Subverting Colonial Authority

Challenges to Spanish Rule in Eighteenth-Century Southern Andes

Subverting Colonial Authority

Book Pages: 304 Illustrations: 9 tables, 3 maps Published: September 2003

History > Latin American History, Latin American Studies > Andes

This innovative political history provides a new perspective on the enduring question of the origins and nature of the Indian revolts against the Spanish that exploded in the southern Andean highlands in the 1780s. Subverting Colonial Authority focuses on one of the main—but least studied—centers of rebel activity during the age of the Túpac Amaru revolution: the overwhelmingly indigenous Northern Potosí region of present-day Bolivia. Tracing how routine political conflict developed into large-scale violent upheaval, Sergio Serulnikov explores the changing forms of colonial domination and peasant politics in the area from the 1740s (the starting point of large political and economic transformations) through the early 1780s, when a massive insurrection of the highland communities shook the foundations of Spanish rule.

Drawing on court records, government papers, personal letters, census documents, and other testimonies from Bolivian and Argentine archives, Subverting Colonial Authority addresses issues that illuminate key aspects of indigenous rebellion, European colonialism, and Andean cultural history. Serulnikov analyzes long-term patterns of social conflict rooted in local political cultures and regionally based power relations. He examines the day-to-day operations of the colonial system of justice within the rural villages as well as the sharp ideological and political strife among colonial ruling groups. Highlighting the emergence of radical modes of anticolonial thought and ethnic cooperation, he argues that Andean peasants were able to overcome entrenched tendencies toward internal dissension and fragmentation in the very process of marshaling both law and force to assert their rights and hold colonial authorities accountable. Along the way, Serulnikov shows, they not only widened the scope of their collective identities but also contradicted colonial ideas of indigenous societies as either secluded cultures or pliant objects of European rule.


“[A] book that is to be especially welcomed, as it opens up previously inaccessible sources in the anthropological history of Northern Potosí and is a positive addition to the increasing volume of scholarship in the field of Andean studies.” — , British Bulletin of Publications on Latin America

“[N]ot only one of the finest and most important works ever written on the Andean insurrection but a brilliant contribution to the historiography of Indian politics and rebellion in Latin America and to comparative studies of subaltern politics and insurgency.” — Sinclair Thomas , The Historian

"[A] highly sophisticated, revisionist and largely convincing interpretation of one of the three major focal points of the Age of Insurrection in the Andes. . . . [R]eaders seriously engaging Serulnikov's careful construction of rigorous argumentation and rich exemplification will be amply rewarded." — Nils Jacobsen, Journal of Latin American Anthropology

"[A] meticulously researched study, which provides a powerful and convincing analysis of the first phase of the 'Age of Andean Insurgency.’ . . . [C]ompelling. . . . [A] major book that makes important substantive and methodological contributions to the field, and it deserves a wide readership." — Kenneth J. Andrien , The Americas

"[A] very interesting and fine book. Serulnikov has made an important contribution to our understanding of peasant politics and consciousness, colonial authority and legitimacy, and the evolving understandings peasants and rulers had of each other."

— Ward Stavig, American Historical Review

"[I]ntelligent, well argued and convincingly set out. . . . [T]his is a most welcome contribution to the study of the Andean rebellions, filling a gap in reading lists for courses analysing the transition from colonial rule in Hispanic America." — Matthew Brown , Bulletin of Latin American Research

"[O]utstanding. . . . [A] fascinating account of popular political mobilization that successfully combines detailed archival research with the rich historiography of the late colonial Andes. . . . [A] path-breaking study. . . ." — Matthew D. O'Hara, Itinerario

"In this important work, Serulnikov concentrates on explaining manifestations of subaltern politics and culture. His well-researched findings from Bolivian and Argentine archives raise important questions about the actions of those at various levels in the Spanish colonial administration and make clear obvious faultlines for future research." — Maurice P. Brungardt , Colonial Latin American Historical Review

"This book falls into a long line of good, sometimes pathbreaking, literature about the empowerment and agency of Indians in the Spanish colonial empire of America. . . . Serulnikov's study deepens and enriches our understanding of the remarkable synthesis that occurred when Spaniards and Indians came together to make a new society." — Lawrence A. Clayton , Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"This book finally gives us important insights into one of the major colonial Andean rebellions and has implications for understanding the effects of the Bourbon reforms in late colonial Spanish America. . . . [S]pecialists will find this book a very useful, indeed essential, addition to the literature." — Erick D. Langer, Journal of Social History

Subverting Colonial Authority is a major contribution to the ongoing revision of the history of colonial Latin America and of the development of the modern world in general. It should be read by scholars not only of Latin America but also of world and even European history.” — Karen Spalding, author of Huarochirí: An Andean Society under Inca and Spanish Rule

"Sergio Serulnikov analyzes the root causes, key moments, and bloody consequences of the massive indigenous revolt that nearly toppled Spanish rule in the southern Andes in the early 1780s. Exhaustively researched and cogently argued, this is a major work on the connection between everyday resistance to colonialism and revolutionary upheaval to end it forever. Essential reading for students and scholars of colonial rule everywhere." — John H. Coatsworth, Harvard University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Sergio Serulnikov is Assistant Professor of History at Boston College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Political Legitimacy in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Andean Villages 19

2. From a Multiethnic Community to a Multiethnic Chieftanship: Florencia Lupa, Cacique of Moscari 54

3. Customs and Rules: Bourbon Rationalizing Projects and Social Conflicts in the 1770s 85

4. Disputed Images of Colonialism: Spanish Rule and Indian Subversion, 1777–1780 122

5. The Dilemmas of Self-Rule 157

6. In the Land of Heretics 186

Conclusion: Andean Political Imagination in Times of Insurgency 215

Notes 229

References 267

Index 277
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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-3146-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-3110-0
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