Monday, December 9, 2019

S. Elizabeth Penry's "The People Are King"

S. Elizabeth Penry is Associate Professor of History and Latin American Studies at Fordham University. She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, The People Are King: The Making of an Indigenous Andean Politics, and reported the following:
Page 99 of The People Are King: The Making of an Indigenous Andean Politics is the penultimate page of chapter four. The chapter examines how indigenous Andeans in the Viceroyalty of Peru (modern Bolivia) responded to the sixteenth-century Spanish policy of forced resettlement into grid-patterned towns, known as reducción. An early modern attempt at social engineering, the towns, with their central plaza and straight streets and their institutions of town council (cabildo) and confraternities (cofradías), were designed to instill Spanish notions of civilization. But indigenous Andeans adapted the policy and turned it to their own ends, founding their own towns. These towns became a catalyst for a complex Andean ethnogenesis, as Andeans took the institutions of resettlement and wove them into a hybrid political and religious hierarchy that also drew on preconquest social forms. This led to a sea-change in how Andeans imagined their political community: turning away from rule by their preconquest descended nobility, Andeans embraced commoner-led government in a kind of municipally-focused local democracy. These new towns offered indigenous Andeans
some degree of self-determination and [the ability] to represent their own interests against those of priests, hacendados, [Spanish landowners], or ... their own hereditary caciques [lords]. Establishing chapels and cofradías dedicated to saints laid the groundwork for political solidarity and sovereignty within commoner-led repúblicas. Saints, particularly patron saints with their miraculous foundation stories that held that the saint had insisted on staying in a particular location, tied Andeans to place. Saints, in contrast to pre-Columbian wakas [local divinities], were more egalitarian and accepted all as their children. Membership in a cofradía tied people together through ‘fictive’ kinship capable of weaving immigrant forasteros [foreigners] into the communities they had fled to. The attraction of self-determination helps to explain why most cases of town foundation were led by commoners, facing priestly and sometimes cacical [native hereditary lord] opposition.
. . .
Forasteros’ efforts to settle in their adopted towns made cofradías and cabildo more important than ever. The new social forms of Christianity and town life made incorporation into towns easier for forasteros than it would have been before the Spanish Conquest since membership in the community could proceed through service to the community in cabildo posts and cofradía positions.
The page 99 test worked better than I expected. The page points to a central argument of my book: that Andeans created a new political identity for themselves, moving from a politics of hereditary nobility to a blended form of participatory democracy and civic Catholicism, informed by the ideals of both the Inca and Spanish Empires, but reducible to neither.

The People Are King focuses on two key moments in the transformation of indigenous lives; the first, suggested on page 99, is the sixteenth century resettlement policy and what Andeans made of it. The second moment is in the late eighteenth century when nearly continent-wide revolutions shook the colonial state and the process of ethnogenesis begun in indigenous founded towns in the sixteenth century comes to fruition. Here, drawing on a corpus of holographic rebel letters from the Great Rebellion of the 1780s, the book follows the actions of indigenous commoner rebels in their towns, rather than the native lords, such as Tupac Amaru, that historians usually document. Calling themselves ‘comuneros,’ members of a común, or commons of their town, indigenous Andeans embraced a collectivist political philosophy that called into question the legitimacy of their own native lords and ultimately threatened colonial domination. Overthrowing the native aristocracy and seeking rights as self-governing indigenous republics were at the heart of this revolutionary moment, thus making indigenous Andeans architects, not mere bystanders, of the world-transforming events of the age of Atlantic Revolutions. However, these rebels were members of the común, sovereign communities in rebellion, not the Enlightenment’s liberal individuals. Even though the rebellions were brutally suppressed, this collectivist idea of the común lives on among indigenous people of the Andes.
Learn more about The People Are King at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue