to “Tupac Amaru Protests the Mita to the Audiencia of Lima” (from The Tupac Amaru and the Catarista Rebellions: An Anthology of Sources, trans. Ward Stavig and Ella Schmidt, Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2008)
–> In this letter, Tupac Amaru attempts to convince the Audiencia of Lima (Royal superior court) to relieve the indigenous populations of Canas y Canchis from the Mita of Potosi. To do so, Tupac Amaru makes use of 4 main methods: Firstly, he points to the steep decline in indigenous populations in the Canas y Canchis province as a result of death from deplorable working conditions, and also as a result of family units deserting the province due to the long travel distance it takes to reach Potosi. Secondly, Tupac Amaru reminds the Crown that, should the Mitayos from Canas y Canchis comply further with the Mita of Potosi, the Crown will directly be affected “For if there are no Indians, there are no riches either” (P:21). Thirdly, Tupac Amaru makes mention of a myriad of ordinances from colonial law and older orders by the Crown, which denounce the current working conditions that the Mitayos from Canas y Canchis are subjected to. Lastly, Tupac suggests alternatives to bringing in Mitayos from his province: He mentions the possibility of employing black African slaves to work for the Potosi miners, and he also urges the Crown to consider the populations of Cerro de Potosi to be employed instead of the Mitayos from his province. This letter was well-studied and conveyed character and intelligence on the part of Tupac. It personally reminded me of the letter written by King Afonso I of Kongo addressing the Portuguese crown (where he denounces the practice of slavery). While pampering the Crown with a great deal of praise, Tupac conveys his request, and also submilinally hints at the weakness of the Crown. This is demonstrated by his mention of the flawed implementation of the royal ordinances, as well as the Crown’s susceptibility to the indigenous populations as the Crown’s main supplier of “Riches”.
This is a letter written by José Tupac Amaru on December 18, 1777 to the Royal officials in Lima. His letter originally might have been hand-written, but this version is typed out to be incorporated into someone’s book. Amaru’s position in his community was of a caciques in the province of Canas y Chanchis.
In his letter, Amaru writes of three important things. Firstly, he complains that the Indians are mistreated in the mita of Potosí, which “has become the nature of things” (22). Then he reminds the officials that the Indians are so vital to extracting gold and silver that conserving them must come first. Finally, he also provides them with alternative labour force, like hiring the large numbers of Indians already settled in Potosí. Yet the main reason for Amaru’s letter is to demand that the mita of Potosí be eliminated for his people from Canas y Canchis province because of the grave suffering it brought to his people which led to a huge decrease in population. For his people, the arduous travel from their province to Potosí, over “200 leagues of distant,” is what kills them (21). They “take their women and their children with them” and the “harness” of the journey takes these innocent lives (21). Not to forget that the “heavy work of Potosí” is equally taking away lives. After two years of working at the mita and the hardship of the travel make them “never return” to their pueblos. Thus, there are “no sufficient Indians” to serve anymore in the mita. Two things this letter describes about life in Latin America at the time are the genuine, strong connections the rural Indians have with their people, their furniture, their hut, their animals, etc. and the misfortune that they were obligated to work under the extremely exploitative, heavy and abusive mita system.
The Indigenous leader Tupac Amaru protested the Mita service, which involved long periods of mining labors, as was applied to the populations he represented. This protest was based on the harshness of the labor , the unsustainable character of the enterprise due to dropping number of Indians, the illegality of applying the Mita to the populations he represented, and if applied, the illegality of the conditions or lack thereof for the providing of the service, as well as the inherent corruption and abuse of the current system. In his letter is perceivable the subtle and substantive knowledge he had of the society he lived in, and the power dynamics within it. Amaru simultaneous (the same sentence) appeal to the Christian values (mercy specifically) upon which the whole ideology of the empire is based, while also appealing to the utilitarian self interest of the ruling classes, seems to embody an understanding of the fictionality of the discourse legitimizing conquest, though subtly, for the very godlessness of Indians was what ‘justified’ Spanish domination, yet Spanish administration cannot hold up the mercy and fairness of its christian ideals, instead Amaru has to appeal to their desire for Indian labor. This may show an awareness that the very authority of God (as portrayed by the Spanish) is but an empty symbol to be used to advance the will of the Spanish people. But ultimately, Amaru appeals to the law, and describes in detail why the application of the service to his population is unlawful. His appeal to the authority of the law comes only after having appealed to both the Spanish interests and their mercy, but more interestingly after stating , not only that “the bad treatment of Indians has become the nature of things” but also alluding to the questionable and untrustworthy claims of any Indian, thus recognizing very well his position within the political and social systems in which he moves, and yet using what remaining possible channels and means he can in order to assert his own humanity and that of his people. Thus he raised to the maxim of ‘knowing one’s enemy’, which is no small human achievement, considering the purposeful ideological and psychological methods that the process of conquest utilized to denied the natives of the Andes the conceptions and pursuit of their own interests, so as to make them serve Spanish ones. By knowing his enemy, and knowing his own position in relation to them, he managed to counteract in the more subtle realm of ideological warfare in order to assert the presence of his people in the political arena of the land they inhabit.