Use of Indigenous Culture by Creoles

After creole revolutionaries gained independence from Spain, indigenous people were no more included in the government of their homeland than they had been under the Spanish. Yet in stirring up revolt, creole leaders used indigenous symbols to evoke the glory of pre-conquest civilizations and the tragic valor of their people in their resistance of the Spanish. For the creole revolutionaries, who were themselves born of the offspring of Spanish and indigenous unions, the glorification of the indigenous people and subsequent exclusion of them required a somewhat contradictory rationalization.

During the revolutionary era, creole thinkers claimed that the pre-conquest cultures, particularly that of the Inca, the Mexica, and the Auraca, had rivaled the great classical European civilizations. At the same time, however, three centuries of Spanish had transformed them into savages. As the descendants of these indigenous peoples, the creoles asserted that they were duty bound the avenge the murder of the leaders of these civilizations by the Spanish. Meanwhile, they tended to gloss over the reality that they were also descendants of the conquistadors. If they did mention it, it was to praise the valor of the Spanish conquerors while at the same time criticizing the oppression of the native people.

The creoles claimed all of the benefits of their heritage and none of its foibles. They had the bravery of the Spanish conquistadors and the vibrancy of Iberian civilization, but the duty to throw off the yolk of the Spanish conquerors for the sake of their indigenous ancestors. They, and not the native peoples themselves, were heirs to the great civilizations of South and Central America.

Creoles tended to avoid the uncomfortable idea that in overthrowing the Spanish, they were simply the new oppressors. When they held power and no longer needed the symbols of indigenous culture, they distanced themselves from them, instead claiming the Spanish as their forefathers. They, like the Spanish before them, justified their conquest with an ideology of inferiority of the indigenous people.


  1. Why do you think the creoles were so reluctant to include indigenous people in the independent governments?
  2. Compare and contrast the idealized role of the female as a revolutionary symbol and the real role of women in Middle and South American culture during the revolutionary era.
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