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Death and Conversion in the Andes

Death and Conversion in the Andes

Lima and Cuzco, 1532–1670

Gabriela Ramos

When the Spanish invaded the Inca empire in 1532, the cult of the ancestors was an essential feature of pre-Columbian religion throughout the Andes. The dead influenced politics, protected the living, symbolized the past, and legitimized claims over the land their descendants occupied, while the living honored the presence of the dead in numerous aspects of daily life. A central purpose of the Spanish missionary endeavor was to suppress the Andean cult of the ancestors and force the indigenous people to adopt their Catholic, legal, and cultural views concerning death. In her book, Gabriela Ramos reveals the extent to which Christianizing death was essential for the conversion of the indigenous population to Catholicism.

Ramos argues that understanding the relation between death and conversion in the Andes involves not only considering the obvious attempts to destroy the cult of the dead, but also investigating a range of policies and strategies whose application demanded continuous negotiation between Spaniards and Andeans. Drawing from historical, archaeological, and anthropological research and a wealth of original archival materials, especially the last wills and testaments of indigenous Andeans, Ramos looks at the Christianization of death as it affected the lives of inhabitants of two principal cities of the Peruvian viceroyalty: Lima, the new capital founded on the Pacific coast by the Spanish, and Cuzco, the old capital of the Incas in the Andean highlands. Her study of the wills in particular demonstrates the strategies that Andeans devised to submit to Spanish law and Christian doctrine, preserve bonds of kinship, and cement their place in colonial society.

“Rapid and widespread death decimated the descendants of the Inca Empire, but the mere number of the dead does not tell the story. Rather, Ramos brilliantly demonstrates that, beginning with the execution of Atahualpa, death and the dead were one of the great colonial sites of ongoing contestation about both the here and now and the hereafter. In an exquisitely researched study, Ramos traces the shift from pre-Columbian to colonial Andean funerary rituals and the differing ways that they became the center of how ‘Andeans and Europeans communicated and exchanged their visions of power and the sacred,’ in a true dance of death.” — Thomas B. F. Cummins, Harvard University

Death and Conversion in the Andes is a highly innovative study that looks at the conquest period in a new light. By analyzing how the conception of death and death rituals changed during the early colonial period, Gabriela Ramos is able to gain many new insights into how the conquest modified indigenous beliefs. For those interested in ethnohistory and the effects of colonialism in Spanish America, this is a must read.” — Erick D. Langer, Georgetown University

ISBN: 978-0-268-04028-4
368 pages
Publication Year: 2010

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Gabriela Ramos is University Lecturer in Latin American History, University of Cambridge.

“Ramos exploited the difficult to access and use notarial records in Lima and Cuzco to amass a corpus of some 500 Indian testaments for her section on wills, graves, and funerary rites. This is a major effort and her analysis of them is exceptional. The result compares favorably to well-known studies of Spanish wills of the period, and provides for the possibility of comparison with the attitudes of the outsiders.” — Renaissance Quarterly

“Gabriela Ramos makes a compelling case that death was at the center of the spiritual encounter between Andeans and Spaniards in colonial Peru. . . . Ramos’s work is based on a close reading of nearly five hundred wills written by indigenous residents of Lima and Cuzco . . . Her deep research in previously underused sources offers abundant evidence of the importance of death in the encounter between Christians and indigenous people.” — Church History

“[Ramos’s] interdisciplinary analysis finds that elite burials in consecrated ground contributed to the spread and acceptance of Christianity among urban sectors of the Andean population. . . . She portrays the church and its dictates as both a destructive force (of traditional beliefs and practices) and one that ordered an emerging colonial society.” — The Americas

“Ramos’s subject is post-conquest Andean peoples’ adaptive creativity in relation to beliefs and practices surrounding death, as well as the ways in which society was remade and relationships between its members restructured, by means of adaptations in the conceptualization of death and their expression in everyday actions and rituals. The book is one of the more original contributions of recent years, and makes a fine complement to Gose.” — Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Gabriela Ramos has produced a deeply researched study that argues that the Christianization of death was crucial to the conversion of indigenous Andean peoples and to the construction of a colonial order. . . . A fine and important work of scholarship that is key to Andean studies and will contribute to ongoing discussions of how and why native Andean peoples responded, adapted, and made sense of Catholic tenets about the here and now and the hereafter.” — The Catholic Historical Review

“Deserving a featured place in the already excellent scholarship on religion in the Andes, Ramos’s work should contribute to graduate courses on empire, colonialism, evangelization, and ritual, as well as surveys of Latin American history. While future scholarship will have to examine death outside of Lima and Cuzco, Ramos’s careful study should serve as a point of departure for future work on religious conversion in colonial Latin America.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

“. . . Ramos examines the establishment of indigenous hospitals and parishes, will-making, confraternities, burial places and rites and, together with the detailed figures provided in the appendices, she succeeds in producing a well-written, systematic and pioneering study of an important aspect of early modern Andean society.” — Ecclesiastical History

“Ramos has meticulously revised hundreds of archival documents in the production of this study, and her account of urban Andeans’ readiness to accept Christianity is a welcome corrective to previous accounts of conversion that highlight resistance. . . . This is a valuable study, particularly where it touches on matters of the individual and personhood.” — Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Ramos’s book adds an important layer to the manifold aspects of the encounter between victors and vanquished. It demonstrates, once more, that what may look like a complete success for Christianity was not merely a result of coercion, but rather the result of adoption and adaptation by both sides, with a hybrid religious doctrine as the outcome.” — European History Quarterly

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Death and Conversion in the Andes

Lima and Cuzco, 1532–1670

Gabriela Ramos

 Death and Conversion in the Andes: Lima and Cuzco, 1532–1670
Paper Edition

When the Spanish invaded the Inca empire in 1532, the cult of the ancestors was an essential feature of pre-Columbian religion throughout the Andes. The dead influenced politics, protected the living, symbolized the past, and legitimized claims over the land their descendants occupied, while the living honored the presence of the dead in numerous aspects of daily life. A central purpose of the Spanish missionary endeavor was to suppress the Andean cult of the ancestors and force the indigenous people to adopt their Catholic, legal, and cultural views concerning death. In her book, Gabriela Ramos reveals the extent to which Christianizing death was essential for the conversion of the indigenous population to Catholicism.

Ramos argues that understanding the relation between death and conversion in the Andes involves not only considering the obvious attempts to destroy the cult of the dead, but also investigating a range of policies and strategies whose application demanded continuous negotiation between Spaniards and Andeans. Drawing from historical, archaeological, and anthropological research and a wealth of original archival materials, especially the last wills and testaments of indigenous Andeans, Ramos looks at the Christianization of death as it affected the lives of inhabitants of two principal cities of the Peruvian viceroyalty: Lima, the new capital founded on the Pacific coast by the Spanish, and Cuzco, the old capital of the Incas in the Andean highlands. Her study of the wills in particular demonstrates the strategies that Andeans devised to submit to Spanish law and Christian doctrine, preserve bonds of kinship, and cement their place in colonial society.

“Rapid and widespread death decimated the descendants of the Inca Empire, but the mere number of the dead does not tell the story. Rather, Ramos brilliantly demonstrates that, beginning with the execution of Atahualpa, death and the dead were one of the great colonial sites of ongoing contestation about both the here and now and the hereafter. In an exquisitely researched study, Ramos traces the shift from pre-Columbian to colonial Andean funerary rituals and the differing ways that they became the center of how ‘Andeans and Europeans communicated and exchanged their visions of power and the sacred,’ in a true dance of death.” — Thomas B. F. Cummins, Harvard University

Death and Conversion in the Andes is a highly innovative study that looks at the conquest period in a new light. By analyzing how the conception of death and death rituals changed during the early colonial period, Gabriela Ramos is able to gain many new insights into how the conquest modified indigenous beliefs. For those interested in ethnohistory and the effects of colonialism in Spanish America, this is a must read.” — Erick D. Langer, Georgetown University

ISBN: 978-0-268-04028-4

368 pages

“Ramos exploited the difficult to access and use notarial records in Lima and Cuzco to amass a corpus of some 500 Indian testaments for her section on wills, graves, and funerary rites. This is a major effort and her analysis of them is exceptional. The result compares favorably to well-known studies of Spanish wills of the period, and provides for the possibility of comparison with the attitudes of the outsiders.” — Renaissance Quarterly

“Gabriela Ramos makes a compelling case that death was at the center of the spiritual encounter between Andeans and Spaniards in colonial Peru. . . . Ramos’s work is based on a close reading of nearly five hundred wills written by indigenous residents of Lima and Cuzco . . . Her deep research in previously underused sources offers abundant evidence of the importance of death in the encounter between Christians and indigenous people.” — Church History

“[Ramos’s] interdisciplinary analysis finds that elite burials in consecrated ground contributed to the spread and acceptance of Christianity among urban sectors of the Andean population. . . . She portrays the church and its dictates as both a destructive force (of traditional beliefs and practices) and one that ordered an emerging colonial society.” — The Americas

“Ramos’s subject is post-conquest Andean peoples’ adaptive creativity in relation to beliefs and practices surrounding death, as well as the ways in which society was remade and relationships between its members restructured, by means of adaptations in the conceptualization of death and their expression in everyday actions and rituals. The book is one of the more original contributions of recent years, and makes a fine complement to Gose.” — Bulletin of Latin American Research

“Gabriela Ramos has produced a deeply researched study that argues that the Christianization of death was crucial to the conversion of indigenous Andean peoples and to the construction of a colonial order. . . . A fine and important work of scholarship that is key to Andean studies and will contribute to ongoing discussions of how and why native Andean peoples responded, adapted, and made sense of Catholic tenets about the here and now and the hereafter.” — The Catholic Historical Review

“Deserving a featured place in the already excellent scholarship on religion in the Andes, Ramos’s work should contribute to graduate courses on empire, colonialism, evangelization, and ritual, as well as surveys of Latin American history. While future scholarship will have to examine death outside of Lima and Cuzco, Ramos’s careful study should serve as a point of departure for future work on religious conversion in colonial Latin America.” — Sixteenth Century Journal

“. . . Ramos examines the establishment of indigenous hospitals and parishes, will-making, confraternities, burial places and rites and, together with the detailed figures provided in the appendices, she succeeds in producing a well-written, systematic and pioneering study of an important aspect of early modern Andean society.” — Ecclesiastical History

“Ramos has meticulously revised hundreds of archival documents in the production of this study, and her account of urban Andeans’ readiness to accept Christianity is a welcome corrective to previous accounts of conversion that highlight resistance. . . . This is a valuable study, particularly where it touches on matters of the individual and personhood.” — Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute

“Ramos’s book adds an important layer to the manifold aspects of the encounter between victors and vanquished. It demonstrates, once more, that what may look like a complete success for Christianity was not merely a result of coercion, but rather the result of adoption and adaptation by both sides, with a hybrid religious doctrine as the outcome.” — European History Quarterly

History, Languages, and Cultures of the Spanish and Portuguese Worlds

Winner of the Howard F. Cline Prize awarded by the Conference on Latin American History in 2011