The Colonial Era - History of Peru | Dos Manos


History of Peru - The Colonial Period

Part IV: The Colonial Era


Civil war in the new Spanish colony
The Colonial era in Peruvian history was not kind to indigenous peoples nor to the relatives and ancestors of the Inca. Pizarro and Diego de Almagro led the conquistadors to put down many revolts, but the early colonial years were marked by just as much infighting between the conquistadors over the spoils of Peru as it was by war against local peoples. A long civil war eventually broke out amongst the Spanish which Pizarro won at the Battle of las Salinas. His victory was relatively short lived, however, as Diego de Almagro II, known as El Mozo, led a fraction that assassinated Pizarro in 1541 starting a second civil war.

Establishment of the encomienda system
In the midst of this fighting. the Spanish founded Lima in 1535 and from their organized the administrative and political institutions of their colonial nation including an encomienda system which essentially enslaved millions of native inhabitants. Under the encomienda system Pizarro granted nearly unlimited tracts of land and the people who live on it to his supporters. A land-tenure structure was formed, and indigenous peoples became tied to their land and their encomienda overseer who could use their labor as he saw fit. This meant that native peoples, having spent thousands of years meticulously cultivating crops specific to different climate and altitudes, had to throw all this highly advanced knowledge out the window to cultivate Old World crops and animals unsuited to the local environment. Cattle, chickens, European crops, and all the small stow-aways they carried arrived in Peru, permanently altering the natural environment.

Exploitation of indigenous communities
Civil war and infighting amongst the conquistadors eventually came to an end once the Spanish crown sent Viceroay Francisco de Toledo to Lima in 1572. He eliminated the State of Vilcabamba, the last remnant of the Incan state that put up resistance from their base in the jungle, and executed Tupac Amaru I, the last Incan ruler and Vilcabamba's leader. It was Viceroy Toledo who would firmly establish and bring to importance the silver mines at Potosí and economic development through commercial monopoly. Toledo recycled the pre-Incan and Incan idea of the minga, community labor or forced labor, to recruit workers at the Potosí mines. These silver mines became the main economic support of the Spanish in the Americas and made Lima, as the exporter of precious metals to Spain, the power house of South America. For indigenous peoples, however, Potosí was a place of death and torture. Conditions there were so extreme that labor turn over was frequent and rapid. People considered a command to work in Potosí as worst than a death sentence.

Indigenous rebellions against the Spanish
Due to the extreme conditions indigenous peoples were forced to work under, rebellion and revolt were common and widespread. With their economic and political center in Lima, the Spanish were unable to effectively control and rule the outlying provinces in their colony. They had to rely on local rulers known as Curaca, some related to Incan nobles, in order to govern. Many of these local rulers were proud of their Incan history and turned against the Spanish to led some of the biggest rebellions. In 1742 Juan Santos Atahualpa led a rebellion in the jungle provinces of Tarma and Jauja. It was Tupac Amaru II, who claimed direct decent from the last Inca ruler Tupac Amaru, however, who led the largest and almost successful rebellion against the Spanish in 1780. Tupac Amaru II was a local Curaca from the highlands near Cusco and led an army of indigenous peoples against the Spanish, almost upsetting their rule of the area. He was only defeated by treachery when one of his allies divulged important information to the Spanish leading to Tupac Amaru's capture. The Spanish forced Tupac Amaru to watch as his wife, family and followers were brutally killed in a day-long debauchery of violence before finally drawing and quartering Tumac Amaru himself.

Path to Peruvian Independence
Despite sending parts of his body throughout the empire as warning, Tupac Amaru's massive rebellion along with economic changes and instabilities in the colonial empire led to the steady decline of the Spanish Viceroyalty of Peru. This decline, along with political problems taking place back in Europe on the Iberian Peninsula, led to ideas of independence among some segments of the population. The independence movement was begun by José de San Martín of Argentina and Simón Bolívar of Venezuela who led an uprising of Spanish-American landowners against the Spanish. San Marín declared independence for Peru on July 28th, 1821 in Lima stating: “...From this moment on, Peru is free and independent, by the general will of the people and the justice of its cause that God defends. Long live the homeland! Long live freedom! Long live our independence!"

The Battle of Ayacucho
The actual fight for true political independence was not over, however, and fighting continued until December 1824 and the Battle of Ayacucho which was a turning point in the war. With this battle Spanish colonial downfall was inevitable, although the Spanish continued its attempts to regain its former colonies until 1879 when it eventually admitted Peruvian independence.