1960: Phineas Tshitaundzi, the panga man 1724: Jack Sheppard, celebrity escape artist

1781: Tupac Katari

November 15th, 2011 Headsman

On or about this date in 1781,* the native Aymara revolutionary Tupac Katari (or Tupac Catari, or Tupaj Katari) was torn apart in the Bolivian village of Penas — a messianic warning on his lips of his Spanish captors’ future comeuppance.

Hard on the heels of Tupac Amaru‘s public dismembering in nearby Cuzco (present-day Peru), Julian Apasa Nina took up the name and mantle of recent Bolivian insurgent Tomas Katari.

Julian Apasa’s new name Tupac Katari was as ambitious as his plans, for he took the thousands of indigenous Americans who flocked to his banner and laid siege to La Paz from the adjacent El Alto.**

The object was not mere plunder, but rolling back Spanish domination full stop.

A friar who met Katari reported that the Spanish tongue was forbidden on pain of death, and the rebel leader aimed to “totally separate himself from all Customs of the Spanish.” (Source) He did not shrink from ferocity to achieve his ends, hanging captives outside the walls of the city, enforcing military discipline ruthlessly. (Source) The Aymara fought with “a spirit and pretentiousness so horrible that … it can serve as an example as the most valiant nation.” (Source)

Though the siege† reduced Spanish defenders to eating bark and horseflesh, and starved out thousands, the city held out and the siege was at length lifted and Tupac Katari betrayed into his enemies’ hands.

Condemned to death (a fate his wife Bartolina Sisa would share months later), Katari was lashed to four horses who strained until his body ripped into quarters suitable for placarding towns of the district. But before he went, Katari bequeathed posterity a legendary final sentiment.

“I shall return, and I shall be millions.”

* It appears that the primary sources themselves are unclear on the precise date, and there are citations for the execution taking place anywhere from Nov. 13 to Nov. 18. Nov. 15 appears to be the best-preferred by scholars, or the co-number one with Nov. 14, and we’re inclined to prefer this date because of the 20th century Indian social justice movement which explicitly cited Katari’s inspiration — the Movimiento 15 de Noviembre (more in Spanish). It’s part of an entire political tendency in Bolivia called Katarismo. If the date is good enough for the Aymara, it’s good enough for this blog.

That wasn’t the only 20th century movement to situate itself as Katari’s heirs. A set of Marxist indigenous guerrillas styled themselves the Tupac Katari Guerrilla Army, and a former member of this Che-inspired militia is currently Bolivia’s vice president.

** From the Aymara siege of La Paz developed the local tradition of Ekeko.

† Actually, two distinct sieges in 1781, one lasting just over three months and the next lasting just over two.

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Entry Filed under: 18th Century,Bolivia,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Dismembered,Execution,Famous,Famous Last Words,Gruesome Methods,History,Language,Martyrs,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Power,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Revolutionaries,Spain,Treason

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