Monday, January 7, 2013

A Tendril of Inca Influence

In a recent post (link) I mentioned a communist uprising in Uruguay called the Tupamaros. The movement began in the 1960s in labor disputes relating to sugarcane workers and the spread. It was a bottom-up struggle between the have-nothings and oligarchies of agriculture and industry that ultimately led to a military dictatorship. I began looking into that name, Tupamaros, at Brigitte’s suggestion. We know so little about Latin American history despite occasional harrowing forays—which began when Monique was an exchange student in Bolivia. And this vacuum produces an itch. In a sense Latin American history is one history, covering a vast geographical area. But the conflicts that riddle it are subdivided into nations formed of two closely-related European countries, Portugal and Spain, and the never quite forgotten Inca civilization and independent tribes the Incas did not quite control. Herewith an illustration.

The last Inca emperor, resident at today’s Cusco in Peru, was Túpac Amaru (1545-1572). At the end of a last if brief war between the Spanish and the Incas in 1572, Amaru was executed and the Inca empire expired. But by a curious route, the extension of a cultural network still active on that subcontinent, and by way of another rebel, he gave his name to a Marxist uprising in Uruguay.

The second figure in this transition was a man christened José Gabriel Condorcanqui (1742-1781). His father was Spanish, his mother Incan, but through her he traced his ancestry back to Túpac Amaru. He was born in Tinta, near Cusco. He was educated by the Jesuits, was a man of wealth, indeed, in Spanish eyes an aristocrat. He came into conflict with the Spanish rulers of Peru defending the powerless natives; in due time this led to an armed rebellion. By that time Condorcanqui had changed his name to Túpac Amaru II. His rebellion eventually failed. The Spanish used four horses to pull his body apart. Vivid stuff, Latin American history.

Now the distance between Cusco, Peru and Montevideo, Uruguay is 2,400 miles by highway. The time distance between 1781 and 1960 is 179 years or, back to 1572, 388. Cultural memory does not require a functioning Internet. It runs deep. Therefore the two Amarus are far from forgotten and Inca memories are up there, like a stratosphere, above more recent memories of conflicts between the great and the small tribes of humanity.
Image courtesy of Wikipedia (link).


  1. What a nice addition to your post about Uruguay's president, Jose Mujica. I had a sensation similar to yours upon reading the article in the NYT that brought Mujica to your attention. We often focus on what unites us as humans, the patterns of a human life, birth, maturing, the aging process. And then a story like Mujica's comes along and one is struck by how amazingly different the human experience must be one from another.

  2. More and more it seems to me that everything that happened is still all around us, only invisible, and that our narrow pride is bringing smiles to all the generations that came before, wherever. They smile--but also at themselves. They too were narrow and all-knowing.