In the last few years, the 1781 rebellion in Oruro has drawn considerable attention from scholars. The events themselves are dramatic: during the time of the Great Rebellion, decades before independence, creoles and native Andeans briefly united to drive peninsular Spaniards from the mining center of Oruro. The creole-indigenous alliance fell apart almost immediately; no permanent political confederation ensued. Instead, creoles in Alto Peru rushed to proclaim their loyalty to Spain and their disdain for their erstwhile compatriots. As one creole letter writer exclaimed in August 1781, describing postrebellion society in the event of Indian success, “Oh, my God! What horrors one can imagine!” Creoles would be forced to wear the barbarous indigenous clothing, their women subjected to the “lascivious” and “drunken” Indians; and they would be forced to give up the Catholic faith. Or, as another Spanish official explained in an official report to the crown, “the Indian is just as lacking in the true religion as at the beginning of the conquest.” (Citations from documents in the Archivo Nacional de Bolivia and Archivo General de Indias, respectively.)

Nicholas Robins argues that indigenous participation in the Oruro rebellion can best be understood as inspired by millenarian goals, an interpretation that fits into one long-standing current of rebellion scholarship. That is, rebel Indians believed that their participation would lead to a pachacuti, a “change-of-worlds,” that would overturn the Spanish colonial state and bring back a pure Andean society without taint of Christianity. As evidence of these indigenous millenarian tendencies, he cites diaries and testimonies that were taken from creole and Spaniard participants and are now found in the Bolivian national archives. Secondary literature espousing millenarian interpretations of Andean rebellion is used to support the thesis. The theoretical framework draws on millenarian studies from the 1960s and 1970s, putting the Andean “Inca rey” myth in the context of other cultural traditions, such as the Arthurian legends. The study is a largely unrevised version of the author’s 1992 master’s thesis from Tulane University.

Robins makes extensive use of the Spanish administrative sources available in Bolivian archives, drawing particularly on statements taken from creole participants. The Oruro rebellion and the brief Indian-creole alliance plainly terrified Spanish bureaucrats. They clearly did interpret rebels acts in millennial terms. One must ask, however, if such characterizations reflect indigenous perspectives, or if instead they were derived from the essentialized views of indigenous Andeans as barbaric non-Christians, views that were indeed a staple of colonial creole writings. This admittedly interested reviewer (at work on an analysis of Andean rebellion from a different perspective), would suggest that closer examination of extant native Andean testimonies, petitions, and letters might lead to a different narrative of Oruro. Such sources are thin in the Bolivian documentation consulted by Robins, but can be found among the thousands of pages of testimony held in the Archivo General de Indias in Seville. Bolivian historian Fernando Cajías de la Vega in his as yet unpublished dissertation (Univ. de Sevilla, 1987) has made extensive use of these sources. Indigenous participants were interrogated at length; their correspondence during the rebellion seized and preserved in colonial legajos. One hopes that someone will take on the task of a close examination and analysis of this material to produce and publish the thorough treatment that this rebellion merits, a study that would not take what creoles and Spaniards claimed Indians advocated at face value, but one that would actually query the considerable indigenous sources.