribute and the dispatch of the entire team of mita workers. Although they functioned within indigenous society, they were key players in preserving the norms of ethnic subsistence. As recent studies have shown, Andean lords had to guarantee the balanced assignation of lands and herds among the members of the ayllu, the administration and trade of peasant agrarian surplus, and the distribution of the fiscal burden depending on the size and productive resources of each household.57 It was this set of reproductive strategies that illegitimate kurakas, whether hereditaiy or appointed by local Spanish magistrates during the expansion of the repartimiento system in the second half of the eighteenth century, placed in jeopardy.

As the Macha communities’ legal documents point out, the kurakas rented to outsiders the plots assigned to domestic units and appropriated for themselves the profits from the collective work of ayllus on communal lands, earnings that were meant to provide for mitayos and eventually to complete tribute payments. By actively participating of the corregidores’ forced distribution of commodities, the kurakas undermined the integration of peasant communities into colonial markets, weakening the Indians’ position as both sellers and consumers of commodities.58

Similarly, illegitimate native authorities distorted the relationship between the Aymara communities and the colonial state. On the one hand, the kurakas violated the norms of reciprocity that regulated the operation of the tribute system in peasant society. These norms, developed outside of and in contradiction to state regulations, set strictly Andean criteria for determining who fell into what tribute category and how much each household should pay.59 Local authorities, on the other hand, closely guarded the information concerning the exact amount of money that the communities owed the state, and they transferred debts from tributes to repartimiento payments. In so doing, they not only personally profited from peasant taxes but also overlapped and confused two materially and symbolically competitive modes of economic exploitation. Whereas the ayllus consistently proved their willingness to deliver tributes and mita, they denounced the abuses emanating from the repartimiento and eventually asked for its complete elimination.60

The association between corregidores and kurakas thus transformed the mechanism of double empadronamiento from a strategy of collective resistance into a symbol of the disruption of the peasant moral economy.61 While the strong emphasis on the misappropriation of tributes in Indian legal writing doubtless had a related effect as a legal means of expelling illegitimate kurakas, the assertion took on meanings far beyond its instrumental function. It came to synthesize and fuse the images of the violation of the two sources on which the kurakas’ legitimacy rested. By appropriating ayllu services to the state, the kurakas undermined their role as fiscal agents of the crown; by disrupting the networks of reciprocity and redistribution in peasant society, they relinquished their function as native lords.62 The workings of the tribute system thus became the battlefield for a struggle over the dominant modes of exploitation in the Andean world—a struggle in which peasant communities sought to regain control over their economic and social resources, their integration into the southern Andean markets, and their relationship with the colonial fiscal system.

On a more general level, Aymara collective mobilization reflected a larger political contest to define the meaning of colonial rule. As Macha communities would a century later, when they rose up against the liberal reforms applied by the creole Repúblican elites, the Aymara communities attempted to revitalize an ideal pattern of state-ayllu relations that Tristan Platt has called a “pact of reciprocity.”63 In exchange for bringing to light the misappropriation of tributes —for confirming their allegiance to the crown—the ayllus expected colonial authorities to recognize and enforce their rights to political and social autonomy.64

This political outlook certainly was not structurally incompatible with the juridical formulation of colonial government as it had been established since the late sixteenth century. The “pact of reciprocity” might indeed have constituted the symbolic transformation of coercive power relationships into the language of asymmetrical exchange.65 Yet it would be misleading to conceptualize interethnic reciprocity as the ideological mystification of the realities of colonial exploitation. State economic dues, as well as Spanish justice, represented both modes of material and symbolic violence and sources of political rights. The day-to-day experience of colonial hegemony—after the traumatic events of Spanish conquest gave way to an integrated, longterm common history—rested not on the dominance of alien institutions itself but on the power of defining the social meaning of such institutions, the specific links that should bind Spaniards and Andean peoples to the colonial order.66 The analysis of peasant actions seems to reveal precisely how political subversiveness could emerge in a process through which the Andean communities successfully used both law and force to make colonial authorities accountable and to enforce their corporative prerogatives.

The three months that passed between the audiencia’s imprisonment of Katari and the battle of Pocoata witnessed, as a corregidor’s assistant put it, “the largest disturbance experienced in the governing of this province in many years.”67 The popular violence, however, was anything but random. Although unable to bring about the appointment of a commissioned judge, the Andean communities made full use of the means of coercion at their disposal to enforce the decrees gained in Potosí, Charcas, and Buenos Aires.68 As peasant actions and statements show, Aymara communities assumed the right to expel their kurakas and to oversee the corregidor’s authority. During this period, the mestizo kurakas and their allies in rural society were so completely overwhelmed by the Indian mobilization that their position as brokers between the colonial state and the communities collapsed. In accordance with the superior courts’ decisions, the Macha ayllus did not allow the kurakas to continue collecting tributes, selecting the mita contingent, or raising money for debts from the repartimiento. Thus, for example, after chasing him for two days, they warned the mestizo kuraka of the Anansaya moiety, Norberto Osinaga, to stop collecting tributes. The Macha communities told him that “among them each one would go to the royal treasury to deliver the tributes.”69 In June 1780, approximately 40 Indians attacked one jilacata (tribute collector) of Macha, “warning him to suspend the collection of money from the repartimiento until Dr. Ormaechea arrives to inform the corregidor of the instructions concerning this matter issued by the Royal Audiencia.”70 Juan Ormaechea was one of the three lawyers the viceroy had recommended to act as the commissioned judge in the trial of the mestizo kurakas.

The corregidor’s main assistant, Lieutenant Luis Nuñez, stated that in the communities, word had gone out “not to pay the tributes and repartimientos to Spaniards or mestizos until further notice.”71 A mestizo testified that in early June in Chimbona he had met “a large number of Indians.” When he asked the purpose of the gathering, two Indians replied that the community had designated them capitán enterador and kuraka, respectively, of the Ayllu Majapicha, “and all the people had come together to elect the mitayos, which was what they had just done.”72

Indians from Urinsaya dragged their kuraka, Francisco Flores, out of his house, beat him, and tied him to a mule. Wrapped in a blanket, he was brought to a hacienda, where some in the crowd persuaded the others to “treat me with mercy [because] I was like them, an Indian.” After demanding that Flores hand over the money he was carrying with him, the kuraka was told “not to dare collect tribute and repartimientos, and no longer to consider myself cacique.”73 The alcalde mayor of San Marcos de Miraflores reported that more than one hundred Indians, men and women, forced him out of the parish house where he was hiding. The Indians took away his bastón, “saying I was the greatest thief . . . and that had I been the Lieutenant [Luis Nunez], I would have been stoned to death by the entire community, men as well as women.”74

Collective violence aimed not only to remove the kurakas from office but also to compel them to retract their previous statements against the Macha communities and Katari. It is important to note that the rebels had regular access to the correspondence between the audiencia, the corregidor, and the kurakas as a result of their strict control over the circulation of mail and people in the province.75 The ayllus thus knew that the kurakas’ denunciations of Katari—accusing him of pretending to possess viceregal orders to reduce tribute quotas—had contributed to his indictment by the authorities. The Aymara communities attempted to reverse this legal process.

In the weeks preceding the battle of Pocoata, collective actions showed a consistent pattern. After harassing mestizo kurakas and forcing them to resign, the Andean peasants accused them of complicity in Katari’s arrest. Then they either pressured the kurakas to persuade the corregidor to release Katari, or threatened to bring them to La Plata to have them declare Katari’s innocence before the Royal Audiencia. Thus, 70 Indians attacked Francisco Flores and Pablo Chaves, kuraka and segunda of the Ayllu Collana of Urinsaya, during the night and forced them to write a letter requesting Katari’s liberation. Flores and Chaves were also obliged to hand over the money necessary for sending this letter to Alós.76

In mid-July, about two hundred Indians assaulted kuraka Roque Sanchez Morato as he was trying to deliver the mita contingent to Potosí. Although Morato somehow managed to escape and put himself under the protection of a non-Indian neighbor, the communities, “who in anticipation had set spies in place,” broke in and threatened to burn the house to the ground if Morato did not surrender. According to the kuraka, the conditions the Indians imposed for not taking him prisoner were that “I was no longer Governor and had no rights as kuraka whatsoever, [and that] if I did not obtain Katari’s release in eight days, my protector would hand me over to the Indians so that they might do with me as they wished.”77 A neighboring mestizo from Macha heard the Indians proclaim “that they recognized no Corregidor, but only the Royal Audiencia, which ordered them to bring all the caciques and Alcaldes Mayores to the city of La Plata.”78

In the months preceding the Pocoata battle, Corregidor Aiós, too, encountered harassment. At the end of July, during his annual journey through the Chayanta valleys, he and his soldiers were surrounded by a large crowd of Macha peasants. Though no violence occurred, Alós was intimidated enough to appoint two new indigenous kurakas, and finally to submit to the audiencia the decrees Katari had secured in Potosí and La Plata. Aiós also had to promise to reduce the repartimientos and to obtain Katari’s release. According to a witness, the Indians warned that if he did not fulfill his promises, “the revolts they had initiated would not cease, and they did not care if they died in the endeavor.”79

Matching the steady escalation of collective violence during this period was a parallel increase in juridical appeals to higher colonial courts. In the course of two months, the Aymara peasants journeyed back three times to La Plata and presented six claims to the audiencia and the viceroy of Buenos Aires. Although regional Spanish authorities did their best to confine the conflict within the province, the peasants’ efforts successfully brought the dispute to officials’ attention in several judicial settings simultaneously, thereby bridging the physical and political gaps that under colonial administration isolated the realm of law production from the realm of law enforcement. The Aymara ayllus conveyed the viceroy’s orders to the audiencia, the Charcas court’s decisions to the corregidor, the corregidor’s actions to the audiencia, and the audiencia’s measures to the viceroy. By enforcing juridical resolutions, the communities seized from local authorities the legitimate use of force. The circulation of information their activities generated, in turn, transformed the Spanish justice system from a potential means of redressing grievances into the very target of the political struggle. The Aymara communities no longer restricted themselves to reporting abuses by the corregidor and kurakas; they began to dispute the legitimacy of the corregidores in general, as well as the legality of the audiencia’s policies and the viceroy’s ability to exercise power.

The Indians declared that Tomás Katari had been arrested by the audiencia, and

had been treated as a criminal without our knowing why he had not been permitted to take office, as we expected. . . . [For] there is no other person who would be more scrupulous and vigilant in the collection of tributes, and would give us the good treatment so recommended in the laws so that we do not experience even the slightest harm or abuse.80

In one of the presentations before the audiencia, Katari declared that he had been informed that the court “has ordered Joaquín Alós to conduct my trial and to find evidence of the charges against me. In this particular,” Katari continued,

I must say to your Highness that the said corregidor has been and is my mortal enemy, and as such has tyrannically persecuted me throughout that province. ... As I could not bear his violent methods anymore, I came to this court in order to continue my claims; it is also apparent that if I were the type of criminal [I am alleged to be], I would have never come to seek the justice that the well-known mercy of your Highness administers.81

Well known as the audiencia’s mercy might have been, it was again challenged in a Peticion Katari and several Indians sent to the viceroy. The Aymara leader, the letter stated, had spent more than two months in jail, having committed “no other crime or fault than to have gone to that Higher Court [of Buenos Aires] to testify on behalf of the interests of the Royal Hacienda and the miserable Indians.” The Macha Indians Peticióned Viceroy Vértiz to appoint a new protector de naturales in Chayanta “because the corregidor has named his secretary, Juan Antonio Castañares, [who] is the corregidor’s associate and domestic, and is not instructed in our languages, [something that] is indispensable if his functions are to remain independent from those of the Corregidor.” Finally, the Indians not only recused Joaquín Alós but also pleaded for the viceroy “to protect us with a decree that would serve as example for other corregidores, and [another decree] against Blas Bernal for being a criminal and thief of royal tributes.” “On both matters,” the Indians concluded, “Your Majesty has indisputable jurisdiction.”82

The armed battles for the enforcement of the law, then, corresponded to an ideological struggle over the meaning of the legal structures (rights, jurisdictions, and judicial procedures) that framed the conflict. As Pierre Bourdieu has pointed out, the practical content, the real significance of the law, is not enclosed in the juridical canon itself. It emerges out of disputes over its interpretation. The appropriation of the “symbolic power” contained in legal texts “is the prize to be won in interpretive struggles.”83 If the symbolic power of the law lies in its capacity to designate certain actions as juridical acts and others as arbitrary violence, then the peasants’ legal politics broke the “chain of legitimation” that bound the exercise of political authority to the juridical canon. In the process, the Aymara peasants were able to turn official narratives of the conflict upside down: Indian collective violence now appeared as juridical acts, and the actions of political authorities as forms of arbitrary violence.

Aymara politics transformed a conflict that had originated from a restricted set of grievances into a general struggle over the role of different institutions and social groups in colonial society. In peasant discourse, the corregidor and kurakas had no legitimate claim to rule whatsoever; the audiencia colluded with the corregidor in defrauding the royal treasury and disavowing juridical structures of authority; and the viceroy had to exercise his jurisdiction forcefully if the crowns interests and the native communities’ legal prerogatives were to be served, “since all the province—as Katari claimed—lacks the Royal Protection that by Right and Justice we deserve.”84

Aymara strategies thus led to a profound disruption of the political culture of the colonial regime. “If politics is defined as the process by which competing claims and policies are transformed into authoritative definitions of the general good,” Keith Baker has argued about the political culture of ancien regime France, “then absolutist politics occurs, in ideal terms, only in the mind and person of the king.”85 If we substitute for the image of the king that of the crown’s representatives in America, this statement could be applied to the absolutist colonial state.86 And just as in eighteenth-century France the juridical protests against seignorial rights nurtured a process of “politicization of the village,” the direct effect of the Aymara mobilization was to place into a public arena, to make visible, the relationship between formal and informal mechanisms of power imposed on Andean ayllus.87

Neither the “parish pump,” the peasant microcosm, nor “(conceptually) the human race,” or the universe —the usual framework of peasant revolts and millennial movements, respectively—constituted the unit of Aymara collective action; that unit was the space in between, the domain of colonial allocation of political and economic resources.88 The “theology of the administration,” which by definition had to be contained in the realm of the Spanish bureaucracy, began to be subjected to scrutiny and challenge in what James C. Scott has called the “public transcript of power relations.”89 In seizing that critical power, the Indians ceased to function as passive recipients of colonial justice, as “legal minors.” They transformed themselves into autonomous political actors, capable not only of asserting their rights but also of defining the means by which the delegates of the crown should exercise their authority.

Ambivalent Rituals of Justice

The long process of contestation initiated by the Aymara ayllus in 1777 culminated in a bloody upheaval on August 26, 1780, in the village of Pocoata. During the customary annual meeting, at which the Chayanta communities delivered tributes and presented the mita team to the corregidor, the Indians attacked the Spanish militia, killing several soldiers and forcing the rest to take shelter in the village church. The corregidor himself was captured, taken hostage, and then exchanged for the imprisoned Tomás Katari. This revolt has been compared with the opening move of the Tupamarista rebellion. According to Leon Campbell, the capture of Joaquín Alós in Chayanta and Antonio de Arriaga in Tinta present some common characteristics.90 Jan Szeminski has maintained that both leaders alluded to royal decrees to legitimate an outright assault on colonial institutions. Túpac Amaru certainly evoked fictitious royal orders to try and then publicly execute the corregidor Antonio de Arriaga in Tinta’s central square in November 1780. Whatever its ideological justification, this action marked the beginning of an insurrection in which Túpac Amaru proclaimed himself the new Inca-king91 Did the Aymara rebels follow a similar political pattern? For the purpose of this essay, two specific events immediately before and after the Pocoata revolt are crucial: the dispatch of the mita and the culminating encounter between Katari and the corregidor.

As part of his general prediction that the Indians would seek “to cast off the yoke of royal subjection” and to be released from their duties to the state, the corregidor expected Indian violence to erupt by the day the mita was scheduled to be delivered. On Saturday, August 25, some 200 soldiers took up strategic positions while Alós, escorted by 12 armed men, went to perform the traditional ceremony of reviewing the mita team. About 2,000 Indians were gathered on the outskirts of Pocoata when the corregidor and his small party arrived. Yet the review of the mita did not provoke a single act of defiance. In the context of a well-prepared confrontation, the uneventful dispatch of the mining quota to Potosí was not a matter of chance; it was a calculated performance, carrying a definite political message.

By deferring the battle for a few hours, the Aymara communities seemed to be proving that it was not their compliance with state economic obligations that was at stake in the conflict.92 An incident that occurred during the ceremony reinforced this message. When, for unclear reasons, Alós attempted to seize a mine laborer, the peasants immediately came to the worker’s rescue and wrested him away from his captor. Amid threats and mockery, the communities warned the corregidor that the Indian “was cédula [mitayo] and so could not be arrested.”93 Centuries of Spanish government should have taught the Andean peasants that corregidores had no jurisdiction over mitayos. Yet in the context of an intense political struggle over the position of Indian peoples and Spanish authorities regarding colonial polity, those gestures and utterances were making a broader ideological point. The mining mita, far from being a target of mass violence, emerged as a crucial symbol of the privileged relationship linking the Andean ayllus and the king.94 From this perspective, the mita was an institution that empowered Andean communities to challenge and to ignore local political authority. In the Indians’ eyes, what rendered the corregidor’s power illegitimate was not that he embodied colonial rule, as Alós had repeatedly argued, but that he no longer did.95

The encounter between Tomás Katari and Joaquín Alós that followed the Aymara leader’s release represented a critical moment in the history of Andean resistance to colonial authority. Like the public execution of the corregidor of Tinta two months later, it enacted a remarkable ritual of justice. Yet Katari’s assumption of the position of kuraka and Alós’ dismissal as corregidor illustrate the striking contrasts in ideology and strategy that distinguished the Aymara from the Cuzco movement. To highlight its social meaning, this juridical ceremony should be seen against the background of Katari’s arrest in Macha almost two years earlier. In June 1778, as Katari was delivering the decrees he had obtained in Potosí and Charcas, Alós arrested him, had him publicly whipped by the mestizo kuraka, Bias Bernal, and then confiscated the documents—depriving Katari of written evidence in his eventual appeal before the viceroy. Katari later recalled that as he was being punished,

the corregidor stated before the presence of all the Indians that he was their absolute Corregidor and Visitador, and that there were no Audiencia or Royal Officials, and if they complained again [before these courts], he would hang them from the stirrups of his horse.96

At the beginning of September 1780, as soon as Katari reached the village of Macha, he had the decree appointing him kuraka read out loud. He asked the hundreds of peasants gathered to celebrate his release to obey the decisions of the audiencia. Then he went to the house where the corregidor was being held and, according to Alós’ own account, “accompanied by innumerable Indians from all parcialidades and even from other provinces, Katari and the others made the ceremony of asking for my pardon.”97 That for the communities pardon meant a formal recognition of gains, not forgiveness of guilt, became immediately clear. After prostrating himself “at the feet of the corregidor with the most profound submission I must have for Royal Justice,” the Aymara leader ordered that a decree commanding Alós to appear before the audiencia also be read out loud.98

Before Katari had left La Plata, the court had assured him that the corregidor and his lieutenant “would never return to the province and a [new] Justicia Mayor who looks on the Indians with love and charity would be appointed.”99 In vivid contrast to his own previous threats, Joaquín Alós was asked to voice his compliance with the royal decree. Once the corregidor had publicly accepted his legal removal before the large crowd of peasants, Katari requested that the edict be returned to him to keep “for his protection.”

Spanish domination was reproduced, writes Thomas Abercrombie, “in many forms of public theater and rituals through which the Andean people had to publicly express their submission to colonial rule (and in this manner civilize themselves).”100 Doubtless the administration of the king’s justice in the Indian towns stands out as one of the fundamental forms of public theater. Paradoxically, however, political insurgency in northern Potosí was expressed through the mimicry, rather than the dismissal, of such rituals. But mimicry was neither a disguise for anticolonial conspiracy nor a display of ideological submission. As shown by the events in Pocoata, the encounter between Katari and the corregidor was simultaneously a formal administration of justice and an act of political subversion. On the one hand, it featured a carefully arranged sequence of judicial procedures through which authentic royal decrees were enforced. On the other hand, its extraordinary performing context divested this legal ceremony of its prescribed meaning as a ritual of colonial authority, recasting it as a mimic act, something that is both the same as and different from what it duplicates.101

On the public stage of colonial politics, the Andean ayllus met their obligations to the state and respected the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts. The drama they performed, however, no longer represented the ayllus’ submission to European rulers but something that went against the very ideological core of colonial domination: the fulfillment of Aymara ideas of legitimacy and the superior coercive power of indigenous peoples.

The founding premise of colonialism, the notion of European cultural and military superiority, was thus opened to contestation. The acute political radicalization that emerged in the aftermath of the mass violence was vividly exemplified in a letter the corregidor was forced to send to the audiencia before leaving the province. The communities reiterated their commitment to fulfill all their economic obligations and asked the audiencia to support Katari; to appoint a new, impartial corregidor; and to recognize a reduction of the repartimientos, which they had forced Alós to grant. While these demands were essentially similar to previous ones, their political framework was not. As Alós explained,

I have tried to erase their impression that Your Highness may wish to send a great number of soldiers, in which case, these miserable Indians say that all the Kingdom will tremble [because] their number is overwhelmingly larger than that of the Spaniards; and everything could be avoided by not disturbing them.102

As with all legal writing, the Indians were speaking through a language not their own. But also as with such writing, their rhetoric was not empty. When, in January 1781, after a complex process whose study exceeds the aims of this article, the Aymara leader was captured and killed, the threatening message the Andean communities had sent came true. A few weeks later, thousands of peasants from several southern Andean provinces covered the hillsides of La Plata, threatening to kill the entire Spanish population.

Authority and Subversion

The analysis presented in this essay aims to demonstrate that the mobilization of northern Potosí communities was a truly subversive movement long before news of Túpac Amaru’s uprising started to reach the region at the end of 1780. The key interpretive problem lies in how to define political subversion in this historical context. Certainly, Aymara peasants did not seem to pursue what we would call economic and political structural transformations, the kind of goals that historians have identified behind every large-scale insurrection in colonial times. Tomás Katari’s movement was not directed against the two fundamental means of exploitation over native peoples, tribute and mita, and it certainly was not intended to expel the Spanish population and institutions.

As interpreted by most historical accounts, the insurrection of Cuzco led by Túpac Amaru, by contrast, aimed to reestablish pre-Hispanic polities. Túpac Amaru was seen as a messiah, and the social transformation he championed as part of a broader cosmological cataclysm. This is not to say that the insurrection was isolated from colonial society, or its ideology untouched by European conceptions. The participation of non-Indians at the beginning of the uprising is well documented; most of the rebels apparently perceived themselves as good Christians as well as loyal vassals of the Spanish monarchy.103 These elements, however, were articulated into symbols and rituals of neo-Inca nationalism from the very beginning of the movement. Millennial expectations, moreover, corresponded to a popular program of reform that involved the elimination of all types of colonial exactions, including tribute, mita, repartimientos, and alcabalas.104

Under the leadership of Túpac Katari in the La Paz region, what began as an anticolonial rebellion ultimately came close to a total race war.105 “Civilization or barbarism,” says Alberto Flores Galindo, “was the central question posed by the Túpac Amaru rebellions.” Drawing on Charles Minget, Flores Galindo states that this question mirrored the drama of the colonial world at large, a world in which “a Europeanized minority dominated a majority indigenous or mestizo population that in turn recognized itself in other traditions, which its rulers denigrated and negated.”106

The argument of this essay is that in the Aymara insurrection of Chayanta, nativist utopias, revolutionary programs, and binary identities were neither the origin of the struggle nor the driving force behind much of the conflict. Given the Indians’ socioeconomic objectives, the Aymara movement clearly belongs to the cycle of local revolts and judicial protest that had mushroomed in the Audiencia of Charcas since the 1750s. Like earlier episodes of litigation and collective violence in Moscari, Aymaya, Condo Condo, or Pocoata, the uprising led by Tomás Katari sought to regain control over community social and economic resources by attacking the most abusive aspects of village government.107

Historians may have underestimated the insurrectional potential of local grievances against particular kurakas, tribute collectors, parish priests, or corregidores. These demands may seem to refer to “reformist” goals, but for the peasant communities they represented issues vital enough to put lives, property, and social standing at risk. And regional power groups shared this view. It took a three-year mass mobilization and the most violent armed revolt the northern Potosí region had ever experienced for the corregidor to dismiss illegitimate kurakas and reduce the repartimiento, and for the audiencia to allow Tomás Katari to rule the Macha ayllus.

Nevertheless, it is crucial to note that the indigenous challenge to colonial domination lay not so much in the aims of peasant mobilization as in the process of political confrontation itself. As much as the Indian objectives disrupted the ongoing modes of exploitation in the Andean world, they did so within the margins of the existing legal framework. Judicial records reveal that the removal of Macha native authorities should have taken place almost immediately after the Macha communities’ first appeal in mid-1777; this, as argued earlier, was also the judgment of the viceroy of Río de la Plata. Not only did the Chayanta peasants believe that they had the law on their side (and then take it into their own hands). What counterinsurgency narratives sought to conceal is that they were mostly right. The paradox of the Aymara movement is that the peasants’ continual reference to colonial legality and institutions did not inhibit, but instead unleashed and legitimated mass violence. Peasant political consciousness grew out of the symbolic articulation of discursive battles in colonial courts and armed battles in the Andean villages.

It was the sustained collective exploration of the contradictions between power and law, truth and justice in Andean society that gradually undermined the consensual and coercive foundations of colonial authority. As distinguished from previous isolated and short-lived outbursts of violence, as well as long but usually unsuccessful legal protests, this collective effort also empowered Indian communities to nurture broad links of solidarity and political awareness.

The Chayanta movement, therefore, presents a case of “radical subversiveness” not only for attempting “to seize existing authority” but also for challenging “the principle on which authority was based.”108 The political premise that inspired the Aymara movement was that of a pact between the ayllus and the colonial state whereby the Indians’ fulfillment of their economic obligations was linked to the state’s assurance of their social and political autonomy. Whereas Indian communities from the Cuzco and La Paz regions manipulated imperial Inca memories of Tahuantinsuyu, the Aymara peasants from northern Potosí seemed to resort to a traditional pattern of incorporation into both Inca and Spanish state structures. The political struggle to transform this ideal model into concrete power relationships gradually enabled the Andean communities to question the Spanish authorities’ claim to a monopoly on legitimate force, to redefine the legal modes of rule in the colonial administration, and to turn time-honored judicial rituals of domination into manifestations of the communities’ own ideological and military success.

The process through which the Andean communities appropriated the physical and symbolic power to redefine political legitimacy led, finally, to a complete disarticulation of the modes of colonial subjectivity, the way both the colonizers and the colonized recognized themselves and each other.109 What should be stressed is that Aymara peasants did not construct their collective identity by negating the idea of civilization imposed by European domination. Insofar as the European concept of humanity was bound to Indian subordination to Spanish institutions and laws, as well as to the fulfillment of economic obligations as the king’s vassals, it was in the regional power groups’ interest to portray indigenous practices as a regression to the precolonial stage of barbarism and paganism.110 The description of peasant mobilization as a protest against tribute, the king, and the church represented an attempt to subsume indigenous communities under cultural stereotypes that justified colonial authority. “To live without any subjection whatsoever,” as the corregidor worded it, “is their natural propensity.” It is in the opposition of savagery and submission that colonial discourse represented native peoples and legitimated its civilizing mission.

The unintended outcome of Chayanta’s collective mobilization was precisely to dislodge this opposition, to disavow any attempt to situate the communities’ actions at either extreme. The movement’s political subversiveness should be sought not in what the Spanish rulers said, but in what colonial discourse suppressed. If the European colonial project required the construction of a “reformed, recognizable Other, as a subject of a difference that is almost the same but not quite,” the Aymara insurrection emerged from the pursuit of the concept of equality, such as it was defined in the juridical theory of the two republics.111

Aymara discourses and actions did not deny or seek to deny difference itself, but difference as a signifier of cultural isolation and inferiority. Peasant strategies pushed to the limit what Jacques Rancière would describe as the consequences of their full participation in the category of human beings; or more specifically, in the category of the crown’s free subjects.112 The Spanish authorities were thus forced to cope not with the denial of the European concept of civilization, but with the disarticulation of cultural and racial hierarchies emanating from that concept.

The strangeness of Katari’s voluntary surrender to the audiencia in order to declare “his truth and his justice” lies in the way this act exceeded the Indians’ established role as objects of colonial knowledge and control. What in normal times constituted gestures of obedience and consent (Katari surrendered himself to colonial courts, the Indians obeyed juridical decisions, the mining labor was dispatched, the tributes were collected) became, in this particular context, fragments of a larger insurrectional script. Those practices radically undermined the prescribed meaning of the categories of civilization and barbarism through which Spanish authority and Indian rebellion could be understood. Therefore, counterinsurgency accounts of the events dissociated those acts from the flux of mass violence by depicting Aymara judicial politics as the result of the Indians’ inherent inability to understand law and legal procedures, or, when that interpretation was already unsustainable, as the surface of a secret anticolonial conspiracy. But Tomás Katari and the Andean communities from northern Potosí did not conform to the role they were assumed and pushed to play. Thus, Aymara practices and discourse not only challenged entrenched relations of economic and political power in the Andean world; they also subverted the historical experience of colonial identities —the function of Spaniards as legitimate agents of colonial institutions, the collective violence of native peoples as a symptom of savagery inscribed in nature and history, and, in the end, the justification of European rule as an endless civilizing process.

This research was assisted by a grant from the Joint Committee on Latin American and Caribbean Studies of the Social Science Research Council and the American Council of Learned Societies with funds provided by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Funds also came from the Consejo de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas de la Argentina (CONICET), the John Carter Brown Library, and the Fundación Antorchas. Earlier versions of this essay were read at the Faculty Seminar on Eighteenth-Century Studies, State University of New York, Stony Brook, March 1993; and the “V Coloquio Intemacional: El Siglo XVIII en los Andes,” Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos Bartolomé de las Casas and CLACSO, Paris, April 19-24, 1993. I am grateful to those who offered comments at those meetings. I also thank Paul Gootenberg, Leonardo Hernández, Juan Carlos Korol, Cecilia Méndez, Silvana Palermo, Tristan Platt, Ana María Presta, Sinclair Thomson, Charles Walker, Barbara Weinstein, Kathleen Wilson, and the three anonymous HAHR reviewers for helpful criticism, and particularly Brooke Larson and Enrique Tandeter for their intellectual generosity and advice.


Interrogation of Tomás Katari by the Audiencia of Charcas, Aug. 29, 1780, Archivo General de la Nación, Buenos Aires (hereafter cited as AGN), XI, Interior, leg. 10, exp. 1, ff. 133-133v.


Natalie Zemon Davis, “The Rites of Violence,” in Society and Culture in Early Modern France: Eight Essays (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1975), 154.


For biographical data on Túpac Amaru, see John Rowe, “El movimiento national inca del siglo XVIII,” Revista Universitaria (Cuzco) 107 (1954), 17-47; Alberto Flores Galindo, Buscando a un Inca: identidad y utopía en los Andes (Lima: Instituto de Apoyo Agrario, 1987); and Jan Szeminski, La utopía tupamarista (Lima, Pontificia Universidad Católica, 1983). On Túpac Katari (Julián Apasa), see María Eugenia del Valle de Siles, Historia de la rebelión de Túpac Catari (La Paz: Don Bosco, 1990).


See Steve J. Stern, Peru’s Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest: Huamanga to 1640 (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1982); Brooke Larson, Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation in Bolivia: Cochabamba, 1550-1900 (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1988); Woodrow Borah, justice by Insurance: The General Indian Court of Colonial Mexico and the Legal Aides of the Half-Real (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1983).


Stern, Peru’s Indian Peoples, 137; see also William B. Taylor, “Between Global Process and Local Knowledge: An Inquiry into Early Latin American Social History, 1500-1900,” in Reliving the Past: The Worlds of Social History, ed. Olivier Zunz (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1985), 151-57.


William B. Taylor, Drinking, Homicide, and Rebellion in Colonial Mexican Villages (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1979); Charles Walker, “La violencia y el sistema legal: los indios y el estado en el Cusco después de la rebelión de Túpac Amaru,” in Poder y violencia en los Andes, comp. Henrique Urbano, ed. Mirko Lauer (Cuzco: Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos Bartolomé de las Casas, 1991), 125-48.


Friedrich Katz, “Rural Uprisings in Preconquest and Colonial Mexico,” in Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution: Rural Social Conflict in Mexico, ed. Katz (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1988), 79.


Serge Gruzinski, Man-Gods in the Mexican Highlands: Indian Power and Colonial Society, 1520-1800 (Stanford: Stanford Univ. Press, 1989), 18.


Jürgen Golte, Repartos y rebeliones: Túpac Amaru y las contradicciones de la economía colonial (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1980). For a critique of Golte’s emphasis on the repartimiento system as a general cause of Indian unrest, see Alberto Flores Galindo, “La revolutión tupamarista y los pueblos andinos (una crítica y un proyecto),” Allpanchis 17/18 (1981), 153-65.


John H. Coatsworth, “Patterns of Rural Rebellion in Latin America: Mexico in Comparative Perspective,” in Katz, Riot, Rebellion, and Revolution, 29-30.


Jorge Hidalgo Lehuede, “Amarus y cataris: aspectos mesianicos de la rebelión indígena de 1781 en Cusco, Chayanta, La Paz, y Arica,” Revista Chungara 10 (1983), 117-38; Szeminski, La utopía tupamarista; idem, “Why Kill the Spaniards? New Perspectives on Andean Insurrectionary Ideology in the Eighteenth Century,” in Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness in the Andean Peasant World, Eighteenth to Twentieth Centuries, ed. Steve J. Stern (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1987), 166-92; Flores Galindo, Buscando a un Inca.


Deborah Poole, “Antopología e historia andinas en los EE.UU.: buscando un reencuentro,” Revista Andina 10:1 (1992), 218.


See Scarlett O’Phelan Godoy, Un siglo de rebeliones anticoloniales. Perú y Bolivia, 1700-1783 (Cuzco: Centro de Estudios Regionales Andinos Bartolomé de las Casas, 1988), 149-73.


As the Chayanta rebellion spread, so did three “fault lines” of tension in the indigenous movement. The kuraka of the Anansaya moiety, Pascual Chura, resisted Katari's appointment as main kuraka of Macha. See AGN, IX, Int., leg. 8, exp. 1, fol. 14v-18, 34–35v, and 71–71v. The traditional rivalry between the Macha and the Pocoata communities pushed the Pocoatans eventually to oppose the insurrection. AGN, IX, leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 222–25v: and AGN, IX, leg. 8, exp. 8, fol. 59-61. Katari disagreed with some indigenous sectors that organized attacks on parish priests to force them to exhibit the official list of church obventions and fees. AGN, IX, leg. 8, exp. 8, fol. 48-49v; AGN, IX, leg. 8, exp. 1, fol. 166v–68.


During this period Katari collected and remitted the complete tribute quota from Macha, as he had promised before his release. Between September and December 1780, he sent more than 20 letters to Charcas, Potosí, Buenos Aires, and even the king, blaming Spanish regional authorities for widespread violence and asking for the appointment of a neutral and just corregidor.


See David A. Brading, Miners and Merchants in Bourbon Mexico, 1763-1810 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1971); Mark Burkholder and D. S. Chandler, From Impotence to Authority: The Spanish Crown and the American Audiencias, 1687-1808 (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1977).


O’Phelan Godoy, Un siglo de rebeliones, 175-221; David Cahill, “Taxonomy of a Colonial Riot: The Arequipa Disturbances of 1780,” in Reform and Insurrection in Bourbon New Granada and Peru, ed. John Fisher, Allan Kuethe, and Anthony McFarlane (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univ. Press, 1990), 255-91.


John Lynch, “The Institutional Framework of Colonial Spanish America,” Journal of Latin American Studies 24: Quincentenary Supplement (1992), 69-81.


Golte, Repartos y rebeliones; Alfredo Moreno Cebrian, El corregidor de indios y la economic peruana del sigh XVIII (los repartimientos forzosos de mercancías) (Madrid: CSIC, 1977); Larson, Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation, 126-32; Stanley J. Stein, “Bureaucracy and Business in the Spanish Empire, 1759-1804: Failure of a Bourbon Reform in Mexico and Peru,” HAHR 61:1 (Feb. 1981), 2-28.


Golte, Repartos y rebeliones, 135-38.


Testimony of the collusion between the corregidor and the audiencia ministers was given by the attorney Juan del Pino Manrique. See Manrique to Viceroy Vértiz, March 1781, cited in Boleslao Lewin, Túpac Amaru el rebelde. Su época, sus luchas, y su influencia en el continente (Buenos Aires: Claridad, 1943), 435-37.


Burkholder and Chandler, From Impotence to Authority; Susan Migden Socolow, The Bureaucrats of Buenos Aires, 1769-1810: Amor al Real Servicio (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1987).


No direct relation actually existed between the kurakas’ ethnic ascription or lineage and their legitimacy in Indian communities. Katari never probed his “rights of blood,” and his leadership was undoubtedly based on his actions in defense of Macha ayllus. Other Chayanta communities questioned ethnic authorities who belonged to traditional lines of kurakas. See AGN, IX, Int., leg. 8, exp. 1, fob 64-65v, 106-7, and 158-59. Community acceptance of kurakas rested on their social and political role rather than their lineage.


Summarizing the new court’s concerns about the effects of the 1764 royal edict, Viceroy Pedro de Ceballos reported to the king in 1778 that even when the Audiencia of Charcas had suspended many corregidores from their posts, “it is also well known that all were absolved, and from this resulted deaths, insurrections, and other serious disturbances.” Quoted in Golte, Repartos y rebeliones, 139.


Quoted in Lewin, Túpac Amaru el rebelde, 159.


Woodrow Borah, working with an extensive group of court cases for the Juzgado General de Indios of New Spain, has shown that the superior court decisions could include an immediate remedy or an order for a commissioned judge to begin an investigation, which the claimants had to present to the accused or the judge. Naturally, if one of the parties had personal interests in the conflict, the order could be ignored. The only control higher courts had over the execution of their decisions was to hear appeals. Law enforcement depended on local balances of power between the Indians and the authorities or individuals they accused. Borah, Justice by Insurance, 237-47. See also Colin M. MacLachlan, Spains Empire in the New World: The Role of Ideas in Institutional and Social Change (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1988), 124-25.


Report from Juan del Pino Manrique, June 1780, AGN, IX, Tribunales, leg. 181, exp. 29.


Viceroy Vértiz to Minister of the Indies José de Gálvez, Oct. 24, 1780, in Colección de obras y documentos relativos a la historia antigua y moderna de las provincias del Río de la Plata, ed. Pedro De Angelis (Buenos Aires: Plus Ultra, [1833] 1971), VII, 667.


AGN, IX, Int., leg. 11, exp. 8, fol. 68-71v.


Vértiz to Gálvez, Jan. 26, 1781, cited in Lewin, Túpac Amaru el rebelde, 440.


See Ranajit Guha, “The Prose of Counter-Insurgency,” in Select Subaltern Studies, ed. Guha and Gayatri Spivak (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 45-86. For the “ominous consequences,” see Manrique to Vértiz, Nov. 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 8, exp. 8, fol. 85v-86.


AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1., fol. 38v-39.


Alós to Audiencia, June 29, 1780, ibid., fol, 39-40.


Audiencia to Vértiz, Nov. 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 8, exp. 8, fol. 89.


Alós to Audiencia, July 13, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 54-55v.


On the evidence Caipa and Ancona presented, see AON, XIII, 18-10-1, libro 10.


Manrique to Vértiz, Nov. 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 8, exp. 8, fob 86v.


As Horst Pietschmann has aptly pointed out, the value systems of the different groups that made up colonial society did not conform to the structure of legal norms that were formally meant to regulate social relations. Therefore, the attachment to law on the part of both Spanish elites and Indians was, by definition, a strategy rather than a rule. The Bourbon reforms represented the first consistent, albeit unsuccessful, effort to impose a normative conception of law based on the universal application of legal norms. “Estado colonial y mentalidad social: el ejercicio del poder frente a los distintos sistemas de valores. Siglo XVIII,” in America latina: dallo stato coloniale alio stato nazione, ed. Antonio Annino (Milan: Franco Angeli, 1987), 427-47.


Alós to Audiencia, July 29, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 103.




Gerónimo de Cardona to Alós, Sept. 15, 1780, ibid., fol. 84.


Partha Chatterjee, The Nation and Its Fragments: Colonial and Postcolonial Histories (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1993), 18.


Audiencia to Vértiz, Sept. 15,1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 11, exp. 8, fol 44.


Alós to Audiencia, Aug. 25, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 141v.


Samudio also said that if the Macha communities’ accusation against the protector de naturales of Chayanta were true, then he would have to be suspended from office. In his place should be appointed a lawyer independent enough to represent Indian claims before the corregidor. AGN, IX, Int., leg. 11, exp. 8, fol. 38-40.


AGN, IX, Int., leg 11, exp. 8, fol. 58v-67v.


Vértiz to Gálvez, Oct. 24, 1780, in De Angelis, Colección de obras y documentos, 669. Emphasis mine.


AGN, IX, Int, leg. 11, exp. 8, fol. 62.


Vértiz to Gálvez, Oct. 1780, in De Angelis, Colección de obras y documentos, 669. Emphasis mine.


Coatsworth has categorized Indian rebellions and revolts as “illegal or extralegal collective action”; “illegal collective action constitutes an analytically fruitful object of separate study.” “Patterns of Rural Rebellion,” 23.


Charles Tilly, “How (And, to Some Extent, Why) to Study British Contention,” in As Sociology Meets History (New York: Academic Press, 1981), 161; see also John Brewer and John Styles, eds., An Ungovernable People: The English and Their Law in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (New Brunswick: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1980).


See James C. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1990), 87.


O’Phelan Godoy, Un siglo de rebeliones, 258-59; Leon Campbell, “Ideology and Factionalism During the Great Rebellion, 1780-1782,” in Stern, Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness, 114.


Chayanta peasants spoke Aymara; their written documents were transcribed in Spanish by lawyers and clerks. This limits understanding of the Indians’ true meaning. Nevertheless, the Chayanta communities demonstrated a real control over the content of the writings, as well as a sense that written language represented order and legitimacy, not necessarily cultural domination. For examples, see Tristan Platt, “The Andean Experience of Bolivian Liberalism, 1825–1900: Roots of Rebellion in Nineteenth-Century Chayanta (Potosí),” in Stern, Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness, 316-17; Erick D. Langer, “Andean Rituals of Revolt: The Chayanta Rebellion of 1927,” Ethnohistory 37:3 (1990), 227–53. For a theoretical critique of a rigid ascription of writing to the sphere of power and hegemony in illiterate popular cultures, see Dominick LaCapra, “The ‘Cheese and the Worms’: The Cosmos of a Twentieth-Century Historian,” in History and Criticism (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1985), 51–54.


Tristan Platt, “The Role of the Andean Ayllu in the Reproduction of the Petty Commodity Regime in Northern Potosí (Bolivia),” in Ecology and Exchange in the Andes, ed. David Lehmann (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1982), 27-69; Olivia Harris, “Labor and Produce in an Ethnic Economy: Northern Potosí, Bolivia,” in ibid., 70–79.


Tristan Platt, Estado boliviano y ayllu andino. Tierra y tributo en el norte de Potosí (Lima: Instituto de Estudios Peruanos, 1982); Larson, Colonialism and Agrarian Transformation.


See Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, “El mallku y la sociedad colonial en el siglo XVII: el caso de Jesús de Machaca,” Avances 1 (1978), 7–27; Roberto Choque, “Pedro Chipana: cacique comerciante de Calamarca,” ibid., 28-32; Brooke Larson, “Caciques, Class Structure, and the Colonial State,” Nova Americana 2 (1979), 197-235; Rosana Barragán Romano, “En torno al modelo comunal mercantil: el caso de Mizque (Cochabamba) en el siglo XVII,” Revista Chungara 15 (1985); María Cecilia Cangiano, “Curas, caciques, y comunidades en el Alto Peru: Chayanta a fines del siglo XVIII” (Unpublished paper, Jujuy, 1987).


The communities focused on two aspects of the repartimiento: the sale of goods at much higher prices than current values and the collection of debts by auctioning crops, which prevented the communities from selling their agricultural surplus at market prices. Testimony of several Macha Indians to Audiencia, June 10, 1780, AGN, IX, Trib., leg. 181, exp. 29, fol. 74–76.


For details, see Caciques from Chayanta, Panacachi, and Aymaya to Alós, Sept. 10, 1770, AGN, XIII, 18-10-2, libro 2, Trib., leg. 181, exp. 29; see also Platt, Estado boliviano y ayllu andino, 53-55; Daniel Santamaría, “La propiedad de la tierra y la conditión social del indio en el Alto Peru, 1573-1810,” Desarrollo Económico 66 (1977), 253-71.


For a more extensive analysis of peasant grievances, see Sergio Serulnikov, “Reivindicaciones indígenas y legalidad colonial. La rebelion de Chayanta (1777-1781),” Documentos CEDES 20, 1989.


On the applicability of the concept of moral economy to Andean communities during the colonial period, see Brooke Larson, “Exploitation and Moral Economy in the Southern Andes: A Critical Reconsideration” (Columbia-NYU, Occasional Papers 8, 1989); Ward Stavig, “Ethnic Conflict, Moral Economy, and Population in Rural Cuzco on the Eve of the Thupa Amaro II Rebellion,” HAHR 68:4 (Nov. 1988), 737-70.


On Andean kurakas’ double legitimacy as state fiscal agents and native lords, see Rivera Cusicanqui, “El mallku”; Thierry Saignes, “Ayllus, mercados, y coacción colonial: el reto de las migraciones internas en Charcas, siglo XVII,” in La participación indígena en los mercados surandinos. Estrategias y reproduccion social Siglos XVI a XX, ed. Olivia Harris, Brooke Larson, and Enrique Tandeter (La Paz: Centro de Estudios de la Realidad Económica y Social, 1987), 111–58; Saignes, “De la borrachera al retrato. Los caciques andinos entre dos legitimidades (Charcas),” Revista Andina 5:1 (1987), 139–70; Karen Spalding, “Defendiendo lo suyo. El kuraka en el sistema de productión andina,” in Reproducción y transformación de las sociedades andinas. Siglos XVI–XX, ed. Segundo Moreno Yáñez and Frank Salomon (Quito: Ediciones ABYA-YALA, 1991), 401–14.


Platt, Estado boliviano y ayllu andino, 40–41.


On the role of juridical rituals, the tribute system, and colonial land titles in the legitimation of Indian uprisings in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Bolivia, see Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui, “Oprimidos pero no vencidos,” luchas del campesinado aymara y qhechwa de Bolivia, 1900-1980 (La Paz: HISBOL, 1984), 42–52; Zuelma Lehn, “La lucha comunaria en torno a la contributión territorial y a la prestación de servicios gratuitos durante el período Repúblicano (1920–1925)” (La Paz: Taller de Historia Oral Andina, 1987); Langer, “Andean Rituals of Revolt.”


Tristan Platt, “Entre ‘ch’axwa’ y ‘muxsa.’ Para una historia del pensamiento político aymara,” in Tres reflexiones sobre el pensamiento andino, by Therèse Bouysee-Cassagne et al. (La Paz: HISBOL, 1987), 99. On the merging of Andean political thought and Spanish juridical tradition, see Frank Salomon, “Ancestor Cults and Resistance to the State in Arequipa, ca. 1748–1754,” in Stern, Resistance, Rebellion, and Consciousness, 148–65.


The idea that an insurrectional process could emerge from the appropriation, and not simply the denial, of symbols and values belonging to the system of domination rests on the assumption that the meaning of institutions and social practices is fundamentally unfixed. See Ernesto Laclau, “Metaphor and Social Antagonisms,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1988), 254. Homi Bhabha has categorized processes of anticolonial resistance not based on “the simple negation or exclusion of the ‘content’ of another culture [but as] the effect of an ambivalence produced in the rules of recognition of dominating discourses.” “Signs Taken for Wonders: Questions of Ambivalence and Authority Under a Tree Outside Delhi, May 1817,” Critical Inquiry 12 (1985), 153. See also Jean Comaroff and John Comaroff, Of Revelation and Revolution: Christianity, Colonialism, and Consciousness in South Africa, vol. 1 (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1991); Michel De Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1984), xiii.


Teniente Luis Nuñez to Alós, July 10, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 40.


For more detail on Kataris efforts in this regard, see AGN, IX, Int., leg. 5, exp. 2, fol. 6–7; and Katari, Petición to Audiencia, May 1779, cited in Lewin, Túpac Amaru el rebelde 456–57.


Testimony of Phelipe Velazco before Alós, July 16, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 68v–70.


Testimony of Miguel de Vargas (one of the jilacatas from Macha) before Alós, July 17, 1780, ibid., fol. 42–42v.


Nuñez to Aiós, July 10, 1780, ibid., fol. 40v.


Testimony of Antonio Ribota before Alós, July 15, 1780, ibid., fol. 61v.


Testimony of Francisco Flores before Alós, July 16, 1780, ibid., fol. 115–17.


Testimony of Dionicio Chura before Alós, July 21, 1780, ibid., fol. 84v–85v.


One of the mestizo caciques declared that he could not send letters to the corregidor “because all the roads are blocked, and there is no way to dispatch a letter without it being intercepted by the Indians who register all the people going to see the corregidor.” Roque Sanchez Morato to Alós, Aug. 18, 1780, ibid., fol. 80–81. Bias Bernal’s brother-in-law, Antonio Ribota, saw two Indians handling a paper. This turned out to be an order issued by Alós for the mestizo caciques to present themselves to give testimony against the Macha communities. Ribota to Albs, July 15, 1780, ibid., fol. 64v. A priest stated that all the mail received had been opened and that “the Indians who have risen against our corregidor keep gathering at the crossroads to check all the correspondence to see if it contains information about their disturbances.” Cardona to Albs, July 7, 1780, ibid., fol. 79-79v. One alcalde from Macha said that nobody wrote messages to Alós because they were afraid of being discovered by the Indians. Chrisóstomo Gómez to Alós, Aug. 14, 1780, ibid., fol. 117. A mestizo stated that as he was returning from Potosí to Macha, he found the Indians distributed in groups controlling the access roads to the province. Everyone arriving in Chayanta was asked “who he was, where he was from, which papers he carried, what he went to Chayanta for, and to which town he was heading.” Then the Indians checked the traveler’s clothes and baggage. Tomas Encina to Alós, Aug. 17, 1780, ibid., fol. 119–20.


Testimony of Pablo Chaves before Alós, July 27, 1780, ibid., fol. 101–101v.


Testimony of Sánchez Morato before Alós, July 17, 1780, ibid., fol. 80–80v.


Testimony of Chrisóstomo Gómez before Alós, Aug. 14, 1780, ibid., fol. 117–18.


Testimony of Nicolás Sanabria before Alós, July 24, 1780, ibid., fol. 92. See also “Diario de Juan Gelli,” in Colección de memorias y documentos para la historia y geografía de los pueblos del Río de la Plata, ed. Andres Lamas (Montevideo: n.p., 1849), 1:363.


Document presented by 48 Indians from Macha to Audiencia, June 27, 1780, AGN, IX, Trib., leg. 181, exp. 29, fol. 81v.


Katari to Audiencia, July 6, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 53–54.


Katari and 15 Macha Indians to Vértiz, July 15, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 11, exp. 8, fol. 34–37.


Pierre Bourdieu, “The Force of Law: Toward a Sociology of the Juridical Field,” Hastings Law Journal 38 (1987), 818–24.


Katari to Vértiz, Aug. 15, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 11, exp. 8, fol. 37–38.


Keith Baker, “Politics and Public Opinion Under the Old Regime,” in Press and Politics in Pre-revolutionary France, ed. Jack R. Censer and Jeremy D. Popkin (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987), 209.


For an analysis of the eighteenth-century colonial administration in terms of an absolutist state, see John H. Coatsworth, “The Limits of Colonial Absolutism: The State in Eighteenth-Century Mexico,” in Essays in the Political, Economic, and Social History of Colonial Latin America, ed. Karen Spalding (Newark: Univ. of Delaware, Latin American Studies Program, 1982), 25-41; Lynch, “Institutional Framework.”


Roger Chartier, The Cultural Origins of the French Revolution (Durham: Duke Univ. Press, 1991), 144; see also Hilton Root, Peasants and King in Burgundy: Agrarian Foundations of French Absolutism (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1987), 155–204.


Eric Hobsbawm, “Peasant Politics,” Journal of Peasant Studies 1 (1973), 8.


Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, 1–16.


Leon G. Campbell, “Recent Research on Andean Peasant Revolts, 1750-1820,” Latin American Research Review 14:1 (1979), 9.


Szeminski, “Why Kill the Spaniards?” 171-74; Flores Galindo, Buscando a un Inca, 117.


Katari stated later, “It is true that many Spaniards and Indians died in Pocoata, but this is not reason to say that the Indians rose up, because before the confrontation the mita was dispatched and the corregidor was told that the Indians were ready to pay the tributes in the village of Macha as is customary.” “Representatión hecha al rey por D. Tomás Catari,” in De Angelis, Colección de obras y documentos, 658.


Colección documental de la independencia del Parú (Lima: Comisión National del Sesquicentenario de la Independencia del Perú, 1971), tomo 2, vol. 2, p. 238.


For an analysis of this Indian perception of the mining mita, see Enrique Tandeter, Coercion and Market: Silver Mining in Potosí, 1692-1826, trans. Richard Warren (Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press, 1993), 17–21.


The rebels’ position toward the mita was consistent with their position toward the tribute. See AGN, XI, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 138v-39v. Despite growing tensions between the Indians and the audiencia following Katari’s release, the Macha ayllus fulfilled their promises to increase the tributes. On Sept. 28, 1780, Katari sent the tributes from Macha to the audiencia through the village priest. The total figure was 2,595 pesos: 1,358 belonging to the Anansaya moiety and 1,237 to the Urinsaya moiety. AGN, XIII, 18-10-1. According to the official records, the corregidor should collect 2,256 pesos from the Macha communities. AGN, XIII, leg. 84, libro 10, fol. 90. Katari therefore had delivered 339 pesos more than the official figure.


Audiencia’s interrogation of Katari, Aug. 29, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 132.


Alós to Audiencia, in Lamas, Colección de memorias y documentos, 1:369.


Katari to Audiencia, Sept. 3, 1780, AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 184v.


”Instrucción de lo acaecido con D. Joaquín Alós en la provincia de Chayanta, de donde es corregidor, y motivos del tumulto de ella,” n.d. [late 1780], in De Angelis, Colección de obras y documentos, 671.


Thomas Abercrombie, “Articulatión doble y etnogénesis,” in Moreno Yáñez and Salomon, Reproductión y transformatión, 202-3. See also Frank Salomon, “A ‘Personal Visit’: Colonial Political Ritual and the Making of Indians in the Andes,” Colonial Latin American Review 3:1-2 (1994), 1-34.


On the concept of mimicry, see Robert Young, White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (London: Routledge, 1990), 147-48; Homi Bhabha, “Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse,” October 28 (1984), 125-33.


AGN, IX, Int., leg. 10, exp. 1, fol. 151v-52v.


Szeminski, “Why Kill the Spaniards?”


O’Phelan Godoy, Un siglo de rebeliones anticoloniales, 280-81.


Campbell, “Recent Research,” 11.


Alberto Flores Galindo, “La revolution tupamarista y el imperio español,” in Governare il mondo. L’impero spagnolo dal XV al XIX secolo, ed. Massimo Ganci and Ruggiero Romano (Palermo: Società Siciliana per la Storia Patria, 1991), 394.


For earlier litigations, see Indians of Moscari, Chayanta Province, against their kuraka, Florencio Lupa, 1769, Archivo Nacional de Bolivia (ANB), Tierras e Indios (TI), 1773, 34; Indians from Aymaya, Chayanta, against their priest, Dionisio Cortés in 1776, ibid., 1778, 48. On the revolt of Condo Condo, Province of Paria, against the kurakas Gregorio and Andrés Llanquipacha in 1774, see O’Phelan Godoy, Un siglo de rebeliones anticoloniales, 158-59. On the mobilization of the Pocoata communities to regain control of the native chieftainship in 1775-76. see ANB, Expedientes Coloniales, 1776, 57; ANB, Sublevación General de Indios, 1777, 217; ANB, TI, 1779, 5.


Stephen Greenblatt, “Invisible Bullets: Renaissance Authority and Its Subversion,” in Glyph 8, ed. Walter Michaels (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1981), 41.


The conceptualization of colonial rule as a means of economic and political domination as well as a subject-constituting process rests on poststructuralist theoretical currents. See Michel Foucault, “The Subject and Power,” in Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1982), 212.


Mary Dillon and Thomas Abercrombie, “The Destroying Christ: An Aymara Myth of Conquest,” in Rethinking History and Myth: Indigenous South American Perspectives on the Past, ed. Jonathan Hill (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1988), 67.


Quotation from Homi Bhabha, “Of Mimicry and Man,” 126. As John Leddy Phelan has pointed out, the most egalitarian aspect of the colonial justice system “was that the members of every corporation had free access to the courts in order to protect what they thought were their privileges and obligations, however substantial or modest those rights might be.” The Kingdom of Quito in the Seventeenth Century: Bureaucratic Politics in the Spanish Empire (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1967), 213.


See Jacques Rancière, “Politics, Identification, and Subjectivation,” October 61 (1992), 60.