Symbolic Discourse and Exterminatory Movements: The 1680 and 1696 Pueblo Revolts of New Mexico and the 1780-1782 Great Rebellion of Peru and Upper Peru



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Symbolic Discourse and Exterminatory Movements:

The 1680 and 1696 Pueblo Revolts of New Mexico and the 1780-1782 Great Rebellion of Peru and Upper Peru
Nicholas A. Robins

Introduction

The twentieth century has not only witnessed numerous genocides, but it has also witnessed the development of the study of genocide and ethnic conflict, the emergence of early warning systems, the development of forensics, mass media, and international tribunals to hold perpetrators accountable. These forces have allowed the international community to detect, monitor, stop and punish genocides, albeit with uneven success. The study of historical genocides pose special problems, however. Sources, and their content, are more limited, and many of the investigative tools available today are not applicable. Nevertheless, primary sources may contain information which indicates that perpetrators of genocide spoke not only directly through their actions, but also on a symbolic level. This to some degree reflects the fact that symbolic expression preceded verbal expression, and that symbolic actions were important to those who were often illiterate. While such expression may not “prove” genocide took place, it is often valuable on a corroborative level. This essay examines two retributive, anti-colonial exterminatory movements that sought the elimination of Hispanics from the areas of present day New Mexico in 1680, and Peru and Bolivia in 1780-1782.


This essay approaches genocide as one form of an exterminatory movement, or an undertaking that had or has as its object, or results in, the total or practical elimination of a people, racially or ethnically defined, or class, group, culture, belief system or language. Such an approach is largely consistent with most prevailing definitions of genocide although it emphasizes that genocide specifically deals with the elimination of human beings based on certain characteristics.1 It is not, however, predicated on state involvement, time period, or the idea that genocide is an inherent condition for ethnocide, or cultural elimination.2
The rebellions under study here are complicated by the extensive presence and participation of individuals of mixed parentage on both sides of the conflict. These include Mestizos,3 and especially in New Mexico, Lobos4 and Coyotes.5 Ethnicity reflects self-identification and expression, as well as attribution, or the imputation of characteristics, by others. Apart from the color of one’s skin, occupation, social status, place of residence, religious orientation, primary language and style of dress often determined if a person was considered an Indian or Hispanic by the rebels in both conflicts. As a result, ethnicity resolved some of the ambiguity of mixed parentage. Among the leaders of the Pueblo Revolt, were the Coyotes Francisco El Olllita and Nicolás Jonva of San Ildefonso, Alonso Catiti from Santo Domingo, and the Mulatto Domingo Naranjo from the pueblo of Santa Clara.6 In the Great Rebellion, the Peruvian leader Túpac Amaru was a Mestizo, and in Upper Peru Túpac Katari was light skinned by Indian standards.7 Nevertheless, ethnically all of these individuals, and great numbers of those whom they led, were Indians, and they fought for the rebirth of native ways. Reflecting the prevalence of individuals of mixed race, and the relatively few peninsular Spaniards in both regions, this essay refers to Hispanics as an ethnic category of those who maintained an Iberian cultural orientation, which included Spaniards, Creoles and often Mestizos and others of diverse descent.
While primary sources may contain evidence of symbolic expression, they also pose challenges as, like many sources, they can be biased. Some may argue that victim-group contemporaries of such movements emphasized the racial and ethnic elements of these conflicts in order to promote cohesion among not just Spaniards and Creoles,8 but also Mestizos; an important “swing vote” whose actions could have an decisive influence on the outcome of a conflict. But it is also possible that these contemporaries were simply reporting what they saw, and had no need to exaggerate. Indian actions spoke for themselves, often shockingly so, and writers of the time often understated, not exaggerated, “unspeakable deeds that cause horror even in the imagination,” “outrages which the pen is horrified to repeat” and “shocking desecrations and insolences that [are]…indecent to mention.”9 The fact that an atrocity which ”horrifies the tongue” or “scandalizes the ears” to describe or hear is often only alluded to suggests that things were in fact worse than reported, not less so.10 In addition, many such documents were not written for the general public, and consisted of official correspondence between royal officials as they sought to suppress the insurgencies. This is not to say that such forms of correspondence were without their faults, which often included self-glorification or attempts to mitigate failures, but only that they were not for public consumption.
It is also important to recognize even a biased source may have considerable utility. If this were not the case, historians would encounter very few useful sources. What is most important is that scholars approach sources critically and that, to the greatest extent, biases are recognized and accounted for. For example, although gaining the upper hand over the rebels in Upper Peru, present day Bolivia, one loyalist Hispanic contemporary gave an insight into just how tenuous things were when he wrote that if the reel leader “Túpac Amaro flees from Cuzco…he could in our viceroyalty accomplish…what he appears to not have accomplished in that of Lima.”11 Such a statement is especially revealing from one who was no friend of the rebels. In the end, it is not so much as issue of biases but the use of a critical approach to determine and maximize their value.

The accuracy of documents may also be attenuated by the fact that Spaniards and Creoles mediated the expression of natives as a result of the questions they posed, in addition to the use of translators and scribes. Despite this, natives did communicate through them, especially in confessions and documents associated with negotiations. Most importantly, however, they spoke through their actions, of which there is considerable record.12 While confessions were often extracted through force or threats of it, they undoubtedly had value for the interrogators, and still do for historians who explore them critically. Although some prisoners may have told their captors what they thought they wanted to hear, others felt that they had nothing more to lose by telling the truth than they were going to lose anyway.13 Although Alonso Guigui, the Indian governor of Jemez in New Mexico, consistently asserted his innocence concerning the 1696 rebellion in New Mexico, in answer to a question he indicated that “he would say so if he knew, since he knew he was going to die, and he denied everything he was asked.”14 Other prisoners provided information that highlighted the millennial inspiration and exterminatory objectives either of themselves or their brethren. If the Hispanic interrogators did not believe that interrogations and confessions were useful they would have been less inclined to invest the time and effort to conduct them. The value of such measures was clearly demonstrated in 1680 in New Mexico when Governor Otermín learned for the first time that some of the Hispanics in the area to the south had survived, and later, where other survivors had gathered.15


Peace negotiations also pose their own special problems. Often, the insurgents did not engage in them in good faith, seeking rather to reunite their forces or to finish a harvest. Even when conducted in good faith, they often shed more light on leadership objectives that those of the masses. Many leaders, such as Túpac Amaru in Peru and Tómas Catari in Upper Peru, were considerably more conservative than those in whose name they operated. Their leadership became even more nominal as the distance between them and their adepts increased.

Consequently, leadership statements, in peace negotiations or otherwise, are not necessarily indicative of the objectives of most insurgents. The best indication of rebel objectives lies their actions, symbolic and otherwise.





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