In popular imagination, Inca history ends with Francisco Pizarro’s execution of the last Sapa Inca (emperor) Atahualpa in 1533, and the subsequent history of South America after that is one of European-descended states. But the descendants of the Inca have had a long and complicated history in the centuries since Pizarro, and may have kept their independence if Tupac Amaru II had been successful.
Born José Gabriel Condorcanqui Noguera in 1738, Amaru was the son of a Quechua kuraka, a regional magistrate and descendant of the royal Inca line. Despite being separated by over two hundred years from the rule of his ancestors, Condorcanqui (not yet Amaru) read accounts of the Inca, identified strongly with them, and was angered at the exploitative labor practices under which indigenous workers existed in the Viceroyalty of Peru. Condorcanqui decided that there was no choice but to rebel. He changed his name to Túpac Amaru II, after a previous Inca descendant who led a short-lived rebellion, and Amaru II declared himself in revolt. Amaru’s revolt can be seen as an early attempt at decolonization, a movement that combines present-day social justice with a focus on rebuilding systems that existed before European powers. Amaru fought for many principles that would undergird future revolutions: the abolition of slavery, the redistribution of goods to the poor, the restitution of indigenous lands, and equality between indigenous, creole and mestizos.
Amaru, a persuasive speaker, brought many Quechua to his side and won several early victories handily, but was betrayed, captured, and executed in a particularly brutal fashion. Amaru’s revolt inspired both indigenous movements in Ecuador and Bolivia as well as a creole backlash in colonial Peru. He remains an influential figure in anti-colonial and decolonial movements today, and American rapper Tupac (Amaru) Shakur, “2Pac,” was named for him.