Tupac Amaru Lives in Cuzco’s Hearts

In the Main Square of Cuzco, two-hundred twenty years ago, Túpac Amaru II was killed in a bloody show intended to consolidate Spanish and elite control for generations. This morning, University and Municipal authorities participated in a rite to remember his death and claim his heritage on the same square where he died.

People dressed as Incas were addressing the Apus, the mountain Lords, when I first got there. They held conch shells for blowing like trumpets, drums, and held aloft a smoking brazier on which, after words of to the Apus, celebrating Cuzco, and Tupac Amaru, they made palo santo smoke. This wood’s smoke has a strong scent like incense. People pulled the smoke to them as the crowd pushed closer to get some on themselves.

The Incas marched away as the University officials tested a microphone by the Paraninfo Universitario, the University building on the main square. With officials gathered and a brass band from the Educandas School for Girls playing, they began the official ceremony honoring the martyr.

Celebration by the Paraninfo in Cuzco (Photo: Alonzo Riley)
Celebration by the Paraninfo in Cuzco (Photo: Alonzo Riley)

In death, Túpac Amaru lives on. He fills statues, discourses, academic tomes, and an ideal of courage and the struggle for the rights of Perú’s indigenous peoples. On Cuzco’s main square there is a low, stone cross as a monument to him while in the suburban Wanchaq there is a large equestrian statue of Tupac Amaru ascendant.

Scholars debate him and the complexities of his uprising. Nonetheless, he represents today, in the mouths of politicians and others, two fights: the historic struggle against the Spanish in conjunction with the highland struggle against the coast, as well as a contemporary indigenous struggle against a central government which does not respect their rights nor those of their communities.

Celebrating Tupac Amaru Today
Celebrating Tupac Amaru Today

The issue is particularly hot today. Many, if not most, people in Cuzco feel betrayed by the current national president Ollanta Humala. In Cuzco they gave him close to eighty percent of their vote, but they feel he has pushed them aside in favor of multinational mining and petroleum companies who wish to exploit or are withdrawing minerals and oil from Peru, especially from the lands of indigenous people.

These days the national government depends on a sly argument that claims the Quechua and Aymara speakers of the highlands are not indigenous but rather that in the process of time they have become campesinos, often translated into English as peasants. The importance of this linguistic change is that campesinos do not have the right to be consulted prior to their land being taken for mineral or petroleum extraction, while Indians do.

Incas Honoring Tupac Amaru Today
Incas Honoring Tupac Amaru Today (Photo: Alonzo Riley)

This morning the mayor of Wanchaq gathered with officials at the statue of Tupac Amaru whose horse lifts proudly from its main square. They laid flowers. Honor guards from the schools came to be present as the flag of Peru was raised into drizzly skies.

This afternoon, sicuris, pan pipe players, will come in bands, both from Cuzco and from the land of Tupac Amaru, Tinta ( up road towards the border with the State of Puno). With the rough, yet enchanting sound of these indigenous reeds, pulsing to the beating of drums, these bands join the city with rural Cuzco to honor a man whose death made him a symbol which continues to motivate the people of Tawantinsuyo, the former Inca Empire.

Statue of Tupac Amaru in Wanchaq (Photo: Alonzo Riley)
Statue of Tupac Amaru in Wanchaq (Photo: Alonzo Riley)

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