Andean Classical Thought: El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and Guamán Poma de Ayala (2014)

Tuesday May 21, 2013, 10:30-12PM

Moderator: Marisol Ramos, University of Connecticut

Rapporteur: Bridget Gazzo, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library


  • El Inca Garcilaso de la Vega and his Mestizo Attempt to Reconcile Two Mutually Opposing Worlds Steven A. Kiczek - Library & Information Access, San Diego State University, San Diego, California
  • Pomaism and Inversionism: An Exploration Of Guaman Poma's Philosophical Thought Manomano M. M. Mukungurutse - Professor - Allegheny Community College and Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA.    Currently: A Nomadic-Independent Researcher and Writer

Steven A. Kiczek gave a detailed account of the life of Inca Garcilaso de la Vega (1539-1613), describing some of the formative experiences and fundamental challenges of his bi-cultural life.  Garcilaso de la Vega was born in Cuzco, the son of Chimpu Ocllo, an Inca princess and Sebastián Garcilaso de la Vega y Vargas, a Spanish Captain.  His parents named him Gómez Suárez de Figueroa, but later, in his middle-age, he took the name Garcilaso de la Vega. He

was able to claim an aristocratic lineage from both sides of his family, and his mestizo ancestry strongly affected his personal identity, thinking, attitudes and beliefs. Inca Garcilaso de la Vega attempted throughout his life, and in his writings, to balance and to do justice to both the Inca and Spanish sides of his background. Sometimes he was successful, sometimes not, but his mestizo identity was always a driving force in his life.

In his earliest years, up to 10 years of age, Inca Garcilaso lived with both his parents. The tattered remnants of the Inca royal family were welcome guests in the home of the elder Garcilaso de la Vega, who was substantially wealthy and who loved to host banquets. He was known for his generosity and kindness toward Indians, even though he was an encomendero. The Inca Garcilaso often remarked how his mother’s relatives would often reminisce over the lost days of glory and the Inca dominion. He internalized what he learned about his Inca heritage from the people themselves through their oral tradition. Most of Comentarios Reales de los Incas derives from the memory of his first 20 years in Cuzco.

Even though he first learned Quechua from his mother, he also learned Spanish at a young age. There was a special school for the sons of Spanish conquistadors and Indian women wherein they learned the rudiments of various subjects, especially Latin, Spanish and theology. He was also taught the martial and equestrian arts. He was impressed by the size of the Spanish Empire and their prowess in war, though he was always denouncing the greed and avarice of the Spanish and the destruction that they wrought in the Indian world. He was also impressed by their technology. Another major aspect of Spanish and European civilization that he greatly admired was language, writing and literacy. As much as he loved and admired Inca civilization, he was quite clear about the disadvantage that the lack of written language brought to the Incas, as compared to the Spanish.

In last decade of his life while living in Córdoba, Spain, he wrote his Comentarios Reales de los Incas in Spain for a Spanish audience, as an apologia (in the classical sense) for his Inca people and heritage. It consists of two parts, the first of which is dedicated to the Incas; the second part, which also carries the title Historia General del Perú, deals with the Spanish conquest. He portrayed the Incas, their empire and way of life, as something worthy of admiration and as something that Spaniards should appreciate, and he strongly urged that they respect the Incas/Quechuas as an advanced civilization.

In the matter of religion he was a convinced Christian and he believed that Christianity was the best way of life for his Inca/Quechua people, and for all Indians. But he did not believe that it should be accompanied by slavery and brutality. He stated quite clearly that such a policy and practice was disastrous for all involved. He advocated frequently for a peaceful and respectful method of evangelization, but he was also aware that this method did not always work well.

His double heritage, and his struggle to reconcile both sides, gave Garcilaso a certain advantage as he wrote his works. In fact, it was through writing history that he sought to achieve resolution.

In his examination of Guaman Poma’s work, The First New Chronicle and Good Government, Manomano Mukungurutse takes the view that Guaman Poma is fundamentally a philosophical inversionist.  In post-colonial theory, inversion refers to viewing the colonial experience through reversing the identity categories and the structures of domination, but keeping intact the overall structure and conventions of the system of knowledge it is supposedly challenging.  In his critique of the Spanish colonial trinity (religion, government, economics), Guaman Poma perpetuates the colonizer/colonized opposition and the resulting assumptions about identity and agency.  Manomano notes that, in addition, Guaman Poma describes daily life in a very detached way, almost like a painting, with no hypothesizing, no theorizing.


Marisol Ramos (University of Connecticut) opened the questions with a comment on the two presentations and how they illustrate each author’s effort to reconcile their two worlds.   Rafael Tarrago (University of Minnesota) commented that he liked the analysis of Guaman Poma from a philosophical point of view, a perspective he had not previously considered.  Manomano replied that it is a neglected area in Andean studies.

Ramos (University of Connecticut) asked Steve Kiczek if he thinks that Garcilaso succeeded in reconciling the two worlds.  Steve replied that he thinks Garcilaso did to the best of his ability, that he was not afraid to criticize each group for its wrongdoings.  He was strongly critical of the Spanish and the fact that their actions went counter to their religious practices, pointing out that they did not care about faith, only about enriching themselves.

Ramos (University of Connecticut) asked both presenters if - for their author- writing was a way of resistance.   Steve replied that he thinks that Garcilaso was trying to rectify the situation as best he could, that he was trying to make Europeans understand that the indigenous people aren’t savages.  Manomano also replied that yes, Guaman Poma was painfully aware of the dialectic of involvement/detachment.  He chose to describe what he saw objectively– to reveal the anatomy of the colonial situation -- so that readers can form their own objections to colonial conditions.