Cuzco’s Women and Contemporary Peru

Today, around the world people celebrate women. The day can be a simple celebration of the billions of women who  work for lower wages than the men in their lives and who face restricted possibilities and prejudice. As a result, it can also be a celebration of womens’ struggle for equality and recognition.

As I was thinking about this day I read a phrase in Mariselle Melendez’ Deviant and Useful Citizens: The Cultural Production of the Female Body in Peru: “the female body became the site of potential insurrection and, as such, the epitome of disorder.” (p. 8)

Melendez writes about a time more than two centuries ago, but her words could easily describe the reaction of many to women in today’s Cuzco and today’s Peru.

Micaela Bastidas
Micaela Bastidas

Cuzco has an intriguing history of important women, including Micaela Bastidas, the subject of Melendez’ first chapter. Bastidas was a revolutionary leader in the insurrection most known for her husband, José Gabriel Condorcanqui, or Túpac Amaru, which shook colonial Spanish America to the core and continues to have resonance in the present.

Though the man José Gabriel became the public face of the insurrection for generations of male writers, especially historians, Melendez notes.

For Spanish authorities, Micaela Bastidas embodied disorder, evil, and a monstrous nature. [. . .] Micaela’s role in the insurrection was paramount; she worked to recruit troops, resolve adminsitrative issues, proclaim and disseminate edicts to spur the propaganda machine, and gather information about the allies / provinces as well as those that were hostile to the cause. [. . .] Spanish authorities were very much aware of Micaela’s influence on the development of the rebellion and considered her at least as dangerous as her husband if not more so. (p 15)

She is widely considered a hero today and her name and image circulate widely among Andeans who, today, increasingly celebrate the role of women and men as couples in leadership, even in the past.

Clorinda Matto de Turner
Clorinda Matto de Turner

In the light of powerful, even insurrectionary, Cusco women I think as well of Clorinda Matto de Turner, the daughter of hacienda owners who became a literary path breaker both because she was a woman writing and because of her theme, the mistreatment and denial of civil rights to Cuzco’s indigenous people. Her famous novel Aves sin Nido proudly develops this idea.

It makes sense her name would be paired with the great Inca Garcilaso de la Vega as the name of the girls’ side of the famous Cuzco public schools, two of the four which dominate public life even to this day in the Imperial city.

I also think of Hilaria Supa Huaman from Huarocondo on the Pampa de Anta, who was elected a national congresswoman in 2006.  She has widely been noted as the first congresswoman of Andean (indigenous) origin in Peruvian history and she proudly wore her traditional clothes and took her oath of office in Quechua, her native language, despite strident opposition from many, including Martha Hildebrandt. In 2011 she was elected to the Andean parliament.

Cusco is a place of important women and women who live their day to day lives in obscurity. Many of them, especially those who reject day to day Creole machismo and who insist on their rights in intimate relationships, in work, and in public life, reject the normative order of much of Peru.  They are building a new and different Peru.

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  1. Nicely done, Dave, and it’s an important topic. But did you have anyone proofread it? I noticed several grammatical and spelling errors: “Cusco” rather than “Cuzco,” “pubif” rather than “public,” “girls’s” rather than “girls’,” comma use, and British rather than American use of “which.”

    1. Thank you, William.

      Proofreading is our weakest link, since there is no one to perform the service and I am terrible at it until a piece has sat for several days. That is unlikely to happen when we have to publish everyday.

      A couple of points, however. I will continue to mostly use the British usage of which, since it makes more sense to me than the ostensible American one

      Second, the city of Cuzco has two spellings: one with a z and one with an s. The contemporary people of Cusco prefer the s while historically the z is much more significant. There is much conflict over this. I decided to let the spellings vary, given this situation. Originally we chose the z since it was the most common in English and because of its historical importance and weight among academics I respect. Given push back from many people in Cusco we are slowly transitioning and right now both spellings will be used, even if people think that is a spelling error.

      The other points you mention have now been corrected. Again, Thank you.


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