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


Symbolism and the Exterminatory Impulse



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Symbolism and the Exterminatory Impulse
Apart from confessions and occasionally some correspondence, most insurgents in these conflicts left no written record concerning their inspiration and objectives. Although many were illiterate, many were also quite articulate and expressed themselves cogently through the symbolic content of their actions which corroborate the exterminatory nature of their endeavor. Claude Levi-Strauss argued that that people "communicate by means of symbols and signs. For anthropology...all things are symbol and sign which act as intermediaries between two subjects" and symbols are chosen from many alternatives of expression.161 The deliberate choosing of one form of expression over another is key to understanding the relationship between rebel action and symbolic expression. The symbolic content of rebel actions was often pronounced in the manner in which they selected, treated and killed their victims, and in what they did with their property. In both rebellions, we find a tendency among the rebels to seek to invert the previous order, often humiliating their victims in the process, and to superimpose symbols, especially in actions relating to the church. In the Great Rebellion there was also a tendency of the rebels to seek to preside over the implosion of the Hispanic system.
In the case of the Pueblos, there is an interesting example which suggests that the natives were accustomed to symbolic communication. Near Pecos in July, 1696, a Hispanic found that Indians, perhaps Navajo or Yuta, had left a “cross they had… drawn on the ground by hand. There was also a club and a long line drawn across the trail. The Pecos Indians interpreted the cross to mean that they should understand that those who had made the tracks were not Christians, as they were, and not Apaches, which they were not. They said the club and the line meant that they had to kill however many of them who, because they were Christians, might follow the Spaniards, and that the Pecos were too cowardly to go beyond the line.”162 The illustration, and most importantly its complex interpretation by Indians, suggests that symbolic communication was part of the native lexicon.
The insurgents in Peru and Upper Peru also utilized symbolic discourse to express their objectives. On occasion it had a simple eloquence, such as when Andrés Túpac Amaru mandated in the region of La Paz and Sicasica that when rebels found medallions adorned with an image of Charles III, which were given to loyalist curacas, that they be hanged from a gallows.163 The message was clear: the time of Spanish rule had ended, and so would be the lives of those who defended it. Symbolic expression could be even more direct. For example, when the rebels attacked Corregidor Alós and his escort in August, 1780, they cut off the hand of his scribe, Mateo Tellez, and chopped out the tongue of Alós’ advisor, Josef Benavides, before killing both men. Both had been physically and symbolically stripped of their ability to perform their colonial roles, to write and speak.164
Such actions were deliberate, the rebels had to identify and capture these individuals, not all victims were mutilated in this way, and their mutilation was clearly associated with their respective roles in oppressing the Indians. A priest suffered a similar fate in Colcha. After capturing but before executing him, the rebels cut out his tongue, physically and symbolically preventing him from preaching.165 In Palca, Upper Peru, that the insurgents executed over four hundred men, women and children, leaving "some on top of the others…[and] many in a shameless position” suggests that there was some symbolic content to the manner of execution or its aftermath.166 Mutilation appears to have been widespread in all of the rebellions under study here, and while it has inherent symbolic content it is not always clear how it was done of what were the roles of the victims in colonial society.167
The manner in which people were usually executed in the Great Rebellion, through beheading, also highlighted the exterminatory element of the uprising. By decapitating their enemies, the insurgents communicated their belief that the victims would never reincarnate.168 In their view, to kill by other means, or to bury victims prematurely, left open the possibility that their enemies could one day return to dominate them. The Spaniards had learned too late about the native belief of the relationship between decapitation and resurrection. In 1572, when Viceroy Toledo ordered the execution of Túpac Amaru I, they did not behead him. This led to a popular belief that he would return one day to save his people, something that Túpac Amaru (II) would use to his advantage in 1780.169 Beheading had other uses as well, as very often victim’s heads were send to Túpac Amaru, and other leaders, thereby symbolically expressing their fealty to the leader.170




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