Page 5 - Windows-Newsletter-Spring-2014
P. 5

The Catholic Conversion
 of Native Peoples in
 Peru in the Seventeenth
 Century: Fact or Fiction?

              New Manuscript in Special Collections

                                                                                                              By Susan Elizabeth Ramirez
                                                                                                              Department of History and Geography
The Spanish crown justified the exploration, settlement, and governance of the peoples of the Americas with their promise
to convert the natives to Catholicism. Missionaries taught them standard prayers and insisted on their attendance at mass on
Sundays and religious holidays. However, there were never enough priests and friars to bring Catholic teachings to all – especially
in remote rural areas. There, for many, conversion proved absent or haphazard.
By the end of the sixteenth century in Peru, local parish priests were well-aware that the native peoples were imperfectly
converted. Many natives accepted the Christian God as another god among many of their own; they continued to worship their
ancestors as they had for centuries. Once the church hierarchy realized this, campaigns against such “pagan” practices, which they
dubbed “idolatry”, were initiated.
The new manuscript in the Library’s Special Collections is the original record of one case of idolatry, dating from the middle of
the seventeenth century from a small settlement of peasant farmers in the central Andean highlands. The church accused the
peasants of the “crime” of worshipping the fertility of the corn fields in a ritual that brings to mind some of the characteristics of
our traditional Thanksgiving customs. The peasants selected the best ears to revere. They sacrificed to them and danced around
them, drinking maize beer. At dawn, they toasted the selected ears and ate the kernels. The manuscript is a detailed account of the
investigation into these activities. The presiding priest interrogated both male and female farmers who provided a description of
and explanation for their activities. Their testimonies give this manuscript its value, because in the notary’s hand are recorded the
ways the natives understood their past and future.
I will publish a transcription of this manuscript and use it in a new course, entitled “Religions in Colonial Spanish America”,
which will be offered in the Fall semester of 2014. Jeremy Albers, a PhD student, will also use it as part of his doctoral
I want to thank June Koelker, Robyn Reid, Dennis Gibbons, and Dennis Odom for their roles in acquiring this manuscript, the
gracious staff of Special Collections for its care, and Shelda Dean for coordinating this notice.

Spring 2014  5
   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10