Before the first series of European contacts with South America, deep in the Peruvian Andes, an ancient civilization sprang from the divine tear drops of the Incan Lord, Padre Inti. The Incas — meaning descendants of the Sun - established a highly sophisticated empire reveling in the arts and sciences, with its heart planted in the capital city of Cuzco. Although Incan society contained a rigid social structure, it assured the provision of food and shelter for all through the accumulation of agricultural surpluses by the state. Even though it often behaved imperialistically in relation to its other Andean neighbors, the Andean peoples had yet to see an unquenchable appetite for wealth and power, accompanied by atrocious levels of death and destruction, as they saw when the Spanish arrived.
In 1533, Franciso Pizarro, an illiterate Spanish pig-breeder, marched into Cuzco in hopes of capturing the magnificent city. As Pizarro and his troops began to enter the city, they believed that they were entering the city of the Caesars due to its astounding architecture and unimaginable wealth. Without any ethical hesitation or moral delay, the forces of Pizarro pillaged the city of its vast reservoirs of gold and silver. But the insatiable appetite of the Spanish did not end with precious metals?the Spanish hordes consumed the lives of thousands of Incas in battle and in torture and converted the remaining ones into slaves. Thus began the struggle for survival and the Latin transformation of the so-called Americas.
The Spanish, while entering into a debate on whether the indigenous peoples they now ruled over had souls, proceeded to invade the earth for its mineral riches used over 30 million descendants of the Incas for forced labor. The indigenous population had to descend daily over 50 meters underground to lift and carry hundreds of pounds of silver, gold, and tin. Such conditions would persist for the next two centuries and beyond. Yet despite the many years of physical injustice and cruel brutality suffered at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors, the freedom loving and rebellious spirit of the indigenous population could never be completely vanquished.
In 1780, José Gabriel Condorcanqui, known to his followers as Tupac Amaru II, a direct descendant of the Inca emperors, captured the bicentennial rage of his people with the following call to arms: "Campesino! You're poverty shall no longer feed the master!" He had for 12 years prior pursued justice in the Spanish courts to no avail. Forced into violence, the native uprising exploded in the Tinta province, where the population had been decimated by enforced service in the Cerro Rico mines. Mounted on his white horse, Tupac Amaru entered the plaza of Tungasuca and declared to the rapturous sound of beating drums that slavery had been abolished, along with all taxes and forced labor imposed by the Spanish. After this triumphant campaign, he laid siege to his ancestral city of Cuzco. Tupac Amaru and his relentless guerilleros at times emerged victorious and at times suffered defeat on their road to breaking the shackles of colonial rule.
Despite the heroism and sacrifice of Tupac and his followers, in the end he was betrayed and captured by one of his own chiefs. The culprits handed over their liberator in chains to the royalists forces. Tupac was tortured, along with his wife, children, and chief aides, in Cuzco's Plaza del Wacaypata. His body was torn to pieces by four horses, each pulling his arms and legs, and his corpse was eventually burned in order to set an example for any future generations that might have visions of liberation from the yoke of tyranny.
Tupac's uprising brings to mind certain lessons. First, we must recognize that the sculptors of history, individuals of great ideals and courage, skillfully utilize the collective grievances of their social environment to mobilize their compatriots into an ideologically driven popular movement. From one generation to the next, a shrill voice of humanity and reason call attention to the wretchedly miserable condition of human beings in the different corners of our world. Tragically, good will and logic generally fail to capture the attention of the willingly-deaf audience, as did Tupac's attempts in the courts of justice. Most often it is violence, shredding the flesh and scaring the soul, that reverberates in the consciousness and memories of the unwilling. Tupac Amaru had no choice.
Second, Tupac faced a vastly superior military power. Yet he arose nonetheless, undeterred and firmly believing in the justice of the collective indigenous cause. The need for redress and liberation beckoned loudly enough to prompt Tupac to take arms against more powerful forces, and it followed that it was not the Spanish forces that defeated Tupac's insurgence. It was treason from one of his own that led to his downfall, an act that highlights the importance of widely shared conviction within any social movement.
And third, many may argue that Tupac failed. Yet he only failed to the degree that his actions and conviction did not awaken in his people the conviction of their righteous cause and the possibility of action. His name has reverberated throughout centuries as a source of hope in courageous leadership in the face of continuous and persistent abuse. Tupac Amaru's uprising burst onto the colonial stage as a clear signal of the unjust conditions under which the indigenous peoples lived. His was the first cry for justice in a continent carved in indigenous blood. He reminded his own people - then docile, raped, and beaten - of the necessity of action and the righteousness of rebellion under such conditions, regardless of the strength of the oppressor.