The [repartition] lands now belong to the Patria, since dominion had already been acquired by the Comunidad de Peruanos ... In any case [the chief] should reinstate the excessive usufruct rents she still holds over various lands of the Comunidad ... which rightfully correspond to the Hacienda Publica ...
Manuel Barreto, peruano, to the Primary Claims Court Judge of Huaraz, 1823.(1)
We affirm our right in that which corresponds to us ... as Indians who pay the State's income with the status of originarios republicanos... As republicanos [who fulfil] all... services [to the Republic], Your Excellency should... uphold the present legislation of 1828 and 1829 which protects the indios originarios...
Jose Maria Chacpi and Manuel Aniceto, indigenas contribuyentes of Ecash Waranka, Carhuaz, to the Primary Claims Court Judge of Huaraz, 1846.(2)
It has not been the idea of communism or of racial hatred that moved the Indians to rise up in mass and combat the iglesista forces [in the Atusparia Uprising]; no, they have had no other desire than to see the triumph of the Constitution and... to support... General Caceres, EL GRAN REPUBLICANO, as they call him.
El Comercio (Lima newspaper) 2 June 1886.
This article asks two relatively straightforward questions which, when addressed microhistorically, challenge received macrohistorical notions about Peru's 'republican history'. First, what was understood by 'republicanos' in, say, 1818, 1846, or, looking ahead, in 1886? Second, how did San Martin's neological 'peruanos' (Peruvians) ring in postcolonial Andean ears? These small questions help us begin to address a larger one that continues to haunt the shadowy historiography of the nineteenth-century Andes. Namely, what kinds of political culture took shape between the repression of an 'Inca nationalism' or of the 'aristocratic Andean utopia' in the 1780s, and the rise of a radical, but essentialising indigenism in the early 1900s?(3)
The intervening nineteenth century - the foundational period of Peruvian nation-building - has all the signs of an Andean dystopia, of the Creole political imagination's dis-encounter with Andean aspirations. With momentary exceptions, the national community imagined by Peruvian Creoles neatly elided the Indian majority.(4) This article nevertheless contends that in the dark shadows cast by the 'enlightened' discourse of the Creole national state, unimagined, subaltern political communities coalesced around the redeployment of colonial 'Indian rights'. In Huaylas-Ancash, the tactical re-deployment of protective colonial law and titles, combined with the political agency of Indian republicano authorities, the alcaldes vara or varayoc, generated a powerful, albeit suppressed critique of the post-Independence caudillo state. This critique raised (and raises) the possibility of an alternative 'history of indigenous rights and property' that countered the official historicity of national progress but partook of its historical rhetoric.
A methodological caveat: imagining the unimagined
To interrogate the 'domain of peasant politics' in the highlands of nineteenth-century Latin America, this article proposes to turn Benedict Anderson's felicitous phrase, and focus, upside down. Its aim is historically to imagine those unimagined, subaltern political communities which were largely 'incomprehensible from the standpoint of bourgeois politics'.(5) Methodologically, this implies descent from elite texts to the petty archives of local courts and notaries where peasant voices were registered. Yet critically to pursue and retrospectively to imagine what was once (for elites) unimaginable - to write history of what was not history - is decidedly not to be seduced by the naive pursuit of 'the native point of view'. It is rather to excavate the 'discursive framework' or 'grammar of politics' embedded in the local 'documentary record' or archive of state-peasantry relations.(6) In creating this archive, scribes were prescribed to follow formulae. Indigenous peasants, speaking in Spanish or in their native Quechua through a translator,(7) formulated declarations in idioms 'that the magistrate would most clearly understand and be receptive to'. In short, the local ledger of state-peasantry relations was 'a complex negotiation, perhaps actually spoken by a participant but just as likely chosen from a dictionary of official values and prejudices'.(8) As I read them, such sources resist claims to authenticity, but they also resist totalising caricaturisation as mere foucauldian 'capillary microphysics of power'. Nor are the 'keywords' of this scripted discourse readily reduced to mere 'negation' of elite prejudices, as Ranajit Guha has suggested in another context.(9) Instead, these local sources suggest negotiated selection of terms within shifting discursive frameworks. Ambiguity and slippage are thus made possible, and these possibilities are sometimes exploited for their political potential.
Shifting political keywords
In his recent collection of essays on nationalism, Eric Hobsbawm defers to Garcia i Sevilla's investigations in the weighty pages of the Diccionario de la Real Academia Espanola where the latter notes that only after 1884 did the Spanish notion of 'nation' (nacion) take on the official connotation of 'the inhabitants' or 'people' (pueblo) under one government (gobierno) or 'state' (estado).(10) It was only in the 1920s that the rewritten formula of ethnicity = people = nation, when combined with the modern doctrine of the so-called 'natural desire for statehood', led to the contemporary invention of the quasi-ethnic 'nation-state'. Prior to the liberal age of the European middle-to-late nineteenth century and emerging only during the post-Enlightenment 'Age of Revolution' of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, 'nation' carried an almost exclusively political meaning. It was then that the 'modern nation' was increasingly thought of as 'the body of citizens whose collective sovereignty constituted them a state which was their political expression'.(11) This was nation as novelty unencumbered by history and above ethnicity, and opposed to earlier, pre-Enlightenment usages that linked 'nation' to ancestral lineage, and by instantiation to local 'ethnic' corporation. It was this novel, parahistorical concept of nation - as a body of citizens whose expression was the territorial state - that infused the imagination of those 'Creole pioneers' who founded independent republics in early nineteenth-century South America.(12)
But in postcolonial Peru political keywords like republica and nacion resisted univocal definition at the local level. Instead, they were impregnated with living histories of official and subaltern usage, and they were deployed by different people in different contexts to mean different things. For most of the colonial period quite different notions of 'nation' and 'republic' were in circulation. Official colonial usage understood 'nation' as an ethnic-ancestral entity, while 'republic' was that nation's legitimate political and juridical expression or 'causa publica'. State discourse designated peoples of Spanish (including the 'American Spaniards' or Creoles) and Indian descent, respectively, as members of 'the Spanish Nation' (coloniser) or 'the Indian Nation' (colonised). In the legal theory which buttressed a local form of indirect rule, each nation had distinct rights and obligations to the Crown as separate 'republics'.
The colonial invention of the 'Indian Republic' had a missionising and civilisatory quality about it. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, diverse Andean ethnic polities were 'reduced' or resettled in grid-like 'christian towns' where they would 'live in republic', thereby acquiring the virtues of christian civility and 'good government'. The communities of these towns or Pueblos were known as 'Republicas de Indios'. Royal decrees granted these 'Indian Republics' limited self-rule and protection from encroachment by 'members of the Spanish Nation'.
Thus, the Creole nation-building project would have to invent one nation - the 'Peruvian Nation' - where formally two nations - the 'Spanish' and 'Indian' - had existed, albeit in decadent form. This redefinition would not be simple, especially since in the postcolonial period both colonial (monarchical) and postcolonial (republican) senses of 'republic' can be read in the testimonial record generated by local courts.
Between dual colonial and unitary postcolonial nationhoods
On the eve of Jose de San Martin's liberating invasion of the Peruvian coast, conspiring members of the Nacion Espanola in Huaylas petitioned the Delegate of the Intendancy of Tarma for recognition of what they believed to be their right to establish Alcaldes Ordinarios de Espanoles. They asked to be able to establish their own local government since the still reigning Alcaldes Ordinarios de Indios (inherited from Huaraz's sixteenth-century foundation as a colonial 'Indian Republic') were, according to the petitioners, incapable of 'controlling crime, theft, disorder, and filth' in the populous pueblos of the Callejon de Huaylas or Huaylas Valley - pueblos which, by the early nineteenth century, had been transformed from colonial Republicas de Indios into largely mestizo and Spanish towns of artisans, farmers, merchants, and petty officials.(13) Since the late eighteenth century this group of 'Spaniards' in Huaraz - there were numerous 'American Spaniards' or Creoles among them - had repeatedly petitioned the Subdelegate of Huaylas in Huaraz for the right to elect 'alcaldes de espanoles para que este mejor gobernada su Republica'. On these occasions, however, their petitions had been rejected and their persons molested 'for their pretentions'. In 1797, for example, the Subdelegate of Huaylas had this uppity 'Spanish' group of 'revoltosos' - which sought to establish the Spanish Alcaldia - brought before his court. The Subdelegate declared with dismay that
It has come to my attention that a few townsmen of the Pueblo of Huaraz, acting with arrogance and unabashed impunity, have been manoeuvring and influencing their neighbours to sign a petition requesting Spanish Alcaldes ... It is public knowledge that they do this despotically, and that their pretensions are none other than to fuel their rebellious and abusive tempers.(14)
In 1820, however, the colonial Intendant of Tarma - now on the verge of extinction - approved a resubmission of the very same petition, thereby recognising the new Spanish Alcaldes 'but with the condition that said Spanish Alcaldes do not exercise jurisdiction over the Indians, since they are governed by those of their own Nation in those aspects addressed by the Laws of Peru' [my emphasis].(15)
The 'Spaniards' of Huaraz would have precious little time in which to exercise this local self-rule under a segregated alcalde system of district and municipal government which disallowed direct jurisdiction over the Indian Alcaldes and 'their Nation'. For in a matter of months (in some other regions of Peru five or more years) Spanish colonialism's half-fictional political duality would be precariously bridged by the half-fictional unitary administrative apparatus of the newborn Peruvian Republic. Once postcolonial rule was established in Huaylas (1821-4), the republican Gobernadores with their Tenientes and Jueces de Paz, complete with their bastones (staffs) and pointed black top-hats, emblems of Republican authority,(16) exercised what the would-be Spanish Alcaldes of 1820 could not: direct jurisdiction over the Indian Alcalde vara and their now officially dissolved 'nation'. The parallel, but asymmetric, colonial political hierarchies were to be subsumed under the juridically uniform Republic. Although this shift was clinched with the demise of the intermediary colonial chiefs in the late eighteenth century, and the conditions for it had been forming since the late seventeenth century when the dual colonial nations of Indians and Spaniards began to be seriously blurred,(17) the postcolonial drive for juri-political uniformity as the basis for united nationhood generated profound shifts in the practice, discourse, and mediation of state-peasantry relations.
The liberal-nationalist postcolonial decrees are by now familiar to historians, but their consequences, which are often taken for …