Dr. Jose Antonio Mazzotti, Tuft University – Indigenous Writers and the Spanish Conquest

Jan 30, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jose Antonio Mazzotti of Tufts University reveals how the indigenous population of Peru responded to the Spanish conquest of the Andes.

Jose Antonio Mazzotti is Professor and Chair of Latin American Literature at Tufts University where his teaching interests colonial Latin American studies, Latin American poetry, Andean studies, and film studies. He has written a number of books, including Creole Subjects in the Colonial Americas: Empires, Texts, Identities. He holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University.

About Dr. Mazzotti

Dr. Jose Antonio Mazzotti – Indigenous Writers and the Spanish Conquest

When Francisco Pizarro and his troops captured Atahualpa in 1532, they began a fast process of disassembling a well-organized Incan society that, although not perfect, had been able to support a large population, with pre-industrial technology and no environmental damage.

Prior to this conquest ancient Andeans already had solved problems like self-sustainability, rational use of natural resources, and a moderately fair distribution of wealth. However, with the conquest the Andean territory became a large camp of mineral extraction, social and economic polarization, and impoverishment. By 1650, there were only 1.5 million indigenous people left out of 12 million, many lives lost due to war, forced labor, or diseases.

As a result cultural expressions, new modes of survival and social accommodation, and unheard forms of identity also appeared. For example, the introduction of alphabetic writing initially served as a mechanism of colonization, by excluding non Spanish speakers and the illiterate from the exercise of both legal and symbolic power. However, Andeans began to use writing to express their responses to the historical trauma of the conquest and colonization. Chroniclers like El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega, Guaman Poma de Ayala and others wrote or dictated their texts and sought to be heard by the authorities. They introduced not only new perspectives about the Andean past, but also new tonalities and rhythms to the Spanish language.

The study of these texts is a privileged way to understand the complexity of the Andean world, its history and the creative solutions Andeans have found to preserve and adapt their culture to a new world order. Studying these texts can help in answering some of the current global problems, such as food supply and distribution, rational use of the environment, and cultural appreciation of indigenous people.