Long after grisly end, Túpac Amaru still fascinates in Peru

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Images of Tupac Amaru and wife Micaela Bastidas are displayed at the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion museum in Lima, Peru, Saturday, May 16, 2021. Tupac Amaru was a muleteer and trader who claimed descent from Inca royals, led an Andean revolt against Spanish colonial rule and was executed on May 18, 1781. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

NEW YORK – Roads and schools in Peru carry the name of Túpac Amaru. A framed depiction of him — stern gaze, flowing hair, wide-brimmed hat — hangs in the government palace in Lima. He inspired a comic book superhero, Tupaqman. A historical drama series to be released this year explores his life.

The muleteer and trader who claimed descent from Inca royals, led an Andean revolt against Spanish colonial rule and was gruesomely executed on May 18, 1781, has been appropriated as a symbol by guerrillas and governments.

His namesake, American rapper Tupac Amaru Shakur, added to his international aura.

This year, the bicentennial of Peru's 1821 independence from Spain, Túpac Amaru and wife Micaela Bastidas are increasingly celebrated as having laid the groundwork for that struggle. They are an Indigenous counter and complement to Simón Bolívar, José de San Martín and other independence leaders of European descent who arrived in Peru from other parts of the continent.

The couple's rebellion is an ‘’antecedent of independence,’’ said Juan Manuel Burga Díaz, historian and director of the Place of Memory, Tolerance and Social Inclusion, a culture ministry site overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Peru’s capital.

An art exhibit at the site, “Túpac Amaru and Micaela Bastidas: Memory, symbols and mysteries” - was closing to visitors on Tuesday, the 240th anniversary of their executions in Cuzco, the old seat of the Inca empire. It remains accessible online.

Executioners cut out Bastidas' tongue and strangled her in front of her husband in the main plaza. They tried in vain to dismember Túpac Amaru by tying him to four horses that pulled in different directions. They beheaded him. Body parts were displayed in other towns as a warning.

‘’Now they are part of the history, not just of the (Spanish) viceroyalty, but of the republic’’ of Peru, Burga Díaz said. “And that’s a difference between us historians who work with documents, and memory. The memory of people who think Túpac Amaru rose up for the independence of the country.’’