What do an Inca chief, a Peruvian revolutionary, and rapper Tupac Shakur have in common? They all share the same name for some reason: Tupac Amaru.
While most of the time there’s not really a relation between a person's name and their deeds, with some famous people it seems as if their awesome name had guided them through their lives to achieve great things. That, of course, is the case of Tupac Shakur, the rapper whose controversial life and music became a legend. He was named Lesane Parish Crooks at birth, but his parents decided to rename him Tupac Amaru Shakur after two important figures from Peruvian history: the sixteenth-century Inca ruler Tupac Amaru, and the eighteenth-century revolutionary Tupac Amaru II. But why did his parents change his name, who were these characters, and what impact did they have on his persona?
Tupac’s mother, Afeni Shakur, once said that she wanted her son to carry the name of a revolutionary to honor indigenous people in the world, so that he would learn that “he was part of a world culture and not just from a neighborhood.” For that reason, she chose a name that celebrated the ideals she wanted her son to embrace. Now, we don't really know whether she had both men in mind when she renamed her son or just one in particular. It’s most likely she had the revolutionary in mind rather than the ruler, or perhaps both, but what we do know is that both had similar paths in life in their fight for the rights of their people, even though they lived about two centuries apart.
The first Tupac Shakur was the last indigenous Inca chief ruling at the time of the Spanish conquest. Though his reign lasted less than two years, he is known for fighting tirelessly against the invaders to protect not only his people, but also their culture and legacy. When the Spaniards conquered the main settlements of the Inca empire, some members of the royal family decided to flee and establish a new Inca state to plan their fight against the invaders. This state grew for about a decade, when it passed to Tupac Amaru, but just when he was getting used to the throne, the Spanish army declared war on their settlement. Tupac and his people fought bravely, but eventually, they were defeated by the enemy’s superior weaponry.
Fearing for his life, he and some other high-ranking warriors and nobles, decided to escape in multiple small groups to avoid capture, but eventually, all of them were either arrested or killed, including chief Tupac. Most of those arrested were condemned to die by hanging, but Tupac was different: he was the chief, so the Spanish wanted the Incas to see who was in charge now. Unlike many of his predecessors who had bowed to the Spanish conquest, he was seen as an insurgent who had rebelled against the King and God’s will and thus had to be punished for that. At least, that was the perception Viceroy Francisco Álvarez de Toledo had. In many of the accounts by Spanish monks and soldiers, it’s said that many had actually opposed Toledo’s sentence, but he had the ultimate authority in the new colony. Tupac was taken to the main plaza in front of the Cathedral of Santo Domingo in Cusco tied in a donkey and was beheaded in front of a massive crowd of both indigenous Inca and Spaniards. According to the reports of Baltasar de Ocampa and Friar Gabriel de Oviedo, Tupac’s last words were “Pacha Kamaq (the deity that translates from Quechua as "Creator of the World), witness how my enemies shed my blood."
That’s for the first important Tupac Amaru in history, but it’s also very likely that Shakur’s mother was thinking about the second Tupac we mentioned. José Gabriel Condorcanqui, known as Túpac Amaru II, was the son of a kuraka (some sort of governor or representative) during the eighteenth century. As some of the privileged native Peruvians, he was educated under Jesuit precepts, the best education one could have in the Spanish colonies. However, he was also very much in touch with his indigenous roots (it’s highly debated whether he was of pure indigenous blood or a mestizo) and always saw the defense of indigenous rights as his main purpose in life. In 1760, he inherited the caciqueship of the towns of Tungasuca and Pampamarca as the substitute of the Spanish governor.
Seeing the injustices that all the indigenous people suffered under the Spanish yoke, and being amazed and allured by the history of the lost Inca empire, he decided to organize a rebellion in an attempt to bring Inca glory back. To do so, he changed his name to Tupac Amaru II and claimed his direct lineage to the last Inca chief. His rebellion started by capturing and executing the corregidor (governor) of the states where he was chief, but he didn't stop there. At the time, other provinces would revolt as well and follow in his footsteps in an attempt to free the Peruvian region from the colonizers. Little by little, his army would grow and take over town after town until he was betrayed by two of his officers and eventually captured by the Spanish troops. He was sentenced to die for insurrection. He was first forced to witness the execution of his family only to be tortured right afterward. His tongue was cut off, his limbs tied to horses to be stretched, and later on, he was dismembered and beheaded in the same public plaza his namesake was murdered.
Neither Peruvian Tupac succeeded in their rebellion, but they became the spark that kindled entire revolutions that sought freedom and the people’s rights. Several centuries later, in a very different country and context, a mother decided to name his son after these figures in the hopes to make him a strong and righteous person. In an interview he gave in 1996 during the shooting of the movie Gang Related, he said: “there’s a gentleman by the name of Tupac Amaru who was a freedom fighter, warrior -similar to myself- a chief, a leader for his people.” I wouldn’t be that sure that he actually became this enlightened and exemplary figure, but what it’s true is that, as his namesakes, he ended up being an inspirational character and a cultural icon. As many black Americans at the time he was born, mainly those whose parents were involved in the Civil rights movements, they were looking for non-white revolutionary characters in history to embrace their ideals, and characters like Tupac Amaru II especially were highly popular at the time.
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