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History and Culture / Colonial Peru

Colonial Peru

When the Spaniards came to Peru, the census taken by the last Quipucamayoc1 indicated that there were twelve million inhabitants. Just 45 years later, under viceroy Toledo, the census figures amounted to only 1,100,000 Indians.

Nine tenth's of the population had been killed off.

The causes of such dreadful genocide were many. Disproportionate taxes exploited and impoverished the Indians. Rebellions were suppressed by incredible cruelty, and were punished by hard slave labour in mines and "obrajes"2. Neither were the Indians able to withstand the multiple diseases brought from Europe, against which they had no immunological defences.

The Andean world was turned upside down. From their original dwellings, at mid-mountain level, where they could be sure of food all year round, Indians were relocated down in the valleys to facilitate tax collection. Whole families were scattered, for tax purposes to "obrajes", mines, haciendas, and as servants in urban mansions. Their crops were abandoned and the women were considered as part of the booty for soldiers and landowners. Families disintegrated, and Indian communities were severely stricken.

Religion became another important instrument of conquest. Incas and pre-Inca cultures had worshipped gods directly related to their lives: the Sun, which sustained life; the Moon, which revealed when the season was right for sowing; water which fertilised the land; the mountains around their homes; and certain animals, for their strength. This entire set of beliefs was attacked with blood and iron, and replaced by an invisible foreign god.

The colonial period in Peru destroyed an economic and social system based on the rational and harmonic utilisation of natural resources. In its place was established an irrational economy, based on the extraction of raw materials, and the exploitation of Peru's native population.

Within just 50 of the period's total 286 years, Spain robbed Peru of a wealth of minerals that exceeded 185,000 kilograms of gold, and 16 million kilograms of silver. However, the Peruvian native population did not take this European Conquest lying down. On the contrary, the Indians resisted the Colonial penetration right from the beginning. In the 18th. Century alone, there were fourteen large uprisings, the most outstanding of which were the Jungle uprising led by Juan Santos Atahualpa in 1742, and in 1780 the Sierra uprising, led by Tupac Amaru.

While overcoming these insurrections, and in an attempt to crush their underlying ideals, the Spaniards ordered the destruction of all traditions and manifestations of Inca identity. As well as other cultural expressions, they prohibited the use of Indian languages, clothes and musical instruments. It is therefore remarkable that, despite such cruel repression and the decimation of their population, so many indigenous traditions and aesthetic assets have survived to modern times.