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Latin America and Native North AmericaImportance In Latin America And Native North America

These movements and interpretations of them are especially prominent among the native peoples of the Americas and those who study them. In the late-eighteenth-and early-nineteenth-century United States, Tecumseh, a leader of the Shawnee nation, and his brother Tenskwautawa, known as "The Prophet," organized Shawnee and other tribes of the Midwest in a movement to reject European ways, return to their old traditions, and end warfare between native peoples. This was part of their effort to drive out nonindigenous peoples and restore a new indigenous order based on the old ways. Tecumseh, who had studied the Bible, even injected European religion into the fray when he asked how white people could be trusted when they had nailed Jesus Christ to a cross.

The Ghost Dances of the U.S. West in the late nineteenth century represented another form of millenarianism. Indigenous peoples of the western plains, who had been severely battered by waves of settlers, the Indian wars fought by the U.S. government, and the destruction of the buffalo herds, called upon their gods to restore power to them. Often overcome with a spirit, these peoples felt imbued with the power to defeat their enemies and redeem their world.

Latin America has also been the source of important millennial movements, including those in which native peoples challenged the European-dominated order. In Peru, in the wake of massive deaths due to European diseases and the encounter with European colonialism, the Taki Onqoy (Dancing Sickness) movement of the 1560s saw the reemergence of old regional gods such as those that lived in mountains, rocks, and in water, but not the gods or leaders of Inca imperialism. These older regional leaders and gods promised salvation to those who were taken by the spirit, but the name Taki Onqoy, or Dancing Sickness, was given to the movement by those who observed its impact on the behavior of those imbued with the spirit who wished to renounce everything that was European and drive out the Europeans as well as other people and things not native to the Andes.

In Chiapas, Mexico, in the early 1700s a millenarian movement arose among the Tzeltal people in response to a vision of the Virgin, who appeared and told them to drive out all nonnative peoples. Some of these highland Maya even proclaimed themselves to be the true Christians while referring to the Europeans as Jews, thus putting the Europeans outside the realm of those protected by the Christian God.

Perhaps the greatest of New World millenarian movements, and one which may still be ongoing, is that of Inkarrí. According to this belief, which was important in validating the revolutionary upheaval of Túpac Amaru in the 1780s, the Inca was to be reborn from the buried but regenerating head (symbolic or real) of an earlier Inca. When the time is right, the Inca will reemerge to lead the indigenous people of the Andes (who are sometimes also referred to as Incas) in the restoration of a more just and equitable social order. The Inkarrí movement is still culturally alive and people are still waiting.


Cohn, Norman. The Pursuit of the Millennium. 2nd ed. New York: Harper and Row, 1961.

Flores Galindo, Alberto. Buscando un Inca. Lima, Peru: Instituto de Apoyo Agrario, 1987.

Gosner, Kevin. Soldiers of the Virgin: The Moral Economy of a Colonial Maya Rebellion. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1992.

Stavig, Ward. "Túpac Amaru, the Body Politic, and the Embodiment of Hope: Inca Heritage and Social Justice in the Andes." In Death, Dismemberment, and Memory: Body Politics in Latin America, edited by Lyman Johnson. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004.

——. The World of Túpac Amaru: Conflict, Community, and Identity in Colonial Peru. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999.

Szeminski, Jan. La utopía tupamarista. Lima: Fondo Editorial de la Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru, 1984.

Thornton, Russell. We Shall Live Again: The 1870 and 1890 Ghost Dance Movements as Demographic Revitalization. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

Wright, Ronald. Stolen Continents. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Ward Stavig

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