Documents concerning the "Totonicapán Rebellion of 1820" in the Archivo Nacional de Centroamérica:
Introduction and Transcripts
by Victoria R. Bricker
Table of Contents
List of Tables
Expedientes 3942, 3944, 3945
Expedientes 4965, 4966
The transcripts in this collection were made from facsimile copies of ca. 600 pages of documents in four legajos ('files'), numbered 193, 194, 5479, and 5480, in the Archivo Nacional de Centroamérica (formerly Archivo General de Gobierno de Guatemala) in Guatemala City, Guatemala. They were sent to me shortly after I had visited the archive during the summer of 1974. At that time, I was collecting material on colonial and post-colonial indigenous revitalization movements in the Maya area for what eventually became my book entitled The Indian Christ, the Indian King: The Historical Substrate of Maya Myth and Ritual (Bricker 1981). The civil unrest that occurred in the partido ('district') of Totonicapán in the K'iche'-speaking region of highland Guatemala in 1820 became the subject of Chapter 7 in my book.
The documents in the four legajos show that the proximate cause of the "rebellion" in Totonicapán was the refusal of the Guatemalan authorities to reinstate the provision of the Constitution of Cádiz that had outlawed the payment of tributes by Indians in the Spanish colonies. This document was drafted in 1810 and promulgated in 1812 after Napoleon had invaded Spain and forced the King (Ferdinand VII) to abdicate his throne. Copies of the Constitution were translated into many indigenous languages spoken in the colonies and distributed widely in the Americas (e.g., Laughlin 2003). Apparently, a K'iche' version of this document had reached Totonicapán in 1812, and the tribute system was abolished at that time. In 1814, the King was restored to the throne, and one of his first acts was to revoke the Constitution of Cádiz. In 1820, he was forced to reinstate the Constitution, but the authorities in Guatemala ignored his order. The transcripts show that the Indians of Totonicapán were aware of the reinstatement of the Constitution, and their refusal to pay the tributes created the crisis in the district known as the "Totonicapán rebellion" (Contreras 1951). It began in January, 1820, continuing into early August of the same year, when many Indians were arrested. The leaders of the resistance remained in jail until 1822, after the general uprising encompassing all sectors of the population of the colony that began in 1821 made it impractical "to blame anyone for sedition against the Spanish government" (Contreras 1951:52).
Reports of the unrest in Totonicapán and its aftermath were sent to the capital in 13 expedientes ('dispatches'); they are now archived in the four legajos whose transcripts are presented here (Table 1).
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Documents concerning the "Totonicapán Rebellion of 1820" (7.99 MB)
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Introduction and References Cited (24 KB)
Legajo 193 (2.77 MB)
Legajo 194 (730 KB)
Legajo 5479 (198 KB)
Legajo 5480 (4.52 MB)
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Victoria R. Bricker
Tulane University and University of Florida