Chapter I: From Noble Savage to Noble Revolutionary (selection)


From the section FLIP OF THE MYTHS


During that twilight of the Spanish Empire in the American continent, the Creoles, seed of the power structure for all future independent republics, experience contradictory emotions and feelings. The successful rebellion of the English settlers in North America fascinates them. They also have antagonistic feelings towards the imperial metropolis. They aspire to exercise all power, to have all the honors, instead of having to bow to the tutelage of Spain exerted by peninsular officials. But at the same time, as masters of an enslaved society, they know they are surrounded by enemies. Not only by the seemingly submissive Indians, who from time to time break out in rebellion, as in Peru in 1780; or Mexico in 1624 and 1692[1]; but also by the barbarous and violent Blacks and the humiliated and resentful Pardos[2]. In fact, during the mutiny of 1692, the Black slaves, the Pardos, and even the poor Whites, called in Mexico zaramullos, to distinguish them from the proud Creoles, made common cause with the Indians in an explosion of anger against authority and all wealth.

[1] On June 7, 1692, the Indian people of Mexico City, hungry and exasperated by the rumor that an Indian woman had been flogged to death, stormed and burned the viceregal palace, cheering the King of Spain and shouting “Death to the Viceroy.”

[2] “In the West Indies seven castes were recognized, namely: (1) Spanish born in Europe (White); (2) Spanish born in America, called Creoles; (3) the mestizos, descendants of White and Indian; (4) the Mulattoes, descendants of White and Black; (5) the Zamboes, descendants of Indian and Black; (6) Indians; (7) Blacks, and the subdivisions of Black Zambos, product of Black and Zamba; Quadroon, of White and Mulatto, quinteroon, of White and Quadroon, and Jump-Back, the mixture in which the color is darker than that of the mother. In Venezuela, all who were not purebred (that is, were not White, Indian, or Black, but one of the indicated mixtures were usually called Pardos, a caste that at the end of the colony made up half of the total population.” Enrique Gil Fortoul, Constitutional History of Venezuela.

Faced with a massive and dark enemy composed of slaves, serfs, and the free lower castes, the Creoles may have been (and probably were) the executioners of Túpac Amaru. Creole also is the pen that drafted the proclamation in Cuzco after the uprising was crushed: “Because of the rebel, it is hereby ordered that all natives dispose of or hand over to their magistrates as many clothes as they may own, as well as paintings or portraits of their Incas, to be inevitably erased as they do not deserve the dignity of being painted in such places.

Because of the rebel, these same magistrates will ensure that in no town of their respective provinces there shall be any representation of comedies or other public functions that the Indians often use to commemorate their ancient deeds.

Because of the rebel, all trumpets or bugles used by the Indians in their functions which they call potutos, and which are sea snails with a strange and lugubrious sound, shall be banned.

Because of the rebel, it is ordered that all natives wear their garbs prescribed by law, adopt our customs, and speak the Spanish language, or be subject to the most rigorous and fair penalties against disobedient people."

But the same Creoles who issued (or signed) that occupier proclamation in 1781, from 1810 onwards began to declare themselves "honorary Indians", heirs and avengers of the Noble Savage. The independent Peru anthem names Lima (the most Spanish, along with Mexico City, of Spanish-American cities) heir to the hatred and revenge of the Inca, its rightful lord, and liberated once again after three centuries of foreign oppression. The Argentine anthem ensures that, with the war of independence, the Incas in their tombs quivered with emotion upon seeing "their children" renew "the ancient splendor of the homeland." In Ecuador, José Joaquín de Olmedo, a poet laureate of sorts from Gran Colombia, envisions (in 1825) the Inca Huaina Capac, mounted on a cloud, jubilant after lamenting from beyond the grave over

“the course of three centuries

of curse, of blood and serfdom”

as he now sees the awaited hour for

“the new age vowed to the Inca.”

Meanwhile, the situation of the Indians not mythical, or dead and buried before their discovery, but alive, present in flesh and blood, continues everywhere to be the same or worse than before the rupture from Spain. The Spanish colonial administration had been run by peninsular bureaucrats with no private interests in America, no blood ties or prolonged familiarity with the Creole oligarchy. For these officials, viceroys, mayors or captains or captains general, the Latin American castes were a political condition, to be handled with the pragmatism of a prudent mediation between them. In addition, although there was no concern for social fairness as we understand it today in that government and it is obvious that in an arbitration between castes the Creoles had the best odds by far, there was concern for justice and traces of the controversy (in Christian Spain during the 16th century about humanity and the rights of America’s aborigines) that had led to the promulgation of the so-called "Laws of the Indies," which included numerous provisions aimed at protecting the Indians.

In contrast, the republican governments of Spanish America will all exclusively represent implacable Creole landowners or (in countries socially convulsed by war) even more implacable Pardo landowners; oligarchies that will have no other concern or goal than to keep intact the received social structures based on giant haciendas and peonage. The frequent changes of government, the so-called Latin American “revolutions,” will be nothing more but surface ripples in stagnant water.

Adding insult to injury, when towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century the Latin American ruling classes begin to articulate explanations or excuses for the failure of their societies as compared to North American ones, it is the Indian, the Black and the miscegenation upon which they will lay the blame; and that explanation will first precede, and then coexist for some time with the one that is fashionable today and that attributes the backwardness and frustration of Latin America exclusively to North American imperialism.


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