Guaman Poma’s The First Chronicle and Good Government

Camina el autor a Lima, del texto de Felipe Guaman Poma
The First New Chronicle and Good Government by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala is a primary source treatise that provides information on colonization and transculturation in the 16th and beginning of the 17th centuries.  Guaman Poma's information is based exclusively on Incan quipus and on oral testimonies from Indian elders (Ayala 4).  The first four (of 9) parts of the text develop the story of Incan history before the conquest.  In general, Guaman Poma argues that society was very well organized and fair prior to the Spanish arrival.  For example, in Part Four Guaman Poma explains how community members each had specific jobs depending on their gender and age and specific rules, expectations, and punishments guiding moral behavior.  Guaman Poma describes the importance of inspection tours carried out by the Royal Incan Council in ensuring accountability at all levels of colonial society.  The second half of the book, from parts five through nine, focuses on Spanish abuses during the conquest and in colonial society.  In particular Guaman Poma explains the corruption of the Spaniards in positions of authority such as corregidores, mine owners, stewards, encomenderos, judges and priests and argues that even while they are theoretically “Christian,” that the Indians are far more “Christian” in action than the Spanish. 

Guaman Poma’s purpose in writing the Chronicle
Guaman Poma positions his text as an interlocutor between himself and the King.  He imagines the King listening and asking questions and Poma providing information about the problems of Spanish colonization.  He imagines a face to face dialogue with the King mediated through the written word: “por lo escrito y carta nos veremos”.  

The main reasons that Guaman Poma gives for writing the Chronicle are preservation of memory, documenting Spanish abuses, justice and establishing a dialogue with the King that will override local Spanish authority.  According to Guaman Poma, his goal is to preserve the history of the Indians, but in Part 8 he also discusses the importance of writing to document the abuses of the Spanish.  However, the text is also a passionate last ditch effort to preserve the Inca society and ways of life that Guaman Poma perceives to be in a state of decomposition.  

Guaman Poma advocates for having an Indian notary in every pueblo so they can record abuses and write petitions to the King (269).  Here we see writing as a tool that can protect the community.  He returns to this idea of preservation in Part 9 where he discusses that he is writing this history to create a memorial archive so that justice might be done (346).  It is interesting that Guaman Poma wants the King to prohibit oral petitions by Indians.  He argues that spoken petitions will never lead to justice for their cases (270).  Here we see, albeit ironically, that Guaman Poma sees European writing forms as a major source of hope for pre-Colombian societies.  It is in writing and establishing a dialogue with the King that Guaman Poma attempts to circumvent the injustices of colonial society.  Guaman Poma says at one point that the King should be forced to answer him and also we see that in Part nine of the text; Guaman Poma expects the King to respond.

Rolena Adorno explains that the Chronicle had its root in land tenure claims and petitions that Guaman Poma filed against the Chachapoyas prior to writing the chronicle (xxvii).  Here Guaman Poma attempts to assert rights over the Chupas territory on behalf of himself and the heirs of Don Juan Tingo (xxvii).  So the genre of the petition may be at the heart of Guaman Poma’s Chronicle. 

Hybrid genres
Poma avails himself of multiple genres in order to make his argument and support his agency and authority.  The genres that influence Poma have fundamental oral aspects; sermon and the alegato or indictment (a legal genre with both written and oral dimensions).  The alegato is an important genre that makes its way into Poma’s discourse.  Poma also draws on the visita model in which Inca visitadores walked to residences to get information about and to supervise the community.  Poma spent 30 years walking around getting information from oral testimony and the khipu.  There are also many treatises on good government from renaissance Europe that proliferate in Peru during 16th c.  The treatise on good government comes at a time when the colony is failing in mid 16th c, there is a dramatic drop in the indigenous population, and a rise in mestizo population.

The mestizo question and other subalterns
Another interesting point is that Guaman Poma does not identify indigenous cultures with the mestizo Indians at all.  In fact, Adorno characterizes passages of the Chronicle as anti-mestizo (xli) For Guaman Poma, mestizo society is beyond redemption and there is no push to integrate mestizos into the indigenous society.  Instead, Adorno argues that Guaman Poma sees mestizaje as a threat to the survival of Andean race (xlii).  Since this text is written between 1600-1616 colonial society is already established and has a lot of momentum.  I wonder if Guaman Poma really had any hope at this point that there would be able to be two separate societies especially given that there were already so many mestizos.  In sum, Guaman Poma’s text is passionate and brave, but sadly no one ever paid attention to it.  We do not even know if the King received and read it.

A world turned upside down
In the Christian era that dominates the second part of the book, Guaman Poma argues that Spanish presence has turned the world upside down.  He argues that colonial society does not respect the traditional respect given to elders in Incan society.  He also argues that class distinctions are not honored and that the Spanish invite poor Indians to their tables and maintain friendships with them while humiliating indian nobles.  Guaman Poma criticizes the Spanish practice of taking Indian women out of their homes and away from their families and husbands with various pretexts only to end up raping them.  He says that indigenous women become pregnant and give birth to many mestizos and the women end up becoming “whores”(149).  Guaman Poma expresses anxiety about the indigenous population dying out because they are unable to reproduce.  The solution that Guaman Poma poses to the King is that colonial society should be divided into two separate societies and the Spanish should not be allowed to enter Indian communities.  Both societies would be ruled over by the King but they should not intermingle.  This is a utopian vision that Poma has.  Poma advocates a return to indigenous governance that is subordinate to the crown.

Pre-Colombian Christianity
The main argument that Guaman Poma presents here is that Spaniards do not have the authority to rule over the Andean peoples.  The first part of his argument is that the Andeans were Christian before the Spanish came to the Americas.  Guaman Poma argues that Jesus Christ send one of his apostles, Saint Bartholomew, to Peru.  Over time, the Andeans lost touch with Christianity, (26) but maintained a “shadowy” understanding of the Ten Commandments (XX).  Guaman Poma argues that at one point there was a split in the kingdom and a new line of Incan rulers took over power and that these Incans brought in devilish practices such as incest and idolatry. (XX)  The important  point that Guaman Poma wants to make is that the Spanish did not wage a just war and did not have the authority to conquer and rule over the Andeans because they were technically already a Christian people.  If they were idolatrous then they were not any more idolatrous than the Spanish who lusted after gold and silver.

Authority of Guaman Poma
Guaman Poma presents himself as a vassal to the King.  El vassallo has responsibilities to the crown and the crown has responsibilities to the vassal. The vassal appeals to the crown for action and expects something in return.  Guaman Poma calls himself an author, or an authority figure.  He claims to be grandson of the Inca and he says that he is a Prince.  He is a appealing to the King under the royal privilege granted to noble elites.  Additionally, as a Christian, he is appealing to the King to help with the evangelization of the Indians by stopping Spanish abuses.

Moment of contact
One of the most interesting sections of the book was the description that Guaman Poma gives of the moment of contact and the encounter with Atawalpa.  It was interesting to see the indigenous perspective of how they perceived the Spanish horses, dress and weaponry.  Also, Guaman Poma explains the death of Atawalpa and Atawalpa’s death becomes the cornerstone on which he builds his argument of Spanish corruption and cruelty.