9419 - 'The Ghosts of Incas Past': The Political Motivations of Early Colonial Historians in Peru

To even the casual observer of Peru it seems easy to ask, ‘did the Inca past ever leave the Peruvian present?’ References and comparisons to the Inca Empire have been made by Peruvian leaders from the libertadores to Ollanta Humala. In protest or counter hegemony, Inca legitimacy has been an ideological touchstone from Tupac Amaru to Sendero Luminoso to Alberto Pizango. Does this persistent and divergent use of the Inca past in contemporary Peru have its origins in the divergent histories of the Incas produced in the late 16 th century? This paper aims to shed light on this question by answering another; ‘what were the political motivations for writing Inca histories in the colonial period?’

If time belongs to the political economy, as Johannes Fabian argues, then the creation of history is a political act. This is explicit in the history of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, as a reaction to Bartomoleme de las Casas’ challenge to the Spanish crown’s legitimate right to govern the Indies. However, this is too simplistic, context is not everything. Exactly what does Sarmiento’s focus on certain Inca acts or institutions suggest about his political motivations? The same question will be asked of Guaman Poma, Juan de Bentanzos, Garcilaso de la Vega and Pedro Cieza de Leon. As the clash of cultures produced by the early colonial generated legimacies and counter-legimacies, it generated histories and counter-histories to compete in an ideological battlefield where lineage and divine right were the big guns. To divide these histories into a Spanish-indigenous dichotomy is severely lacking, as each one, by its very nature is about co-existence; peaceful, just or otherwise.

This paper takes the methodology of Erving Goffman’s frame analysis to investigate how different presentations of historical conventions reveal the authors’ political leanings. It will show that early colonial historical production was motivated by a variety of objectives, including self-preservation, social advancement and idealism.          

Palavras-chaves: Presented Past, Guaman Poma, Garcilaso de la Vega, Incas

Autores: Elliott, Steven (University of Cambridge, Austria / Österreich)


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