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Journal of Southern African Studies, Volume 26, Number 2, June 2000, pp.

Indians and Mestizos: Identity and
Urban Popular Culture in Andean Peru
(International Development Studies, Roskilde University)
The article begins with a discussion of the chronology of conquest and liberation in Peru
and reects on the changing meanings given to the racial categories of Indian and mestizo
(half-caste) in colonial and post-colonial periods. Using popular culture as a lens, the
transformations taking place in images of race and urban social identities are analysed,
using as a case study a provincial town in the Andean highlands in the course of the
twentieth century. Through changing forms of street theatre urban groups worked out new
identities by weaving together, juxtaposing and contesting different cultural forms. The
article explores in detail two manifestations of street theatre that predominated. These are
the Dance of the Inca in the 1900s that addressed Indian/white relations, and carnaval
where relations between mestizo and white were played out for much of the twentieth
In the Andean countries of South America (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador) popular culture has long
been an arena in which serious political and social commentary and contestation have taken
place. Given the strength of indigenous culture and ethnic identities in the Andes on the one
hand, and the force of Spanish colonialism and white post-colonial rule in upholding racial
distinctions on the other, social relations have long been imbued with feelings and
identications of ethnicity and race. Thus popular culture has been a highly charged eld
in which people deemed inferior according to the dominant socialracial hierarchy have
addressed, reected on and shaped ethnic/racial identities as well as their political future.
In this context, as Rowe and Schelling suggest, popular culture can be seen not as a given
view of the world but as a space or series of spaces where popular subjects, as distinct from
members of ruling groups, are formed.
In the Andes, public performance has been a
dynamic and creative realm. It is a key site of identity construction, but one where markers
exist to distinguish between indigenous and mestizo forms of performance.
One concern of this paper is to discuss how ethnic/racial categories have been
represented, elaborated and re-worked in urban popular culture during the twentieth century.
The focal point is the history of a provincial capital, Tarma, in the Peruvian Central Andes,
as seen through the lens of cultural expression. I wish to show how the towns people, not
belonging to the white ruling elite, have engaged in different kinds of performance that took
over the streets on particular dates. Analysis of changing forms of street theatre can help
reveal how groups from the urban popular classes marked racial identities as Indians or
mestizos (half-castes); how they worked out, negotiated and contested alternative collective
1 W. Rowe and V. Schelling, Memory and Modernity: Popular Culture in Latin America (London, 1991), p. 10.
2 Z. Mendoza, Dening Folklore: Mestizo and Indigenous Identities on the Move, Bulletin of Latin American
Research, 17, 2 (May 1998), pp. 165183.
ISSN 0305-7070 print; 1465-3893 online/00/000239-15

2000 Journal of Southern African Studies
240 Journal of Southern African Studies
identities; and how they welded together identications of race, class and region and
changed the social and political fabric of the town. But in order to read popular culture in
this way, one needs some prior understanding of colonial ethnic/racial categories and the
ways these identities in general have been recongured and transformed in post-colonial
The use of popular culture as a means of embodying and elaborating ethnic/racial
identities has been common enough in colonial and post-colonial situations and one can
expect broad similarities across space and time. However, one also needs to be aware of
signicant regional differences if the experiences of Andean America and Southern Africa
are going to speak more directly to each other. The different chronologies and contexts of
colonial history are central here. Therefore in the rst section I shall present a schematic
overview of the chronology of Spanish colonial rule and the post-Independence period in
Peru, and reect on the changing meanings given to two key categories of colonial racial
identity, Indian and mestizo.
Ethnic and Racial Identities in Andean Peru
Chronology of Conquest and Liberation
Spanish America, seen in the light of European history, was the site of an early colonial
endeavour. The conquerors had set out from a Europe that was breaking free of feudalism.
The ideas they and later colonizers brought with them from Spain with respect to empire
and government, kingship and state-craft, nobility and purity of blood, and the tough,
proselytizing Catholic religious orders, were products of their time. In the Andes, the
Spanish confronted the Empire of Tahuantinsuyu, a loose political confederation that
covered a huge territory (from Chile to Colombia) and brought a mosaic of ethnically
differentiated polities under the rule of the Inca elite. Ethnic lords owed allegiance to the
Inca king and took part in an elaborate system of exchange and redistribution. Out of these
complex encounters, a new colonial society was forged in the sixteenth century and
developed its own particular trajectory over time.
The term Indian had been attached by European colonizers to all conquered peoples in
the Americas, North and South, whatever their ethnic and regional origins. Under the
Viceroyalty of Toledo in the 1570s, when a new political economy of empire was
institutionalized in the Andes, the term Indian became at heart a scal category by which
the obligations of the native population to the colonial state were dened.
This overrode,
though it did not wipe out, the underlying ethnic differentiation.
Unlike later colonists in
Africa, the Spanish were less concerned with establishing a policy of divide and rule
through the construction of divisive ethnic identities and politics based on tribe and clan.
Instead, the Spanish worked to co-opt (and were also co-opted by) native lords who through
their ties of patronage and kinship could mediate between the Spanish state and the Indian
tribute-paying population.
To get hold of labour especially for mining, the lynchpin of the
colonial economy, Toledo transformed the Inca system of labour deployment into a colonial
system of forced labour.
The Spanish administration had imposed a rigid, hierarchic, racially-based social
3 O. Harris, Ethnic Identity and Market Relations: Indians and Mestizos in the Andes, in B. Larsen and O. Harris
(eds), Ethnicity, Markets and Migration in the Andes: the Crossroads of History and Anthropology (Durham,
1995), pp. 351390.
4 There are estimated to be 58 distinct ethnic groups now living in the Peruvian Andes and tropical lowlands: see
R. Montoya, Al Borde del Naufragio (On the Verge of Shipwreck) (Lima, 1992), p. 24.
5 K. Spalding, De Indio a Campesino (From Indian to Peasant) (Lima, 1974), pp. 3160.
Indians and Mestizos 241
stratication, a sociedad de castas (caste society) in the American colonies that classied
people on the basis of race and racial mixtures. Yet interplaying with this were the practical
politics and problems of ruling. On taking over the socio-spatial organization of the Incas,
the Spanish continued to protect the collective rights of native clan groups to their lands,
fashion ethnic polities into colonial administrative units and plant new towns where
colonists were supposed to reside. The earlier system of reciprocal exchange was trans-
formed into heavy demands for tribute and forced labour, in return for the intangible
benets of civilization, Catholicism and promise of eternal life. In addition, native
families were attached as serfs to large Spanish-owned hacienda properties where they were
exempt from tribute and from the states forced labour systems. The situation for the vast
majority of Indian subjects under the Spanish Crown became far worse than under the
This was not only because of the rapacity of the new conquerors and their hunger
for silver and gold, but also because European diseases decimated the native population, so
that survivors were compelled to work ever harder for their Spanish masters.
In accordance with medieval political philosophy, society was conceived as a corporate
entity composed of complementary groups in which a fundamental distinction was made
between those apt for governing and those apt for service.
In the Andes, Spaniards and
Indians were considered as belonging to two separate corporate entities (known as republics
or nations), each comprising lords and commoners and each owing allegiance to and
expecting protection from the Spanish Crown. The structure of domination was not between
individuals but between societies, with the Republic of Indians subordinate to the Republic
of Spaniards.
However, in practice, Indian lords were integrated into multi-racial power
groups that interlocked elites of indigenous and non-indigenous origin.
Their formation
was particularly intense in the Central Peruvian Andes where the lords of powerful native
dynasties were unusually successful at turning Indianwhite collaboration to their own
advantage and unusually reluctant to attack the colonial power structure.
Thus, although
belonging to the subordinate Republic of Indians, some Indians became extremely wealthy
and inuential in the colonial period.
Though miscegenation was common, the powerful colonial doctrine of purity of blood
meant that mestizos as half-breeds or half-castes (especially those who could not claim
descent from noble native families) were considered stained due to the mixture of colours
and other vices, inferior, cowards and traitors.
Neither mestizaje (the process of
becoming mestizos) or other forms of racial hybridity tted with the colonial social order.
Numbers of mestizos expanded over time. By law, they belonged to the lowest rung of the
Republic of Spaniards, were exempt from tribute and forced labour, and were barred from
living in Indian settlements (though many did so). Some were descendants of unions of
Spanish men and indigenous women, others had formerly been members of native elites.
But there were also Indian commoners who managed to become mestizos, though as Harris
argues the process of mestizaje usually involved a denial of ones past and separation from
ones origins.
Colonial law had given a special position to artisans, to the smiths,
6 K. Spalding, Huarochiri: an Andean Society under Inca and Spanish Rule (Stanford, 1984).
7 In the territory that is now Peru, the native population was around 9 millions in 1530 and had been reduced to
601,645 in 1620: see D. Cook, Demographi c Collapse in Indian Peru, 15201620 (Cambridge, 1981), p. 114.
8 Spalding, De Indio a Campesino, pp. 147193.
9 M. Thurner, From Two Republics to One Divided: Contradictions and Post-Colonial Nation-making in Andean
Peru (Durham, 1997), p. 9.
10 S. Stern, Perus Indian Peoples and the Challenge of Spanish Conquest (Madison, 1982), pp. 9296.
11 S. Stern, The Age of Andean Insurrection, 17421782: a Reappraisal , in S. Stern (ed) Resistance, Rebellion and
Consciousness in the Andean Peasant World, 18
to 20
Centuries (Madison, 1987), p. 61.
12 Spalding, De Indio a Campesino, pp. 164165.
13 Harris, Ethnic Identity, p. 359.
242 Journal of Southern African Studies
shoemakers, tailors and dyers who lived in Indian parishes. Some of these men and their
families moved into the provincial Spanish towns, a movement that tended to speed up as
the situation in native land-holding communities deteriorated. Moving into town meant
more than having an urban trade, it also implied speaking Spanish, changing ones style of
dress and eating different food.
In the Andes, the idea of an alternative state ruled over by a benevolent Inca king was
kept alive throughout the colonial period. Indeed, the all-embracing colonial concept of
Indian had helped foster a common political, pan-Indian identity amongst the colonized.
Native religion could not function as vehicle for this subversive thought on account of the
energetic activities of Spanish priests in stamping out idolatry. Cultural performance offered
a more fertile eld, one that the Spanish found less easy to control.
Theatrical performance
had been well-established in Inca times and the Spanish contributed to this cultural form by
introducing a dance drama of conquest of their own. The drama that came from Spain
centred on the victory of the Christians over the Moors (still performed in the Andes as the
dance of los moros y los cristianos). But in Spanish America, it was easy to change
the protagonists. In the Andes, Spaniards confronted Incas, and the drama focused on the
meeting between Pizarro and Atahualpa, which ended in the death of the Inca king in 1533.
In Guatemala, the Dance of the Conquest recorded the meeting of Alvarado with Tecum
Uman, and in Mexico the encounter between Cortez, Moctezuma and Cuahtemoc.
Not long after the Conquest of the Andes, an early version of this dance drama was
promoted by the church as part of its evangelizing mission. Though focusing on the death
of the Inca king, the performance ended on a festive note when the public was brought in
to celebrate the new alliance between Spaniards and natives. But the subject matter was
explosive stuff and could easily be transformed so as to give a different or inverse reading
of history. Oral traditions are hard to date; the earliest clear reference to the performance
of an alternative version of the Death of Atahualpa comes in the mid-seventeenth century.
There were several variants of the story. In most, appeal was made by the defeated Inca
king for justice from the Spanish king and in the nal act, Pizarro when offering the head
of Atahualpa to the king of Spain is cursed and condemned to everlasting remorse for this
murder. In the late colonial period, Indian dance/theatre was increasingly used to revive a
Messianic gure of the Inca king. Performed in Quechua in the central squares of Indian
villages and in Spanish in multi-racial urban centres, this drama undermined the legitimacy
of Spanish rule. It fostered and spread the utopian myth of the Inca kings return, an end
to disorder and chaos, and the dawning of a new age of justice and plenty. The popular
drama was to have political consequences, it helped prepare the ground and galvanize
support for the massive native rebellions that shook the Andes in the eighteenth century.
The struggle for independence from colonial rule took place comparatively early and
was signicantly different from the African experience. During a rst phase in the
eighteenth century, native peoples of Peru and Bolivia rose up in violent deance of
colonial authorities and challenged the wider structure of colonial rule and privilege.
These Andean insurrections were led by Indian kurakas, claiming descent from the royal
Inca line, who sought the support of the Spanish king. But they were quelled with great loss
of life, the privileges of the native lords were greatly reduced and Indian theatrical
14 I. Silverblatt, Becoming Indian in the Central Andes of Seventeenth Century Peru, in G. Prakash (ed), After
Colonialism: Imperial Histories and Post Colonial Displacement s (Princeton, 1995).
15 This discussion builds on the following works. N. Wachtel, The Vision of the Vanquished: the Spanish Conquest
of Peru through Indian Eyes (Hassocks, 1977); A. Flores Galindo, Buscando un Inca: Identidad y Utopia en los
Andes (Searching for an Inca: Identity and Utopia in the Andes) (Havana, 1986); L. Millones, Actores de Altura:
Ensayos sobre el Teatro Popular Andino (Actors of Stature: Essays on Andean Popular Theatre) (Lima, 1992).
16 Stern, The Age.
Indians and Mestizos 243
performances banned. The last and most serious revolt, led by Tupac Amaru in the 1780s,
was to have lingering consequences. According to Thurner, although the insurrection had
been supported by Andean mestizos and whites, the white elite in the early nineteenth
century still harboured dark memories of Indian peasant masses sacking and burning
estates and sacricing whites to the Earth Mother in the name of the Inca king. The memory
of Indian messianism and political claims put forward in the insurrections meant that the
Incas would only be timidly resurrected in the iconography of the new nation state. They
were to be seen from a safe distance as the nations antiquity, its distant, classical past.
The second phase of the struggle for independence in the early nineteenth century was
led by Spanish men born in the colonies (creoles) who through reason of birth had been
barred from holding positions of power in the colonial state and church.
Creole-led armies
had liberated most of Spanish America by the 1820s and the victorious generals made
pioneering attempts to imagine national communities and establish nation states. In
independent Peru, the Constitution inspired by liberalism and secularism, and more
concretely by French and US models, conferred rights of citizenship on Indians including
the formal right to vote. However, most white politicians considered that the formerly
oppressed Indians could only be gradually enlightened and civilized so as to join the
rest of the free citizens of Peru.
Thus, in comparison with Africa, not only did Independence occur at a time when
liberalism and the capitalist world market were beginning to expand, offering new
opportunities for commodity production, but also the successful ght for freedom had not
been led by the colonized population. This was a far cry from liberation struggles in black
Africa more than a century later. Neither did the newly independent Latin American states
at the start resemble the bastions of white rule in South Africa and Rhodesia, though
parallels were to develop over time.
Indians and Mestizos as Post-colonial Subjects
The triumph of nationalism and the emancipatory project in Peru were short-lived. The
expansion of capitalism and new waves of European immigration reaching the Andes were
accompanied by renewed efforts to control and exploit the native population and the spread
of new scientic discourses of race, disease, pollution and criminality.
Colonial racial
identities were recongured rather than made redundant. Early post-colonial legislation had
attempted to create citizens out of Indians by removing the dening characteristics of the
colonial Indian tribute, labour service and protected status of communal land. However,
the absence of alternative sources of revenue and labour led to a process of re-indianization
in the course of the nineteenth century. But no longer did a native elite mediate relations
with the Indian tributary population. The kurakas, weakened after the Tupac Amaru
uprising, were legally abolished as a group in 1825.
Their place as intermediaries was
largely taken over by mestizos. By the 1890s, the popular project was repressed and serious
limitations placed on suffrage: now only the educated could vote, a move that effectively
excluded most of the native population.
17 Thurner, From Two Republics, p. 9.
18 B. Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London, 1991),
pp. 4765.
19 Thurner, From Two Republics, p. 5.
20 M. de la Cadena, Silent racism and intellectual superiority in Peru, Bulletin of Latin American Research, 17,
2 (May 1998), pp. 143164.
21 Spalding, De Indio a Campesino, p. 192.
22 F. Mallon, Peasant and Nation: the Making of Postcolonial Mexico and Peru (Berkeley, 1995), p. 19.
244 Journal of Southern African Studies
From the mid-nineteenth century, white urban intellectuals in the capital, Lima, and in
the provinces espoused the cause of redeeming and civilizing the humble Indians, and saw
education as offering the best route for their integration. At rst, the work of integration lay
in the hands of provincial white elites but under the dictatorship of Augusto Leguia
(19191930), paternalistic concern with Indian improvement was institutionalized by the
state and renewed attempts made to codify and protect Indian collective rights to land. But
ofcial policy took a new direction in the 1970s when the reformist military government
led by General Juan Velasco (19671975) carried out sweeping agrarian and educational
reforms in a belated attempt to modernize the backward, and increasingly rebellious,
Andean highlands. The state now demanded that henceforth Indians be re-labelled peasants.
By expropriating the white property-owning class and forming co-operatives, the state
sought to end colonial agrarian identities, relations and practices once and for all. But only
through the Constitution of 1979 were non-literates, largely comprising the rural indigenous
population, given back the right to vote, though they could not themselves be elected to
public ofce.
Against this backdrop, meanings and associations of colonial racial categories were
altering. The work of dening and shoring up racial identities was no longer an affair of
the state but had passed into the hands of provincial society. Indians were no longer dened
as members of a separate Republic, but as individuals living in poverty in rural communities
and working the land, which de facto remained under communal control. They were
represented as an impoverished and homogeneous lower stratum of national society. In
contrast, the mestizos star was rising. By the 1900s, mestizos were increasingly identied
with civilization and urban residence, with occupations in trade and transport, and
membership of urban trade guilds. Later mestizo occupations included the professions
(school teachers and lawyers), positions in local government, and state employment at the
provincial level. But the rupture implicit in the mestizos past and the denial of their origins
in Indian society coloured relations between them and Indians. As Harris remarks: We can
hypothesize that the coercive control over Indian populations wielded by mestizos was
certainly facilitated by their radical denial of similarity even when this contradicted the
ambiguous realities of everyday life.
But what was happening to the denition and
identications of mestizos when seen in the light of popular culture? While Indians could
count on a vast repertoire of cultural expression and the white elite drew inspiration from
European high culture, where was the cultural voice of the mestizo? Squeezed between the
two colonial Republics, mestizos had long been cultural borrowers and adapters.
Increasingly, the recongured relations between Indian and mestizo took a class form.
Although Andean people might continue to speak Quechua and Aymara, dress in non-west-
ern clothing, belong to a land-holding community whose titles went back to pre-colonial
times, and participate in traditional collective social and political institutions, they did not
consider themselves Indian. This was a term synonymous with slave or serf. The move from
Indian to mestizo identity has been a constant feature of social life, each generation
producing a new wave of Indian aspirants whose search for social advancement has brought
new racial terms and labels into common currency. With mestizos established as part of the
ruling class, so the derogatory term cholo emerged to demarcate a new group of
One conclusion to be drawn is that in post-colonial Andean Peru the
23 Montoya, Al Borde del Naufragio, p. 40.
24 Harris, Ethnic Identity, p. 365.
25 See, for example, A. Quijano, Dominion y Cultura: Lo Cholo y el Conicto Cultural en el Peru (Domination and
Culture: Cholos and Cultural Conict in Peru) (Lima, 1980).
Indians and Mestizos 245
greatest energy has been spent on forging new hybrid or non-Indian social identities in
order to escape from or re-invent the duality of Indian/mestizo.
In this context, popular culture in Andean provincial towns has provided a vital space
in which concepts of Indian, mestizo and cholo could be reected on and new social
categories worked out. The provincial town could become a place of continual experimen-
tation of images and cultural forms. Yet up to now, processes of identity formation viewed
through changes of popular culture have received little attention.
This provoked me to
look again through different kinds of material I have collected over the years on the town
of Tarma. These included locally printed pamphlets and booklets on folklore, articles from
local newspapers, copies of old papers and photographs from local families, and interview
notes with local intellectuals in the early 1970s. In Tarma, I then discussed memories and
interpretations of popular culture in the town and province with contemporary local
intellectuals, retired school teachers from the rural districts, who are now most active in
re-inventing Tarmas cultural traditions.
The Making of Andean Urban Society
According to local tradition, the town of Santa Ana de Pampas (present-day Tarma) was
founded by the conquistadores on July 26 in 1538 as a pueblo de espanoles (Spanish town)
located halfway between the Inca provincial administrative centre and the seat of the ethnic
lord of the Taruma polity. It was a new town, built on an unoccupied site and laid out in
accordance with colonial directives. Streets on a grid plan enclosed an imposing central
space for religious processions and military parades, which was bordered by the buildings
symbolizing Spanish authority (church, barracks, gaol, house of the governor). A short
while after its foundation, the town was given a second identity as a reduccion de indios
(concentration of Indians), in accordance with Viceroy Toledos policy that re-grouped the
native population in larger, more easily governed, settlements. Thus from the outset, both
Spanish and Indian populations were recognized as being attached to the new town. Tarma
became a wealthy and important colonial administrative centre and Inca and local native
elites were incorporated into the multi-racial ruling group.
But by the late colonial period, Spanish ofcials considered Tarma a miserable,
uncivilized place, the choice of words reecting the sight of its Indian-looking inhabitants.
Tarma district had a population of some 8,000 and a census levied in the province in 1792
shows that there was roughly an equal percentage of mestizos and Indians (48 and 49 per
cent respectively) compared to a mere 2.35 per cent registered as Spanish.
Independence, social practices and relations enjoyed a brief euphoric interlude when Indians
were hailed as fellow citizens. But by the late nineteenth century social relations were
recongured in terms of a new discourse that stressed the need to civilize the ignorant
Indian through education. In the 1910s, almost every issue of Tarmas leading newspaper,
Imparcial, carried an article on the imperative need to educate the Indian. Local journalists
wrote, For the future and prosperity of the nation, education is essential for the indigenous
race still living in semi-savagery. They considered the signs were hopeful: We have seen
that those from their race who know how to read and write have formed families according
26 For an important exception, see Mendoza, Dening folklore.
27 C. Arellano, Apuntes Historicos sobre la Provincia de Tarma en la Sierra Central del Peru (Historical Notes on
the province of Tarma in the Central Peruvian Andes) (Bonn, 1988).
28 C. Arellano, Notas sobre el Indigena en la Intendencia de Tarma: una Evaluacion de la Visita de 1786 (Notes
on the Native in the Intendency of Tarma: an Evaluation of the Ofcial Visit of 1786) (Bonn, 1984).
29 C. Arellano, Notas sobre el Indigena, p. 23.
246 Journal of Southern African Studies
to civilized custom.
The integrationist view of education was to prove astonishingly
Tarmas economic fortunes were brightening by the turn of the century. The town was
located relatively close to Lima, had long supplied the nearby high mining zones with
labour, pack animals and food, and was the highland entry point for the recent re-coloniza-
tion of the tropical eastern lowlands where aguardiente (cane alcohol) and coffee were
produced in increasing volume. Tarma was attracting growing numbers of European
immigrants looking for adventure and wealth, many of whom married into the local
property-owning elite. Interest grew amongst this white elite for better local government
and for taking steps to make the town a beacon of European enlightenment. The Provincial
Council, the elected local government, was eager to bring progress to the town and set
about improving education, public order, hygiene and cleanliness, provision of infrastruc-
ture and services, and the towns embellishment and ornamentation. As a reection of the
changing values, the nature of urban public space was under transformation. This was
having implications as to who could use which public space for what purpose; and who
could take on the responsibility of being the guardians of public culture and the public
Tarma was also a mestizo town. Throughout the colonial period, people from the
surrounding Indian settlements had settled on the urban fringes, in communities that were
known as urban barrios, characterized by winding streets and densely packed houses, quite
different from the planned streets and spacious houses of the centre. The men worked as
carpenters, tailors, shoemakers, hatters, harness-makers, smiths, butchers, brick-makers,
rope-makers, painters, barbers, mattress-makers, cooks and bakers.
They were organized
into guilds that governed conditions of entry, apprenticeship and set the prices. Most of the
men were literate and voted in the local elections. Women worked in textile manufacture,
food processing and in domestic service; they later took charge of the market as wholesalers
and meat sellers, and ran small cantinas (bars) selling cheap liquor. By the early twentieth
century, the number of artisans was not only expanding, but master craftsmen from the
coast were settling in Tarma. They were partly responsible for introducing the new
revolutionary ideas of anarcho-sindicalism.
Some effort was made to control the movement of Indians from living in the
surrounding rural areas as in the colonial period. But a strict segregation of space was
impossible to enforce. Leading families and the town authorities made use of unpaid
indigenous labour and urban residents depended on the foodstuffs and construction
materials Indians brought to town. To supply these needs, people from the surrounding rural
area were obliged to come every Sunday to attend church and sell their goods (at strictly
regulated prices) in the central square and surrounding streets. In traversing urban public
space, the place of the Indian was literally in the gutter. A memory from those times,
commonly repeated to the present day, is that only white and mestizo citizens were entitled
to use the pavements.
Popular Culture in Space and Time
I propose employing a quite literal denition of space to explore the way different groups
used urban public space. This focused on the central square the Plaza de Armas and
included the regularly-planned streets, subsidiary squares and open spaces, sometimes the
30 Imparcial, 1910, 30 January, 7 November, Tarma municipal archive.
31 F. Wilson, Urban Craftsmen and Their Struggle Against Capitalism: a Case Study from Peru, Social Analysis,
20 (December 1986).
Indians and Mestizos 247
balconies of the houses lining the main streets, and sometimes outlying sites on the edge
of town, like the towns gates or the cemetery. The public space of the old centre had never
been entirely the domain of the dominant groups, even though it was the leading families
who lived there. In this public space, cultural events were localized and acted out, the
squares and streets providing the setting for their staging and choreographing.
The most important cultural manifestations in the town that had brought the population
together across divisions of race and class were those centred on religion. The church and
the cemetery were open to all who were pious and devout irrespective of their social
condition, as were the religious processions which periodically took over the urban streets.
Festivals in the religious calendar were marked by processions carrying statutes of patron
saints, normally kept in the church, around the central square and through the main streets
of town accompanied by music and prayers. The practice bore an intriguing resemblance
to earlier Inca use of urban public space when periodically efgies of Inca kings were
carried around the towns. By the end of the nineteenth century, the Provincial Council, in
its pursuit of civilization, intervened in the way religious festivals were celebrated, and
attempts were made to remove drunken Indians from the processions and the cemetery.
The cultural life of the town was regulated and punctuated by the coexistence of
different calendar systems, which had been closely interwoven and interpenetrated as part
of a colonial strategy of cultural dominance. The pre-Hispanic agricultural calendar of
sowing times and harvest times and the Inca astronomical calendar of solstices and
equinoxes which signalled the great estas held for the redistribution of goods were
overlaid with the Christian calendar of saints days and commemorations. In most of rural
Tarma, the festival of the patron saint coincides with an important festival in one of the
pre-Hispanic calendars and the celebrations have been fused. Festivities start with a Mass
in the church and are followed by a esta pueblarina (folk festival) lling the main square
with the costumes, dances, songs, food and drink appropriate for that day. After Indepen-
dence, the nation-state inaugurated yet another calendar system, this time to commemorate
nationally signicant events, which were to be promoted largely by the schools. The
overlapping ceremonial calendars can be seen as evidence of cultural syncretism whereby
the opposing traditions of Indian and Spanish were brought together through cultural
interweavings and combinations. But in practice, what form did cultural syncretism take?
To what extent did the coexistence of ceremonial calendars mean that non-communicating
groups performing in public space impinged only marginally on the sensibilities of others?
Or were there possibilities for different groups to engage in common performance, borrow
and adapt cultural expressions from each other, and produce new hybrid social identities
and relations?
I propose examining two examples of street theatre that have occupied Tarmas public
space. Each was part of a specic calendar of cultural events and associated with the
identity formation and place-making activities of non-elite urban groups. When viewed over
time, they might offer some clue as to the broader processes underway in terms of changing
racial identities, urbanization and class formation. The rst example of street theatre to be
discussed is the Dance of the Inca, a descendent of the politically subversive drama, the
Death of Atahualpa, which commented on Indian/Spanish relations. The second example is
carnaval, which in its Andean form celebrates processes of mestizaje by mixing cultural
The Dance of the Inca
On 24 December, a date marking both the summer solstice of the Inca calendar and
Christmas, the Dance of the Inca used to be performed in front of the cathedral on Tarmas
248 Journal of Southern African Studies
Plaza de Armas. From there, the actor/dancers processed through the streets nally reaching
a small square, the Plazuela de las Tres Cruces. Performance of the dance died out in the
1920s but its memory lives on, largely because of the survival of an unusually perceptive
and sympathetic account written in 1905. Its author, Adolfo Vienrich (18671908), was a
chemistschoolmasterjournalist, twice elected Mayor of the province, and the controversial
leader of Tarmas anarcho-syndicalist movement and political organizer of the incipient
working class, especially the artisans of the guild system. Vienrichs description has been
faithfully reproduced over the years in the works of later local intellectuals, the more radical
remembering him as championing the demand for the equality of all citizens in the name
of the Patria (Fatherland). What other contemporary observers in the early 1900s might
have dismissed as Indian custom, Vienrich used as evidence to show how subjugated
peoples kept alive against all the odds their opposition to Spanish rule. Nowhere in his
accounts did Vienrich use the diminishing term of folklore to describe indigenous culture,
but ironically after his murder by political adversaries and to conceal his radicalism, he was
labelled a folklorist.
Vienrich left an invaluable record of the substance of popular culture in Tarma at the
turn of the century.
The most vibrant popular cultural expression of the time was known
as dance, yet it was closer to being street theatre. Included were songs, speeches, dance and
movement and most had some sort of plot. The dances were associated with particular dates
in the Inca and Christian calendars, such as Easter, Corpus Christi, the feast-days of the
Virgin of Miracles and Saint Bartholomew, when the dancers accompanied religious
processions. The names of the dances had been rendered in Hispanic idiom: negritos
(negroes), diablos (devils), moros y cristianos (moors and christians). Vienrich emphasized
the blend of Spanish and Indian inuences and wrote, for example, that the diablos with
their masks of leather with an innite number of horns remind us of gures depicted on
Indian reliefs and paintings. Probably when they saw them, the Spanish considered them
devils. Their music is original, and the most primitive.
The dances had been brought to town by artisans and craftsmen who had come from the
countryside and now lived in the urban barrios. Vienrich noted that in the urban setting to
each urban trade there corresponds a particular dance; it was the guild that organized and
passed on the knowledge of the dance. The carpenters had specialized in dancing the
diablos, hat-makers danced the negritos, tailors danced the contradanza. New dances were
being adopted, such as the popular chunguinos where men dressed up as women a dance
brought from Chungos in the Mantaro valley that was ousting some of the older dances. The
Dance of the Inca was the preserve of market workers, and most unusually women were
included amongst the performers. They were fruit sellers and meat sellers, the most pretty
ones, of course, commented Vienrich. Given the association of dance with the guilds, most
dances were performed by men alone.
By becoming the cultural property of different urban trades, the dances were also linked
to particular urban barrios. Dance at one level had become an exuberant part of a new,
popular urban culture, but at another level it was also divisive in that the dances could serve
only too well to express tensions, rivalries and differentiating identities amongst sectors of
the growing urban population. This was especially clear in the warrior dance, the
huancadanza, performed in the central square of Tarma and involving groups of twenty or
more dancers who carried Inca weapons and ended up ghting each other.
The political message of one dance above all had impressed Vienrich, the Dance of the
Inca. Somehow, he wrote, it had escaped the prying eyes of fanatical Spanish friars and
conquerors, who had so zealously sought to stamp out native religion and culture. Its
32 A. Vienrich, Azucenas Quechuas (Quecha Lilies) (Huancayo, 1905).
Indians and Mestizos 249
performance represented one of the many ways subjugated peoples protest against the
iniquities of their oppressors and maintain alive and latent the memory of a perdious act.
In the version that Vienrich witnessed the dance was performed by ten to twelve young
men, richly attired, with diadems of pearls on their heads and wearing their hair in long
ringlets. On their backs they carried pots containing white and yellow paper owers, a sign
of the exchange of goods with the Inca king, and in their hands they carried hankerchiefs
and owers made of tin. They formed two lines. At the head of one line was the Inca king,
who wore a short tunic fringed in gold and silver, a magnicent head-dress and carried a
staff. At the head of the other line was Pizarro who was masked and dressed as a Spaniard
in doublet, pantaloons and three-cornered hat. The Inca king and Spaniard were each
anked by two Inca princesses. Completing the group was an old man, a soothsayer,
wearing a leather mask with grey beard and carrying a tambourine. He was the only actor
who could move out of line, and his job was to plague and mock the Spaniard.
After dancing and singing several songs, in one of which the Inca princesses dried the
eyes of the weeping Inca, the actors reversed the historical record by making Pizarro kneel
in homage to the Inca, publicly recognizing him as his lord and master. Meanwhile the
soothsayer endlessly tormented the Spaniard, running round him like a horsey, hitting
him on the head with his tambourine and trying to grasp his ears. This caused amusement
amongst the onlookers, for, as Vienrich explained, the crowd understood well the symbol-
ism of the act. The soothsayer was trying to cut off the Spaniards ears, a practice used by
the Spanish to punish rebellious Indians on their haciendas. Vienrich speculated on the part
played by the soothsayer and concluded that he had a double role, as pre-Hispanic
fortune-teller and Christian priest. The blows resounding constantly in the ears of Pizarro
cannot be other than the blows of remorse, which sound unceasingly following the crime
committed by sending to an ignominious death his lord and master.
Vienrich had seen a reconstruction of the subversive version of the Death of Atahualpa
in 1905, where homage was paid by the Spaniard to the Inca and the Spaniard was unable
to escape the threats, ridiculing and torments of the soothsayer. Though the king of Spain
was no longer part of the drama, it was a version closely linked to Indian resistance against
Spanish/white rule. However, the dance was being performed by residents of the urban
barrios, members of urban guilds and this gave the performers a social identity as
Several reasons have been put forward by contemporary local intellectuals in Tarma to
account for the decline and disappearance of the dance. In the rst place, the repression of
the trade guilds in the 1920s meant there was no longer an organizational base for the
performance of the dances. A second reason put forward was that some of the public places
associated with the dance (like the Plazuela de las Tres Cruces) had been cleared away in
the course of the towns modernization. Thirdly, new cultural inuences were making their
mark on the urban population, and brought an end to indigenous culture in the town. More
generally, one can suggest that the disappearance of the dance indicated the deliberate
ousting of cultural activities associated with Indian identity from urban public space. In this
case, despite the interest expressed by later generations of intellectuals, it has never been
resuscitated nor refurbished so as to become part of the towns repertoire of folklore. It was
too political and awkward a cultural manifestation, and in its celebration of the Inca past,
it seemed to offer little possibility for opening up and blurring racial identities.
This history suggests that urban popular culture and society in Tarma were undergoing
important transformations in the period of the 1920s and 1930s. The celebration of Indian
identity and resistance to white rule were removed from urban popular culture and replaced
by cultural activities more in keeping with new hybrid identities under formation. However,
this had not been an inevitable process. As Vienrichs description shows, new dances were
250 Journal of Southern African Studies
being introduced and changes made to the old ones. The Dance of the Inca could have been
modied so as to enact the reconciliation between Spaniard and Inca, a more tting theme
for a mestizo town. Flores Galindo has shown that adaptations of the drama of the Death
of Atahualpa have taken place in other Andean towns. In Chiqian, Ancash, for example, the
Inca king was the principal gure in performances at the end of the nineteenth century, but
the drama was later reworked to give pride of place to the Spaniard.
Millones has
described how local intellectuals in Carhuamayo, a small town on the northern fringes of
Tarma province, came to write and perform in the 1920s their own version of the Death of
Atahualpa, making it a week-long elaborate pageant recording an historical event.
contrast, one can suggest that in Tarma, a thriving provincial capital, such was the strength
of the new racist discourse gathering momentum in the 1910s that the emerging mestizo
groups chose to reject rather than modify a dance so closely associated with their
indigenous antecedents.
The expression of popular culture that gained in popularity in Tarma town from the 1920s
was the boisterous celebration of carnaval, a festivity lasting several days during the period
of Lent in the month of February. The form and avour of carnaval in Central Andean
towns was recorded in pamphlets written by local intellectuals from Tarma as well as from
the neighbouring towns of Cerro de Pasco, the mining centre to the north, and in the
Mantaro valley to the south. In the case of Tarma, an early and highly informative work
was written in 1938 by a mestizo, Jesus Hidalgo,
and a compilation of carnaval songs and
scripts was printed locally in 1973 by Juan Garcia.
Both authors focused on the main
distinguishing feature of Tarmas carnaval: the music and lyrics that accompanied the
parades and burlesques, which was known as the muliza.
Carnaval carried particular appeal in an urbanizing society like Tarma. It permitted a
temporary overturning of social space and social practice that allocated and conned people
to raceclass categories. It offered a tense meeting place for different cultural forms that
celebrated the abolition of hierarchy, privilege, social order and taboos. The cultural forms
collided in and contested access to urban public space but different traditions and genres
could also become appropriated, adapted and fused over time. One could distinguish a
demonstratively European carnaval, promoted by the white elite and claimed as a purely
European tradition introduced during the 1920s. But this was under constant attack from the
mestizo population who used carnaval to lampoon the aristocratic families and subvert the
European form. There was also an Indian carnaval that was held at the same time of year
in celebration of sexuality and fertility in human and natural worlds. European and Indian
versions provided mestizos with inspiration and material that could be adapted and used.
The celebration of carnaval in Central Andean towns from the 1920s involved the
staging of theatrical burlesques centring on the arrival and crude antics of two mythical
personages. In Tarma, the local version of the Lord of Misrule was the old, lecherous, white
Don Calixto, who in wooing the beautiful, young, white N

a Pimienta, nds her to be a man

dressed as a woman. Don Calixto with his cortege of followers dressed in disguise appeared
at the town gate from overseas, set up scurrilous notices over town, proclaimed three days
of licence and revelry, and presided over the parades, theatrical performances and battles
33 Flores Galindo, Buscando un Inca, pp. 5257.
34 Millones, Actores de Altura, pp. 4991.
35 J. Hidalgo. La Muliza Tarmena/The Muliza of Tarma (1938), in D. Bernal (ed), La Muliza (Lima, 1947),
pp. 231236.
36 J. Garcia, Folklore y Poesia de la Muliza (Folklore and Poetry of the Muliza) (Tarma, 1973).
Indians and Mestizos 251
taking place in the streets. The festivities ended with the death and ceremonial burial of Don
Calixto outside the town gate, attended by N

a Pimienta, dressed in widows weeds.

Accompanying the processions and festivities were various genres of music. And it is from
Hidalgos commentary on these that one can appreciate the strength and complexity of
processes of mestizaje underway.
In his history of the muliza, Hidalgo presents a revealing picture of local adaptation in
the 1930s and the growing cultural salience of mestizos. According to Hidalgo (and other
commentators) the muliza as a musical form had been brought by Argentinian mule drivers
in the late colonial period to Tarma and it greatly appealed to the Spanish families. The
gauchos sentimental poems from the Pampas, sung to the Spanish guitar, made a refreshing
change from the Spanish romances and Italian cantatas known up to then. After Indepen-
dence, and reecting the rejection of foreign cultural inuences, the muliza was appropri-
ated and given a Peruvian avour. Thereafter its music and lyrics developed in two
directions, both associated with the celebration of carnaval. Some men of the white elite
continued to write mulizas, but in Hidalgos opinion, these were stilted, clumsy copies of
old Argentinian songs. The most vibrant development was in the hands of the popular
classes who composed music of great beauty and wrote lyrics of such biting humour and
social critique that the muliza could only be performed at carnaval. Over time, however,
the social critique aspect diminished and by the 1950s the muliza had reverted to being a
sentimental song in praise of women, nature and the beauty of the Tarma landscape.
Each year in preparation for carnaval, groups from the different urban barrios (of
mestizo artisans) and groups from the elite of the town centre met in secret to write new
lyrics and music for the muliza. In the barrios, the muliza was no longer played on the
Spanish guitar. In some cases utes and tambourines had been substituted, instruments that
were associated with Indian carnaval. Others experimented with scoring mulizas for
orchestras of violins, cellos and mandolins. The carnaval groups in the barrios did not limit
their creativity to composing songs but also wrote scripts for the main personages and the
notices set up over town. Here social critique was kept alive. Hidalgo also noted a new
development taking place: the incorporation of the Indian huayno, this music giving
carnaval an indigenous sound that had not been present before that date.
In the rural areas Indian society had continued to celebrate puqllay, a festival of
pre-Hispanic origins, whose Quechua name had been translated into Spanish as carnaval.
Here, too, the performers (unmarried men) put on disguises, coloured their faces, processed
and danced in the streets. We know from writings on the Mantaro valley that, up to the
mid-1920s, the Indian carnaval was prohibited from urban centres but the rural and urban
forms met when the Lord of Misrule was buried on the edge of the town. In the 1920s, the
Indian carnaval began to invade town centres, as in Huancayo, to the consternation of the
Soon the performance of Indian music found a place in the town carnaval.
In Tarma, by the 1950s, carnaval had become divided into different phases. The rst
phase, the triumphal entry of Don Calixto and his followers, was accompanied by the music
of the Indian huayno, though it is probable that those playing and dancing were mestizos
of the town. In processing through the streets, the performers demanded alcoholic refresh-
ment from the stores they passed. They acted in burlesques making fun of the pretensions
of the white aristocracy of Tarma. In the second phase, carnaval took over the town centre,
and involved not only those who paraded in disguise in the streets but also those who
watched, especially the women, from their balconies. Missiles of our or fruit, balloons
37 J. Vilcapoma, Waylarsh: Amor y Violencia de Carnaval (Waylarsh: love and violence in Carnival) (Lima, 1995),
p. 50.
252 Journal of Southern African Studies
lled with water, paper objects were hurled about, as were declarations of love, between
balcony and street. The music played was now the muliza.
In later years, the muliza was primarily concerned with unrequited love, with the
adoration of beautiful, chaste women who disdained the men who wooed them. As Garica
wrote in 1973, the typical inhabitant of Tarma was typically a mestizo, and he was singing
about a love that was impossible for reasons of economic status and colour. The woman
addressed in the muliza was an ideal, who notwithstanding the licence of carnaval was still
unattainable on account of barriers of race and class. So while one tendency within carnaval
was to counter social exclusion and overturn hierarchy, there was another tendency that led
into a highly explosive eld where race, gender and sexuality were brought dangerously
close together. Through carnaval, the ambivalent social identity and deep concerns of
mestizos came to occupy centre stage.
The ascendance of carnaval and transformation of urban popular culture in the 1930s
and 1940s increasingly involved the efforts of local intellectuals. In later years, they tried
to control the violent conicts that frequently broke out and also to put the town on the
national map as possessing its own distinctive cultural traditions. In the process, competi-
tions were instituted in which the barrios competed as to who could compose the most
beautiful, compelling words to the muliza and who could wear the nest costume. But it not
easy to control the conicts and rivalries unleashed by carnaval. So sensitive were the
social relations being touched on that underlying tensions frequently erupted into violence.
During the early 1970s, the Provincial Council banned the celebration of carnaval on
the grounds of its violence and disruption. But its eclipse was also connected to longer-term
changes taking place in urban society. The younger generation was losing interest, Marxist
politics were proving far more appealing. Furthermore, agrarian reform and social upheaval
in the 1970s meant that the white property-owning elite abandoned Tarma, and the
movement of rural people, cholos, into town increased. As social composition changed, so
too did ideas of urban life, urban popular culture and use of public space. As a result,
carnaval, the cultural manifestation most closely connected with an earlier aspiration for
mestizaje, lost much of its relevance, piquancy, and interest. However, in the 1990s, efforts
are being made to revive carnaval, but this time largely as spectacle. The sense of inversion
and transgression has disappeared, though in the countryside one can occasionally see a
Don Calixto wooing N

a Pimiento to the delight of the crowds.

In the history of Andean Peru, the meanings given to the colonial racial categories of Indian
and mestizo were radically altered. Following Independence, an identication as Indian
became synonymous with exclusion from the political life of the nation, discrimination and
absence of civil rights. In contrast, the previously despised mestizo was moving into
positions of local power and had replaced the old native elite as mediators between the
white and Indian populations. Yet processes of mestizaje of becoming mestizos and
nding a cultural voice and political project were complex and fraught with ambiguities.
A focus on popular culture as expressed through the Dance of the Inca and carnaval and
as recorded by local intellectuals of the time, has given some insights into the nature of
these processes. The Dance of the Inca harked back to the messianic utopianism of Indian
culture and, in Tarma, was not adapted in order to t with emerging mestizo aspirations and
life worlds in the town. Carnaval had proved a more open and accommodating popular
cultural form in that different versions not only existed along side each other but were in
dialogue, though the outcome was often conictive and violent. The disguises and
Indians and Mestizos 253
trespassings, competitions and real battles in the streets, provided some kind of safety valve
for working out the explosive social insecurities unleashed by mestizaje.
Both forms of street theatre centred on the idea of inversion, of imagining a future that
was the reverse of what was known and suffered in everyday life. Both contained a utopian
quality. They used cultural idioms to re the imagination of the social underdog so as to
envisage an alternative, and better, world. In a political context, the concept of inversion
was far from helpful; indeed, it could be disastrous. No weight was given to process or
democratic practice, to how one might in practice work out strategies and alliances over the
longer run through which a better life could be achieved. One could argue that this idea of
inversion underlay recent Maoist political culture, when the Shining Path party used violent
means to remove the state and impose a permanent overturning of the raceclass hierarchy
in the Andes. The inversion celebrated in cultural performance through much of the
twentieth century did not, then, give rise to democratic or constructive political ideas.
International Development Studies, 05.1, Roskilde University, P. O. Box 260, DK-4000
Roskilde, Denmark