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Blas Valera was born in Levanto, Chachapoyas, Peru, in 1545.
Valera is considered to be the son of Luis Valera, one of the men who accompanied Pizarro in the conquest of the Inca Empire. He established himself in this city since its foundation. The mother of this outstanding Chachapoyano writer was Francisca Pérez, a native who had taken this name after being baptized.
The circumstance that he was born in 1545, less than 20 years after the fall of the Inca Empire, allowed him to meet many of its prominent men and also old amautas, that transmitted and entrusted him the events that he later narrated in his works.
He did his first studies in Trujillo and then continued them in Lima. Considering his knowledge of Quechua, he took part in the missions that Jesuits had established in Huarochirí, an important pre-Hispanic center of worship that at the beginning of the 17th century was the location of the most intense eradication campaign of idolatry, carried out by Francisco de Ávila.
His priestly vocation made him travel to Lima when he was still a teenager. When he was 17, he joined the Compañía de Jesús (Society of Jesus), where he gave excessive samples of his top intelligence since he began his priestly studies.
But at the same time he was preparing for the religious ministry, his love for the Peruvian history was also growing and, in his insistence of knowing about Peruvian past better, he devoted himself to the study of native languages. He became the biggest authority of his time in this subject.
This skill made that people entrusted him missions in which his linguistic knowledge was necessary, which simultaneously allowed him to keep on increasing his data gathering, collecting information from the authentic sources of all the places he was visiting.
Valera was a special case in those times: a bilingual mestizo and well-educated. He was entrusted with the compilation of news from the pre-Hispanic civilization, but the suspicions that his sympathies towards the Inca culture raised made that the Compañía closed the access of mestizos in the order and they supposed a negative opinion of him.
Because of his knowledge of native languages, he was a valuable collaborator of father José de Acosta, who prepared the first catechisms in Quechua and Aymara. These catechisms deserved the approval of Toribio de Mogrovejo.
On the other hand, there are evidences that Valera was accused of heresy because he include some favourable comments to the Inca Empire. He was shut in by the Jesuits for a brief period.
- Luis Valera was a Spanish conquistador born of Bartolome Garcia Roman and Catalina Hernandez in the small town of Aracena in western Andalucia.
- He left for the new world on April 28, 1534, leaving his wife Catalina Rodriguez de Aldana, a noblewoman, in Spain. He would later ask her to rjoin him in the new world 25 years later, and she did so in 1559.
- It is likely that he was a trusted companion of Francisco Pizarro during the conquest, and was loyal to him during the fight with Diego de Almagro.
- He later served as a captain of crossbowmen under one of Pizarro's lieutenants, Alonso de Alvarado in 1538.
- After his service, Alvarado granted Valera the encomiendas of Chibalta and Tiapullu, where he mainly raised livestock for sale in Santiago.
- He was regional leader and served on the cabildo, or city council of the region
- A native Peruvian who was most likely of Inca ancestry who is known by the Christian name Francisca Perez.
- She may have been an Inca princess in the court of the late Inca emperor Atahualpa, or possibly related to the former governor of Chachapoyas region named Cayo Tupac Rimachi.. Details of her are still relatively unknown, but she either died or left Luis when her son Blas was 15.
- Jeronimo Valera was born eleven years after his brother Blas Valera in the Nieva region of Chachapoyas in the late 1550s. He traveled to Spain as a young child but returned in September 1559.
- He was raised by Catalina Rodriguez, the fist wife of Luis Valera.
- He studied at the Jesuit College of San Martin in Lima, and became a Jesuit on February 25, 1580.
- He made a transition to the Franciscan order on August 21, 1588 mainly due to his brother's problems with the Spanish Inquisition.
- He later taught theology and became an inquisition judge
Luckily this man, who had the opportunity to know people who were able to provide very valuable information to him, was provided with a remarkable talent that distinguished him from his very early studies. Since he was a very young man, he could realize how important was, for the Peruvian history, to compile data information about the great Inca culture, which was already becoming extinct as fast as the western culture was imposing in this country.
All his works were written in Latin and, according to his critics, they were written in an elegant, neat and clean style. He narrated events of Peruvian past with a rigorous critical sense, accepting only the events that were supported by irrefutable evidence. This fact has given the authority to his writings that Garcilaso recognized in them. Many other historians have coincided with Garcilaso's judgment later. Some of them also believed that in other chroniclers' works, there are plagiarisms of the work of this venerable Jesuit and even the clandestine use of unpublished documents that he could not release.
In 1595, being in Spain, Valera lost valuable writings in the plundering of Cadiz made by the Englishmen. Some of them were acquired later by Garcilaso, who relates that they were provided him by the Jesuit Pedro Maldonado. Maldonado saved the documents, and even though they were burnt and mistreated, Garcilaso thought that they were a valuable source of information with more authenticity and credibility than any other chronicler of the epoch.
During Blas Valera's lifetime he had many important jobs and roles throughout Peru and Spain. He is most famously known as being a member of the Society of Jesus, also known as a Jesuit. He was a priest where he taught Christian teachings and performed many sacraments which included baptism, marriage and extreme unction (last rites). He was also concerned with explaining Andean religion in Christian terms and he led spiritual discussions and communal prayer every Wednesday and Friday. Blas Valera was also a writer. He wrote many great works including the Quechua vocabulary Vocabulario Quechua and the Naples Documents. In many of Valera's documents is he known for defending the Andean society. Along with being a priest and a writer, Valera was also a teacher. He taught free Quechua classes to the public and translated Christian religion into Quechua. He also translated the Catholic Catechism into Quechua-Third Lima Council Bishops.
Among his works were:
- Vocabulario quechua (Quechua vocabulary)
The Vocabulario was one of Blas Valera's works which resembled an encyclopedia of Peru and the Incas. It references information on the history of the Incas. Citations from the document can be found in other writers’ works. For example, Giovanni Anello Oliva cited references from the Vocabulario of pre-Inca kings of Peru for his argument that there were Peruvian kings before the Incas. Anello Oliva also Valera's argument that Titu Atauchi, a full brother of Atahuallpa, led a force in the defeat over Spanish forces at the battle of Huamachuco. It also cites Atahuallpa which the Vocabulario gives high praise to and even argues he's a Christian saint in heaven, displaying Valera's stance of Andean Christianity. The sources which he used when writing the Vocabulario and other works, do not fully reveal the amount of knowledge he obtained about the native history. Much of the information he used Valera acquired through memories, quipus, and written texts of native elites in Peru, which also have been mostly lost except for information contained in his works. Much of the information contained in the Vocabulario has been lost, and the information which has not, has been used for citing other historians’ arguments about the history of the Incas and the Andean civilization.
- Historia de los Incas (History of the Incas)
The Miccinelli Documents
Blas Valera (1544–1597) was a distinguished member of the Jesuit missionaries in Peru. He was admired for his knowledge of the Andean language, and renowned for his collaboration in the translation of the official catechism of the Third Lima Council (1582–1583) into Quechua and Aymara. However, in 1583 this storyteller of the Incas, due to unknown reasons, faced rejection from his people, was imprisoned for three years, and later deported from Spain where he supposedly died in 1597.
However, Blas Valera remained an ambiguous character of history until the early 1990s in which a group of Italian researchers led by Laura Laurencich Minelli discovered a set of documents owned by a private collector in Naples, which included Valera's writings; yet, with the discovery of these documents, questions to the accuracy of Valera's life arouse. Controversially, one of the writings found in the Naples documents was dated after Valera's supposed death in 1597. This erratum of dates led to the assumptions of different versions of the truth. The documents stated that Valera was secretly condemned by his order for his radical pro-Incan beliefs, and especially for his claim that Incan religion was equivalent to Christianity. There is a version in the documents that assures that after having faked his death, Valera returned to Peru where he wrote the famous Nueva Corónica y Buen Gobierno (New chronicle and good government), which has been attributed to the native writer Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala.
The revelation of the "Naples documents", has led to controversial disputes among scholars as to how these documents should be evaluated. Many Andeanists consider the manuscript as forgeries fabricated by the owner Clara Miccinelli and her friend Carlo Animato and argue that the content of these documents cannot be taken literal. Likewise, Francesa Cantú, from the Universitá di Roma, and Maurizio Gnerre, from the Instituto Universitario Orientale, also found documents in public archives in Italy that connect with aspects of the story found in the Naples documents. Likewise, these two scholars have also been accused of manufacturing false documentation. Moreover, many Peruvians argue that the Naples documents were forged by Jesuit followers of Valera after his death in order to express political opinions, which would otherwise be censured by Society. Those pertaining to this chain of thought, also argue that Valera did not write Nueva Coronica y Buen Gobierno. Lastly, there are those who believe that the Naples documents are authentic and true regarding his fake death and life.
In addition, the discovery of the Naples documents not only raises questions with regards to Valera's life, but also raises assumptions that the Incas had a secret, phonetic writing system and that the writings in Nueva Coronica y Buen Gobierno are evidence of indigenous resistance to Spanish domination. Valera's discrete crimes show an attachment to his people, his radical condemnation of the Spanish conquest, and his belief that the Incas understood the key Christian truths. The Naples Documents also talk about Quipu writing, which is supposed to be a phonetic form of language that supposedly was used by the Incas, if this is true, many of the secrets and ambiguities from the colonial Andes would be solved.
Controversy about his life and works
Lately a few supposed new information on Blas Valera's biography have started to circulate. The most controversial one talks about "Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno" (A new Chronic and a Good Government), of Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. According to specialist Laura Laurencich Minelli, there are three sheets of paper with drawings in the "Historia et Rudimenta Linguae Piruanorum" that have the signature of an "Italian Jesuit", Blas Valera. According to Minelli, these drawings were made before 1618, that is to say, some years after the official death of Valera.
Apparently, the objective of Valera in Europe was to tell the Pope the truth about the conquest of Peru made by Pizarro, who would have poisoned Atahualpa's soldiers with a mixture of arsenic and wine. This fact was told to Valera by another conqueror, his own father, Luis Valera. The general of the Compañía, Claudio Aquaviva, didn't agree with Valera's intentions, for this reason he was declared a dead person and was exiled. He went to Spain, where he supposedly shared part of his works with the Inca Garcilaso de la Vega.
Later, it is said that Valera returned to Peru secretly with the intention of publishing his version of the Peruvian conquest. he got in touch with other two Jesuits: Joan Antonio Cumis and Joan Anello Oliva. To carry out their intention, the three of them had to hide the identity of the real author, so they used the name of Huaman Poma de Ayala. When he carried out his assignment, Blas Valera would have returned to Spain in 1618, where he supposedly died a little time later.
The enigma of knowing who was the real writer of "Nueva Crónica y Buen Gobierno" and also about the biographical mess of Blas Valera have not still been solved.
One of the major controversies about Blas Valera was the dates in which he was in prison, and when he was in exile. While many believe that Blas Valera was constantly in prison, there were times that it Sabine Hyland proved Valera was in exile by the Jesuits, south of Peru. After he was arrested by the Jesuits with the accuse of fornication, he was sent secretly to exile by the Spanish government. While in exile is believed that Valera taught the Quechan language to the Jesuits, so the Jesuits were able to communicate with the Incas, and understand what they were saying with the Quipus.
Blas Valera entered his underground prison cell in April 1583 on charges of fornication brought on by General Aquaviva. Valera's sentence started with four years in prison, followed by a follow up hearing. During this four-year stay in prison, Valera suffered forced fasting, prayer and weekly mortification. After the four years had passed, the Jesuits offered Valera a chance to leave the society. He of course rejected the offer and continued to claim innocence. As a result, the Jesuits sentenced him to six years of house arrest. Due to the horrible conditions in prison, Valera had grown very ill. He requested to be sent back to Spain to recover and get away. The Jesuits approved his request, and exiled him to Spain in 1594. Blas Valera died in Spain in 1597. The controversy of Valera's imprisonment comes from the actual crime he committed against the society. According to the Jesuits, after Valera's appointment to professor of grammar in Potosí, Aquavia sent a letter of concern to the society about Valera in February 1583. The contents of this letter are secret, but historians suspect it dealt with Valera's teachings. Following this letter, in April 1583 the society brought charges of fornication and found him guilty. The fornication supposedly took place with one of Valera's female students. The Naples Documents show another story untold by the Jesuits. According to the documents, Valera's writings on Inca religion and potential heretical techniques had caused the society to take action against him. No evidence has ever been uncovered to prove either of these indictments brought against Valera.
After being exiled from Peru, Valera arrived in Cádiz in 1596. Valera continued a peaceful life until later on that year pirate Robert Devereux invaded Cadiz beating local priests. Valera at the age of 53 was mortally wounded and would die on April 2, 1597. However, some argue Valera's death in Cadiz was faked and he came back to Peru to complete other works. Anello Oliva wrote about Valera's faked death in the Historia et Rudimenta. Apparently, Valera was given a choice to leave the Jesuits or fake his own death. Not wanting to leave the Jesuit society, Valera faked his own death in Cadiz 1596, after Devereux roamed the city beating priests. Valera left Cadiz and headed back to Peru in June 1598, where he resided with a group of natives in Cuzco. It is believed Valera wrote the Nueva coronica y buen gobierno at the age of sixty-six. Valera's work was attributed to Guaman Poma, since Valera was supposedly dead. If Valera secretly wrote the Nueva about Andean life, this will change modern understanding of the Incas and early colonial life in Peru. Anello Oliva argues that Valera contributed to writings in the Naples Documents, but some believe that Anello Oliva used Valera's name as a means to respect the dead Valera and publish anti-Spanish beliefs that were forbidden at the time. But, there is not sufficient evidence to prove or falsify Valera's faked death.
- The author of the Comentarios Reales de los Incas believed Valera was born in Cajamarca, but it has been proven he was born in the city of Chachapoyas.
Hyland, Sabine. The Jesuit & the Incas: The Extraordinary Life of Padre Blas Valera, S.J. (The University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, Michigan) 2003.